Snettisham 2017 - 1: Opening
  May 6-7


Downtown Juneau on the way out

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It's 8:30 p.m., May 6, and I am sitting in the lodge wondering if I'll able to sleep next to musky Cailey. I didn't make much of an effort to stop her rolling in the grass where she first caught the mink, though I might have had I realized how pungent she'd end up. She has at least four good puncture wounds right on the top of her nose. The degree of damage she did to the mink in the three of four seconds of shaking coupled with the wounds she received at the same time make me think she probably killed the mink she fought last fall; though we never found a body, it now seems likely that the mink was in her jaws when it bit back and then escaped to find a burrow before dying. That shaking...you'd have to be awfully tough to come back from that. This mink escaped Cailey's jaws and dove under the lodge porch to head upriver. I held Cailey for quite a while to give him time to take shelter, then let her track. She dove through the bushes on the river side of the boardwalk, then snooped around the woods on the other end before going back into the salmonberry briar. As I watched with horror and sorrow, I saw her death shaking the mink again, who had apparently collapsed in the middle of the bushes. I plunged in after them, but the mink was in his last twitches of death. A beautiful, perfect brown creature, smaller and younger than the mink she took this time last year, and I was relieved to find male genitals on closer examination. With many apologies, I put him on a piece of cardboard and left him on top of the fridge. Cailey took to rolling on the other side of the porch where she'd first caught him.

All day long I'd been telling Cailey not to catch any mink! Having stayed in town last night for a dance, probably my last ballroom dance in a while, I headed to the harbor around 8:20 a.m. on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. It took me just shy of 20 minutes to load the boat. Both boat engines started without a hitch and I ran the kicker for my last load and a half. It wasn't a big load, as I had only three paint cans, no propane tanks, and few linens, not like some spring runs. I'd taken my time getting the boat ready this spring, only launching it last Saturday when I finally had a stress-free afternoon to clean the battery and do the final scrubbing. It took me a couple of sessions to wash all the oily grime off the sides of the fuel well, which Scott assures me will not reaccumulate from my four-stroke engine. Sally started up in the driveway easier than my car does and I rode down the channel past Douglas Harbor after launching before taking her back to Aurora. The proximity to my house and access to secure storage in my parents' boat house offsets the extra drive time down the channel and the (possible) decreased risk of theft in Douglas Harbor, so I opted to stay there again this summer even though the Douglas Harbor reconstruction is complete. I'd originally intended to make a Taku hooligan run my first boat venture this spring, but I came down with a cold the Friday of the weekend I would have gone, so I let it go. The river was still largely frozen, too.

But I'm jumping around too much. I was relieved that the weather this weekend looked perfect for my itinerary, a quick overnight opening up. Next weekend I'm meant to go up the Taku to help my parents open and get ready for a ridiculous number of guests this summer (17?), then there's a weekend I hope to be in town, followed by a weekend here (weather permitting) with Katie and Rob, and then I am off to Mongolia. So it is good that I made it down! There were short sections of little waves here and there, but the ride was, for the most part, calm and beautiful. I saw a lion in the channel and at Sentinel Point, at least three porpoise north of Grand Island (probably Dall's, though they weren't zooming), and one big arching whale in the middle of Grand. Loons and cormorants flew by and huge rafts of scoters lined up across the water.

I was surprised upon turning into the river to find an unlikely raft of boats at anchor. In the center was a fishing boat, tied to two smaller pleasure boats on both sides and a grip of river boats, one of which was tooling around with a wet man in shorts on board. When I got a wave I couldn't resist going over to find out what on earth they were up to, figuring they were hunters. Apparently they are just here to run up and explore the river, having gone up to Crescent Lake the day before. I love that people plan such expeditions, and am ashamed at my own failure to do the same.

Despite my new tide app telling me that I was arriving on a low and falling tide, I found the water nearly up to the log and perfect for unloading. My app is apparently getting misinformation about this area, but it seemed to be correct for Juneau. I was delighted and relieved to find everything around the lodge intact and snuck a peek inside before anchoring the boat with Cailey. I hauled everything up, opened up the lodge outhouse, and then strolled around the cabins with Cailey to check on their status. All standing and apparently in good condition! The bridge saw some wear, with all three river-side railings knocked off onto the decking. The motion sensor camera facing it said that the card was full, but I couldn't find my card reader and so cannot see the winter's videos--probably falling sticks and snow. The batteries on the porch camera are dead and I apparently didn't even turn the other one on, so if the explorers visited my property (which I bet they did) I don't expect to find evidence.

On my return to the lodge I opened up the propane tanks, noting that the fridge tank felt very low. I lit the pilots on the stove, but not surprisingly the fridge failed. I swapped it out for a full tank and tried repeatedly to turn the fridge on, juggling waiting on that with working on the smoke stack. I had an instinct that it was going to be harder to put up this year than usual, and I was not wrong. I nearly had to put it aside to get some lunch, but I did manage to get both the fridge and the smoke stack functional before I quit. I believe the fridge required time and a little adjustment to the angle of the regulator (something I remembered from last spring). The smoke stack required several trips to the shed for a screw to hold the metal band to the stack and nails, and I had to take the whole thing down twice, but did eventually secure it in the usual haphazard way. Finally I escaped the clutter of the spring lodge with quesadillas and one of the Molson Goldens that was sitting on the back porch, fairly chilly. Unlike last winter, all the Diet Dr. Peppers froze and the cap was off of one of my emergency water jugs, indicative of the lingering cold spells.

During lunch I noted Townsend's warblers, Pacific wrens, and sooty grouse singing/vocalizing and watched a ruby-crowned kinglet chipping and bopping around the salmonberries and adjacent spruce. Several small birds flew into the tideline but I didn't catch them in time to identify them. It certainly isn't bursting with life, with only a pair of mergansers and a group of (probably) scoters flying by on the water. I may have missed spring migration on the water, but it doesn't look like a lot of the songbirds are here yet. After lunch I hooked up the transmitter on the satellite dish and walked downriver with Cailey to check out a log that had been recently cut with a chainsaw--the same log that had been trimmed last year in the spring, presumably to make bear hunting easier. This time it had been cut back into the bushes and the rounds were gone. I was puzzled about that, as they'd been left on the ground last year, and also puzzled at the alders that were trimmed back nearby...until I saw that a little further on, beyond a big beach log, a large fire pit encircled by rounds. And a few beer cans, firecrackers, and candy wrappers. The ashes were warm--my neighbors had had a fire last night. They must have taken most of their trash with them, but I was still a little miffed as I gathered up all the remaining garbage. I think I'll go back later in the summer and take those rounds for firewood, though. I wonder what they were thinking when they found out this place was mine?

Back inside I hooked up the modem to the battery, not particularly hopeful. It was dead. The spare, of unknown charge, was right there, so I swapped them out and was surprised to find the lights on the modem blink on. I managed to go through the system updates with no hassles at all and sent off a few emails. The battery didn't turn on again later, so I'll take them both back to town to charge. I am amazed that the dish still works, not having been adjusted for a year and a half. And then I took a sweet nap with Cailey on the couch in the quiet of Snettisham, the riverboats having headed upriver. Hummingbirds buzzed outside, enjoying one feeder I'd put up earlier, using half of one of my two jugs of water. I was relieved later to realize that I'd also filled up two soup pots with water last fall, so I had more than I'd realized. Now my eyes are fading and I'm hearing possible shots outside from the boats, so I am going to shut this down and retire.

Quick spring trips make trip reporting onsite tricky, and here it is Monday and I'm trying to remember what happened. I spent a few hours on the couch Saturday afternoon catching up on sleep and enjoying the quiet of Snettisham after lighting a small fire to take the chill off and welcome in the summer. When I got up I tromped up to the creek, shutting off the necessary valves along the way. After assessing the condition of the catchment section of the creek, I decided to create the olive barrel's depression back upcreek a little ways where there was already a small natural pool forming at the base of a small cascade. A lot of hoeing later, I had a hollow surrounded by a dam of excavated gravel into which I fit the barrel. With a little more adjustment and excavation of a path for the outlet pipe through the dam, I shut off the nearby valve, pleased to hear and feel the water coursing through when I opened it back up again. There wasn't very much pressure at the lodge, but certainly enough to push water through the system. I set up the water filters there and soon had water flowing out the faucet. Oh, and also dripping through a hole in the fixture directly beneath the faucet. It looked like some interior damage had been done. Frustrated with the clutter in the kitchen and facing another sink replacement, I shifted my attention to getting Hermit Thrush ready for the night. Carrying sheets and propane heater, I arrived in my cozy, clean cabin and soon had the bed made and my little buddy heater hooked up to the propane tank outside. Then I installed the filters there and headed uphill to turn the valve on. Everything worked beautifully. I repeated the process at Harbor Seal and found that the faucet had a drip. At some point I also swept the winter's accumulation of twigs off the main porch.

Pleased with a little progress, I headed back to the lodge with Cailey and was just reaching for the tools I'd left on the riverboat when she lunged off the other side of the porch and grabbed the mink. Ironic that it was also on the first trip of the season last year during the same task (water to Hermit Thrush) during which she killed her first mink. After securing the body on top of the fridge, I turned my attention back to the lodge sink, first awkwardly removing the faucet from the basins. On a whim, remembering trying a similar thing with some success a few years ago, I hooked it back up under the sink (over the bucket) with water coming into the hot side of the tap. It didn't leak at all! To make sure it hadn't been a fluke the first time, I switched them, and the leak returned. But not when I switched it back. It seems I might not have to replace the sink after all. But I did need to take care of supper, so I heated up a pouch of really delicious Indian rice and veggies before tackling the mink. Remembering the discomfort of crouching on the porch to skin the mink last year, I decided first to put together the table I'd brought down and be more civilized about it. The legs screwed into the top without a hitch and I set myself up at the window with newspapers and a piece of cardboard. The last piece of the puzzle I needed was my leatherman, but when I reached for it clipped onto my belt loop, it was no longer there. I'd been really pleased with it all day, having spontaneously used it twice, but I couldn't remember leaving it anywhere. I thought back on all the wanderings I'd made since I'd seen it last, up and down from the water system, chasing after Cailey, never using the same route twice. It seemed a hopeless task to track it down, but I had to try. I figured that the brushiest route I took would be the most likely to accidentally unclip its little carabiner, so I tramped back into the salmonberries where Cailey had caught up to the mink. Scouring the ground along the way, I found the spot where I think I'd picked it up, feeling mighty hopeless about my task. Just then I realized that I was hearing the sweet songs of a hermit thrush upriver--my first of the year--and then my eyes landed on the black, steel, and yellow of my leatherman lying in the bushes. Huzzah! With gratitude, I returned to the lodge and donned a headlamp for extra light. Skinning the mink, from tail to nose in the round as I had last year, was much easier and more enjoyable this time. I think it may have been less damaged by Cailey (though the belly was full of contusions) and my brand new leatherman was certainly sharper, and the process went off smoothly. I cut off the head and baculum (which has a curious hook to it) and put them with the lightly salted hide into one bag and the body and bloody papers and cardboard in another. I may have hooked the sink back up before I settled down to work on the trip report. Cailey had spent all afternoon and evening outside in an excited state and hid under the lodge every time I tried to entice her inside. I'm not sure if she just wanted to stay out or whether she was afraid I was going to try to wash her (there had been inadvertent hints of that before). I finally brought her in with a little food in her bowl. She was so pungent that I brought her couch blanket to bed so she didn't musk up my comforter. I also locked the lodge and brought the key with me...just in case (I'm much more worried about people than wildlife). As I left the lodge, the gunshots I thought I'd heard turned out to be fireworks from the boat. I watched two of them, balls of white and multi-colored light, and it was really very pretty. But I also saw the eagles jolt from the trees and heard the sea gulls scream when they went off.

We both slept well, dozing through the early morning bird calls, adding varied thrush to those I'd heard the day before. I quickly packed up and locked up and headed to the lodge where I got to work after a quick snack and a hot washcloth. First I set up the water systems for Cottonwood and Harbor Seal, then rewarded myself with tea and a little more breakfast overlooking the calm inlet, followed by morning prayer. Someone from the boat cavalcade came to shore to look over their fire pit, evidently to clean it up (whether because of my influence or not, I don't know) and walked away with the beer can I'd left sitting on a stump. I tidied up around the lodge, set up one of the motion sensor cameras, raked around the lodge, and cleaned the outhouse. My timeline is a little hazy here, but over the course of the rest of my stay I raked around all the trails, added pillow cases to the cabins that needed them, cleaned the other outhouse, and swept all the cabin porches and stairs. I also finished fixing the sink, which required unhooking the hose again, as I'd forgotten to screw on the nuts that keep the faucet secured to the sink before attaching the hose and cap. I believe I did that while a lunch of quesadillas was cooking. It was very good to clean the kitchen afterwards with running water, sweep, and generally tidy up after the slight chaos of opening. I had a last five minutes of bliss sitting on the porch before finishing. My goal was to get underway by about 2:00 so I'd be home in time to head to a string concert at the Shrine of St. Therese with my mother. As usual, without detailed planning, I wound up puttering down the inlet at precisely 2:00. Turning to make sure the engine looked good, though, I discovered that I still had the kayak attached! Feeling a little foolish under the eyes of the raft of boats (though most of the crew was upriver by that time), I returned and drug it to the lodge, losing six minutes. Before getting back up to speed, I returned the body of the mink to its waters. On the way out, I saw one eagle around the corner in Snettisham and at least four at the entrance. The sea lion haul out appeared from a distance to be in full swing. It was calmish in the port, with a tiny following sea outside. I was cozy in my t-shirt, fleece, hoody, and rain jacket, and kept Cailey tucked into her bed. I promised her that it would only get better as we passed Taku Harbor, but shortly thereafter it got worse instead. I was trying to figure out why it was suddenly so unpleasant when I realized that we were going into the seas--RIGHT into the seas. So much for my southeasterly taking me home, I was now in the teeth of a little Taku. We banged and crashed through the 1-2' seas until reaching the relief of Bishop's lee. I was home by 4:30 and ready to head out the road at 5:30, bleary-eyed, sore, and exhausted, but very pleased with the opening. Other than dusting the wood in the cabins, I pretty much accomplished everything I wanted to in preparation for a final Memorial Day weekend trip with Katie and Rob before they move to Tasmania.


Cailey on the way down