Snettisham 2016 - 1: It Begins
  May 18-19 and 25-29

AF22 pod in Stephen's Passage

It's 6:16 and I've been at Snettisham for about exactly 24 hours. At last catharsis began this morning after a handful of chores dissolved into quiet euphoria on the porch as the inlet cleared from a gentle mist and the quiet tranquility brought peace. It was a hard spring. I was here a week ago for a quick overnight to begin opening up, check the place for damage, and ease my troubled mind. Troubled, in large part, from my inability to come down in a spring that was a full three weeks earlier than last year (based on the trees leafing out), an early spring that made the mountainsides lush and green before the birds showed up (who were more or less on time), that taunted me with glassy water while my boat floundered in the shop. I missed hooligans on the Taku and I missed spring migration on the Whiting while I waited with increasing anxiety until my plaintive messages resulted in two functional engines and a boat in my possession. Naturally the weather was bad the weekend it came back, but I spent time over the next few days scrubbing it and doing some basic maintenance and repairs. The following Wednesday I launched the Ronquil at Harris Harbor, anchored her to the rocks, parked the trailer, and started her up in the harbor without a hitch (still warm from running in the driveway). With some elation, I puttered out under the bridge and opened her up, careening down the channel in the bright sunshine over flat water. Hallelujah. I stopped out in the middle of the channel, looking toward downtown Juneau picturesque beneath its mountain, and started the kicker, running it half way back to the bridge. What an enormous relief. Because Douglas Harbor is under construction, I returned to Aurora Harbor and tied up inside the float across from the Alaskan. I finally had the boat in the water.

The following weekend was equally unsuited to boating, but for the first time I actually took the time to visit the boat between trips to get it ship shape in the harbor. My new battery box strap came in, so I screwed in its supports and strapped it down. I also cut my old 50' bow line into three pieces and made three separate lines for tying up instead of continuing my silly single line method. So much easier, not to mention more attractive! As Chris's last week in Juneau approached, I watched the weather and saw an acceptable window. The weather Wednesday and Thursday looked tolerable, though the wind would be against me in both directions, and I leapt. After four cartloads of gas and goods were loaded on the boat, I took off around 12:45 p.m., beating my way down the channel uncomfortably. But at least I was going in the right direction.

At the end of the channel, the seas quieted and we had a very pleasant right to Arden, after which they built again uncomfortably, but not for long. A couple of sea lions near Admiralty reminded me that it was, in fact, still spring, despite my long frustration. By the time we reached Grave Point the ocean was not flat calm, but effectively so, small seas that did not impair comfort or speed. It became quite a pleasant trip down Stephen's Passage under an overcast sky. Then, within sight of Seal Rocks, a huge black fin shot up directly in front of me, only a couple of hundred yards out. I couldn't believe it! Right in my path, like he wanted to get my attention! It happened too quickly and too decisively for me to even giggle. I let him come up and cruised beside him for a handful of looks, keeping an eye out for others of his kind. He was a big male with a wide dorsal and a saddle patch with just a hint of a thumb. If it hadn't been for that thumb I might have thought he was a transient for the utter lack of other orcas in view despite the great visibility. Then I did see another small group closer to shore and headed over there to get a few looks at a pair of females/young male, one of which had a swirly open saddle patch, and at least one calf. Much farther out in Stephen's Passage, I spotted a second male and decided I'd better see who he was and, on the way, stopped to check out another small group of females/young males and calves, one of which sported the hugely open saddle patch of the AFs. It took a little more effort to connect with the other big male, but it was well worth it. Such a recognizable guy, it was my friend AF19 (Sergius), son of the late matriarch and namesake of his pod, AF22.

With great joy, I left then heading north and resumed my journey to Snettisham, now followed by a west wind
crossing the channel. At Sentinel I had to refuel, having run through my gas tanks (one of which was only partially full), and then onto the homestead. I pulled up to the beach, perhaps 20 feet from the bottom of the log, and began the arduous task of unloading all the goods: bags of linens, propane, totes, all the sundry items brought to town to overwinter (rifle, stain). It was a falling tide and I allowed the boat to go dry rather than fight it. Hauling all the gear up was a long and unpleasant task, shuffling along the already-overgrown stone path to the porch. It was 3:30 or so when I pulled in and much later when I finished unloading. But the lodge looked in wonderful shape. I opened the shutters and turned the propane on, pleased to see the range light up with only a few extra seconds to allow the gas to flow through the pipes again. Unfortunately, the refrigerator did not light; I tried changing the spark generating battery, but that made no difference and I failed to find the manual in the usual place. Instead, I moved to other more pressing tasks, first eating supper, as I was quite hungry by then. Then, the wood stove smoke stack. This was a tricky task to do alone, in part because of the addition of the mouse-proof hardware cloth around the outside, which was difficult to fit the pipe through without bending it too much. I had to simultaneously hold the stack in place while on a ladder, wrap a metal band around it, insert a screw to hold the band in place, and nail the strap to the roof. It didn't work the first time and I had to descend to find nails that were bigger and didn't slide through the holes in the strap. I also had to carefully draw the stack back through the hole on the inside so I could mate it with the piece attached to the stove. Anyway, eventually I had all the pieces together and the stack functional.  I didn't take the newspaper off the windows, figuring I wasn't going to be there long enough to enjoy them.

And then the next most important task: water. I grabbed a hoe and my new dish gloves and hiked the overgrown path to the olive barrel, pausing near the top to check out a downed spruce tree that crossed the path toward the top right over the pipe, thankfully not damaging it. The olive barrel was similarly undamaged. I started by moving aside all the big rocks left over from the dam last year and then scraped out all the small rocks from the hollow where the barrel usually sits, letting them careen down the waterfall below. I did a very thorough job, proud of myself for using the movement of the water to shuffle off the rocks rather than fighting the current as I've done before. When I was satisfied with its depth, I rolled the barrel in and began building a dam. Somehow, this didn't go as well as expected, but by the time I realized that it wasn't raising the water level to where I thought it should, especially given the excellent excavation I'd done, it would have taken considerably more work to start over. It looked like I had enough depth for water flow after some barrel rotating and lifting the lip of it a little by placing some rocks underneath, and once I verified that water was flowing through the valve, I left it at that for the time being. Back at the lodge, water was shooting from the open hose valve. I brought down some fresh filters from the attic and installed the filter heads and had running water once again. I'd already made a trip around to the cabins, all of which were in good order, and I'd put the sheets and blankets on my bed in Hermit Thrush, knowing that I wouldn't want to do that when I toddled over there late at night. For my last chore, I decided to set up the water system there, so I turned off the valves at Harbor Seal, carried the filters to Hermit Thrush, and hooked them up. From there I headed straight through the brush to the valve on the main line rather than going back to the lodge to head up the overgrown trail. Cailey was huffing and mouthing the air like she smelled something very interesting, and so I started talking to any bears that might be in the vicinity. A few moments later I heard a wild shriek and looked behind me to see devil's club shaking in wild spurts from behind an old log. It looked like Cailey was engaged in kill shakes. My guess was marmot, as the sound and activity seemed too large for a smaller rodent, and I'd seen marmots here before. And so I was shocked and horrified to find a big, beautiful mink at Cailey's feet. She started to give it another shake and I ordered her away, watching as the mink made the last twitches of death. As I watched, stunned and deeply saddened, I searched the belly for teats and found nothing swollen there. Cailey tried to grab the mink as I picked him up (now quite dead) and I snarled her away, more angry with her than I should have been. She was clearly deep into instinct mode, totally focused and captivated by her prey, desperate to get it back into her salivating jaws. I'm sure she would not have eaten him, but only worried him a little more, and it seemed pointless to let her play; plus, it was a mink after all, and I could take its pelt. The first thing I did was inspect his belly for sex organs and was hugely relieved to feel a pair of testicles. I wasn't up to speed on mink life history, but I had a feeling that male mink do not play much of a role in raising young. At least I hadn't killed a litter of mink kits by happening to bring my dog into that part of the forest at that time. Still, what a useless death of a beautiful predator.

And so my plans for a quick, symbolic fire and a bit of relaxing in the evening were diverted to skinning a mink. I put Cailey inside and brought out some paper towels and cardboard to work on and then rather crudely skinned this mink on the deck. I remembered that most mink pelts I'd seen were cylindrical, rather than being cut up the belly like I've always done with skinning. I remembered hearing about peeling the skin off rabbits starting at the anus, apparently very easily. I didn't know what I was doing, and I wound up cutting in from the back legs to the anus and then down from there. Separating the testicles was a bit of a challenge and, while inspecting the anal glands (kidney bean sized near the anus) I managed to discharge them all over my pants. My rain jacket already smelled rather strongly of mink musk, a strong and pungent odor, not that off-putting and kind of wonderful in its power, not too distinct from strong porcupine musk (which might be why it warmed my heart a little). I also inspected the skull and was surprised to find that all four canines were worn down to the level of the teeth around them. I hoped that meant that he was an old mink with lots of progeny populating the river. He certainly was big--I couldn't believe how big around his belly was! I did eventually remove the whole pelt, cutting the entire tail off rather than skinning it at that moment. Cailey had made several puncture wounds, so there was a lot of blood pooling under the skin and intestines were spilling out. I put the body in one bag, the skull in another, and the pelt I salted with the last of the salt (not nearly enough) and placed it on a piece of cardboard. By that time it was 9:30 p.m. and I abandoned the idea of fire or relaxing. The last thing I did was kayak out to the now-floating boat and anchor it out in deeper water, as I was afraid a higher tide in the night might beach the boat out of reach of the morning tide, though I'd convinced myself it would be okay. Then I took Cailey to bed in my cozy cabin, cutting down the chill for a few minutes with the little propane heater and a fresh bottle of propane. We were both cold in the night, but a blanket shared between us reduced the chill.

Cailey endures on the boat

Leaving Juneau behind

An orca approached!!!

My sentinel orca

Sentinel orca--all but identifiable

From the first trio

Third member of first trio

Member of second trio

Cailey watches an orca off the stern


Grassy point upriver

The old mink

We slept well and I was up and out of bed at 6:45, anxious to do what work I would before heading back to town to help Chris pack for his move. It wasn't an ideal time to be gone, but it had been my only opportunity since getting my boat back two weeks before and it was already mid-May. I don't remember exactly what I did, but I frantically puttered around as the water began to inch toward the Ronquil sitting on the sand bars. It occurred to me that it would be a much easier departure if I was on the boat when it floated rather than have to deal with a kayak, since it was clear the tide would still be quite low if I left in an hour or two as I'd originally intended. I had little to carry back--only a few items in a tote and my backpack--so I closed up and made a cup of Russian tea as my last act. I carried everything down past the log before I abandoned the tea on the rocks to prevent it continuing to spill all over the tote, returning for it after dropping the rest of the gear off.

On the boat, I relaxed in the sunshine and drank my rapidly cooling tea. It was a gorgeous morning and I was happy that the breeze I'd woken up to seemed diminished. It was 8:00 a.m. when I sat down and the water was about 30' away; before I'd finished my tea, it was creeping in so rapidly that I stopped and pulled anchor and put Cailey on board before we were inundated. Then I finished my tea and fueled the boat and relaxed until we were floating at about 8:30. The trip back was sunny and gorgeous (the sun was at our back up Stephen's Passage); I reveled in the calm of the port, noting that there didn't appear to be any sea lions on the rocks. In Stephen's Passage I was disappointed to run into 2' seas that we crashed into all the way to Grave Point. In the lee of Grave I rested and used the head, nervous to feel a squirrely, brisk breeze zipping over the ripply water even in the lee. It did not bode well for Taku Inlet. Had I been a fool to make this voyage? Would I get stuck? If I did, should I overnight in Taku Harbor? There was no way to know but try. We rounded the point and into uncomfortable seas that....rapidly diminished in size the farther north we went! Rather than raging out of the Taku as I'd expected, the inlet was actually very manageable and by far the best part of the trip. It was a welcome relief. We encountered swells coming down from the back side of Douglas (so a west wind apparently), then got banged around all the way up the channel. It was 11:30 or so when I tied up at the harbor (delighted with the new line system) and lingered there for a few minutes to replace the lines on the two fenders which were fraying badly. When I went to store my gear in the boat house, I was surprised to find my parents working on the boat inside. I made it home at noon, almost exactly 24 hours after I'd left. After a break with Chris on the porch, I fleshed the mink in the driveway over a dowel and salted him for later. In the afternoon I helped Chris pack all his belongings into boxes and two days later I dropped him off at the airport for the last time.

Gorgeous view

Tea while the tide rises

Skinning Cailey's mink

And so it was that Cailey and I fled an otherwise empty house the next Wednesday around 3:00 and was underway half an hour later, carrying a mere two cartloads down to the boat. After pulling out, I had to turn around immediately and pick up a life jacket from the boat house, but soon we were again beating our way south down the channel. Immediately a fierce, hard rain began to fall and pounded us until around Arden. And this time the seas did not let up all the way to the port and we beat against close, irritating, banging 1-2' seas the whole way. Poor Cailey had a miserable time, as did my back. But at last we gained the port and relative calm. Passing from Sentinel to River Point, a skiff ran ahead of us and stopped in the middle of the inlet. I wondered if they were on the way to my place, maybe bear hunting, as the three occupants were all in camo. I ignored them and cruised into the calm inlet to quickly unload my gear and anchor the boat. Four trips up to the lodge and I could finally begin to relax. Both Cailey and I were quite chilled (I'd reluctantly given up her yellow blanket when she started shivering, replacing it as my leg covering with her fleece jacket), but neither of us were wearing enough. I turned on all the propane tanks, lit the pilots on the range, and failed to light the refrigerator again. I tried several times while (hopefully) allowing the gas to make its way through the long hose, lighting a fire and puttering between attempts. I checked the connection behind the fridge and then, lacking any other ideas, I went ahead and changed the tank, using the spare I'd brought down last week. The existing tank was low but not empty, which was not a great sign. However, I was delighted to hear the pilot light on my next attempt. Does the fridge need more pressure from a fuller tank? I don't even know if that's a reasonable question. In any event, I had a functional fridge again. I moved my items out of my cooler (brought along with a bag of ice just in case) and made a quick dinner of Tasty Bite lentil masala, which has been here for at least one winter. I'd eaten little all day, but was not very hungry. I spent the rest of the evening reading and warming up, retiring to Hermit Thrush relatively early and curling up with Cailey for the night.

 It rained moderately during the night, making me somewhat reluctant in the chilly cabin to take my socks off and go barefoot as I intended. Once I stepped on the spongy ground, however, I was pleased to feel it with my soles. I stopped by the motion sensor camera at the bridge and picked up the memory card on the way to the lodge, fed Cailey, and washed my face. To my surprise, I was not in the mood for tea, but I did have some snacks and settled onto the porch to read. I was not in the mood for any of the myriad of chores ahead of me either but, rather than give into guilt, I recognized from experience that energy would come in its own time and, if I felt like I just needed to rest, I probably did. After all, it is my cathartic spring trip. And so I sat on the porch while my feet slowly froze in the 40-some degree weather and the inlet misted in. The rest of me was comfortable wrapped in a quilt, but eventually my feet forced me up. Rather than just heading inside, I wound up sweeping the porch and adjacent boardwalk from all the pinecones, spruce needles, and twigs that had accumulated over the winter. Somehow that transitioned into putting in the gray water system, which caused a search for zip ties, only a few of which I found in the cabinet in the lodge. This should have been a simple procedure, but it was made complicated first by the short zip ties (which had to be doubled around the filter over the outlet) and the fact that I cut my one 100 micron filter bag at the wrong end. Since one end of the bag is open and the other is sealed, I should have used the sealed end on the inlet pipe (which would then only need to be zip tied around the pipe) and cut off a short section of the open end, which needs to be closed but not fully sealed on its top end. Instead, I cut the short end of the sealed end, which required me to somehow zip tie up one end of the long section for the inlet, which used up much of its precious length. I wanted to replace it anyway with a new 50 micron bag (since the 100 micron bags filter too much out and get mucked up) or a grease trap, and this was making it more of a necessity. When I went to install it, however, I noticed inside the bear proof box the 50 micron filter bag that a bear had drug away with the olive barrel right after it was installed. Although it had dead moss and debris clinging to it from the year or more it spent in the woods before I stumbled upon it, the plastic was intact. I used the single long zip tie I'd found to secure it to the inlet pipe, so now I need not replace it all summer without worry.

When I went inside to put together the drain system, I noticed again how the right sink drain was leaking and decided to give it a look in case anything could be done. Upon close inspection, it appeared that maybe I'd screwed in the bottom piece of the metal drain fitting upside down, as the rubber o-ring was not sealing against the bottom of the sink and nothing seemed to be under it to press it up. Amazingly, I was able to unscrew the piece and see that its flange was down rather than up. I tested it and determined that if I reversed it it might make the o-ring seal, so I grabbed some plumber's putty from the attic, reapplied it to the fitting in the sink, and screwed on the fitting correctly (I presume). Then I screwed together all the loose pipes and....I had a leakless system. Amazing.

By that time I decided I might be ready for tea, so I started the water heating again. After a few minutes the flame began to die and the smell of propane this morning made more sense--I was out of propane for the range. But I'd already used my spare tank for the fridge. This particular situation had never happened before, but I had a contingency plan--the propane tank that's been hiding out at Hermit Thrush to fuel the propane heater there. I fetched that, found a wrench in the shed, and switched the tanks out. In the end, I opted for coffee with sugar and milk (such a pleasure to put the can of milk straight in the fridge instead of trying to figure out how to store it in a cooler) and took it to the porch with my book. Admittedly, I hadn't had caffeine in three days, but that can't have been the only source of the deep, serene euphoria I felt as I sipped and gazed out over the clear inlet. What deep, peaceful joy. Bliss.

While I sipped, I saw a bird in the bushes with a flash of yellow and soon had a good look at a male Wilson's warbler at the edge of the path. After Clint buzzed outside the picture window last night, I'd gotten up and made 12 cups of nectar for the feeders and put them out on my way to the cabin. This morning I was pleased to see that at least a couple of females and no doubt Clint were actively feeding, more or less the only other birds around other than a Steller's jay that stopped in the bushes for a few moments. I read until noon, my feet somewhat protected in slippers. I joined Cailey inside where I'd put her earlier and tucked her under a blanket to stop her shivering. The inside of the lodge is considerably warmer than the outside due, I assume, to the pilots (especially with the fridge now), but I was chilled enough that I put a hoody on over my fleece and lit a fire while I made quesadillas for lunch. I ate them on the porch and then settled in for a wonderful, leisurely afternoon of reading. After the fire died, it was at times absolutely silent.  At 3:00 I got up and went outside, but still couldn't rouse myself to any more chores. Instead, I settled back down and continued reading, delighted to hear a quiet blow and lucky enough to see a set of flukes through my binoculars just off the point toward Gilbert Bay. The whale breathed, usually only once at a time, every few minutes, but I only saw him a couple of times. A very stealthy whale. For a while he was across the river near the edge of deep water; later I saw him several times crossing the mouth of the inlet. A beautiful seal lingered around the log that's stuck on the sandbar, not far from the boat, and, best of all, a gorgeous common loon dove repeatedly just off shore, melting into the water with each elegant dive.

With great delight I finished my book, and decided to try one task before dinner: internet. Why not? I may as well see what would happen. I set up the ladder under the dish, grabbed the two wrenches, the radio, and the nonconductive grease, and climbed up to take a look at the cable ends. I was pretty sure I'd bundled them securely in a plastic bag and rubber banded it up, but there was no sign of any bag and the ends were dangling free. However, they were both mostly full of grease and looked in great condition, so I wiped them off, filled in the grease where needed, and hooked up the cables. I was pleased to feel that the dish was apparently quite stable, but still it seemed farfetched that I would not have to readjust it, which would be very difficult for me to do alone.

Back inside, I hooked up the modem to the battery and was amazed to see it light up--I had power! I was even more amazed to see other lights blink on: receive? transmit!? I opened my laptop, plugged in the network cable, and went to the Hughesnet setup site just as the power died in the battery. Still, a great sign! There was another batter in the shed so, just in case it had any more power, I brought it over, first checking to see that its water wells were full (they were). I was delighted to see it power up the modem. Back at the Hughesnet site I managed to click my way to the reregistration screen which immediately began downloading new encryption keys, which is what I expected. It timed out once, but finished the next time, all the way through all its required downloads. And then the system restarted, the modem went blank.....I went to the bathroom, and when I got back, the lights were blinking back on one at a time until all five were go. I had internet. Sure enough, new emails were popping up in my inbox. I had time to write a quick email to Chris and then the power went dead. Huzzah! I am astonished and delighted that the dish did not need to be adjusted and that the system worked after eight months of inactivity!

I cooked coho and peas on the stove for dinner, lit a fire (it really is quite chilly out--only May after all), and here we are.

Winter debri on deck

Salmonberry growing
through the porch

Gray water system parts

It rained much of the night (or so it seemed) but the sky was clear when I awoke, a little later than yesterday due perhaps to a sleepless hour or so in the middle of the night. The air was chilled, but stepping on the steps of the deck in the sunshine brought immediate relief. I fed Cailey, had a snack, and set about cleaning up the paths, a multi-step task I've not been looking forward to. The first step was clipping the shrubs back, which showed an astonishing degree of growth during the two months or so of the growing season so far. Many salmonberries were four feet tall, growing straight up from old root stock. I started around the lodge, then made my way around the cabin circuit, steeling myself to cut a few small hemlocks and blueberry bushes. On the way I stopped by the point for the first time this season and found it blooming and the same as ever. After that I made the same circuit raking the paths. I cleaned the lodge outhouse, then decided on a break in the sunshine with a Molson Golden. Having earned my break in the lovely sun, I felt at peace again. When my beer was finished (icy cold from the fridge), Cailey and I walked onto the low tide flats and up to the grassy point, finding nothing of particular interest but enjoying the
breezy walk (see the wind coming down the river in the photo below at high tide). On the way back I stopped at the boat and refueled while Cailey stalked two green-winged teal at the edge of the bars. I read a little bit on the porch in the sunshine, then made quesadillas for lunch and laid down on the deck to take what was almost a tiny nap, certainly would have been without the interference of biting insects.

After my break, I carried the remaining filters to the other three cabins and screwed them in. I was able to test Harbor Seal's system (no problems except the tiny leak in the cabin valve), but when I turned on the valve for the other two cabins, it was clear that no water was flowing through. The water pressure had been dropping since I arrived and I'd suspected that I was using up the water in the pipe and that none was flowing from the creek. It was a task I wasn't looking forward to, so I decided I should go ahead and do it. On the way up to the olive barrel I took the time to clip back a number of devil's club and salmonberries that had grown over the path, weary of ducking and weaving around them. It's been several years since I did that, so it's no wonder that they;ve grown back. It was certainly more pleasant to walk down 45 minutes later when I finally had water flowing through the system again. Never have I had such trouble getting the system to work. I usually have to do some extra damming or excavating late in the season when water levels drop, but this was only a week after putting it in. As I'd dug out the olive barrel's hollow as much as I could (having reached bedrock or the equivalent), all I could do was a better job on the dam, so I pulled out the rocks around the outlet pipe and started over there, also reinforcing the dam around the sides. The only way to use stone effectively with such light flow is lots of handfuls of small rocks and sand to close the gaps. In the end, I also had to move the rocks around the outlet pipe to lower it, as the pipe was resting on the rocks at just a slight angle upward, preventing the flow from starting. It was fun to watch the water level rise, but it rose slowly and only now barely covers the outlet. The only reason I can come up with for the change was the exceedingly light snow fall last winter, which it seems had an effect on the mountaintops that feed this stream. The motion sensor camera here on the property reflected almost no snow cover over most of the winter, similar to Juneau. Snow triggered the camera only around Christmas time when Juneau also had significant snowfall.

Now that water was flowing, I cleared the system of air at the first two cabins and tested their systems, both functional. While there I finally tracked down the rotting fish smell I'd been picking up between the two cabins all day, finally led there not just by the smell but by the circling flies. Several feet into the bushes across from Cottonwood, right next to the trail, was about half a good sized flounder. Earlier in the day I'd startled two eagles out of a tree in that area--perhaps one of them dropped it. At that point I was tired of the flies and the sun had hidden itself, so I headed inside after starting the generator and read a little while I began charging the modem's battery. At one point I looked out the window and was shocked to see serious seas coming down the river, the Ronquil bucking wildly at anchor! Arching seas swept toward Gilbert Bay, kicked in to white caps on the upriver side. Quite a surprise! Also a surprise was winning at my first and only game of solitaire today (having lost half a dozen rounds last night). At the edge of the grass (high tide now), the two teals kicked about together. Earlier in the day, a whale had spent some time in the inlet, though I never caught a glimpse of him. Before I headed up to the olive barrel, a jay clucked and chattered all through the alders and spruces near the shed, something like a song, and quite charming. A ruby-crowned kinglet (judging by the occasional alarmed cheeping) dogged him, or at least some small bird did, but the kinglet's was the only voice I heard. There is certainly a lot of jay activity here, from the rocky point down the beach to the end of the bear trail.

For dinner I made a bison burger (delicious despite the fact that I forgot all condiments), got on the internet briefly, read a bit more (pulling out my book of Irish folk tales to round things out), and then started the major task of spring weed whacking. I made it 3/4 of the way down the boardwalk when the cutting cord ran out, as expected. I'd brought along extra, and tried my hand at spooling it myself in the lodge, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow to try out. I then wound up puttering around the lodge for a while. I've been annoyed by all the little tasks that lay before me--all the projects I brought down, all the chores from winter I need to do (I still haven't emptied the big pots of the emergency water I put in them last fall). Everything is cluttered. I wound up taking out the poster frame I brought for the lodge poster, ripping up the box into pieces for the fire, and cleaning the front of the poster for putting it in the frame tomorrow. I also folded all of Cailey's boat blankets (now dry), and cleaned up a few other areas. I drank some hot chocolate for dessert, took a spit bath, and then headed to Hermit Thrush. I'm there now, for the first time doing a homey activity that doesn't involve the bed here. I always imagine spending time here, but never have, in part because there is nothing to sit on but the bed and because everything is so handy at the lodge. Well, since I have no large groups intending to come down here in the near future, I saw no reason not to bring over a folding chair. And so here I am writing this trip report to the light of a kerosene lamp at the little card table, overlooking the Whiting River between the trees.

Ronquil on the beach

Water barrel

Trip reporting in Hermit Thrush

I woke up to blustery wind around the cabin, which turned out, surprisingly, to be a continuation of the wild north wind that had begun last evening. On my way to the lodge I could hear the Ronquil crashing against the seas as I did last night. But the day was sunny and beautiful, the ground just beginning to dry out from all the recent rain, a pleasure for my toughening feet. I had a more substantial breakfast (banana and oatmeal, mostly), then got right to work on the windows. I peeled off the old ultraviolet anti-bird strike stickers and washed the windows with hot water and vinegar on first the lodge and then the shed, then each of the other cabins in turn (minus the peeling). Back at the lodge I placed new stickers on all the windows, remembering then to wash the window on the back wall over the bear proof box. I made a cursory attempt to remove the screen from that window, as the window inside it is quite dirty, but quickly abandoned that task. I took a brief break and then continued weed whacking. For that task, I thought it wise to wear shoes, which immediately caused agony on the outside of my right big toe. I'd tried to find the thorn last night, with no success, even failing to figure out exactly where it was when shoes were off. But this morning, the pain was very specific and intense and I narrowed it down quickly. After some picking with tweezers, I finally saw the offending thorn and managed to pluck it out intact. What a relief! After a cup of overwintered (but still delicious) Russian tea, I tried the weed whacker....another success. Not only were my clumsy attempts to coil it successful (even feeding effectively out of the spool), but it seemed amazingly strong (long lasting). All in all, my parents' weed whacker worked better than I remember my weed whacker ever working, making me wonder if it was ever 100% in my possession. I finished the boardwalk, turned around and cut around the riverboat and the deck, then went down the south side of the deck, around the fire pit and the benches, and down the path. Other than whacking myself in the forehead with the extension cord, I had no problems at all--what a pleasure, and what a welcome change it is to have some clipped areas in view and for walking. I took a quick break on the porch, then cleaned up a few areas and widened the path in one spot before carrying the generator and weed whacker to the junction beyond Cottonwood, clipping first up from the boardwalk, then to the bridge, then to the stairs beyond the outhouse. It was 11:30 and I was hungry, so I broke for a snack lunch of pretzels, havarti, peas, and an apple on the porch, watching the north wind bend the grass of the meadow in waves. Then I carried the generator to the stairs to clear the path to Hermit Thrush, and then across the bridge to clear the rest of the trails. What a transformation! And Joanie, my little red generator, was brilliant. It had taken me a handful of pulls yesterday to start it for the first time this season, but since then it has been a dream to start. This morning I tried out my new flexible funnel to refill the oil and it worked brilliantly; the funnel part even has a valve so you can meter out the contents and stop it as needed.

I believe I then had a cup of jasmine tea (amazing) and I read for a bit in the sun, mostly about Russian history in the Amur River area, before taking Cailey on a promised adventure. With only binoculars and camera, I walked down the oh-so-tidy path to the beach and turned south, happy to see that an eagle resided in the nest. I'd been a bit worried about the couple this spring, having seen less activity than expected at the nest and observing two adults out of the nest fairly often. In fact, I was on my way to the ledge I'd discovered in the woods behind the eagle's nest that gave me an eye level view. Cailey and I climbed up the familiar path to the nest tree and looked around, not finding anything of interest. Then we followed a game trail under the blueberries and false azaleas until we passed out of the clearing behind the nest tree and into the openness of the forest and in sight of the ledge. We clambered up....and there she was, the (presumably) mother eagle, laying on the nest, facing across and upriver. She was, naturally, watching me, the sun bright on her white head, feathers ruffling in the brisk breeze. Yellow eyes, yellow beak, she was a vision on the nest, wings relaxed at her sides. She was, without doubt, on eggs or nestlings.

While sitting there I noticed more jays (one had shown up as I approached the eagle tree earlier). Such a lot of jay activity! I've seen them a couple of times around the area of the shed today, making me really wonder if there is something significant there. This time I watched the jay bop from branch to branch, then dive into the bushes below. A spot of blue appeared, and I trained my binoculars on a pair of jays on a small, mossy stump. One flew away immediately, the other had his wings drooping a bit. As I watched on and off for the next ten minutes or so, it looked like this jay might be sunbathing a bit, wings sometimes spread at the sides. The view was broken behind bushes, though, so I can't be sure. I was initially pleased to hear new bird songs, too, the calls of golden-crowned kinglets and a Townsend's warbler. Both are normally common around the homestead but I'd heard neither this year (limited to Pacific slope flycatchers, ruby-crowned kinglets, visual on Pacific wren (wood stack), and a Wilson's warbler). Such a short distance away, but well into the forest. All of a sudden I saw or heard scrabbling and was delighted to see a brown creeper! Oh, such lovely camouflage--not just cryptically patterned to blend in, but soft colors perfectly arranged. Such beauties, curved beaks poking into the bark of the hemlocks around me. This little creeper worked the trees repeatedly, flying one to another, often not far above eye level, sometimes venturing onto (or under) branches, but always fluttering down onto the same or another tree. I noticed that he was opening his mouth a lot, like it had something distasteful in its mouth, and wondered about it.

Meanwhile, bird life was, relatively speaking, exploding around me. I followed movement above me and had a wonderful look at male Townsend's warbler, no doubt my singer, in the green branches above, peering down, perhaps at Cailey and me. A little later I followed more movement and saw a more subtly colored bird with a white stripe above the eye--could it be my golden-crowned kinglet? It paused only briefly at each stop before darting to another branch, forcing me to put down binoculars to find it again. Finally it graced me with a duck of the head to reveal the golden crown and beak full of prey. I watched then with my bare eyes in the hopes that it would reveal a nest, but it soon disappeared. And, finally, another bird appeared on a branch through the trees against the water. I'd just heard a Pacific-slope flycatcher from that area, and sure enough it was he, little crest and white eye ring and olive body perched like a prince on a hemlock branch. And all this time, the creeper was around me. Finally, as I watched closely through binoculars, I realized that the mouth openings corresponded exactly with the loud golden-crowned kinglet calls I was hearing. They weren't kinglets at all! The quite loud and somewhat ventriloquistic calls were coming from this fellow, and were occasionally answered by another. I've heard this call so many times, and always chocked them up to kinglets--how many times, I wonder, have I had it wrong? With this experience, I predict I will be able to differentiate them quite well...these calls, in pairs of loud peeps, were uniform; though I can't describe it, I believe the calls of kinglets will be more melodic and probably not so piercing. Toward the end of my stay, the creeper's quieter companion showed up and I was able to watch them both in adjoining trees as they foraged. It was, by far, the best bird watching I've had this year. And all the while, the eagle sat on her nest in the sunshine.

On my way back, I moseyed through the marshy, flowery, grassy meadow in front of the lodge and upriver, stopping to photograph one of the super abundant white moths or butterflies (I really need to study insects) hovering around yellow flowers. Though I took many pictures, the white wings are washed out in the sunshine. When I returned I decided it was time for a genuine rest and a little sunbathing. I laid on the lower deck on a quilt (spread out to allow Cailey something soft to lie on while she panted in the heat) and read and rested for a bit, pantsless for the heat and sun. I read some Irish folk tales, lounged a bit, then got up when I heard excited bird calls from upriver. They resolved into chickadees (another bird I had yet to hear this year at Snettisham), but I was up, so I grabbed a broom and made a circuit of the buildings (still pantsless!), sweeping the porches, deck, boardwalk, and stairs, the final step to civilizing the pathways. On the way I stopped in the cabin outhouse and cleaned it as I'd done the lodge outhouse the day before. Somewhere in there I photographed a beautiful orange butterfly with deeply serrated wings. I also chased after a bird moving his way upriver that sounded like a warbling vireo. After another dinner of bison, I washed all the dishes, including the two big pots of overwintered water that have been taking up most of the space on the card table, mounted the old lodge tour poster in the poster frame and hung it over the cabinet, and set up my new spotting scope on its tripod. This last task was troublesome--not the mounting part, but the focusing part. It took me a surprisingly long time to get anything in focus but once I got the hang of it, the results were impressive. I watched several loons from out in the inlet I'd hardly have seen otherwise. It'll be ideal for bears across the inlet, and birds on the water. I spent a few minutes on the internet then before retiring to Hermit Thrush, where I am now catching up on this trip report before falling into bed.

Sunny lodge


Eagle observatory

Cailey at the nest observatory



The next morning I actually started with tea and breakfast on the porch. The day was high overcast, a subdued contrast to the raging north wind and sunshine of the day before. Gusts came in off Gilbert Bay, but overall the mood was peaceful. I first swept the deep layer of pine needles off the top of the skiff, then hooked up the hose to the valve behind the cabin to assess the water pressure with my new pressure gage (for planning purposes with future hydropower), then raked all the weed whacked grass and forbs along and in front of the lodge into half a dozen or so mounds. Each one I bundled into my arms and carried down to the intertidal area, tossing them over the log. A final sweep of the rocky path and that task is done, for the summer I expect. I had one more goal for the weekend: to make spring opening/guest preparations complete, I needed to get the insides of the cabins ready. First I made the rounds with a dying bottle of pledge and a couple of rags, cleaning and dusting the vanities and anything else that needed it (the leather chair was, as usual, the worst--I think I need to make other arrangements for it). On the way I noted which cabins needed what linens and later turned around and delivered them.

Cut grass pile


Yanna.eit (wild celery)

All day I'd been contemplating when to leave. In the end, I followed my gut and the point-specific weather forecast that called for mild 1' seas in Stephen's Passage, slightly less than the next day. I was out of tasks to do, and though I could easily have relaxed and read the rest of the evening, the idea of not having to wake up and immediately pack up and head to town was appealing. I find myself wanting a little more buffer between the end of the adventurous part of the weekend and the start of the work week. I had lunch on the porch, enjoyed the serenity of the quiet inlet for a while (strangely, there were many boats around on Wednesday and Thursday, but few since), then took a mini nap inside on the couch. I started packing up at 3:20, making the rounds of the cabins again to close up and shut off valves, and Cailey and I were puttering away on the boat at 4:30. Strong gusts had persisted all afternoon, but the forecast held firm and, well, you really never know until you go out there. Well, it turned out to be pretty brutal. The wind didn't seem to know which way it wanted to come from in the entrance to the port until I passed Mist Island and it turned into a typical southeasterly. By the time I reached Stephen's Passage I was hitting three footers and the turn north was rather hairy. By then I was pretty well committed and really didn't feel like turning around, and I had a feeling it would improve the farther north I went. After all, the area just north of Seal Rocks is one of the two worst spots of the trip in seas like that. Nonetheless, it was no fun and a bit scary. At one point I turned around to see my backpack on the deck (it had fallen off the other seat, unbeknownst to me) and Cailey's jacket splattered with salt spray. Poor Cailey had a poor time of it. The seas did improve by the time we reached the little bight, worsened around Grave Point, and improved again. We ran out of gas in the main tank just off of Mayflower Island, which was good news in terms of fuel efficiency, but once again I was at a loss to get fuel pressure back into the main. I worked the pump tediously, I added more gas to the large tank and tried that, I checked the fuel filter which was, surprisingly, full of fuel, but still I couldn't get fuel to the engine. I finally gave up and kickered it to the harbor, probably adding 20 minutes to the trip, plus the lost time drifting down the channel. Poor Cailey! All in all it was a three hour trip and I didn't get home and unpacked until 8:30. Time to do some trouble shooting on that fuel line!

AF40 (?) and calf