Snettisham 2017 - 2: Farewell Adventure
  May 27-29


Nesting eagle

Photo Album


With a flawlessly sunny early summer weekend ahead of us, Katie, Rob, Hank, Cailey and I set off from Aurora Harbor around 10:00 Saturday morning for a long-planned Memorial Day Snettisham adventure. Ultimately, "adventure" looked more like lingering in the sunshine, taking walks, and doing a handful of satisfying chores, but that suited us on this particular weekend. It seemed that we all had moderation and leisure in mind.

We arrived about an hour and 45 minutes later. Sally, my new motor, started without a hitch (once I remembered to clip in the safety button clip), which was a relief, as my boat had once again experienced a theft (my brand new six gallon fuel tank had been stolen). But I'd already hauled down plenty of extra gas and didn't dwell on it. The dogs continually impressed us with their evident friendship and matching adorableness as they waited patiently for the boat to be loaded. The fine weather was drawn in with a northwesterly, so we had a following sea all the way down, something of a relief. There was a whale in Taku Inlet, one north of Taku Harbor, another around Seal Rocks that fluked beautifully, and a fourth inside the port along with a dense concentration of loons. Katie sat in a camp chair in the back and made beds for the dogs who snuggled together and took turns laying their chins on one another.

Despite the dramatically low tide a few hours before, the impending very high tide brought the water up to a comfortable distance from the log. We unloaded everything, I brought the two fully charged batteries up to the porch to grab the kayak, and anchored the boat without Cailey while the others hauled the rest of the gear up to the porch. After lighting the pilots and otherwise opening up, we moved the new table into the dishes corner in the kitchen and brought the card table outside onto the lower deck where we ate amazing sandwiches Katie had made that morning and chatted the afternoon away. Rob opened up my brand new Black and Decker weed whacker and assembled it; at some point I brought Joanie over and got it started the second time I tried. She was a bit stubborn the first time and I gave up, having no real need to spend more effort on it at that point, but on the second attempt some time later she started on the first pull. Rob began the major task of weedwhacking, starting with the area around the campfire pit as we had no extra gas for the generator on shore and planned to grill that night. When the engine quit, only that area was clear. With evening approaching, Katie prepped dinner inside while Rob and I built a campfire. It was a perfect evening, yellow gold light on the mountain across the river, a dying breeze, and few mosquitoes. Katie and Rob grilled delicate king salmon, zucchini, and asparagus over an alder fire and we feasted on the deck with the rhubarb cobbler Rob had made that morning. The card table is invaluable if only to keep nosy dogs from food!

Unfortunately, though I needed a good night's sleep, I opened my eyes at 6:40 and never drifted back. I'd had yet another dream--or possibly it was reality--about hearing a Swainson's thrush singing in the early morning hours. This one seemed so real at the time...the thrush sang multiple times for one thing, and the songs were unexpectedly variable in their rise, which might fit with my sleepy theory that Swainson's thrushes, though not planning to set up home at Snettisham, might in fact be migrating through and testing out their voices on the way. I'd heard the first (for sure real) song just the evening before while delivering gas to the boat house and checking on the Ronquil. My first thought was to make sure it was real, so I forced myself to open an eye, through which I saw the cabin and noted the early dawn light out the window. There, I thought, I've finally proven it! Of course, it was somewhat less clear the next day. Probably a dream, but certainly the most likely yet to be reality.  Katie asked me later why it was important that I heard a Swainson's thrush at Snettisham and I'm afraid I didn't have a good answer for her.

When I went to wash up in the morning, I was disappointed to find almost no water pressure in the faucet and none at all in the lodge. We'd apparently been using what had sat in the hoses since the olive barrel had lost collecting capacity. It was not how I wanted to start the day, but I put on my boots, grabbed a hoe, and walked with gratitude up the faint trail, turning to the creek much earlier than necessary to avoid the downed spruce at the top, resulting in awkward clambering over deadfalls, through devil's club, and past tangled barriers of current brambles. The olive barrel and its hollow seemed perfectly intact, but it looked like the stone dam behind it had washed out, probably during the torrential rains that fell with the storm the previous weekend (a good weekend to pick to be in town after weekends at Snettisham and the Taku). I gathered rocks from around the barrel and farther up the stream and reconstructed the dam, sealing it with smaller rocks, until water again rose up over the outlet hose.

Back at the lodge I then put together the gray water system with new "aquarium sock" 100 micron filters I found on amazon, a promising source for replacements in the future (they've been difficult to source). I managed one other task before Katie and Rob arrived, though I can't recall what it is. Rob made amazing blueberry flapjacks for breakfast, which we ate in the newly arrived sunshine on the porch. Without the sun, morning and evening, it was still cool enough to require fleece and socks/shoes.

By the time we were through, it was right about low tide, a very dramatic -4.something, and we set out to explore the sandbars. While Rob and I were talking about my new camera, which I'd brought along to experiment with, Katie managed to walk to the boat and bring back two jerry jugs of gas for the generator! We didn't make it far across the river before we hit a deep channel in the middle and headed north. Other than the herd of harbor seals spread out at the edge of the main channel across the river, we didn't find very much wildlife, but the sunny walk was pleasant and the dogs were having a wonderful time. Hank adopted a tusk-shaped stick which he avidly searched for when it disappeared into a deeper channel, finally rescued by Rob. Cailey romped with Rob and I took lots of pictures with my new camera, satisfying myself that it does take wonderful pictures impossible with a phone camera. Beyond the grassy point and close to shore we finally found tracks--lots of otter tracks with what looked to be very large prints and very small prints.

We relaxed on the porch afterwards and I continued to take photographs, learning valuable tips from Rob along the way (he'd had a similar camera). I haven't looked at them on a computer yet, but I also took what looked like fairly impressive photos of an eagle being harassed by crows on the point, capturing open beaks and diving attacks with my 300 mm lens. The bird life was awfully quiet all weekend, and I liked to imagine they were abundant, but all busily going about raising families. I saw an orange-crowned warbler several times and heard wrens, hermit thrushes, chickadees, jays, and a delightful Lincoln's sparrow from the beach, heard but not seen. And, of course, that Swainson's thrush! I also transferred all the videos I wanted from the motion sensor cameras to my computer so I would wipe the cards and leave them for my five week or more hiatus from Snettisham. Katie made hot sandwiches for lunch, after which we broke up and worked at little tasks all afternoon. Well, not necessarily little... Rob took to weedwhacking again, with praise for my brand new machine, first completing the walkway to the river, including areas around the bordering iris patches to make them stand out, and then made a long tour of the property, weedwhacking almost all the trails.

In the meantime, I was puttering around, exploring the possibility of moving the growing spruce tree that is beginning to block the view from the porch and shows no sign of stopping. I determined that the endeavor was not possible, but I did pull up both the little spruces growing in (or, as it turned out, under), the log on the side of the rock path and transplanted them in the woods. Katie helped rake the path after Rob's cutting and exposed some of the soggier stones in the path from their layer of moss. It all felt strangely domestic and pleasant, and I particularly loved the worn square around the campfire and the ashes inside the pit (as opposed to horsetail and weeds). One of the three wild roses I'd planted in front of the porch was doing well, so I carefully cleared around it to give it more light. If it survives, I expect it will spread as they do so well up the Taku. Katie also took Hank to the river to swim and cool off, temporarily losing the sinking tusk stick at high tide (later recovered when the tide dropped). Katie and I read and rested a little while Rob continued weekwhacking; when he was done, he took a swim in the river with Hank while I was still in my cabin.

Having met with such success and such a pleasant fire the night before, Katie and Rob grilled again, this time bison burgers with potatoes cooked in the oven inside. We lingered around the fire afterwards, but the growing mosquito population finally drove us in where we chatted until around 11:00, later than any of us expected or intended.

The next morning I made no attempt to get up early and was shocked to find that it was 8:45 when I looked at my phone. I met Katie on the trail heading over herself and Rob was just beginning to make banana flapjacks for breakfast. Afterwards, Rob decided to fix the bench that Torsten had built so many years before during a work party. Alex's bench was stable, having placed the seat in v-shaped notches so it made "two points of contact" as Rob said at the time. Torsten's seat sat in rounded cradles and shifted. We managed to start the chain saw, somewhat to my surprise, and Rob flipped the two supports and began attempting to cut v-shaped notches in the other side. It turns out this was more difficult than expected (hindered by a rather dull blade) and some ax work and more time was employed before it was finished. It was delightful to watch Rob working at it in the sunshine and, while it's not quite as stable as Alex's, it's pretty close. Before he put it away, Rob also cut the large branch that overhangs the trail to the bridge.

Meanwhile, Katie walked the dogs and I tackled a few little tasks, including nailing down a loose asphalt shingle piece on the boardwalk, putting a coat of primer on the new outhouse floor, and weedwhacking the final two sections of trail (one of which Rob wasn't sure should be done, and the other the trail to the lodge outhouse, which hadn't come up). I also set up the motion sensor cameras. We then walked down to the point and Rob and I climbed up to the aerie to spy on the eagle's nest. We found an eagle laying down inside brooding, white head bright in the sunshine. There was a surprising amount of bear scat on the ledge, so much that I again suspect that it may be a sleeping area. We also found a crow nest about 20 feet up in a tree just next to the eagle tree.

It was early afternoon then and we considered our options. The fine weather was beginning to cloud over and the forecast was calling for sprinkles (blissfully brought with a mild southeasterly) and we all had one weather concern or another. I think the others weren't excited about getting caught in a rain storm and I was uncertain what the seas would be like. We agreed to pack a picnic lunch and eat on the boat, heading out around 3:00. The seas were choppy crossing Gilbert Bay from an unencouraging direction (Speel Arm), so I was hugely relieved to find them coming in from Stephen's Passage once we turned in that direction, despite the tedious and unpleasant banging. Poor Cailey climbed onto the packs laid across the back bench until Katie could persuade her to come down. They stayed behind us most of the way back, laying down in Taku Inlet after crossing a brief westerly shy of Arden. We passed many more loons and a whale in the port. And so ended my last Southeast trip with Katie and Rob for years at the very least.

A lovely mew gull over the river