Snettisham 2016 - 2: Catharsis
  June 18-20


Whiting Inlet

I'm afraid this entry won't have much in the way of adventure, construction or otherwise. My summer prospects look dimmer and dimmer, few prospects of joy and progress. After a surprisingly productive Thursday evening getting ready to go (including cleaning the smaller aquarium and watering all the plants), I spent all Friday watching the weather forecast as it was updated through the day. Three to four foot seas in the morning convinced me to work during the day, with the idea that I could take Monday off instead and still get a weekend out of town (having spent the previous weekend in Juneau). It had been nearly three weeks since I'd been to the homestead last, and the last time I'd been at peace. The evening weather window worsened, though the strong winds of the morning did diminish in the afternoon as promised. I was prepared to go by 5:00, but sat in the nook with my phone plugged in to charge it a bit more before I left, and eventually saw that the winds were now meant to diminish and turn from the NW in the morning. With some relief, I tucked in for the night.


Bumper crop

Dungie on the bridge

Fallen nest

Nigel Cottonwood in the salmonberries

After a fitful night's sleep, I awoke at 6:00 and drug my tired self out of bed half an hour later. By 8:06 I'd arrived at the boat with my first cart of goods. Before I unloaded, I decided to start the boat and warm the engine--in other words, make sure I could leave--and found myself unable to locate the key. I'd ceased leaving it on the boat for fear of theft (even hiding it), but it was not in my backpack. I took everything out, I searched the pockets of the rain jacket I'd been wearing when I'd puttered to town last. I scoured the glove box. Nothing. Numbness. I pushed the cart back up the low tide ramp, reloaded the car, and headed home. There I found the key, checking the steps into the kitchen on a whim, where I'd apparently stuck it after the rather stressful trip home three weeks ago. Back to the harbor with a very confused dog. Three carts of gear and half an hour later and we were underway, having lost only 45 minutes to the key debacle. I think if it had been windy in the harbor, I might have taken it as a sign to stay in town. But the morning was serene, low fluffy overcast, the green water glass, a perfect, perfect day to be on the water, a contrast and relief from the previous day's rainless wind. And there was nothing for me in town, nothing but lonely mountaintops and a hard drive full of media to turn my mind from its sorrows.

At 9:13 I puttered away. Since the bread I'd bought a few days before had gotten crunchy, I'd stopped by Foodland on the way to the harbor to pick up fresh bread and something to fill my appetiteless but moaning belly--the only thing that sounded good, cake donuts. I had in mind jelly filled hostess donuts, but saw first a box of donut holes and picked up those instead. I'd also picked up the last Pacifico from home when I found the key, as the stress of the morning and the latening hour made that seem more appropriate. I had both as I headed down the channel, and it seemed to easy my body.

Aside from wakes, the way south was wonderfully smooth. A tiny bit of a trough on the way to Arden, turning into tiny following seas here and there the rest of the way, but mostly calm. The worst of it was a rather brisk following sea approaching Sentinel Point that I would not have wanted to buck into. I saw no whales or other wildlife to speak of, though I might have heard a distant blow when I changed fuel tanks at Seal Rocks (surprising me, since the last time I came back in foul weather and made it to Douglas Harbor). I was bucking the rising tide for at least part of it. At the homestead, I quickly unloaded the boat and left Cailey ashore, fetlock deep in the water, while I anchored.

It was 11:30 and I was hungry, but exhaustion won out and I laid down on the couch with Cailey for a few hours of on-and-off dozing. I'm not sure I ever had a proper nap, but I did feel better when I emerged later. I ate a bowl of soup and some bread while a small blue boat pulled crab pots all over the inlet. I spent the rest of the afternoon outside reading and enjoying the wildlife. While I was napping, I snapped open my eyes to a bang on the window, quickly enough to see a large bird fly away. He flew to the other side of the lodge and was quickly joined by another who fed it on a branch just outside the window! They were woodpeckers, hairy I believe!! When I was picking up the SD card from the bridge camera, the trees were full of squawking jays; I thought then that I'd heard the gentle pecking of a woodpecker, but figured it was probably jay antics, but perhaps not. The jays themselves kept up a wild racket the whole time I was "napping"--they've been quite the lords of this place the last couple of years.

The woodpeckers were all around while I was outside, chutting and pecking and flying back and forth. I'd made fresh nectar for the two empty hummingbird feeders before lunch and these were soon noticed. At least three, and then four, hummers frequented them and, in the distance, I heard the zipping of a male in a territorial display, though I never noticed a male at the feeders. Birds noisily worked the berry bushes from the inside and twice I saw a varied thrush emerge, one adult male and another a fledgling; another time a hermit thrush (presumably) flew across the opening and downriver. A young squirrel (I believe) scampered across the deck in front of me. A kingfisher's chatter echoed the woodpeckers' calls all day and I watched while one worked the shoreline, hovering impossibly over the water before swooshing to the next vantage and repeating. While I was inside briefly to send emails, intense eagle drama swept back and forth across the window. First an adult flew downriver with a round fish in its talons (flounder?), then a minute later another adult flew upriver with a long branch in its talons, then the action really started. Three adults flew past going downriver, one with a fish in its talons. Another made for a grab and the two spiraled to the beach together; one remained there, while the winner took his prize into the bushes, followed by an immature eagle and another adult. Lots of screaming. On the bridge I found a full, relatively fresh dungeness crab carapace with a hole in it and a leg attached--dropped from above, no doubt. I look forward to checking out the activity in the nest tomorrow from the mountainside behind.

I also heard a whale breathe periodically while I was outside, though I never spied him (or searched for him with binoculars). I was pleasantly absorbed in City of Blades, the sequel to the excellent City of Stairs which promises to be equally as good, and my long-awaited Snettisham summer fantasy read (a rare indulgence). I had salmon and couscous for dinner and, well, here I am. There is certainly some peace here. A hermit thrush is singing; other than that, I have heard calls of jays and woodpeckers and thrushes, the alarms of perhaps a sparrow in the grass, but no other songs.

I read in the lodge until after 9:00 p.m. (it was much later than I expected) and soon headed to hermit Thrush to read myself to sleep, Cailey curled up beside me. There I heard a varied thrush, Pacific-slope flycatcher, and Pacific wren sing, so there are a few more singers around. I awoke a little after 7:00 to another serene morning, but did not emerge from bed until much later, even dozing off for a bit toward the end. A small breakfast and a cup of jasmine tea on the porch started my morning, along with more reading, the only thing I seem able to accomplish. I did take a forest walk upriver and over the creek to a crush of downed hemlocks fallen over the cliffs above the river, which I'd staked out a few years ago as a potential place to read. I shimmied along the trunks and wide branches trying out various places to sit, and found the seats and the view, well above the river, as pleasant as I remembered.

After lunch, the tide was enticingly high and the sun was emerging between clusters of clouds, and my arms were yearning for activity, so I put Cailey inside for a much needed nap and drug Cheech the kayak down to the water's edge. I headed upriver with the sun behind me beyond the grassy point and then to Ox Point, where I turned around and faced the small chop coming in from Gilbert Bay. I stopped by a shelf of rock smoothed and grooved by glaciers, tied the kayak to an overhanging tree, and laid down on the rocks topless until the sun retreated behind a cloud and the breeze became less welcome. I slowly kayaked back downriver along the shore listening to a hermit thrush, Pacific-slope flycatchers, and Townsend's warblers. The breeze eased as I paddled down.

From there I headed back upriver on foot to the fallen trees and planted myself on a horizontal branch, worn by some kind of activity (eagle, otter?) and read for a while, or overlooked the wide river, thinking about my childhood days on the Taku gazing at the flowing brown river and reading books that placed me in other worlds, other lives, much as I was doing today, with similar, if less experienced, melancholy thoughts. Cailey had a less pleasant time of it, as she refused to leave the cluster of logs and branches where she could find no place to rest and was also uncomfortably at risk of tumbling off of them. A lovely mossy shelf was just above the logs, but she stayed close at hand. In part out of pity, I eventually withdrew and took up residence on the deck in tank top and shorts to get a little sun, laying on a comforter at times alongside Cailey. Later in the afternoon I moved back to the top deck where my face was in the shade, but a brisk breeze picked up and cooled the area down and the sun eventually retreated behind the mountain. I heated up a pouch of surprisingly good salmon pasta and here I am, catching up. I will say that the bird life on the deck today was steady and entertaining. I had a good enough look at the woodpeckers to see both clear, unmarked white outer tail feathers (so hairy rather than downy woodpeckers) and the subtle red cap on the fledgling. I had the privilege to watch the parent feed him two salmonberries and something caught on a nearby tree while the fledgling seemed to drowse on a moss clump high in a tree.

I saw an orange-crowned warbler filling its beak with food, and later what seemed to be a shaggy version of the same (a fledgling I'm guessing). A Wilson's warbler also made a brief appearance in the alder downriver. "Whee" calls from a thrush captured my attention in the salmonberries downriver and I watched the culprit fly onto a low branch of the spruce. I had a porthole view of its head, breast, and the top of its left wing as it called and peered around it, casting me flirtatious glances through the window of the spruce branch. While searching for the woodpecker calling from the branches of the spruce near the shed, I watched a jay fly onto a low perch and eat a salmonberry in several bites, then fly farther up with only a bulb left and appear to stash it, or perhaps he was by that time foraging. A squirrel spied on me during that time, perhaps wondering if I was searching for him in the branches. Thankfully they do not scold me here as they do in Juneau. Chickadees came in a few times, once making an appearance on a kayak under the porch. And the number of hummingbirds has jumped; I've counted up to five, but I expect there are more--probably older fledglings drawn in by the activity, or exploring. Given the early summer, it seems likely. From the river, seals bellow, and the blue crabber came back in the afternoon. But now all is calm again and the winds have died. I have a few tasks to do tomorrow, and already dread them, though they are small and not time consuming.


View from upriver deadfall

Sitting on the deadfall

Sunny day

View from the deadfall upriver

What is that look?

Yellow salmonberries

Enjoying the sun on the porch

Pretty sure that's a guilty look

I did, in fact, manage to accomplish all on my agenda in the first two hours of the following morning. I planted the three roses I'd dug up from the Taku two weeks before just in front of the river side of the lower deck, I went on my COASST survey, I walked the paths with a pair of clippers and took care of the two known sole-crushing protuberances that hurt me on the last trip (and quite a few related sticks near the cabin outhouse), tested (successfully) the new propane hose that connects a larger tank to the buddy heater in Hermit Thrush and secured the hose through the hole I drilled last fall (and resecured the hardware cloth around it), and picked three tubs of salmonberries. I don't normally harvest any kind of berry here, preferring to leave them to the birds and other critters, but the bushes were obscenely loaded and, on closer inspection, some of the berries were rotting on the stem. The primarily yellow salmonberries upriver were ridiculously abundant, whole branches bowed to the ground on the river side, loaded with sweet berries. I filled a 2.5 cup tub in five minutes from just behind the riverboat. The next tub of red berries from downriver and around the rest of the property took 20 minutes, and I then picked a third tub on the river side from the yellow bushes, hardly seeming to make a dent in that area. I nevertheless felt a little guilty about it.

I don't recall the rest of the day, but I'm quite sure it involved more reading on the porch and deck. I'm pretty sure a cup of Russian tea made its way in there somewhere, and there may have been sunbathing. Hummingbird activity increased and I counted at least seven individuals (and there were probably more). I headed out in the early afternoon, loading the boat and leaving barefooted as I had been all weekend. I was puttering downriver at the moment of solstice--2:43 p.m.--and hailed the sun with gratitude for its warmth and light, for this place, for beauty, etc., offering a fresh water sacrifice into the sea in lieu of alcohol, which I did not feel like drinking. It sprinkled a bit on the way home, for which I was unprepared, but bareheaded and barefooted, I arrived in Juneau around 5:00, showered, made dinner, and crashed. The salmonberries I made into a cobbler for a late father's day.


Bear damage?

Cailey runs with a stick

Yellow salmonberries

Salmonberry cobbler


Hanging out along the river