Taku 2016 - 3: Shuchk Kux'waal'i (Cottongrass)
  July 7-9

Taku Valley

On Friday afternoon I began to consider that I'd made a mistake. All the day before, the point specific forecast had called for strongish north winds and seas 2-3 feet in Taku Inlet; knowing how tight the seas are in that situation, I didn't relish the idea of fighting them, especially since I would have two baby birds with me. When I woke up on Friday morning, the forecast was the same and I could see the north/west wind blowing down the channel, so I decided to work Friday and head up Saturday when the weather was supposed to yield light and variable winds, taking Monday off of work to make it a proper weekend. Plus, I was expecting my parents back and hoped to hand off the birds to my mom, as they were nearly ready for the outdoor mew. But instead, the afternoon calmed until the water in the channel was glossy, and my parents failed to return. It had been a long week in town following my return from a week in Snettisham, the emotional strain of the 4th of July coupled with no evenings to myself all week leaving me in a state of half panic as I tucked myself in Friday night. I wanted to hike the next day, since the tide was not until 5:45 p.m., but could not leave the birds unattended more than a couple of hours. Saturday dawned somewhat overcast, but hot and humid as the previous day had been. I opted for the nearby, shortish hike to Dan Moller cabin, charging my way up through the meadows and to the cabin in exactly an hour, back down in 45 minutes. I did the entire trail barefoot, a first for me (admittedly an easy trail with so much boardwalk). Back home around 11:00, I took a quick shower and had a relatively leisurely early afternoon interspersing house chores and final packing with reading in the nook. Having conquered a hike, I had earned some rest.

At 3:00 I headed to the harbor, stopping by Foodland to drop off bills. Things got a bit stressed from there, as I was concerned about the birds (there was a brisk breeze coming up the channel by that time) and I had to return to the house to grab an extra jug of 2-cycle oil. We took off at 3:40 and spent an hour slowly working our way down the channel over the light chop, slowly enough not to bang too much for the sake of my young wards. Thankfully, the seas died down by Salisbury and I was able to make my way at speed up the inlet. Twice I was able to feed Tucanae (the younger of the two) some egg, but Bilbo refused to open his mouth. Just below Taku Point I ran into my parents on their way out and handed the birds off to my mother, thinking that the ride back that day in the Kathy M and the potential to get into the mew sooner would outweigh the longer boat ride. As soon as I pulled away I felt I'd made another mistake and was consumed by guilt.

And so it is, perhaps, no wonder that my first full day here has been rather unproductive. Last night I ate ramen for dinner, watched a Doctor Who episode on the couch, and read into the night. This morning I managed to sleep in a bit, guiltily realizing that I'd have been up much earlier had Tuc and Bilbo been here and wondering what I would do with myself without those two mouths to feed all day, and feeling bad for mother who has plenty of other things to keep her occupied. The day was overcast and mild. I spent considerable time trying to make myself a cup of jasmine tea from a baggy of loose leaf I'd left behind on a previous trip. It probably took ten minutes. First I tried to steep it in a cup that was too small across the top. Although the water at first covered the leaves clustered in the bottom of the enormous strainer I was using, by the time they swelled a little, most were out of the reach of the water and the tea was weak. I then transferred it into two different glass measuring cups, but by then the water had cooled so much I wound up heating it up in a sauce pan and steeping more leaves in that. That yielded a passable cup of tea, and I retreated with it onto the porch to continue reading a fantasy book lent by a friend. Hummingbirds buzzed the feeder above me (I've counted up to seven) and flew back to their favorite perches on leafless twigs of the nearby spruce tree. An alder flycatcher (I think) hawked among the alders by the river. Much frantic ruby-crowned kinglet chipping led me to the edge of the forest upriver, but I could see nothing other than a congregation of them in the young spruces. I did, however, see what appeared to be a young yellow-rumped warbler, apparently untroubled, nearby.

Having had a small breakfast, I soon grew hungry, but before I went inside I walked down to check on the boat and pick up the bottle of water I'd brought along, then carried my laptop back to the motion sensor camera to check for videos (none). I ate a can of baked beans and a bit of bread for lunch, then laid down on the couch and continued reading while Cailey succumbed to deep, twitchy sleep next to me. It was probably the leisurely afternoon that I needed but, coupled with the gray overcast day, I felt rather subdued when I finally got up a few hours later, having closed my eyes but yielding only to daydreams and not to sleep. Thinking that surely I could accomplish something, I took clippers from Alder (the workshop) and walked the 4-wheeler trail loop by the river, trimming alders and spruces and the occasional willow, leaving the branches where they dropped to pick up in bulk later. This task was at the same time satisfying, for there is nothing I dislike more than the claustrophobic reaching of the branches on a trail, and frustrating, as I saw how I'd cut many of the same branches before and to make any real progress, some serious chainsaw work needs to take place. I feel the vegetation closing in on this cabin keenly and wish to get a handle on it before it becomes too overwhelming. On my way back, I wandered through the meadow, pulling small spruces and hemlocks up (less risk of poky stumps if I pull up the whole root system), eating about as many succulent strawberries as I pulled baby trees. For once, to my pleasure, I managed to time a trip up the Taku during that brief window when the few remaining strawberries are ripe. The blueberries are also largely ripe, and appear to be another bumper crop, the bushes loaded to Cailey's particular pleasure.

After that task, I returned to my book, now nearly complete, and decided to step into my past life at the lodge in the hopes of....well, I don't know what. Some of the peace and contentment of that time? When I was a kid, I spent many hours on the side of the river reading, lost in other worlds while the gray river ambled by and the glacier sat motionless on the other side. On days like this, gray, dry days, the crew would be subdued after the last of the tourists had left, and there would be a quiet on the valley, and perhaps I would take a book in my hand and wander down to the river to sit on my little square of black floats and read, and read, and read. So with Myst in hand, plus binoculars and some mosquito coils, I wandered over the dry dirt path to the boat launch where a rectangle of the same black floats jut into the river, the Ronquil anchored 15' feet off, its new white stern line muddied from the silty river as it reached to shore. I found a comfortable position on the floats and finished my book as the river flowed by. No catharsis, though, and I felt melancholy as I retreated to the lodge, built a little fire to warm my feet (bare since leaving Juneau yesterday), and made a quick dinner of tomato soup and a havarti and French bread sandwich. As I ate I thought that a little music might help to lighten the mood and the first song to come up on shuffle was And God Shuffled His Feet (Crash Test Dummies) which seemed to fit the somber mood and existential loneliness of the day. Tomorrow I will go to the slough and activity will help. After all, this is a summer of healing and I should not be so hard on myself. One thing that did ultimately help my mood was doing a little research work. While visiting the site of the Taku village upriver with the Forest Service and Douglas Indian Association (DIA) personnel last minth, DIA invited me to join them on their annual cruise up the Taku to present my research. Unfortunately, it was right in the middle of the three days that a friend is visiting, brought up here with my Alaska Airlines miles to ease my loneliness, and we planned to go to Snettisham. I gave DIA permission to use my research and offered to provide them a cheat sheet to use if they wanted, so I went through my research and make a summary of my findings on the village. It was intellectually stimulating enough that I continued looking through some documents on my own, but there is too much there for less than an hour of serious work. However, I feel I might at some point actual continue researching during the summer months, and that might help my spirits, as something that I can contribute to the community. And the new historical library is open now, so I should be better able to access collections.

After that I watched a Doctor Who, then went to bed and started reading Fahrenheit 451, which I really enjoyed. All evening and after I dozed off, I heard gun shots in the distance, widely spaced.

Cailey eats blueberries


Cleaning off the trail

I slept rather poorly and woke up uninspired. Nevertheless, I set out on my adventure after a quick breakfast, walking back along the new trail to the meadows. I overshot the canoe considerably, stumbling onto the large side slough where there was a lot of recent beaver activity--large matted down areas of vegetation against the water and newly cut branches. Knowing that the canoe was in a tiny slough closer to the cabin, I backtracked along the water. On the way, I saw a bird flit into an alder and took a look, tickled to see the yellow blushed throat of an adult female common yellowthroat! Right on her tail was the striking male and he followed her from branch to branch until they were only about ten feet away, too close for binoculars.

Not much farther I came to Pink Salmon Flats and saw the canoe, unfortunately now on the other side of a slough too wide to leap (I should have remembered not to cross this slough to begin with). I had to backtrack along the awkwardly brushy slough a little before I could make the jump. Soon I had the canoe in the water and was paddling the serene brown water toward the big bend, listening to yellowthroats singing along the way (robins and sparrows sang or cheeped along as well). I turned toward the mountain and tied the canoe to a willow not far from the cliff face. After crashing through head high fireweed, I stumbled onto a path so well-trodden that I feared it might be utilized by humans and wondered if jet boats were still making tours into the slough. I hadn't noticed any landing areas, though, and the fact that the trail soon went through salmonberries and under alder branches eased my mind. It was exceedingly well used and meandered along the base of the mountain through the soggy wetlands there. I saw bear tracks and put my feet into rounder holes where my bare soles could feel the split of moose hooves. At one point I had to backtrack and walk away from the cliff around a pond that was just soggy enough to probably not take my weight where it met the rocks. Instead I walked through a field of cottongrass in its prime, fluffy and beginning to let out seed into the wind. I don't know if pictures can capture the wooliness of the view, and how the seeds clung to my feet and ankles and the bottoms of my rolled up pants. The long walk to the canoe through waste- and shoulder-high grass and sedge, stepping and pulling my feet through all that sharp and dense vegetation, had left my feet shell-shocked. The sphagnum and bog water felt wonderful.

I found the portion of cliff face I was looking for where there appeared to be an easy-to-climb section of angled crevasses full of alders and such with larger shelves for climbing than found on most of the cliff face and which terminated in the grove of birches I sought. The grass and blueberries in the smaller shelves were easy to navigate and I immediately won what should have been awe-inspiring views of the valley with its wide fields of cotton and young stretches of pink fireweed. I ate what may be my first alpine blueberries, which are sweeter than our early blueberries. Apparently they were prized above all others by the Tlingit, but I prefer the tarter variety. The crevasses I traversed were obviously used by bears, and when I did reach the brushy reaches I could see why. The salmonberries and blueberries grew so thickly through the alders that I soon abandoned my efforts for the day and retreated to clearer ledges. I found a comfy place to sit and stayed a little while, drawing a nearby flower, then headed down and back to the canoe, finding along the way the stump of a good sized tree right in the middle of the sphagnum. I'm not sure how it ever survived there to such a size. When my feet left the bog and returned to thick vegetation, I realized how much pleasure it had been to walk on the moss. But the canoe was soon reached and we were paddling back, now against the wind and in a small rain shower, As we turned the corner of big bend, we startled a female merganser and about 16 half-grown ducklings who repeatedly scuttled across the water away from me and, eventually, out of sight.

I stopped by the first canoe landing to pick up the other paddle, then continued down the slough looking for a suitable place to leave it closer to the cabin, listening to more yellowthroats and fox and song sparrows. Seeing no other sloughs along the way to duck into, I left the canoe between two stands of alders just a canoe's length from the water up an incline. It should make for easy launching that way. I tucked the paddles in an alder much farther up the bank, then made my way nearly straight back to the end of the trail.

Shakw (strawberries)


Looks like someone slept there

The cliffs

Well-worn trail


Sundew on the cliffs

View from the cliffs


Cailey observes

Looking upriver

Cottongrass caught in a shrub

It was about noon when I returned and the sun was out again. Before I rested, I picked up all the branches I'd cut the day before and dumped them on the riverbank, then ate lunch in the sunshine. When I went inside I discovered that we were out of water, so I walked down to the water pump and tried to run it...alas, instead of filling the water tank I broke the pull chord. After finishing Fahrenheit 451, I headed back down and took the cover off, rethreading the remainder of the cord through the hole. Unfortunately, I apparently put the cover back on wrong because the cord does not retract. Anyway, it needs a new cord regardless. At the very least, I figured out what size socket to use on the bolts (10 mm). I hate to leave the cabin with no water and without a functioning pump, but there was nothing more to do.

I read a little bit more, finished the cabin log, cleaned up, and washed the dishes with available jugs of water. I then read for a little bit more until it was going on quarter to six, so I closed up and carried my tote and backpack to the boat (I'd already carried the propane tank down when I'd checked on the boat earlier). I pulled the boat slowly to shore with the stern rope, loaded gear, then jumped aboard, stowing everything away while filling the main tank. At 6:05 I was drifting my way downstream with a diet root beer in hand, typically delighted to be on the river. I stood up as we cruised downstream (slowing down at the potential shallow spots along the meadow, never touching bottom) until around Taku Point. We encountered chop on and off all the way to the channel where it followed us home. I couldn't even make it home from the Taku on one tank of gas, a good indication of the decreasing fuel efficiency of my engine. My new 4-stroke took a detour to Hoonah and won't be installed until after my next trip south. Thus, I am thankful that my little 2-stroke is still serving me well, fuel efficient or not.

Cailey in the cottongrass