2017 - 3: Hitk' (Little Cabin)
After weeks of rain, much of it intense and solid, the day was clearing up, sunny and beautiful in early fall. Brendan and Tristan loaded our fairly minimal gear into the 500 Tempsco helicopter and I clambered in after my parents, followed by Cailey, to the co-pilot seat. She had considerably less room than in the A-star that we often take as a group, but squeezed in and laid down for almost the entire trip. We went along the very top of Blackerby Ridge and over the first ice field camp and then over the dead branch of the Norris, above the lake between Norris and Taku (which I scoped out for potential camping--looks promising), across the Taku and then across the river. And then upriver... It looked like we were heading to the lodge, so I glanced at my mom, who shrugged, then looked questioningly at Brendan who asked if we'd overshot. I confirmed and he turned around and took us back south. He'd taken us to the cabin before, but not for a few months. After unloading the gear, we asked him if he could suggest alternate landing spots for the helicopter, as the only good location for a satellite dish we'd discovered is right next to where he lands and we didn't think the rotor wash would be good for it. He liked the area at the south end of our little meadow and suggested that we cut the last of the three spruces that line the downhill side of the slope and one of two other clumps. It didn't seem very far away, but he said it would be significantly distant and shouldn't be a problem. After unpacking and settling in, we didn't have a productive afternoon but mostly chatted, had cocktails a little early, and then dinner. Sometime in the early afternoon, I spotted a bat flying around the middle post of the front porch as though it were flying in and out of a crevasse. My mom saw it too and we agreed that it looked quite large, larger than we thought little brown bats are. He made one more flight into the porch and disappeared. There's an area there where a log beam had rotted away a little before being protected by a cap of metal and there's probably a nice crevasse in there. At 8:18, we saw him depart for the night but he didn't stay around here. It was nearly dark by then and, instead of lighting any lights, we all went to bed exhausted.
Around 7:45 Jenny barked to be let out and soon Cailey was up and bouncing around excitedly to get me up, putting her paws up on the end of the hammock. I had some Russian tea while my mom drank coffee and we dealt with restless dogs who wanted in and out all the time. The morning was clear and very cold; I squinted at the heavy, silver dew on the plants to see if it might be frost, but it didn't look quite that cold yet. But it was cold enough to drive me back inside before long. There were fall birds bopping around the trees, kinglets and chickadees; shortly after I saw a female varied thrush on the BBQ I heard a very suspicious bird song. My mom thought it might be the fire, but I went outside to check; I first heard a varied thrush a few times, then closer sounds of a thrush call, and then a couple of hesitant full hermit thrush songs. Wow! More varied thrush songs and the first note of the hermit thrush's song followed. My mom saw the bat leave early, and we haven't seen him since.
At 10:00 my parents were starting breakfast so I headed out to work a little; dressed in rainpants and hoody, I started pulling alders over the septic tank next to the cabin, remarking again at the beach grass growing in profusion there, then worked my way along the trees pulling scores and scores of young spruces all the way to the river, picking up a few extra alders on the way. There were lots left there, but I think now that virtually all pullable trees have been removed from our little compound. Although the project didn't take long, I had to take a snack and rest break in the middle as I was feeling hot and hungry and generally weak. When I was finished, I met my folks down at Alder where they were filling their little oil can with diesel for the fire from a 50 gallon drum. When they left, I cleaned up the rotting remains of the crib it used to sit on and tidied the area, then met them down back at the cabin after unsuccessfully looking for them downriver. Just before we were about to head out, my mom spotted a raptor that seemed to have flown off the upper back porch and into the trees. We found it about 30 feet up not far from the outhouse, a gorgeous, rather fluffy western screech owl. She observed us with huge yellow eyes as a flock of golden-crowned kinglets chirped and flittered all around it, seemingly unperturbed. I walked right up underneath her.
Down at the little cabin we soon solved the mystery of the unlevel floor. My parents had begun to work on sistering the old floor joists to the new beam on the back wall, but found that they weren't level. Thankfully, we discovered that all the walls were level with each other and the problem was with sagging joists. We agreed to work from the door wall across to the opposite wall, making sure each one is level as we go, and jacked the first one up until it was level. I took an existing sister 2x8 and marked where it would need to be cut to fit the beams (notched at the bottom to sit on the support beam and over the 2x4 on top) while my mother brought the tools. She did the cutting, including a long 2x4 that spans the cabin to check out leveling along the way, and we soon had the first sister screwed in. When I dropped the jack, the old sister pivoted down and separated from the new one, so we put additional screws in and hope that will hold, especially once other joists are in.
By then in was 12:30 and we broke for a lunch of quesadillas, after which my mom and I went for a canoe while my dad napped after a terrible night of sleep. The day had warmed up dramatically and I took off my hoody as we exited the woods. We found the slough serene and deserted for some distance and I had to admit that I was surprised by the lack of waterfowl. We ran into them about half way to Big Bend, flocks of what I think were goldeneyes and larger ducks that may have been mallards or teal, all extremely skittish and flying away at some distance from us. Around the bend, we found three female/juvenile mergansers sitting in the grass on the side who let us get surprisingly close, one laying down with his neck pressed flat. They took to the water when we were quite close and we trailed them toward the mountain until we found a willow to tie the canoe to while we trekked to the property boundary. Just at the top of the rise from the slough was a patch of fireweed in full down and we shook them merrily, making a ridiculous fluffy snow of seeds. It's been so soggy for so long, I think they may have been just waiting for it to be dry enough to set their seeds free; we liked to think we were helpful. We made our way off along the mountain, skirting the swampy area full of aquatic plants, and on to the rock where the boundary marker is. While there, a plump, brown juvenile golden-crowned sparrow worked along the cliff face and gave us charming views. On the way back, Mom thought we should try walking along firm ground right against the mountain instead of around the outside of the swampy area, but we were eventually turned back by a deep pool against the rocks. In the meantime, Jenny had plunged in and was enjoying paddling through the mucky water, a swamp monster among the weeds.
Back at the canoe we continued on, surprised by how low the water was along the mountain where the two rocks were a good foot and a half higher out of the water than usual, the bigger one covered in sizable trails of bird poop. Further on we encountered two beautiful young ducks paddling in our direction who, unique among the others, did not seem troubled by us. We slowed down and they kept coming until they were just about 15 feet away. Then they reconsidered and turned around, but not fleeing. We trailed them for some time, keeping to the opposite side of the slough; eventually, when the slough widened, they quacked softly to each other and turned around, letting us pass them. We approached the beaver dam, then turned around and repeated the trailing and passing process with our adorable little duck friends. I think they were juvenile goldeneyes--brown heads, gray bodies, dark eyes, little white wing patches. They laid their head feathers against their necks as we passed them, making them suddenly much sleeker. We found part of a fish skeleton on top of one of the exposed rocks covered in bird poop. Otherwise the slough was very quiet, as were the bushes we passed for the most part. We spotted a large, brown marsh hawk flying along the edge of the forest on our walk back. We left the canoe in its usual place with the intent to possibly take it back the next day. It was after five when we returned, so we had cocktails and dinner, then headed outside to "quickly" climb up onto the roof to see if we had a clear view of the satellite for internet. Naturally this turned into quite an ordeal, as the long extension ladder wasn't connected and none of us understood the system well enough to quickly put it back together. But we did figure it out, set it up, and climbed up to the discouraging view of eight large trees on either side of Alder blocking much of the sky to the left of the second mountain peak to the south. I couldn't remember exactly where the satellite was, so we talked about the possibility of topping those trees if necessary. Then Mom and I walked around the compound trails and I showed her the small trees I wanted to cut and we talked about cutting for the helicopter and the view. Then I climbed back on the roof and took a photo so I'd know exactly what options we had back in town when I could see a map again of where the satellite is.
My mom hooked the small generator up to the electrical system, so we had cheery lights on that evening and we all felt a lot less gloomy. I even read for some time before bed. Just as I was getting comfortable in my hammock that night, the first pings of rain started and, once it made up its mind, never really stopped. Dense rain hammered the roof all through the cozy night and we woke into a solid wall of rain. I was the first up and got water heating and lit a fire, and remembered that I could check the maps I had on my computer so see where due south is. To my surprise, it was right over the mountain peak we have a clear view of from the top of the cabin. We may be in luck after all. It's now evening at the end of cocktail hour and the rain has slowed, but was steady until about 4:30. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a long spell of dense, dense rain, no wind, just straight rain; we've seen many spells of that this summer--many more than usual--but not for that extended a period. Mom and I headed out to the little cabin around 10:45 this morning and worked on more joists; I started out in a mildly cranky mood, but before long things were going smoothly and we managed to brace up the two joists we put in yesterday and install three more. We learned to use the second jack, the large one, to prop up the next joist over from the one we were working on, which helped take the pressure off of it. It all went smoothly and we were finished by 12:30 when we returned for lunch. My dad had stayed to do the dishes and hadn't joined us. I made quesadillas again and then my mother and I and the dogs hiked back to the canoe to bring it around for the winter.
We left at 1:35, half an hour before high tide, and paddled away at 1:55. On the way we flushed our marsh hawk who'd been perched on a small spruce as we exited the willows. The water in the slough was brown and dappled with the heavy rain drops. There seemed to be a swift current carrying us down the stream, perhaps driven by the myriad rushing waterfalls coursing down the mountains. The big slide behind the cabin which had appeared dry yesterday was now a white torrent and there were at least twice as many waterfalls along the mountain than I've ever seen, and all wide and white. We flushed a few groups of large ducks--my mom thought green-winged teals--and an unexpected great blue heron who flew ahead of us and landed several times. We also saw two hawks flying along the tree line at a distance. Jenny barked at the big upright log where we turned into the river and whined us north along the shore. The current was moderate, but noticeable, but we were able to paddle against it without too much trouble. Owen's landing craft came by at speed, but otherwise the going was smooth, possibly a little harder the farther we went, but we had the canoe at the landing an hour after we'd left the cabin. We drug it up and turned it over in the woods. I suggested we'd been so efficient that we should put the last two interior joists in place before heading back to the cabin, but my mom thought we should check in first. I changed out of my wet hoody and wet pants and quickly lost enthusiasm for going out again, the rain still pummeling as it had before. But at 3:30 I headed back to the little cabin and began working on the next joists, soon joined by my parents. I was a little grumpy at first and there were some hangups--not interesting enough to mention--but we soon got into a groove and had the last two in by 4:30. My mom and I are a good team. The floor feels stable and level, in a much better position to leave for the winter. Then cocktails and now we're getting ready for dinner.
We still went to bed rather early that night. I stepped onto the porch by my room for a breath of fresh air before climbing into my hammock. It was dark, but my headlamp illuminated the horizontal spruce boughs from a nearby tree that are just out of reach as well as one that had grown under the eaves, running into the roof behind the flashing before dropping down back into sunlight. I reached out to touch it and stopped when I saw what looked like a desiccated bird sitting on it. But desiccated it was not! It was a live bird, all fluffed out, a round ball without a visible head (which was tucked beneath a wing). The feathers were brown and gray and white and most likely a chickadee. I brought my mom out to look at it and we never roused it from sleep. We both thought we could reach out and lift him up without disturbing that deep sleep, but of course did not take the risk. What a cozy and protected place to snooze!
The night was devoid of obvious rain on the roof and the morning dawned with a deep cloud bank and a low, low ceiling. While my mom and I were having hot drinks, she spotted a marten out the window that was poking his head down from the deck above. We watched him for several minutes as he tried all three front posts for an avenue down, peering around, scratching, and sliding fluidly back out of sight. He was small and sleek, with a beautiful orange throat patch, and we guessed that he was young of the year. It was wonderful to have such a good, close look at him, and we were puzzled by how much trouble he was having coming down, like a cat stuck in a tree! Eventually he plunged half way down a post and then leapt off it to the ground, bounding into the nearby spruces and from there into the woods by the cooker.
I had some breakfast and sat out on the porch swing for a few minutes, watching a small patch of the glacier appear and disappear in holes of bright sunshine. The ceiling and the clouds parted gradually all morning until we could see some mountaintops by the time the helicopter landed at 1:00 in the bright sunshine. I, for one, wished I could have stayed and just lounged around that afternoon in the sun after a hard weekend of work. While my parents ate breakfast, I went down to Fox Hole (which we're calling the little cabin), tidied up, "swept" by scraping the snow shovel along the floor, moved the outside stack of lumber inside, and laid out the tarp for covering the wall. Then I grabbed tools for taking the engine off the riverboat and headed upriver with my parents. The operation went fairly smoothly (especially after the second application of deet) and soon enough we had the engine laid across the back of the 4-wheeler, and then to Alder.
Back at the cabin, we dropped my dad off and my mom and I went down to Fox Hole to staple the tarp around the exposed wall and pick up the generator and a few tools. After stowing these in Alder, I went back upriver on my own to pick up the boat battery and pull most of the small spruces from Debbie's Meadow. It has been two or three years since I've done that, and I easily uprooted over 100. On the way back I moved the motion sensor camera to hopefully reduce the erroneous videos from vegetation and replace its card. After that I used the rest of my tortillas for a small quesadilla lunch and helped clean up until we had to go. It was a busy weekend. By then we were able to fly up Norris and over the ridge, descending between Blackerby and Thunder Mountain. On the way home, I cleaned out the boat house of my boat gear (in preparation for the harbor's reconstruction of those docks) and discovered that several jerry jugs and my new nine gallon fuel tank had both been stolen (I later realized that my one-gallon tank and large funnel were also missing). But it was a great, productive weekend, full of fun wildlife right there at the cabin.
Slough and waterfall in the dense rain