Snettisham 2016 - 5: I Finally Made it Back
  August 12-14


Foggy river

It has been a strange summer. Today is the first day in a month (nearly four weeks exactly) that I have been at Snettisham. Sitting on the porch today overlooking the gradually lightening and calming inlet, solitude was keenly felt, in this place where earlier I had found my only refuge. But that was back in the beginning of summer, long before the line into fall was drawn a few weeks ago. The weekend after Rory left I was meant to come down with Katie and Rob but, after an agonizing afternoon of indecision, I canceled the trip to avoid the impending storm, which turned the trees on Main Street sideways while I dined with them that evening. I had meant to take the next two weekends in town, but with that cancelation I would then have faced a whole month away from Snettisham, so I began to make plans to spend the following weekend here instead, happily coinciding with a free weekend for Ezra. I canceled our Wednesday evening departure due to continued rain and wind (making up for the weeks of lovely weather we'd enjoyed in June and early July) in the hopes for calmer winds in the morning. We made the attempt on a tantalizingly smooth channel only to run into 2-3' seas at the edge of Taku Inlet, with white caps beyond and green water sloshing over the bow at idle. In some anguish, defeated, I turned around and took us back to town. The rest of the morning was spent in deep despair to Cailey's chagrin; the afternoon was spent at the office in a kind of serene haze in which the whir of the climate control system was welcome companionship, and I was productive. I spent the whole next day at the office too to make up for a lost Thursday morning and to earn a few extra hours for the long week ahead. I was in town--why not work?

Perhaps it was meant to be, for the next day may have been the most perfect summer day of my adult life. I rose early and hiked Thunder Mountain with Cailey (barefoot all the way), summitting to pastures of wildflowers covered in dense mist that silvered the clumps of blue lupine in a fairytale world. Cailey was beside herself with eagerness to hunt marmots and more than once I yelled at them to run as they sat unconcerned by their burrows while she bore down on them. "She's a hunter!" I said, "Be wary!" After a shower back at home, I stopped by a friend's house who was moving to pick up of some unwanted possessions of his, then read for a while in the nook before spending the rest of the afternoon practicing swing dancing in Diamond Park beneath a perfect high summer overcast sky (revealing now the top of Thunder Mountain). In the evening I had dinner out with the family to celebrate my nephew's birthday, then crashed at home with Doctor Who. When have I ever had such a summer day?!

The next week was a blur of activity; my aunt came to town and we flew up the Taku Wednesday afternoon, returning on Friday just a few hours before I headed to Camp DAMP for a weekend of contra dancing, quite possibly the most fun I have ever had. A week of hard work, an evening of Irish music, and here I am, rather discombobulated. The evening outside is fair, the clouds even beginning to part here and there, the water calm. I woke up this morning full of anxiety for the trip down. Would I make it? Should I take the Kathy M? Could I handle getting weathered out again? So tired of worrying about weather. The weekend of dance camp had been fair (not "damp" at all), but it began blowing again soon after and the point specific forecast was calling for 2-3' seas, exactly the forecast that had turned Ezra and I back. All the anxiety of making weather decisions on top of the anxiety of a month in Juneau had me on edge....but up I forced myself, fed the sapsucker a last time before turning him over to my mother's care, and drove to the harbor past the flags along the highway, which seemed suitably lackluster. I took the Ronquil and made my way south, encountering reasonable seas at least half the way. Sally, my new engine, behaved wonderfully. For I haven't been all at adventure idle these weeks in town! The new engine was installed as soon as I got back to town with Rory and I'd put a couple of hours on it by the time Ezra and I made our aborted tour. However, the prop was inadequate, bringing the engine only to 5000 rpms, so I had to pull the boat and replace it last week. We are now up to hour seven or so. Quiet as a kitten at idle, like a jet engine (of the airplane kind) at full throttle, Sally had won me over quite without the added fuel efficiency and reliability. I love it. Strange to think that the new engine cost more than the boat and original engine put together, though. On my way into the beach, I looked to the nest and saw a solid brown bird flapping around--the eaglet is alive and practicing!

And so I am here, and not yet settled. We left at about 8:30 and must have arrived approaching 11:00; one whale came up dead ahead north of Seal Rocks and I smelled cucumbers on and off. After getting the systems going, I filled the hummingbird feeders and ate a lunch of quesadillas on the porch. I really didn't leave the porch until about 3:00 except for a cup of hot chocolate. I read several chapters of Edward Abbey's book "Desert Solitude," struck by how some of his passages hit home. How rare it is for me to chafe at solitude, especially here. Is this what a summer in town engenders? Is it better to yearn for solitude (ever available) than for unreliable human company? Obviously the spiritual and existential angst from earlier in the summer carries on, swinging in the opposite direction; the future is uncertain.

So it really did begin to feel like fall a couple of weeks ago. A storm is one thing, but ever since then the leaves have steadily fallen, the summer vegetation is browning, there's a feel to the air that is more fall than summer. Fall is early, as the spring was early, as the berries are early. There is a certain comfort it in, I always love the fall here, and it comes with less pressure than the heady glare of early and mid-summer sunshine. When my head wasn't in a book, I gazed at the meadow before me, wishing I could paint the colors there, the burgandies and gold of a handful of leaves, the pink-gray of seed heads against the silver-green of grass and sedge, together in a soft wash of early fall. And the bird life was spectacular. I heard the flock as they approached from downriver, what sounded like golden-crowned kinglets, and then the bushes were alive with birds: orange-crowned warblers in the currents (adults and fledglings), Townsend's warblers in the bushes and spruce boughs (all ladies or juveniles), golden-crowned kinglets in the spruce boughs, chickadees everywhere (including under the porch eves), Pacific wrens closer to the ground. And all in abundance. Later, a young Wilson's warbler appeared in the currents, so perky and adorable and perfect, and I inexplicably wanted to call him Chuck. A very speckled and disheveled fledgling hermit thrush perched on the edge of the deck for a few moments. Later, when the flock was concentrated in the downriver thicket, I spied a yellowish bird perched on the top of a bush and something told me to check him out--a flycatcher, perhaps a fledgling from the local Pacific-slope pair for the slight fuzziness of his perfect head of feathers. Those eye rings! It was a delightful chaos with chips and flitting birds everywhere, even the wrens were singing softly now and again. A sparrow showed his face a time or two. I watched an orange-crowned warbler twice pick up a big brown caterpillar, but both times he carried it into seclusion for feasting. An adult Wilson's warbler showed up too. And at one point I looked up to see a large speckled bird fly by, which I assumed at first was a thrush, but which turned out to be a small hawk with a long tail, flying across the deck just as a little bird would, then continuing downriver to perch briefly on a log before disappearing. Merlin, accipiter? That tail was certainly long. Sharp-shinned? Wow. Oh, and a fledgling varied thrush as well. Watching the orange-crowned warbler work, I thought that warbler life looked pretty good--hopping from one perch to the next in an endless maze of bushes, attentively seeking out little creatures for dinner. Short-lived, perhaps, but it seems like a cheery, good life. Through it all, the eaglet quietly screamed on and off from the nest or its vicinity.

Feeling guilty and uneasy, I got up at 3:00 and decided to work a little, feeling not quite like I deserved a day of relaxation. I gathered up paint brush, sandpaper, and stain and headed to Mink Cabin. Then I brought the step ladder from the outhouse and the broom from the lodge and prepped the front and downriver walls for staining, moving all the furniture out of the way. I put on "Winds of Time" from my phone (having accidentally bought the audio book instead of a hard copy) and stained first the ceiling and then two of the walls. I can't say I enjoyed it, but it only took an hour and a half. We'll see how much time I manage to spend at it this weekend. It's a summer of recovery, right, not a summer for productivity? It hasn't even been three months, and I have been busy. And I have more time here this fall, and no other major chores.

I had a small glass of wine after that and read a little more on the porch, feeling the melancholy return. At one point I decided I might listen to some music to try to turn the mood and realized I had stopped the book in the middle of a chapter and didn't want to lose my place, so I finished the chapter instead. That worked surprisingly well on my mood! Dinner was a bunless bison burger cooked with a carrot and some broccoli and a handful of crackers, and here we are. I am ready to try for Sweetheart this weekend, should I feel up for it. Having missed Pavlof Harbor this year, my freezer is alarmingly empty. That said, the idea of fishing and filleting and vacuum packing sounds exhausting. Perhaps I do need a break after all.

I headed to my cabin relatively early and read by the light of the new inflatable solar lantern I brought down (possibly the most ingenius invention I've ever stumbled upon). The cabin smelled alarmingly musty when I came in, so I let the heater run while I read, the first functional use of it since I hooked it up successfully to the tank outside. I inspected the walls and mattress/bed spring, but never found any dampness, so I'm not sure what's going on. When I got up, the windows were a little foggy, also surprising. I sprayed a little febreeze on the mattress to see what would happen. It had started raining sometime this morning and I sat with jasmine tea and watched it fall on a calm inlet. It feels so much like fall. Warblers and chickadees came by, and a young thrush that perched in the top of the little spruce tree. Somewhat more eager to work today than I had been yesterday, I soon headed to Mink cabin where I put a second coat of stain on the front and downriver walls, then swept and mopped that half the floor before putting a first coat of stain on the other two walls. Before I stopped working, I prepped Harbor Seal cabin, taking pictures off the walls, sweeping them off, and rearranging the furniture so I could work with a ladder near the walls. On the way I was surprised to see that another branch had fallen on the bridge--a rather huge one!--and knocked off another rail. I'd already put a different one back when I arrived yesterday. This branch was probably 20 feet long, most of which landed on the river side of the bridge. I looked up and wondered how many more are going to come down? After that I broke for a picnic lunch and lingered on the porch reading and watching the misty inlet, surprisingly still, and free from the expected boat traffic to and from Sweetheart (not sure if it's past the season, or people are busy with the derby, or if the four foot seas supposed to be out in Stephen's Passage are slowing folks down).

While I read, the mist closed in on the inlet. I heard odd calling from the river and saw a dark shape emerge; through binoculars it resolved into the shape of a loon, which soon split and became two loons. They squawked on the water, turning to face each other and merging until they made symmetrical shapes wholly unlike the shape of individual birds, necks joined, beaks pointing outward, like a kaleidoscope slowly changing shapes. From the gloom behind them a third bird emerged and the squawking stopped. The two on the water took wing and flew after the other upriver, soon turning with the third and disappearing into the inlet.

After a rather long break, I carried Joanie and a power sander and supplies to Harbor Seal cabin and sanded down most of the dog and boot and glove prints imbedded in the light pine wood from its muddy construction. I thought I'd finish staining Mink cabin before bringing the ladder down, but found that it was still rather damp, so took the ladder prematurely to access some of the higher stains. Then I carried everything up to Hermit Thrush and sanded there. The stain instructions say not to apply in temperatures below 50....which is probably close to where we are today. I think I'll go set up my buddy heater in there to help it dry overnight.

As I was irritatingly sanding the walls and ceiling of Hermit Thrush (thankfully less muddy than Harbor Seal) I began to formulate an idea about staining that cabin this weekend. Tearing apart my cabin is awkward, and something that should be done in one stay, and preferably when I am alone. The idea of having it all stained and back in order when future guests arrived was appealing, so I resolved to do it, leaning the bed against the mountain wall so I could stain all walls except that one at the same time. It was almost 5:00 when I started staining, forced to forgo listening to my book because the rain on the roof was too loud to hear it. I finished half the ceiling before Cailey showed up and laid down on the pile of sheets I put on the floor for her. She was clearly hungry, as I was, and when I ran out of stain I took her to the lodge and made us both dinner. I returned afterwards with more stain and a screwdriver to try to unscrew the last coat hanger (unsuccessfully) and finished staining by 7:30. The solar lantern was a great help staining in the near dark. For the last 20 minutes or so I had the heater running to warm the cabin and help it dry overnight. Over dinner, I'd let it run through the last of a small portable can of propane, nearly empty. I read on the deck over an inlet entirely socked in while the rain continued and the noseeums ate at my feet until I retreated inside and then to Cottonwood for the night.


The inlet is fogged in on arrival

Typical branch fallen on the bridge

Cozy cabin

A branch fell overnight!

I slept in deliciously in the morning, not making it to the lodge until nearly 9:00. The rain had ceased and I sat overlooking a calm and bright inlet, and the idea of Sweetheart Creek sounded quite reasonable and even enticing. But that was an afternoon trip, so by 9:45 I was making my way to Hermit Thrush to put the second coat of stain on the ceiling and three walls. This time I started from the bottom, staining up until I could reach no more, than finishing the back wall and the others as I came to them while working on the ceiling. By 11:30 I was finished and ready for a break, so before cleaning up I rested again at the lodge, ate a brownie, read a little bit, then had quesadillas for lunch.

After lunch I figured out which cast net I'd brought down was the newer one and finished packing my backpack for fishing. Then I returned to Hermit Thrush and swept and mopped the floor where I worked, leaving the heater running and a window open to help dry the floor so I could move the bed onto it and free the last wall for staining. I then stained the two walls of Mink up to where I could reach without the ladder and took another break. The rain had descended again on the inlet, obscuring it in clouds and mist, and I began to doubt my Sweetheart plans. As I lay on the couch, the rain came down with ferocity, in such density that the drops on the metal roof sounded like running water, and I read myself into a sweet nap and abandoned plans to fish.

When I woke up I remembered that the heater was still running, so I ran up and turned it off, carrying the ladder down to Mink on the return. I returned to the couch for a little more reading before I came back to Mink and finished staining, then swept and mopped the floor where I'd been working, wiping it down with a towel to hasten the drying. Back at Hermit Thrush, the floor was dry, so I moved the furniture over to the downhill side, sprayed the mattress and mattress pad with febreeze to hopefully help with the lingering mildew smell, and mopped the rest of the floor. A little later I put a first coat of stain on the last wall (without a ladder, jumping for the last corner) while the header ran to work on drying everything out. It worked brilliantly. I headed back to the lodge and did a few small chores, clearing out the path of the seep that drains along the side of the shed with my foot, clipping the salmonberries that have grown through the boards on the deck, and sweeping it with my large push broom. By that time Cailey was anxious for dinner, so I fed her and then sat on the porch with a little wine and my book (hastening toward the end of long, engaging novel), and felt a touch of bliss overlooking the land and water before me, the clean deck, all closed in and quiet, welcoming another dense bout of rain. A crabber had cruised the inlet for a little while, but quickly disappeared in the mist.

I ate some melon while my soup heated and then curled up with Cailey on the couch again and finished my book, content with the work that I've accomplished this weekend (with the promise of putting two cabins right tomorrow) and the coziness of the rain. While staining this morning I'd made it to about chapter 20 (of 26) of my audio book before my battery descended into the red. Unfortunately, the "spare" power cord I'd brought along (the fact that I didn't realize I had two until I found it in my bag should have been a warning) was the one that had perished in Cailey's water dish, so neither my battery pack nor my laptop can charge it. Oh well!

After three days of almost perfect calm in the inlet, little swells were coming in off Gilbert Bay this morning, and the point specific forecast was calling for three foot seas through my portion of Stephen's Passage. I have learned that swells from Gilbert Bay do not make for seas I am comfortable in, so I began to contemplate staying one more night, as it is supposed to start laying down tomorrow. For some reason, I slept in absurdly this morning, then lounged around in bed. My phone wouldn't turn on at all, so it wasn't until I got to the lodge that I knew what time it was...10:00 already. I had a snack, then got right to work, putting a second coat of stain on the final wall of Hermit Thrush, then sweeping and putting it all back together, wall hangings and all. That required several trips to Mink and the lodge for tools, broom, etc. I also put three hooks on the wall outside to support the propane hose, which looks nice and tidy now. Then I put Mink cabin back together, and came back to the lodge for some more snacks and a cup of Russian tea, after which I read second Kings. Having mostly put the two cabins back together, I worked on some odds and ends chores, starting with the door to Mink Cabin which had swollen at the top to the point where I couldn't even force it shut anymore. The ladder was conveniently there, so I brought over a big file and filed down the top until it would close easily, only to (re)discover that the door latch won't latch. It looked like the hole might be a little low, so I unscrewed the hardware on the frame. The hole needed to be expanded to do any good, so I came back with a hammer and chisel, hacked away bits and pieces, and put it all back together. The door works beautifully, so I took one last look, swept the porch with my foot, and locked up. Then I headed up to Hermit Thrush to fix a leak in the sink that had cropped up since staining (no doubt from moving the vanity around to access the wall). I had a wrench but couldn't see what I was doing and was being dripped on, so first I shut off the water and then I looked for a light. The only thing I had in the cabin was a kerosene lamp, so I lit that with about the tenth damp match that I tried, and placed it under the sink. There wasn't much room to work, but with the light I was able to get my wrench around the nut and tighten it. After sweeping the porch, I saw that the sink was still leaking a little, but I finally managed to tighten it until it seemed to stop. Nevertheless, I made sure to turn the water off when I locked up and left. I look forward to my next visit when I will sleep in a newly stained cabin, hopefully with very little mildew smell! I even took back my towel and robe, both of which may have been culprits in the smell, having overwintered here.

On one of the several trips back to the shed for tools, I picked up a hoe and used it to scrape off the turf to either side of the last upriver 2x12 of the main boardwalk where the moss and grass were creeping over the edges. I'd laid that board in semi-darkness many Septembers ago, mistaking it for pressure-treated, and it's interesting to watch it decay and grow moss in a way that the other boards are not (albeit, they are also farther off the ground). It feels wonderful to do some of these little housecleaning chores. Earlier in the day I also finally hung my new fancy hummingbird feeder, having finally picked up the tiny screw hooks I needed to do so. The feeder is a long tube that hangs horizontally with many small holes along either side of the top. I'll be very curious to see how it works, but unfortunately it won't be until next year, as no hummingbirds have shown themselves on this trip.

The weather forecast looked rather grim for that evening, and much better the next day, so I decided to overnight and come in early in the morning on Monday. My phone was dead and I'd forgotten my watch, so I was forced to use my laptop as a time keeping device from my snuggery in Cottonwood. I could have gotten up any time, of course, but I wanted to be up early and try to make it to work at a reasonable hour. When I checked the time at 5:23 I went ahead and got up, dressed, and put my comforter away. Pacific wrens were singing all around while I was still in bed and I also heard a soft hermit thrush song, very shortly thereafter seeing one in a tree outside. I couldn't see the boat from Cottonwood, so chuckled to myself when I got to the lodge, all ready to take off, and discovered that the boat was still high and dry. I knew the tides were tending that way, but had no way to really predict what it would be doing at 6:00 a.m. Could I have moved the boat to deeper water to ensure an early departure? Certainly, and I had considered it. But there was no reason other than my own plans to leave early, so I left it to fate. In the end, I wound up reading for a couple of hours on the porch as the tide rose, and then wading out to the boat. I thought at first I might have let it go too long, as I found myself unable to cross the little channel that drains the seep near the lodge, but remembered that the boat was sitting on higher ground on the other side, so I backtracked, jumped the creek, and gingerly made my way down the submerged peninsula to the boat in shallow water (the river water was so opaque it was impossible to tell depth). Cailey was quite dubious, but I coaxed her out. We didn't depart until 8:50 and I was to work around noon.


Foggy inlet