Snettisham 2017 - 3: Rest and Return
  July 1-3


Snettisham iceberg

Photo album


I had an excuse to stay in town the first weekend after my return from Mongolia, but the truth is there was no way I had the energy and wherewithal after only four days back in Juneau to make it anywhere. I was still tired, if somewhat recovered, when I arrived at work the next Monday. But this weekend was different and, with Tuesday a holiday, it seemed reasonable to take Monday off of work. As Friday waned, the forecast was calling for three footers in the morning tapering off to two feet in the evening and I was forced to consider the possibility that I'd have to put off the trip until late on Saturday, at which point would it be worth it?

But the morning brought a milder forecast and I hastened to do the last minute animals chores before heading to parish breakfast to reconnect with those folks before fueling up. I'd put the house in good order the evening before and was feeling good about leaving. At 8:30 I headed out to Western Auto, having realized earlier in the week that my throw--required by the Coast Guard--had apparently been stolen earlier this summer. My ten-gallon fuel tank, which was full and wedged into the hold, had also been stolen within a few days of my last trip to Snettisham, but Ezra had bought me a new one while I was out of town, complete with the proper fitting. I'd tried it out last week and found that it worked perfectly and had stashed it in the boathouse.

On the way back, I remembered that I hadn't picked up the boat key from the garage, so I swung by home with a dog that tried to follow me inside. I assured her there were better things in store. Back at the harbor I unloaded all my gear at the top of the ramp, parked the car, and took a cart down with four jerry jugs of gas and my fishing rod. While at the boat I filled up the new tank with fuel and started the engine to make sure everything worked, then took everything else I needed out of the boat house. Finally, I drug my cart back up, used the porta-potty, grabbed Cailey, and loaded the rest of my gear onto the cart. I looked carefully around the little shelter there to make sure I hadn't left anything behind, surprised to see that the lid of my tote was partially open when I was pretty sure I'd left it tightly shut against the very steady rain. It was only when I was underway that I realized that my wonderful new weed whacker was not on board; evidently it had been stolen and my tote opened, though thankfully nothing appears to have been stolen from inside it (my new camera was in there!). This was all while I was within sight, just down the float. WTF, Juneau!?

But I didn't know that just yet, and what can you do? I never thought anyone would steal gear that was clearly going to be returned to at any moment. And a weed whacker, really? I finished loading and pulled out in the dense rain around 9:30, uneasy about the breeze and the chop I encountered in the channel. We were running about 3900 rpms and I wrapped Cailey in her blanket to keep her warm in the rain. It was choppy, but manageable, and I know that sometimes the channel is the worst part of the trip. The day was dense with rain and mist, the distant points shadows. Half way to Arden it looked like the light chop was coming out of the Taku and soon the seas were close to flat calm. Relieved and pleased and imagining a smooth ride to welcome me back to Snettisham, I opened up the throttle and we careened past Arden. I thought about the crisis I'm having about how to balance my life between "town" and cabin trips. There's a lot I like and need about town and I find myself increasingly torn between it and this other life, especially when they conflict or one saps the energy for the other. But getting the boat ready and heading out in the rain...it felt so much like home, as did the smell of the air on the water, the mist in the trees over the beach, the wave from the pleasure boater I passed. Being out and about in Southeast Alaska is such a fundamental part of who I am.

But it doesn't really answer the question. And as I moved toward Grand Island, the flat ocean was suddenly ridged with little waves as a brisk breeze swept across it. I picked up speed again, determined to cover as much ground as I could before that wicked breeze built the seas up again. It didn't take long and suddenly I was creeping along over two foot seas and trios of three footers over which I crashed no matter how much I slowed down. Cailey looked miserable. As the frequency of the three footers increased and I took a little green water over the bow I was forced to consider turning around. It wasn't exactly dangerous, but if I had to continue to plunge between those seas at a snail's pace...well, I wasn't sure I could do it all the way to Snettisham. I wasn't sure I could do it all the way to Grave Point, but I really, really, really wanted to make it to Snettisham. The idea of turning around and staying in Juneau over the weekend (which is sometimes more than a little enticing) held no allure, even aside from the guilt of not making it to Snettisham after five weeks of absence including the entire month of June. I really wanted to go there, especially after getting myself onto the water through all the anxiety that comes after such an absence and my town crisis.

So that's what I told Cailey after a brief bout of frustrated tears. Let's just get to Grave and see what it's like on the other side, I said. Sometimes, sometimes it's better. Maybe it's better. It was slow going but we did, eventually, make it to Grave Point and beyond, where I turned toward shore as there didn't seem to be any white caps over there. And to my enormous surprise the seas dropped down to a small chop and we were soon back up to speed and heading to Snettisham. Those seas behind us, though, they'd taken some of the joy and innocence out of it. Sometimes I like it when I have to "earn" my way to a cabin with a bit of seas, but this time....it just slightly soured it. I need a bigger boat, I cannot handle being so beholden to the winds which never seem to stop anymore, especially if my trips are fewer and more scheduled. I thought I might ask my parents if I can buy the Kathy M, or a share of it.

This whole time I'd been sitting on top of my seat, with the back folded down, so I could see over the windshield which was so filmed with rain that I couldn't see through it effectively. I was in raingear, with a hat and my hood up. Snettisham was very misty, but in the distance a huge ice berg appeared, just where the port opens up and splits. It was an enormous slab, a bright blue edge shimmering where it had tilted toward the other side. It was by far the biggest berg I've ever seen in Snettisham and I marveled at how large it must be underwater. On the other side, which sloped gently to the water, a bald eagle sat but flew as I came into sight.

And three hours after departing, I made my way through the crab pots and to the lodge, which looked blissfully intact. I have to keep reminding myself that it is not the end of summer. This feels like it should be the last trip of the season, but it's not even high summer yet....it's still early summer, early summer, and there could be many trips ahead.

There was a mud beach exposed and the tide was dropping. I pulled in as far as I could with the engine, then paddled, the breeze from Gilbert Bay pushing us gently upriver until we grounded in water I could wade. I dropped off the tote, then Cailey, then anchored the boat to the flats before grabbing the last of my gear and heading up to the cabin in just one, light load. The lodge was perfect, the systems started right up. I lit a fire, puttered around, made some soup for lunch, and then plunked myself onto the porch with my binoculars, my new camera, and a couple of books. I only really used the latter. The eagle pair flew close together and then landed next to one another on their usual perching tree and crows flew past, but it was otherwise quite quiet. I'd heard crows being fed on the way into the beach and a wren sing, and heard some cheeps and chickadee calls periodically, but the only birds I saw were a few thrushes, including hermits flying by and a fledgling varied thrush who landed on the porch, as well as a pair of great blue herons that hunted briefly on the beach. The inlet was misty, the rain steady.

And as I sat there, my love for being in this place welled up, and I found the solitude I'd been seeking for weeks at last. I read for two hours, then came inside rather chilled and lit another fire, sitting in the rocking chair while Cailey lay unsettled in her bed nearby, and wrote about the very end of my Mongolian horse ride which I'd not had time to do. Emerging overheated from that, I realized that I was desperately famished and had to immediately make some dinner. Cailey's stomach had been making her strange hungry rumbling sounds, so I fed her a third small meal. She's been antsy all afternoon, so I took her on a promised walk around the property, happy to see that the cabins are all intact and that most of the paths need little maintenance other than clipping back invading bushes. I was surprised to see that the path and campfire area on the beach are so overgrown than you can hardly tell where Rob cut. The bushes over the first boardwalk were leaning in wildly, so when we got back I turned around with the clippers and trimmed most of it back.

And so I am here, typing on my new tablet (since my laptop is on its way to Seattle for repair), doubly pleased with my purchase, and wondering if there is still media on it I might enjoy on this rainy night. There is no sound outside but the pattering of rain on the vegetation and it is serene beyond description. Whatever I decide, however my life becomes arranged, it will involve being at this place, must involve being at this place.

The rain, mist to heavy, kept the valley closed all day, the far side of Gilbert Bay appearing and disappearing again, and even when I sat on the porch thinking the rain had finally stopped, tiny droplets struck the river when seen through binoculars. The birds were just as quiet as yesterday. Last night as I walked to Hermit Thrush, I thought about how hermit thrushes sing in the rain, and sing after others birds have stopped, and pondered how this rain must be dense enough even to silence them. Past the outhouse, then, a distant song reached my ears, soft and sweet, a hermit thrush somewhere up the creek perhaps. The rain was soft or dense enough to be quiet on the roof of the cabin, not pinging as it sometimes does. Or perhaps I slept too soundly to notice.

Before breakfast, I did some exercises, then ate a quick meal of oatmeal and bananas and settled onto the porch for a brimming cup of sweet jasmine tea. While I exercised inside, I let my phone shuffle through a few songs, the second of which was the Decembrist's June Hymn, one of my favorites. As it played, I saw out the window a seal in the river and my first hummingbird came by and I felt such joy at being here again, almost laughing aloud when I saw a whale blow across the valley. The whale blew quietly on and off as I spent most of the morning on the porch. I added jays to the few birds that passed by and was pleased to add a second hummingbird. I finished the book "Hearing Birds Fly", a wonderful memoir of a year living in a village in western Mongolia (which answered some of the lingering questions I had about nomad life), started another book, and went through morning prayer.

Before noon I headed off for a few tasks, first making the cabin rounds and washing all the windows. My intent was to then screw in all the cross pieces for the windows inside but realized how time consuming and laborious it would be by hand when I had a tool in town that would make quick work of it; plus I wasn't pleased about the screws I'd purchased and would like to replace them. So instead I clipped the overhanging salmonberries, ferns, devil's club, and twisted stalk on the rest of the cabin trails and then made lunch, a predictable and delectable quesadilla feast with Blue Moon on the porch. When the tide dropped a bit, I took the gloomy Cailey for a promised walk. I remain plagued with uncertainty and guilt about Cailey's happiness; I think of this as a dog's paradise, but she's seemed so unsatisfied lately, laying in her bed on the porch with open eyes staring toward the river, apparently discontent.

We must have found the only few minutes that were rainless. I walked downriver first, spying up at the eagle nest to see if I could learn anything. Both parents have been often together, off the nest, which I fear doesn't bode well, especially in this rain, as the eaglet might still benefit from protection at the age he or she might be. On my way upriver, I was pleased to hear another hermit thrush in the trees above me, a sweet and delicate song that sounded somehow more feminine than most.

That walk seemed to take it out of me. I considered using my upright status to try chopping firewood or dusting the cabins or cutting asphalt shingles for traction on the cabin steps, but the farthest I got was picking up a measuring tape and tin snips from the shed. Instead, I laid down on the couch, read, and took a nap. I think I must need this rest and I am learning not to beat myself up over it. All these tasks can happen another time. I cooked a sirloin steak for dinner with peas and carrots in my usual way on the stove, and here I am, somewhat farther in my summer fantasy book (one I've been looking forward to for months), listening to Schumann and the rain, falling harder now as a little front has moved into the inlet. My laptop has been broken since I came back from Mongolia and so I cannot check the marine forecast. Tomorrow is the third of July and I have hopes to go to the pre-fireworks dance in the evening. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, Cailey is curled up next to me, I feel content and relaxed. After dinner, Cailey jumped onto the couch and arranged herself with her head on my legs; later, she curled up with her nose and a crazy angle that made her wheeze with every breath, and fell into a deep sleep. Perhaps she is beginning to relax again into our life with confidence (and a walk) after my long absence. Cailey is a sensitive dog.

I slept deeply that night and didn't wake up until after 8:00. The rain had been steadier (and louder) as I went to sleep, but had largely stopped by the time I got up. I had a bit more energy and big plans and started the day by moving the boat to deeper water just in case it wound up in an awkwardly shallow spot when I decided to head home. Then I had breakfast on the porch and read a bit before finishing clipping back the extending vegetation along the boardwalk and up to the lodge outhouse. Finally, I tried my hand at chopping some of the rounds that have been sitting under the tarp all this time, the ones I gave up on during my initial attempts. But this time I was going to actually use my wedges and try to do it properly. I made it through two small logs, then went to work on a larger round that was so full of knots that even a splitter would have had difficulty. I knocked myself in the knee when my maul fell over, and decided I'd had enough for the day. I think I need a gas splitter. Somehow I decided that I deserved a beer for that feeble work, so I had one on the porch as the sun began to peek out. I don't recall exactly how the rest of my day went, but at some point I had lunch and cleaned/packed up and headed out at 1:45, racing to take the kayak back to the lodge while the Ronquil sat on the edge of the bars on a dangerous falling tide. Excited to be on the water and relieved that I'd escaped the flats, we headed out, only to realize around the corner that I'd forgotten to turn the propane tanks off. I had turned the propane off to the refrigerator earlier, so it was only the pilots on the range that would use gas, but as images of explosions populated my head, I finally decided to head back and turn them off, once again racing against the falling tide. I made it, and lost only about 20 minutes. 


The huge ice berg was still in the port, close to Fanny Island. Seas getting to Stephen's Passage were rough and unpleasant, but manageable. One whale blew somewhere in the distance in the port. Stephen's Passage was full of jumbly, mostly southerly, two foot seas that sort of carried us home in an awkward and bumpy way. Gillnetters dotted the sea, clustered out of my range around Slocum Inlet. The blue sky in Snettisham was rapidly left behind as I traveled north into the dense clouds and rain that would dominate through the 4th of July in Juneau. I made it home by 5:00, rallying myself for the pre-fireworks dance a couple of hours later.



A wet rainforest