Snettisham 2016 - 8: Snow at Snettisham
  October 9-17


North wind coming down the Whiting

The setting of the sun brought instant chill and when I headed inside to make dinner, I found the lodge uncomfortably cold for the first time since I lit the pilot on the refrigerator upon arrival. I had wondered if its warmth might be sufficient to do without a fire tonight, but quickly realized it would not. I lit the fire, laid in from a previous trip and topped with many paper plates from subsequent, fireless trips, and cooked two bison bratwursts in a pan with two carrots and several peppers, simmering in Molson golden lager. There was enough light to prepare dinner, but I ate by candle light and lit the two propane lights on the downriver wall to read. Now I've just picked this up to catch up on the day while a half moon hovers over the mountain out the window, casting a small pool of shimmer onto the calm river.

I'm not sure whether to count today as my third or fourth attempt to close up. I'd planned and prepped for a long week here, intending to leave on a Thursday, the second to last day of September, and stay until the next Friday when a dance in the evening would hail in the new season. The clear weather that had allowed some fantastic displays of northern lights earlier in the week (I'd watched them at Skater's Cabin Wednesday night) was supposed to last over the entire week, but with it came a north wind that began to rage Thursday morning. When I saw that the forecast had added a small craft advisory that day, I went to work instead, watching the wind churn up the water in the channel. It was disappointing, mostly because I'd spent several days packing and doing all the chores that a week from town require, still generally exhausted from summer. And I had really been looking forward to being here and reading for long hours on the porch. When the weather appeared to die completely at 3:00, the water out my window utterly flat, I thought maybe I'd caught a break and hastened home to throw my gear in the truck and zoom to the harbor. It seemed a good sign that my new motion sensor cameras, which were not supposed to arrive until the next day, were on my porch, and I ran by Foodland on the way down to pick up batteries for them. But when I pulled up at the harbor, it was windier than I'd expected, rather seriously windy, and stepping out of the car at the yacht club to feel it buffet me about and watch the flag flapping wildly decided me against an attempt. I'm sure it was the right thing to do.

And so the next day I worked for a few hours in the morning from my couch, looking out at a beautiful sunny day, and took myself camping that night around the back side of Douglas. My general idea was to walk back to my car (about 15 minutes away) and drive to the False Outer Point beach to watch the northern lights after dark, which were supposed to make a showing. I camped in the same stunning site that Katie, Rob, Chris and I had camped in February a couple of winters ago in similar, though much colder, weather conditions. No one else was there, and I pitched my tent just inside the top of the beach grass near an opening in the brush. Around the rest of the tent was a beautiful stretch of flat ground, barren of all but twigs and spruce cones, just between the beach and a steep rise into the rest of the forest. I walked down the beach barefoot to the next point south and sat down with my back against a log to read in the sun. The afternoon was gorgeous, if a little gusty, and I alternated between being too warmed by the sun and chilled by the breeze. Not long after I settled in, I heard a couple of loud crashes and attributed them to a boat that had just passed, perhaps crashing against some seas. But when I heard a whale blow I paid more attention, training my binoculars on the spot where the whale had fluked (one breath), you know, just in case. And a few moments later, a whale snout emerged from the water just where I was looking, rising into a beautiful breach. The whale disappeared, breached again, disappeared, breached again, disappeared, breached again. Then he sounded, and breached, and sounded and breached. I stopped counting after that, watching this magnificent whale breach its way north through and past the wide stretch of yellow sparkling water between the sun dropping towards Admiralty and my beach. Between bouts of breaching, the whale rolled on its back and smacked his pectoral fins for several minutes at a time, front, back, one, then the other. He did it so many times I even managed to take several photos on my phone of recognizable breaches. As the sun set, he was somewhat to the north of me, tail lobbing in the dwindling light.

And with the fading light came a chill. I gathered several armfuls of wood, pleased and surprised that there was so much available around the campsites (testament to how uncrowded they must be, given that I was following a whole summer of use) and lit a nice little fire with one match. Though it felt breezeless in the trees, the smoke swept steadily toward the shore, evidence of the north wind passing over Douglas. I sat by the fire for a couple of hours drinking wine and from my tin cup and feeling rather melancholy, if generally joyful. Around 9:00 I let the fire die and went down to the beach to gaze up at the stars for some time, the Milky Way plainly crossing the sky. I saw two shooting stars and, not surprisingly, no sign of the aurora, though I had a nice long view to the northwest up Stephen's Passage. By that time I had opted not to walk back to the car and drive across the island without knowing what I might find on the other side. Instead I stayed put until my own sleepiness and Cailey's silent, chilly pleas took me to my tent. For the last few minutes of stargazing, I'd sacrificed a side of the blanket around my shoulders to the ground, where Cailey promptly curled up. Off and on all night I heard whales breathing (and was very alarmed by a loud man walking right by my tent while talking on the phone). In the morning I lit another little fire and burned the remnants of what I'd gathered the night before and had two cups of jasmine tea while contemplating my existence. The sun was shining only on the very edge of the beach and the wind had shifted and was now striking Douglas from the Admiralty side (switching to the west I think), so a little fire in the woods was more enticing than the chilly, sunless beach.

And thus I put off my trip to Snettisham for a week. The sun continued all week, and the wind built again as the weekend approached. On Wednesday afternoon I hiked Mt. Jumbo in the afternoon, and on Friday night I went to the first of the winter ballroom dance series as planned. The north winds were going to be significant on Saturday, the forecast said, but there was no small craft advisory. With dread in my heart for all the loading work to be done, I finished the last of my chores mid-morning, loaded the truck, and headed to the harbor. For some reason, just loading the boat for this trip was almost more than I could will myself to do. I dropped everything off at the top of the ramp and drove to the 14-day parking spot down the road. It took three cart loads to get everything on board and then Cailey and I headed over to the fuel dock where I sat around for 20 minutes or so before an attendant came down to fuel me up. And then, at last, I headed down the channel with little hope, buffeted by winds even in Juneau Harbor. Past Douglas Harbor the channel was very choppy, Taku winds roaring across toward Douglas, but manageable. I thought of the williwaws I've seen with Taku winds before and tried to console myself that it could be worse than what I was seeing. Maybe it wouldn't be that bad in the inlet.

Long story short, it was. The seas were pretty reasonable half way to Arden, but as soon as I started to come out of the lee of Point Bishop, the steady three footers began, too big and close to take broadside. I would have had to turn into them, which means going 90 degrees off track, and the seas were only going to build as I got farther into the Inlet. So I turned back.

You really never know what it's like until you're out there, though I really had a pretty good idea when I was in the channel that time. Sometimes trying alone offsets the anxiety, though, and the only downside was that I had to refuel, having burned more than I was comfortable losing. Thankfully, I remembered reading the hours at the fuel dock and knew they were closed Sunday so I returned to my friendly attendant, a little embarrassed, to top it off (13 gallons!?). The winds were supposed to drop overnight, the expected seas falling to two feet and the winds turning light and variable in the afternoon. I brought all my gear into the cabin of the boat and left everything there except my backpack and the perishables, hoping that this time what I left overnight in the boat would not be pillaged. At home I ate lunch, took a tiny nap, and then had a perfectly lovely afternoon having drinks and appetizers with friends at my parent's house and then attending a contra dance and folk music concert in the evening.  I was underway this morning around 10:00. The channel was utterly calm, the mountains on the other side of Taku Inlet hazy and blue without even any termination dust (no doubt having melted in the nearly two weeks of sun). I thought I saw a series of small blows just off Marmion Island, but as I got closer I saw ducks bathing and believe that what I saw was birds throwing up a small shower of spray while bathing that shimmered in the bright fall sun. I took a picture of the calm inlet and sent it to the people who had been tracking my progress. A little chop came up half way to Arden and then genuine Taku seas crossing the inlet, close and white capped and covering the boat in salty spray, but not enough to trouble me very much (Cailey might disagree). I had to leave the windshield wipers on for a while, but by the time we passed Grave Point the sea was flat again. I peered out the salt-stained windows for whales, but saw nothing.

The tide was near the end of falling when I arrived, but it was coming on a high low tide (over six feet), so we came in close enough to make hauling gear reasonable. I was able to jump off the bow of the boat in water shallow enough for my xtratufs and carried everything up to the path, allowing the boat to go aground on the sand, anchoring it to the rocks higher up. I don't even think the sand appeared around it before the tide starting coming in. Everything looked in order at the homestead, to my relief and delight. The air smelled like spring, sea salt and dead grass, and I was overjoyed to be there.

As I turned on the propane I remembered that there was no tank hooked up to the lights, having taken it back to town to fill (I brought four propane tanks back with me, having used all the spares more or less on the same trip, plus one that didn't work). I hooked up a new one, carrying it in through the other side of the bearproof box over the top of the olive barrel filter, and hooked it up, dumping soapy water over the top to check for leaks. Inside I cleaned the fridge (which I'd forgotten to leave open, resulting in a bit of mildew, though not much) and lit the pilots, then made quesadillas for lunch, unpacked a little, and at long last sat myself down on the porch in the sunshine with lunch, books, and binoculars, and there I stayed for the next hour or so. I was surprised and pleased at the bird life. One bird was chuttering ceaselessly down the beach, so at one point I walked down the path to find him, seeing a dark sparrow in the alders downriver. Later, he chipped his way into the bushes in front of the porch and I had a good look at him and two others just like him, largish sparrows with dark backs, gray stripped cheeks, whitish throats, and dark spots in the centers of their breasts. They didn't strike me as fox sparrows for size or color, so my best guess is that they were song sparrows. I saw a smaller, much paler sparrow briefly as well, but not long enough to identify. And all the while, the one sparrow chupped constantly, so long and in different places that I don't believe it was alarmed. I feared he or she had lost someone, calling and looking hopelessly for them. Upriver in the alders, here in the currents, out in the grass, chup chup chup chup chup chup chup chup...

After a while I grew warm and sleepy and spread myself on a quilt and a pillow on the upper deck and dozed on and off for a while while Cailey, who'd been lying on the lower porch, joined me finally in her bed. Not long after I awoke and started reading again, I heard a steady rustling in the bushes downriver which soon seemed to me to be too loud and consistent for a bird. Cailey seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time and we both popped up to look into the berry bushes downriver in time to see a mink making his way down the typical mink path to disappear under the porch. Cailey leaped after him and disappeared, chasing him under the lodge. I would have thought the mink would continue downriver quickly to safety, but it hid under the lodge until Cailey flushed him, crashing around on the kayaks. I came down and peered around to see if I could see the mink while Cailey was on the chase and, once, heard more than saw the mink scurry under the deck just a few feet from me while Cailey was on the other side. Eventually he apparently fled into the stack of spare lumber upriver because Cailey fussed around there endlessly. A little antsy myself, I picked up one of the propane tanks on my way to my cabin, stopping to get Cailey to follow me and perhaps allow the mink to escape. She didn't want to stay with me at Hermit Thrush and deliberately trotted away when I told her to stay but I managed to call her back and put her in the cabin while I worked with the little buddy heater to make sure it lit for the night. The pilot started right away, but quickly died when turned to a heat position. I turned it back to pilot and it lit easily, presumably because it had extra gas in the pilot light position, and I held it there for longer. Again, it died when left to its own devices. It obviously had gas, but not enough to keep the pilot lit? Several more times I tried, each time leaving it on pilot for longer, and each time it lasted a few seconds, maybe more, each time, but always dying. Finally I played a song on my phone which lasted a little more than two minutes, holding the pilot button down the whole time. This time, the pilot stayed lit while the heater heated long enough for me to determine that it was finally getting enough gas. It makes me reluctant to unhook it in order to heat Harbor Seal while I stain (since the temperatures are rather below optimum now), but at least I think I know how to prime it again.

Back at the lodge I did some upper body exercises, then took the kayak down to the beach to anchor the boat out. I headed out before I realized that I needed to pull the anchor off the beach, so I went back and put that in the kayak, repeatedly having to return toward the beach to free the line from snags. But, I got it aboard, anchored the boat out in the river, and kayaked back with the Kathy M's paddle, as the kayak paddle had fallen off en route. I picked it up on the way back and drug the kayak to its usual place in the grass. After that I returned to the porch and the book I'd been dreaming about and a small glass of wine, then meditated a bit over the river before coming inside for dinner.  And now I believe it is time to go watch that moon!


My gear in the pickup

Cailey is anxious to go

I concentrate on the crossing

Taku Inlet, calm momentarily

The porch is covered in rodent scat

Stunning sky

We both relax

Moon from inside

Day 2

The moon was spectacular. Through binoculars I could see shadows in some of the craters, and the jagged edge of the left side where parts of craters were illuminated when the rest lay in shadow. I saw one shooting star clearly and another (maybe) from the corner of my eye. The stars were not spectacular due to the moon, but the scene was stunning, the moon casting a pool of light on the quiet river, and crossing the river in a shaft of light when viewed from inside. I retired to my cabin around 8:30 and lit the little buddy heater, letting it run while I got ready for bed and read for a while. It warmed the place up quite nicely and I slept well even after the cabin cooled. Even Cailey never shivered, though she shed her jacket sometime in the night and didn't always have the comforter folded over her. I laid in bed a bit after I woke up, enjoying the warm covers and the first full day of my Snettisham fall vacation. Around 9:00 the sun rose above the mountains and shone brilliantly through my windows, much farther south than I remembering it when rising from bed last fall (about a month earlier). When I got to the lodge, the sun had already been on the top porch for some time, somewhat earlier than it strikes the porch in the summer, which is interesting. It did not yet have much warmth to it, so I plunked myself down and wrapped myself in a quilt and a cup of jasmine tea after breakfast. I'd had a late start and by the time I was ready to take a break from silently philosophizing and reading, it was time for lunch. I heated up some chili and added cheese, which warmed me nicely. By 12:20 I was at Harbor Seal and ready to stain, having already carried the ladder, a fresh pot of stain, a paintbrush, and other sundry items there. I quickly swept and then set up the ladder to start with the upriver ceiling. This staining went much better than the others because I had all the furniture neatly stacked in the center, allowing access to all walls with or without a ladder. I stained half the ceiling, then the upriver wall, then the door wall, then the rest of the ceiling, the downriver wall, and the back wall, all in about two hours. During that time I finished the audio version of Winds of Evil by Arthur Updike, the book I'd started when staining about two months ago. Throughout I had the little buddy heater running off a small portable propane canister that died not long before I finished, having warmed the cabin nicely while I worked. I put a new canister on and let it run a bit to warm the cabin back up as the stain finished drying.

I did have to make one trip back to the lodge when I was nearly finished to pick up a good screwdriver to remove two hooks from the wall so I could stain underneath them. I noticed that Cailey was not there and figured she was adventuring on her own. When she was still not there after I finished, it occurred to me that she might be hunting, as she rarely wanders off for long on her own anymore. For myself, I walked back to the point in the woods and then down to the beach to head upriver on a COASST walk. The beach was fairly narrow, the low tides being fairly high, but I could see upriver that the sandbars stretched long and far across the valley, an indication of the low river level. Along the way I saw many stranded jellyfish, most rather beaten up moon jellies, but also a few similar jellies with raised centers and white striations radiating down their sides. I found no tracks other than those left by a gull. Although the vast sandbars beckoned me in the warm sun, I decided to return to explore another day when Cailey could join me. When I neared the lodge I called for her and she came down from the porch. Her nose had numerous bloody bumps and scratches on it and there were spots of blood on her cheek and chest that may or may not have been her own. Her chest smelled musky, so much so that after apparently touching it with my nose in my sniffing, I smelled musk on myself for some time. Her nose, perhaps significantly, did not smell musky. I followed her up to the lodge and she immediately went underneath. I crawled after her, fearing to find a carcass, but found nothing and Cailey only seemed to sniff, never to zero in on one spot. I began to hope that perhaps the encounter did not end in death. If the mink had fought and managed to escape, perhaps it would survive the attack. I certainly hope so. I walked with Cailey along the game trail downriver, to the eagle's nest, back to the lodge, and then to Harbor Seal to turn off the propane heater, and nothing more was revealed, except that she returned to the same area under the porch. There was no dirt on her nose, indicating that she had not buried a carcass.

On my walk I heard what suspiciously sounded like a whale blow and, sure enough, a huge plume appeared in Gilbert Bay. I eventually saw that there were two whales, one inside the confines of the inlet. I found it interesting that the blow from Gilbert Bay lingered in the same place above the whale while the blow closer in swept away from the whale to the south. The morning had been quite breezy with winds coming down the river, but they had died around noon (though a light breeze caused me to put my fleece back on over my t-shirt coming back downriver on my walk, which would mean the wind was coming from the other direction). Anyway, the sky is again cloudless and I look forward to seeing that moon tonight.

I returned to my perch on the porch and wrapped myself in a quilt as the sun disappeared behind the mountain at 4:00. A couple of seals rose in the river and I watched a few sea birds land after they caught my attention by pattering across the water with their feet before flying in an arc and landing again. Lots of white, darker back, could be murre or grebe. Chickadees came through a few times, and jays, making fascinating sounds I don't think I've heard before. Yesterday a pair was hanging around and I threw some bread bits on top of the shed in case they might like that. And, when Cailey was harrying the mink under the lumber pile, a jay flew in from upriver and perched nearby, making a very strange call repeatedly that I'd also never heard before. I took a little video.

Just now I jumped up when I saw two birds on the water close in, thinking I might solve the seabird mystery, but they were two female mergansers. There is also a crabber in the inlet, picking pots. I was concerned with all the pots still here, as I assumed the season was closed, but ADF&G just opened a fall/winter dungeness crab season, possibly because the summer harvest did not meet the allowable catch. I'm glad someone is picking these pots and hasn't left them any longer, not that I want company. Another boat came by earlier and may have been picking pots at River Point, but I couldn't tell. And now dinner approaches and the icy chill of the evening is seeping in. Soon it will be time for a fire, but first I think I'll go bring my heater back up to Hermit Thrush and ensure that I will not have to fight too hard to warm up for sleep tonight.

On my way to pick up the heater I remembered to bring along the poster frame I'd bought in the hopes that it would fit well enough for an old print I had from my childhood, one with warm memories that still make me happy. It's a detailed drawing of a wizard in his study, one hand on an open book, the other over the rainbow steam rising from a cauldron, a hippogriff on one side of the fire and a black cat on the other and a rocky shoreline with the tower of a castle out the open window. It was bent with its cardboard backing and I wanted to protect and hang it, here in my adult cabin, remembering with fondness the few years of early adolescence reading fantasy books and writing letters from my "tower", the gable attic of my cabin bedroom. I had to trim some of the border of the print, using the leatherman conveniently riding along clipped to a belt loop, and soon had it neat and protected.

After that it was a dinner of Pavlof coho from last year, cooked as usual in a frying pan with soy sauce and red wine and surrounded by half a zucchini and some broccoli; for starch, I toasted two pieces of bread in another frying pan. A fire warmed up the room nicely and I was soon stretched on the couch reading my fall reward, The Dragon Reborn, to the light of the two propane lights. I cracked the windows as I had last night, but at 8:00 the carbon monoxide alarm went off, to Cailey's dismay, so I quickly washed my face and packed up for the night. Now I am tucked in my cabin, sitting in my "new" office chair and typing with my kerosene lamp lighting the wizard before me. Have I ever been closer to my childhood letter writing?


Staining Mink Cabin

Cool log on the point

Jelly

Bloody Cailey

Whale!

Gorgeous evening

Supper

Writing in my cabin

Day 3

The weather today was a mirror of yesterday--a brisk wind coming down the river in the morning giving way to calm in the afternoon and cloudless skies. The only difference is that the moon, ever so slightly more full, has risen so much later that it is already 8:00 and it is still hiding behind some tree branches (as viewed from inside), whereas two nights ago it was long since in clear view. A red planet has been visible over the mountains to the west, whether Mars or Jupiter I don't know. Cailey clearly wants to go to the cabin for the night, but I've lingered here just a little longer so I don't have to carry my laptop over there and let it chill in the heatless cabin all night (it was deathly cold when I went to turn it on this morning). It's not that I think the cold will hurt it, but when I restarted my computer after changing batteries today I got a screen telling me that it had shut down due to excessive heat, and that's made me a touch superstitious about temperature extremes. I've also taken the trouble to burn some more wood and keep the lodge warm, so I may as well use it.

I was up earlier today, though I still slept a good long while. I know it was tangibly earlier than yesterday because when I got to the porch I was puzzled by the fact that it was in shadow when I thought that the sky was still clear. I was trying to figure out what was blocking the sun when I realized that it was still behind the mountain. It did not appear until 9:30! I had yogurt and granola again for breakfast and half a cup of Russian tea (not sure if that counts as a tea day). I read some of Isaiah and then decided to work on a project since the wind was sucking away all the warmth the sun might have brought. Some weeks earlier I'd purchased a bunch of curtain hooks on Amazon and thought I might try installing them. Even pushed aside, the curtains in the cabins block a substantial portion of the windows. I sorted through them, four different styles, and chose the one I wanted for Hermit Thrush. On the way over I grabbed my new cordless drill, a bit and driver, and measuring tape. Once there I lit the little propane heater to make working more comfortable and kept Cailey with me for fear of more mink hunts. The motion sensor cameras I'd put out had worked (though they both glitched repeatedly with their daylight videos), but neither showed a mink.

The most difficult part of the project was determining how far down the window frames to place the holds and then lining them up on both sides, and figuring out the relationship between the holds on the door and those on the windows to either side of the door, as the curtains are not quite perfectly lined up. Once I had the measurements in my mind, I was able to mimic them in the other cabins, but the first assessment and readjustment was a little time consuming. The slender windows to either side of the door were particularly difficult because the frame is not wide enough for the hold to do any good (the curtain remains over the window), but putting the whole hook on the wall next to the frame was comically far afield. I wound up splitting the difference, which meant that the screws are in the wall and the rest of the piece leans at an angle against the frame. I may have left a few screw holes in the wall while adjusting those. I also had to move the holds from the frame of the door to the frame of the window in the door, as otherwise the curtains remain inside while the door opens! Or, rather, get pulled through the holds as the door opens. More holes in the wall, but at least it is my cabin. In the end, the results were really lovely and I moved to Cottonwood Cabin where I went about the task more steadily and efficiently. First I unwrapped all four packages of holds, dumping out their screws and unscrewing the decorative ends from the hooks (otherwise they get in the way of the drill). Then I took a hook and a screw and the measuring tape and marked all the holes to be drilled in all the frames. After I drilled all the holes, I screwed all the hooks in and inserted the curtains and took a look around to make sure it all looked good before screwing in the decorative ends. I only had to move one hook, which was a full wall panel lower that it was supposed to be. The whole project took half an hour on that cabin and I followed it up in Mink Cabin. They really look good. The only issue I had with Mink is that the decorative end I chose for those hooks there is so much longer than the others--it has a kind of long point on the end of it--that it is wider than the door and prevents the door from opening. That one will have to live without decoration for now.

By then it was after noon, so I took a break, enjoying the still air and the beautiful day, warm enough for me to be almost uncomfortable in my hoody and t-shirt. At some point I ate quesadillas and half a leftover bratwurst and read in the sunshine while a crabber pulled pots endlessly in the inlet. No whales today, just a wren and unknowable birds on the water, and the flock of (probably) finches I keep hearing but not seeing. This evening three jays worked the area around the riverboat and bushes, making wonderful soft sounds and foraging in the leaves, flicking them aside with their beaks. Eventually I went back to Harbor Seal and put another coat of stain on the walls and ceiling, again with the heater running, though at the lower temperature setting. I left Cailey in the lodge this time to prevent more hunting, as she'd seemed happy enough to be inside earlier when I shut her in during a false mink alarm (the rummaging I heard turned out to be a squirrel downriver). Low tide was at 4:30 and I'd thought to take Cailey for a run on the flats upriver when I was finished, but by then the sun had set, of course, and I thought I'd put it off a day and enjoy it in the sunshine. I sat on the porch until 5:30 and then retreated into the lodge for a fire, the icy chill descending so fast without direct sunlight. I read, ate soup for dinner, then stretched and did some upper body exercises on the carpet. Tonight I read by headlamp rather than risk expulsion by carbon monoxide alarm.

Today is Tuesday, which means that Juneau has had clear weather for two full weeks (it had cleared up two Wednesdays ago on the eve of my original departure date). I finally looked at the weather forecast today and....it does not look good. That is, this clear weather anomaly is expected to continue through Friday, then turn to rain on Saturday. That sounded like good news for the wind shifting, but the marine forecast is calling for nothing less four foot seas through Saturday night (the latest it goes), and some five and six foot seas towards the end of the week. It shows ENE winds on Saturday, not even turning from the SE. Until then, more Takus. It's a little unnerving, this endless sunny weather in October, and unnerving looking at unpleasant seas into the foreseeable future. But, I have nothing I must return for, and had even played with the idea of staying longer to take advantage of Alaska Day on Tuesday. I hope it doesn't quite come to that, but I have everything I need here. Thank goodness for my internet and weather forecasts!


Hermit Thrush window

New curtain holders
Harbor Seal front wall

Foggy window from staining

Day 4

It seemed windier this morning than it had yesterday, but also less chilly on the porch. I'm not sure if I started the day in a warmer place, or perhaps the wind wasn't whipping up this far today for some reason despite its briskness. I've been sleeping a really prodigious amount this week...surprisingly myself by fully sleeping until almost 9:00 this morning, which is unheard of, after falling asleep not long after 10:00 at the latest. I was also surprised to see the sun dazzle through the tree branches while still in bed, some time before it rose above the mountains yesterday. It dappled the forest on the mountainside with such bright gold that I tried to turn on my phone to take a picture (through parted curtains) but found that it lacked the batteries to do so, though I hadn't seen a warning light yesterday. On the way to the lodge I stopped to start up Joanie to make sure I could charge electronics later in the week (otherwise I would alter my behavior to save batteries).

I felt energetic on the way and had plans for all kinds of tasks to do that morning. But by the time I finished breakfast and a cup of hot water, all motivation had passed and I spent the rest of the morning, what was left of it, in the sun with books. A little after noon I went on a mini errand spree, gathering up some tools to work on the floor of the outhouse. I dropped them off, then shut off the water to the lower two cabins so I could dismantle their water systems later. Back at the outhouse I used a hammer to remove most of the rest of the rotten flour and its nails, then chiseled out a rather sturdy, unrotten piece in the middle. I soon had a clean surface to work with. As I still had energy, I grabbed my drill and tape, hammer and nail, and headed to Hermit Thrush where I mounted my wizard picture on the wall. Then I headed to Harbor Seal and mounted its curtain ties and remounted its hooks. Then I had a beer in the sun before my stomach drove me inside where I made some cherry cobbler by cooking tart cherries with some sugar on the stove and covering them in Trader Joe's pancake and biscuit mix. While that simmered, I found myself desiring more bratwurst, so I cooked the other two of them and had them for a late lunch. Later, when the tide was low enough to walk around the point, Cailey and I headed upriver, her ecstatic to be on a walk. I had hoped to cross most of the river, but came onto a channel too soon that was just slightly too deep; I thought I might be able to jump the deep channel farther up, but wound up with water in my boots from the very soft sand under a very shallow riffle and gave up the attempt. Still, a very low river. I noticed fewer jellies today--could the others have floated off? Do dead jellies float? I guess they must.

On the way back, I finally trained my binoculars on the grunting noises I kept hearing and found the herd of harbor seals on a submerged sandbar in what I suspect is the mouth of the main river channel on the other side of the inlet. Tomorrow I think I'll work more on the floor of the outhouse. I found short lengths of 2x6s under the lodge that I'll use for joists, nailed in because I seem to have only 2x4 and 2x8 joist hangers, and a piece of flooring from the murrelet camp that is large enough for the whole floor. When I checked the weather earlier, they were calling for four to six foot seas all the way through Sunday now. A chance of snow and rain this weekend, but still the wind comes from the north or northeast. It appears I might be in for a long stay after all. Right now the inlet is utterly serene, but what is it doing outside?


Preparing the floor for replacement

Looking upriver

Sunny sandbars

Cozy cabin

Day 5

Starting in the middle of the night, there was no question about what was happening outside. I'd wondered at other times lying in bed whether the sound I was hearing was wind in the trees or merely the nearby creek, or possibly waves hitting the shore. Last night it was clear: wind swept past and gusts raged in the trees. It was very cozy in my warm bed (it felt warmer on the way to bed last night than it has all week), but a little unnerving to hear, and later see, the work of the wind. I worried about the Kathy M, but found her at anchor when I got to the lodge, riding and lunging the seas coming down the river, often splashing and sometimes taking spray over the bow. White caps filled the inlet, the wind raged, I even saw a couple of misty water spouts. I'd never seen anything like it.

Last night I had a fall treat as I was reading inside. Along with the soft blaze of the fire and Cailey's soft breathing I heard several faint sounds like the blow of a whale. I paused to see if it was Cailey wheezing into her paw or the blanket, but her breathing was separate from these sounds. And the breaths were too short and too frequent to be a humpback. Not quite believing it could be so, I stepped outside and was immediately rewarded with hearing the clear blows, and often the inhales, of orcas. It was 6:30 and just about twilight, but I was able to make out the dorsal fins of most of the blows I saw, puffs of white mist in the inlet. There were at least five of them, including one big male. At first they were mostly at the edge of Gilbert Bay, but at least two of them came farther into the inlet and blew among the crab pot buoys across the river. After about fifteen minutes I could no longer see them, but lingered another ten minutes or so listening to them until I no longer heard their blows. October orcas! While I could still see, I watched at least seven harbor seals all together swimming toward shore and close to shore, just downriver from me. Coincidence? They did not seem disturbed, but then again they were only in a few feet of water. Their wakes shimmered in the dusk.

I finally woke up at a reasonable hour this morning and rose shortly after 8:00 after some morning snuggles with Cailey. I also finally woke up with some ambition and energy. After a quick banana with peanut butter, I hopped to my first task, the outhouse floor. After extracting the large piece of plywood flooring I'd discovered stashed in the shed, I marked and cut the 2x6s and the plywood on the deck. Upon checking to make sure they fit before turning off the generator, I wound up trimming just a little off the side of the plywood and one of the joists. Then the hard part began. Nailing in those silly joists turned out to be more work than expected. At the right edge, a rock beneath the frame forced the joist out from the wall several inches, requiring toenailing instead of nailing into one of the 4x4s the outhouse rests on. That turned out to be the easiest joist. I was able to press the joist on the other side right up against the 4x4, but it was apparently a very tough board (which faintly rings a bell), as most nails I drove in acted as though they'd hit metal and simply bent out of the way. In the middle, there was one very large rock sticking out, so I settled for putting in a single middle joist instead of two, placing it as close to the middle as the rock allowed. This one wound up a little low, so before I put the plywood down I shimmed it. Now that the plywood is in place, it looks quite nice, nailed down by as many eight penny nails as were lurking around in the 16 penny box. Enough to secure it for the winter, but it'll want more next summer, or this fall if I can find more. I swept it out and was quite proud of the results.

After that I went to Hermit Thrush where I cleaned the inside and outside of the glass from the frame of a flower print I'd stumbled across last night that I think is really pretty, with old fashioned beauty and class. Perfect for my cabin. As always, getting everything clean and dirt free when putting frames back together was a challenge, but eventually I had it to my satisfaction. I decided it would look best between the uphill window and the mirror, so I centered it there after moving the mirror to be centered over the sink. Then I went down to Harbor Seal, sweeping and putting everything back in place, including screwing in the decorative ends on the curtain holds I'd installed yesterday (the one on the door also had to be removed like the one at Mink). I didn't put the pictures back up, as I'm not happy with any of them, so it looks rather clean and plain and tidy with only the tiny pair of snow shoes on the wall. In fact, it looks very nice. I switched the bed and cot so they are on opposite sides (bed upriver).

At that point I decided I'd earned a rest, so I sat on the porch for a little while, surprised and pleased by how warm the sunshine was and how I wasn't more chilled by the occasional bit of wind that swirled around the porch. It really is mostly sheltered from a north wind. Although it was still rather early, I hadn't had a proper breakfast, so I went ahead and made myself quesadillas for an early lunch, in part so I would have a full stomach for the Russian tea I'd been longing for, which followed. A little later, when the tide was high, I walked to the rocky point to see what it was like there and how far up the white caps went. It was impressive. There were white caps and seas all the way to Whiting Point and the waves were crashing against the rocks, sometimes spraying me with salt mist. On the way back, I opened the valves to Cottonwood and Mink cabins to drain them and unscrewed two of the former's filters housings and brought them back. I also managed to mount the bird house that I'd purchased this spring but wound up stashing away in the shed. I'd forgotten it entirely until I accidentally uncovered it yesterday and put it outside. I decided to mount it on the satellite dish pole and thought that zip ties would be the best strategy there. I'd looked for them in the lodge and in the odds and ends box in the shed yesterday to no avail. Today I decided to look again, convinced that I'd brought some down earlier this summer, or perhaps had an older stash. Sure enough, I found them on the top of the shelves in the shed. I put a larger drill bit in my new drill and drilled a second hole for each of the existing two holes (meant for screws) and a third pair at the top and zip tied the box to the top of the pole. Then I went to the huge, ancient fallen tree behind Cottonwood and grabbed a chunk of rotten wood, crumbling it and placing it inside before closing it up. Perhaps the chickadees that have come by a few times today will check it out this winter and consider it for a nest box this spring. It's worth a try.

Those same chickadees helped me notice something else this afternoon. Among their chickadeedeeing in the alders upriver, I saw something brown and jay sized fly in. I managed a quick look at its small, brown and beige streaked breast before it plummeted to the ground out of sight in or in front of the salmonberries. I waited patiently and saw him then fly upriver, seemingly into an alder, though when I got a good look at it he was nowhere to be seen. Still, I finally saw a hawk for a moment when it wasn't flying past me out of sight! Sharpshinned? Merlin? I never saw the face, but it was small.

Other than that, the jays have been around quite a lot, making unusual sounds and foraging on the ground. Just a few minutes ago I was roused off the couch by a strange cry I thought might be a hawk, but turned out to be a jay. To reward him, I threw him some nuts. He didn't fly away, so perhaps he'll check them out and we'll become friends. Yesterday I saw a flock of finches fly by, perhaps a dozen or twenty of them, but only chittering silhouettes. I think I am hearing brown creepers now and again, and a couple of days ago I caught the white crown of golden-crowned kinglets near the shed. And mew gulls flying over the inlet. The tide is low now, lots of sand exposed just upriver of the rocky point. I don't know whether it's because the wind has diminished or because the area out the window is now the very beginning of open water, but the seas have dropped to steadily flowing ripples, breaking lightly on the sandbars, but otherwise just moving water. We'll see what it's like tomorrow. Shortly after the Kathy M grounded (I can imagine it being a relief for her), I walked out to see how the gas cans were fairing. I'd been worried about the one without a sealing cap as the bow went crashing and careening around on the waves. Sure enough it was overturned--the only one that was--though it didn't seem like very much had leaked out. The rag plugged in the top of the spout was saturated and frozen. I have yet to figure out why gas freezes on jerry jugs in certain conditions. I couldn't think of a way to secure it well enough to satisfy me, so I decided to carry it back to the lodge after I looked the boat over for other issues. One of the jugs of oil had leaked a little on the back deck, so I made sure all the lids were tight and tucked the full ones beside a gas can. Half way to the lodge I decided to return and tie up the other jerry jugs to the side of the boat to help prevent them from falling over too, though they should be secure regardless. I also made sure their spouts were screwed on tight.

I'd eaten dinner quite early, having had an early lunch, cooking the other half of my salmon fillet, a carrot, and the rest of the broccoli on the stove with my usual mix of soy sauce, pepper, and red wine (from the bottle that Katie and Rob left, as I've run out of boxed wine). While that cooked I washed the dishes and then completed as much of the water system shut down on the cabins as I could. With the tool to twist off stubborn filters and a hammer for the ones that don't fit the tool, I started at Cottonwood to remove the last filter there, open all the valves, and wrap them in tinfoil. I did the same for Mink, then Harbor Seal, though I can't drain the system there since I am still using it above. With everything back at the lodge, I scrubbed all the filter housings and left them to dry. Later I'll oil all the o-rings.

So here it is, 6:00 and getting dim already. All day long I have been less cold than on previous days; in the afternoon I was in a t-shirt, comfortable, on the porch and even now I do not seek a fire and Cailey isn't shivering, as she was last night before I started the fire. Around 7:00 I decided to retire to my cabin and enjoy the rest of the evening there. It looks oh so cozy now in the light of a kerosene lamp with warm, stained walls and more pictures on the wall. I stretched and meditated on a blanket on the floor, then watched most of a Doctor Who before my battery died. Although it was only 9:00, I just laid in bed in the dark thinking until I fell asleep, a glow through the trees out the window indicating that the moon had risen, though apparently obscured somewhat by cloud cover.


I can't stop photographing the wind

Cozy cabin corner with a new picture

I love this picture

Harbor Seal put together

Wind at the point

Still windy...

Duff in the bird house

Chickadee house

The Kathy M dips in the swells

Sun upriver

Looking downriver from the point

Jerry jugs secured

Day 6

All night long I heard the wind rushing through the trees again, but it is greatly diminished this morning, still steadily coming down the river and rocking the boat but no white caps and no ferocity. But it is cold. The cloud cover, though patchy and high, prevents the sun's direct rays from warming me. I fed Cailey and took a spit bath, then decided to check the weather in case it affected my plans for the day. But, with my laptop dead, I thought I may as well start the generator to charge things. I'd already switched batteries on the modem, though I am wondering now if that was a mistake, for the battery charger says it already has a full charge and the other battery took some time to power the modem, which may be something to do with the connector to the modem itself, as jiggling that brought power earlier. I had to light a fire for my icy fingers and now am considering just being inside for the morning in the warmth and perhaps staining the ceiling of Cottonwood this afternoon. A few minutes ago I saw a large brown bird fly past the window and to the spruce, something thrush sized, and headed out the door. As I peered around the trees for it, it flew into the top of the young spruce tree growing in the meadow and allowed me a long and fantastic look at it. Jay sized, small curved beak, faint black line through the eye, white rump, dark tipped wings, white tipped tail, white under the tail, gray back, striped buffy gray breast. Northern shrike! A first winter bird, utterly gorgeous. He hung out on the spruce for some time before flying to the alder downriver, showing off white on the wings, then hopped around for a bit before flying off upriver. Twice she opened her mouth and was looking around her with interest. Very cool, only my second shrike, the first when I was much much younger in the fall on the Taku, and a sighting I cannot claim with 100% certainty, though the ease with which I recognized this individual suggests that it was a genuine sighting. I've nearly used all the wood in the wood box (a first on any one trip I think), so I think I'll use the new outhouse floor and fill it up on the way back.

In the early afternoon I took off to complete the final non-closing up task of the year--putting a second coast of stain on the ceiling of Cottonwood. The first cabin that I stained, it was such an unpleasant and stressful endeavor that I convinced myself that the ceiling only needed one coat--after all, it would get no actual wear up there. But it remained a shade lighter than the walls and I did put two coats on all the other ceilings, with better results. My main hesitation was having to move the awkward and heavy bed aside to reach the mountain side of the ceiling, but after staining the other side of the cabin (a simple matter of moving the cot for the ladder), I decided to try another strategy and placed the cot on the bed. While it was not the most stable situation, it was sufficient for me to reach the far half of the ceiling, and the rest I was able to do by ladder in the middle of the room. I ran the little buddy heater until the propane ran out, hopefully warming the interior sufficiently for the stain to set; it had me working in a t-shirt almost immediately, but was noticeably cooling off as I cleaned up. The whole thing took less than an hour, hardly worth all the worrying I'd done about it.

By then it was well past lunch time, so I gathered up some snacks (dried pea pods, cheese, chips, nuts, and dried fruit) and a tiny prosecco and had a picnic lunch on the porch. I then read for a little while, indulging Cailey with some stick throwing when she drug one onto the porch. I felt bad for our lack of walks, but the timing of the tides has been somewhat constraining. Inside, I was bored and unenthusiastic about the prospect of reading on the couch, so I drew a folding chair next to the picture window and discovered not only better light to read by, but that I could continue to enjoy the view in the warmth of the lodge. I had a cup of hot chocolate a little later, and then, as the tide was tantalizingly low, I decided to go for a little walk downriver. With the weather so chill, I actually put on my rain jacket, though the sky was still only overcast. I had no object in mind, but when I started to pass the steep scree slope below the cliffs not far downriver, usually covered by a thick growth of alders but now exposed without their covering leaves, I decided to go up. It was very steep, but with the help of alder branches I pulled myself up until I had a commanding view of the river through the alder branches. The cliff above me housed little trees and lichen and tiny caves, and a lot of very white lichen was distributed on a shelf at their base. I looked above but could find no obvious source for it, though I could see it growing on other trees nearby. I picked up a big, dry chunk that looked like coral and then walked along this narrow, unexpected shelf until I won the forest, thinking that I'd come back above the lodge through the woods. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected! I quickly encountered the first of three waterfalls, quite steep above the overhang that dropped straight down toward the beach below. I was afraid of Cailey's running headlong over the side, as I always am in such places, despite her obvious relation to mountain goats. I urged her to stay near me, and we quickly crossed into a nearly vertical forest. I kept seeking higher grounds, as the slope gave way to drop offs below, and was surprised at how far up I had to go to escape them. We passed two more unnerving waterfalls and abandoned one path altogether that would have required reliance on shaky shale over a precipitous drop. There I lost my lichen, having thrown it ahead before I changed paths. And up we climbed, clambering across the slope until at last there was a less than vertical descent directly behind the lodge. In the evening, I read a little, finishing The Dragon Reborn (and wishing I had the next in the series), then retired early again to my cabin to meditate, read, and watch another Doctor Who. The weather report earlier has suggested again that Monday was the day to sneak to town, anticipating two foot seas.


Shrike on the spruce

Mink scratches!

Wind and clouds

My cabin in the woods

View from the top of the scree

Looking down through the alders

Cliffs at the top

Typical steep slope

Day 7

During the night I heard the first telltale pings of rain, at first infrequent enough to be confused with the bits of debris that the strong Taku winds have been swirling up from the river, but soon enough resolving into a steady patter. I dreamt a number of dreams, one of a mink running into a spruce tree, another of a forest blanketed in wet snow. As I lay in bed, I looked out the window toward the river and thought I discerned individual, rather pale drops of rain. Could it be!? I lifted myself up and, to my delight, saw that the more open parts of the forest were, indeed, covered in a blanket of snow. It was snowing at Snettisham! There was, in fact, about an inch of wet snow on the boardwalk to the lodge and on the great fallen tree and on the marshy meadow, the trees along the mountainside were covered in that green and white pattern of winter, and the sky was full of snow. And it was low tide. And, it turned out, quite windy yet. I couldn't resist the expanse of sandbars nor far upriver from the boat, so I suited up in boots and raingear and sallied forth. I stopped by the boat, intending to see if there were propane bottles on board, but it was so close to floating that I abandoned the effort and headed upriver. The walk didn't last long, as head down to the driving sleet didn't reinforce my behavior. I forced myself through it for a while and then retreated inside and lit a fire. It was some time before I warmed up and I was discouraged by how much wood I was going through to keep the lodge warm. In addition to reading and contemplating in the morning, I puttered around with leaving chores, cleaning and lubricating the o-rings on the water filter housings, sorting through what food I would take back with me, and cleaning the hummingbird feeders. I had left them hang since last filling them in August and regret that now. There were an unbelievable number of bugs inside, a thick black layer of them, representing thousands of insects. I let them soak for some time before washing them and then let them soak in a bleach solution for a bit.

By midday and half way through a Doctor Who, I roused myself from the couch and made a round of errands, everything I could think of to do in advance of those systems I would like to enjoy for another day before my hopeful departure on Monday. I wrapped the cabin outhouse in a tarp and tied it up, figuring I won't need to use that one for the duration, then turned off the water at Hermit Thrush and removed the filters and emptied the sink bucket. Back at the lodge I grabbed tinfoil and then did a preliminary wrap of the lodge outhouse, leaving it untied so I could continue to use it. Then I turned off the water for the far cabins and drained the hoses at Hermit Thrush and Harbor Seal, wrapping Hermit Thrush's filter housings in tinfoil and leaving behind enough tinfoil to close up the hose valves after the system is thoroughly drained (knowing there is more water behind the valve at the top that may need draining once the olive barrel is out of the creek).

On the way back I pulled out the plywood from the shed that I'll use to lean against its walls for the winter to help protect it from mud splatters and grabbed a couple of nails. These I used to secure a support for one of my motion sensor cameras to the porch at the corner with the stairs, first drilling pilot holes with my drill, conveniently located on the porch for transport back home. As I wanted to switch batteries from one camera to the other, I didn't actually mount the cameras, but both supports are ready. I want to switch batteries to put the best batteries in the older camera for the bridge, since that is the only camera now that doesn't flutter the video when taken in color.

The wind continued down the river, two foot seas rolling along making me feel better about the decision not to leave today after I saw that the forecast was calling for only two footers. It was late enough yesterday that I didn't want to change plans, but I probably could have done all my chores in time to leave today. But, I'd already settled on staying here the weekend and, until this morning, Monday was looking like a good possibility. Less so now, but we shall see. Even with a good forecast, I don't think I would want to cross Taku Inlet today with the winds continuing down the Whiting like this. And the snow has also continued, though by yesterday it wasn't even in the forecast. Thick, dense, wet snow which has blocked the view beyond the middle of the river or below the eagle nest point. As much as two inches has stacked up, but I think it is too wet to do more than that. Still, there has been bird life. I saw and heard jays out the window, and also spotted a loon in winter plumage between shore and the boat, riding the waves, all alone upon the water. On my way to do chores, I was watching the water line, impressed at how high the tide came, only a few feet from the end of the kayak, when I saw three snow-colored lumps floating in the submerged grasses just downriver. A drake mallard and two females were lounging in the shallows! Later, I was at the sink to see three thrushes in the bushes behind the lodge; one was a female varied thrush, and I assume they were all of the same species. Later, I startled two when I stepped onto the back porch, both on the ground near the front porch. I heard soft varied thrush songs then and a little later when I again saw one out the window. What fun it would be to feed them in the winter! I wonder if the bears are put to bed now. The fish will have stopped running, and I noticed that there are still full clumps of gray currents on the bushes here. It is a wonder to me that they aren't eaten in this time of lessening resources, though I admit I haven't tried one myself to find out if they are still palatable.

One constant all day has been the loud bangs and tumbles on the roof, a little softer than the sharp pang of a squirrel's cone falling and sometimes not unlike the patter of small feet. But it seems to happen every few seconds, and hasn't yet lost all of its alarm. They're so powerful I thought at first that they must be large sticks or something, but I think now that they are simply clumps of wet snow falling from the trees above. Very loud, and many of them then slide or roll or something down the roof. I wonder what it'll be like in my sheltered Hermit Thrush tonight?

To answer that question, it was pretty much the same. It sounded, at the gentler end of things, like a softball dropped on the roof from a height; on the other end of things, like someone hitting the roof with a hammer, following occasionally by long tumbles. Before I went to sleep, a loud cracking, snapping, crashing sound erupted from somewhere below--I imagined a branch falling on the bridge and hoped that it had done nothing more than pop a railing off as it often does. I didn't have the best day yesterday, despite the wondrous snowfall. When I imagined the end of fall, prior to this trip, I could think of nothing better than to have nothing to do all day but snuggle up and read. But yesterday this grew a little wearisome. I fought it as best as I could, spending some time by propane lamp light at the card table in the kitchen to type out this trip report, finish another, and even copy a few pictures from my actual camera to the laptop. Around 6:00 as the light was dimming, I scampered out to the Kathy M to see if there were disposable propane tanks on board to make an overnight in Taku Harbor more manageable. In the port cabinet under the bench seats I found three and deemed that enough; otherwise I think I would have brought a larger one, which would have required a hose and a lot more work. The fair weather forecast for Monday had shifted to a strong southeasterly, four to five footers in Stephen's Passage and three in Taku Inlet, but the north/northeast winds on Sunday were supposed to be three footers. I had devised a plan to go north on Sunday then and, if necessary, overnight in Taku Harbor. That way, the distance in which I'd face the southeasterly would be halved, and most of the worst of it behind me.

After that windy and snowy trip to the boat, I felt a little better and managed to curl up with books on the couch until after 8:00, finishing one and pulling out my reserve Fairytales of Ireland, which I leave at Snettisham and never fail to enjoy. My trip to Hermit Thrush that night was very dark and very snowy, two or three inches on and around the boardwalk with all the alders hanging down so low with their snowy loads that I stepped off the boardwalk at one point to go under them. Snow on the ground all the way to the cabin. It took longer for the cabin to warm up, too. I started the heater right away and then crawled into bed, getting out after an hour long Longmire (the first of season five) to warm my toes in front of the heater before crawling in again and starting the 13th century German romance Parzifal. I could see my breath clearly most of the time. But I slept well, as did Cailey, tucked in under a corner of the comforter or her jacket or both. I am still amazed at how much warmer it is to sleep in a dry bed, having finally, apparently, conquered the wet seeping into the cabin (though it had, admittedly, been very dry for a couple of weeks until that morning). I probably woke to many thumps on the roof, or was already awake for them, but always made my way back asleep. I was also surprised to see that, despite the weather, there was still enough light outside for me to discern the ceiling, if faintly, in the middle of the night, and faint light out the windows. At some point in the night I was pleased to notice that I only rarely heard thumps on the roof and the patter sounded more like rain. When I opened my eyes around 7:30, I could see the mountain across the inlet, all covered with snow. A bit of moisture was on the windows, no doubt from the wet raincoat and boots I'd brought inside.


A snowy scene along the boardwalk

Cailey races around in the storm

Stormy river

Cozy inside in the storm

Enjoying the fire inside

Snowy mallards!

Slushy forest

The boardwalk in the evening

Days 8-9

I quickly gathered my gear and headed to the lodge, planning to return later if the weather forecast still suggested that I leave that day. The snow was wetter and the lodge was very cold. I fed Cailey and, feeling a little weak and woozy, broke my 40 hour fast with some cold cherry juice left on the porch and, after lighting a fire and puttering around, with yogurt and granola. I felt a bit better after that, and after packing and doing all kinds of odds and ends, I headed out to make my rounds at the cabins, picking a blanket from Cottonwood to put on the couch in the lodge and locking it, closing the curtains and locking Mink, piling up all the linens and other items from Hermit Thrush that I wanted to bring back, then closing the curtains and locking Mink, and returning to Hermit Thrush for my goods. I stopped at Cottonwood to close its windows and put its blanket back inside, having decided to use one from Hermit Thrush instead. Back at the lodge I decided to suit up and do the chores I really dreaded for the water system. I trekked up to the olive barrel, rolled it out of the creek with little effort, then came back to the lodge to open the hose valve to drain it and take the filter housings off. Then back up through the forest to open both valves to the cabins, then to Hermit Thrush and Mink to tinfoil where needed. Then I emptied the gray water system olive barrel at the lodge, which didn't seem to be draining well at all, tinfoiled the lodge filter housing tops and the valve, and then came inside to discover that I could scratch very little off my list of closing up chores. A lot of them involved the step ladder that I was saving for taking the chimney off. I was hungry again at that point, and warm from all my exertions, so I made some top ramen to eat on the porch. After more packing up, starting to line things up on the porch, I started in on my last few tasks after checking the weather one more time and sending an email to my folks with my plan. First, I took off the radio for internet, filling the coax cable ends with grease and zip tying them in a plastic baggy to the support bar, and then took off the smoke stack which was cool enough to touch. Unfortunately, there was still smoke coming out, so I left it uncovered while I took the ladder to the outhouse to wrap it up. With the inside of the lodge all ready, I made myself my traditional final cup of Russian tea and drank it on the porch, not enjoying it as much as I would have liked due to a general uneasiness about the upcoming trip and the swells from up the river rocking the boat. I was, in a way, really looking forward to being on the boat, even if I wound up overnighting on it in Taku Harbor. Once everything was on the boat, I would be in a little mobile unit; there would be no closing up tasks always ahead of me, no loading gear to the river, kayaking to the boat, unpacking and repacking. The anxiousness would be behind me.

That cup of tea happened at 10:30, which meant that all those closing up tasks had only taken about two and a half hours. While I drank it, I had some of the windows inside open because the smoke had not all made it outside. Finally, after shutting down the propane, I carried all the gear to the bottom of the stone path with the exception of perishables and garbage (to keep them clear of Cailey, who's already tried to eat a stick of butter), then drug the kayak to the water, enjoying how easily it slid over the snow above the high tide line. The clouds were high and the light rain from earlier in the morning had passed, so I could see the snowy mountainsides, the snowline anywhere from the water's edge to about 200 feet up. I rode over the swells on the river with a little disease, but quickly jumped on board, filled the oil reservoir for the engine, and was pleased to find it started easily. The anchor was a bit difficult to pull, no doubt from the rigorous tugging the boat gave it in the heavy winds, but soon enough we were puttering to shore. The stern wouldn't come in due to the shallow water as the tide rose toward the top of the log, so I plopped everything in the bow before putting the kayak under the porch, grabbing the last items, and turning on the last motion sensor camera. I stowed everything, got the boat shipshape, and put ten gallons of gas in before grabbing Cailey and puttering away. It was just after noon.

The seas rocked us a little until they turned behind us to take us into Stephen's Passage. There the seas, two footers and occasional threes, kept us from being at full speed, but we picked our way north without too much trouble and made it to Taku Harbor in about an hour. Leaving the Port, I was sure for a few moments that a pod of Dall's porpoises was zooming, but staring at the splashes resolved them into a long breaking wave, out of place, which called to mind the oft-used metaphor of horses galloping on the water.

Around Grave Point, the seas gradually grew as I watched Point Arden become slightly less misty in the distance, never knowing if I would be able to make it across. By the time I was nearly to the end of Grand Island, I was encountering pairs of four foot seas which didn't quite bring green water over the bow, but I wasn't yet in the teeth of it and I could see white caps in the distance, which I hadn't yet encountered. All the way north I couldn't decide if I'd rather make it home today or boat camp for the night in Taku Harbor; both sounded appealing and I admit that I was a little disappointed at the idea that I might just fly by the inlet today and end my adventure. So I was not at all disappointed to turn tail and put the seas mercifully behind me, hoping for some of no greater height to carry me home tomorrow. Remembering that I'd had a signal all the way to Grave Point earlier in the summer, I turned off airplane mode on my phone and managed to send a few texts and call my parents.

On the way into the harbor, I kept hearing strange noises I couldn't place and was relieved to see that they were caused by running through slush floating on the surface. Taku Harbor was a blanket of white and the dock was covered in a solid food of snow. A small sailboat from Juneau was moored inside the float and one of its owners came to hold the Kathy M while I tied up, kicking through the snow to help me find the rail. He was very friendly and invited me over if I needed anything or to warm up. Inside, I shifted everything around to put those items I wanted handy in reach and stowing everything else, and clearing the bench seats for Cailey and I. I brought in the grocery bag of perishables and covered the tote of food on the back deck with a tarp, as it was then raining steadily. When everything was harbor ship-shape, I took Cailey for a walk, trudging through the snow toward the inside of the harbor to pass some of the old buildings, then back past the dock and to the state public use cabin where I pilfered one of seven large candles left there. I found my entry from two years ago when my mother and I overnighted there on our way back from Snettisham. I could use the cabin tonight, but figured it would be easier and possibly more fun to stay on the boat, and it would be a smaller area to warm with the little heater.

When I got back it was time for a late lunch. I had landed on the idea of a can of chili, or possibly tomato soup, heated up on my little camp stove that I'd brought along in case I wanted to go camping, and was sadly disappointed to find that I had brought neither with me. The only thing other than fruit and vegetables available was refried beans, so I heated up half a can of that and made burritos with a little cheese. Around that time, Dave hailed me from the dock to ask if I knew how to identify crabs; he had a beautiful red king crab and wasn't sure what it was! They'd been catching nothing but king crabs off the dock here, an area known for its dungeness crabs. It was only about six inches across and I told them that, to my memory from several years ago, seven was the minimum. They carried him off to measure and, likely, release it, if our estimates were correct. After about six more back-to-back trips outside for one reason or another, all in heavy rain, I finally bundled up in a blanket inside, lit the propane heater, and relaxed on the port bench with a little bottle of wine and a book while Cailey curled up on the opposite seat. The rain pattered cozily outside and I was totally content. I was a little worried that the cabin didn't seem to be heating up as well as I would have liked, but a quick trip outside confirmed to me that it was making a difference. However, it could be that the wrap around windows lose a lot of heat. I've been turning it on and off to save propane, but my hands are quickly becoming icicles as I type this. I have a crazy idea of jiffy pop popcorn for dinner tonight and Longmire here in the cabin. It's now 6:00 and already quite wintry-dim outside. How cozy! I think I'll light that candle. The only thing I think I've left behind I might have liked is a cup for drinking tea, but likely I'll be ready to head out in the morning without taking the time to heat water. I was pleased to dig into my emergency kit to pull out the camping sporks for dinner that my mom gave me, inspired by our night here two years ago.

Around 6:30 I fed and let Cailey out, then put together the bench seats to make a bed and spread out our blankets, building up a little back rest so I could sit up and not irritate my sciatica which had been flaring up. When everything was ready, I brought Cailey back inside and then cooked jiffy pop on the back deck, snuggling in to watch Longmire with a beer in my sleeping bag, followed by a second Longmire. Pretty good boat camping! I slept at least as well that night, and as warmly, as I did in my cabin at Snettisham. When I got up, I put the cabin back together, roughly packed things up, and took Cailey for a short walk up to the public use cabin to give her a chance to go to the bathroom and to return the candle, only partially used. We were underway around 8:30 under light sprinkles, finding no sign of a southeasterly system, but some light swells coming down Stephen's Passage. The farther I went, the more obvious it was that the Takus were still blowing down the river, but it seemed considerably better than the previous day. I made it to the end of Grand Island without encountering anything particularly troubling and it wasn't until I was a little farther that I got in the teeth of it and felt the power of that persistent wind. It was not a fun crossing, just at the threshold of my tolerance. I sloshed and rode the swells north, with near constant salt spray washing the boat (it would have been impossible without windshield wipers). I never did get green water over the bow, but only just, the bow dropping to meet the surface repeatedly in the troughs of larger swells. Mostly I was able to angle my way toward Arden--an ever-distant point--only turning to face the larger seas. But they were fierce, and I was tingling with nervous adrenalin. I'd left the seats in bed formation, thinking it might be a nicer platform for Cailey, but she was clearly very uncomfortable and may have wished that she could get down on the floor. I wanted to take a picture in the worst of it, but couldn't find a moment that didn't have water all over the windshield and that I didn't have to hang onto the wheel to survive. Really, it's impossible to describe if you haven't been in it. The winds were definitely lessening, though, as just at Point Arden the worst of it was behind us as we came into the lee of Cooper. By the time we hit the lee of Bishop it was quite comfortable and almost behind us, and pretty much dead calm by the time we reached the channel (not at all like the day I'd tried to leave originally). Both rather shaken, we pulled into the harbor around 10:10 and I took poor Cailey up to the truck, driving it from distant 14-day parking to a spot near the ramp. Three loads later up a very steep (low tide) ramp and I was on my way home to a hot shower and fall, or what really felt like winter, as by then Juneau had had its own day of snow (oddly on Sunday rather than Saturday) and it was mid-October. I guess I missed Fall altogether!


Olive barrel put away

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Tiny jellyfish


Heading out

Looking out of the river

Snowy Taku Harbor

Old cannery pilings in Taku Harbor

I use my can opener for the first time!

Reading in the afternoon

It seemed more ship shape than this looks

Popcorn, Molson, and Longmire

Cailey is not enjoying the ride home

It was much worse than this looks


Snowy day