2018 - 5: Sweetheart Highs and Lows
vestry trip was cancelled. I'd delayed a day going down to
Snettisham partly because it was no longer needed, since I was not
constrained from fishing by the arrival of guests, partly because the
weather was initially calling for three foot seas, and partly because
after a long weekend at the Taku I was thoroughly exhausted and it
would have been difficult to pull myself together in just two evenings
in town. So I woke on Thursday morning for what I hoped would be a
nice, settled weekend alone at Snettisham with a Sweetheart Creek trip
to start it off. I'd dreamt of fishing that night, fitful dreams of for
some reason being unable or unwilling to go to the creek and then
deciding I could cast for sockeyes off Seal Rocks of all places,
settling on that idea, then realizing that there was no bottom there
and the fish would just swim out the bottom if there was no surface for
the net to rest on. All in all, it was a dream the product of the
anxiety that inevitably precedes Sweetheart. Would I find my fishing
hole unoccupied? Would bears give me trouble? Would there be fish there
to catch? Would something happen to me unbeknownst to others that would
leave Cailey locked in my cabin without food or (much) water for days?
I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but I woke up cranky
and not full of energy, dragging myself out of bed later than I
intended. I showered, gathered the last of my things, took Cailey on a
short walk to the mailbox, and left to pick up a jerry jug of gas and
some bread and a few other items at the store. We were underway at
10:30 and I soon enjoyed my treat of donuts on the way down the
channel, as I never eat enough on a morning like that. It was raining
the whole time we loaded so I was in raingear over my t-shirt and hot
when we started out, but I took the time to put my lucky fishing hoodie
on underneath before I donned the life jacket, knowing I'd cool down as
I stopped working. I did, and was soon grateful for the gloves I'd
packed. The rain stopped by the end of the channel and the clouds
lifted, and thankfully the ride south was nearly calm.
We did arrive at a low tide, however, a 2 foot tide that must have been in combination with a very low water level in the river, for the flats were out about as far as they ever are and I ran aground below them, lifting the engine to putter back over to the channel. We were able to skirt the edge of this northern most channel where the mud broke in a sheer 8" cliff, but I was surprised to find that it did not extend very far before the edge of it curved toward the other side of the river where the main channel ran. I could clearly see the arc of this bit of channel sweeping over toward my shore, but the channel from the seep in front of the lodge was isolated, ending in a shallow wash that emptied into the channel I was in just about where I stopped puttering and put ashore against the shelf. I let out a lot of the anchor line and drug it far up on the flats, thinking that I might keep dragging it up as the tide rose since I was planning to head out in a few more hours. I was still quite a distance from the cabin, so I just carried my backpack and the cloth bag of perishables, conveniently already packed together in one bag since they were the last items added. I efficiently opened up, ate delicious quesadillas, and laid down inside to rest, thinking I needed a reset before fishing. I must have fallen unconscious for a few minutes, but mostly I lay in a half doze state listening to Cailey climbing onto and then off of the couch on the porch (she wouldn't come inside) and other random noises, but I did get up 50 minutes later a little refreshed. It was 2:10 and I set about getting ready. My backpack was purged of all unnecessaries and filled with the net, a garbage bag, tin snips, bear mace, and a bonker. I grabbed a plastic stick from the shed to help me walk, failing to find the wooden pole I used last year, got my waders ready, and messily grabbed a spoon full of peanut butter and a pork rawhide for Cailey, who eagerly followed me to Hermit Thrush. I scraped the peanut butter on her hoof there and left her licking it. She didn't call out or complain too much, I think she knows the routine now and, although she hadn't had much of a walk, she had had a boat ride, and could probably use a nap as well.
I kayaked out to the boat, having realized that there was no need to keep pulling up the anchor since I needed to bring the kayak along anyway, and was underway at 2:50. Ten minutes later I was pulling up next to a single boat at anchor, easily anchored for once, a little closer to the beach than usual because I was on a rising tide was not planning to leave much past the turn, and kayaked in to shore. It was a mercy not to have to pull the boat up on a low tide, but only had to scrape over about ten feet of barnacles before I was on the grass. I left the kayak at the entrance to the woods, noting that I saw no tender from the other boat, and chatted my way into the woods, bear mace with safety off in hand. Just as I'd finishing crossing the peninsula and stepped down onto the first beach by the creek, a pair of men in an inflatable towing two barrels passed by and I asked them how it went. They said it had gone well but that they thought people had been feeding the bears as they were aggressive and one had followed them out. I thanked them for the heads up and continued up the bank, calling my "hey bear"s. I soon heard a loud shout and turned around thinking that the men on the boat had yelled at me, but they seemed serene in the distance. I then heard more noises close by and realized that there were people calling to bears in the woods. I yelled "hey bear, hey human" and received a friendly warning from an unseen lady that it was thick with bears up there. I was soon to be alone on the creek, so was extra cautious to be noisy and polite as I picked my way to my point. When I descended to my fishing spot, a young, round brown bear was fishing the falls just above, but didn't seem overly interested in my presence. I set my pack on the garbage bag in a crevasse, put my bonker and knife nearby, said prayers, and made a cast into the pool. There had been a handful of pinks paired off down in the spawning reaches below, but it wasn't as packed as I often see it; I could see fish in the pool below the falls there, but was surprised not to see much evidence that the point had been used recently, no fins or blood in the little bleeding crevasse. The creek was of average height, maybe a little low, plenty of the little rocky point exposed to stand and balance on, and no rocks showing in the pool, which was both green and white. In fact, they were rather perfect conditions, though I didn't think about that at the time. I felt the warm vibrations of fish in the net shortly after it struck the water, warm because it warmed my heart to feel them, that life pushing against the net, quivering expectantly, and as the net came up to slide over the falls, I saw a flash of silver inside. I had one beautiful sockeye and several pinks, all the latter of which were released from the tangly net alive and in fairly good condition I think. I bled and strung the sockeye on a long line and placed her in the little crevasse. On my second cast I came back with two sockeyes and some pinks. Possibly only pinks on my third cast, but the fourth came back with FOUR sockeyes (and maybe a pink)? Two weren't especially large sockeyes and, for some reason, I was compelled to let one of them go, which I did. And so, fifteen minutes into fishing I had six fish on my line and I let them sit in the creek for a minute to bleed since the crevasse was not big enough for all of them. Actually, I'm not sure they were still bleeding by then as it was so difficult to extricate fish from that very tangly net. I'd arrived at the point at 3:15, only 35 minutes from departing, and it was then only 3:30!
After that I made a series of poor casts, some with the net like a taco, some possibly poorly placed, but regardless they came up empty. I was thinking that I should pause and take pictures of the bear, but was also loath to stop fishing and dig it out, so I said that after the next time I caught a fish I'd break for photos. About the seventh cast or so, I caught a single fish which I thought at first was a pink but turned out to be a bronze sockeye, which escaped with no effort on my part. Not what I had in mind, but it was in fact a fish, so I dug out my camera just as the bear ceased fishing and crossed the little inlet between our points to my own peninsula. I snapped a few shots as he gazed at me from the bottom of the rocks while I spoke loudly, asked him to move on, and grabbed the bear mace. I tracked his progress over the top of the peninsula and down the other side, where there is a convenient rocky shelf connecting him to me. When he reached it and looked my way intently again, I talked with him loudly, mace in hand, not sure exactly what I'd do if he came ambling my way. My fish, thankfully, were tucked into the crevasse and not visible from where he was. Thankfully, he turned and crossed the little side channel there onto the rocky shelf beyond. And there he set himself up at the edge and continued gazing to me. Or, at least, that's what a paranoid person would think. I was definitely on edge because of the double warnings I'd heard. Probably the bear was waiting for a dead or injured fish to float down toward him, possibly one I released from my net, which definitely happens sometimes, rather than waiting for me to actually toss him a fish. Nevertheless, it was but a hop, skip, and a jump from him to me and I was uneasy about bringing in a mass of wriggling fish while he watched. My catch was still hidden from his view, but would that be irresistible? I didn't want to find out. There was one time that I fished with ease while a brown bear swam just 20 or 30 feet away in the creek, but I was not comfortable enough with that this time. Maybe that gaze, maybe the warnings, maybe just that I was alone. So I stood and watched him and talked to him and, thankfully, he eventually turned and dropped down toward the falls below, out of sight. I saw his ears disappear and decided to make another cast, much relieved. It was a carefully, prayerfully executed cast, and multiple flashes of silver flared as it passed over the falls. I thought I might stop at ten fish if I were that lucky, so thought "Okay, if there are four fish in this net, we'll call it good!" (sill a little uneasy about that bear around). There were five, and I kept them all, not even a pink among them. So there I had eleven fish, which I drug over to the stringer. I let them all sit in the creek for a bit before the movement of the current made me too uneasy and I tucked them back into the crevasse while I packed up my gear. After rinsing the net, it went in the garbage bag which went back in my pack and when everything else was tucked back inside, I carried it up to the top of the peninsula and left it in a convenient place to pick up later. Then I untied the stringer, slipped my catch into the dry bag, buttoned it up, and managed to hang it on my back, dragging myself up the cleft to the top where, once again, the previously heavy backpack felt feather light in comparison to the load on my back. With heavy and careful steps, I moved slowly down the path calling out to my bear friends, awkwardly sliding over the log at the bottom.
When I'd crossed the second peninsula and descended the steep slippery slope below, I decided to try the interior path again instead of sticking to the side of the creek like I usually do. I hadn't liked it before, but half the party I'd passed had been using it and I thought perhaps it was therefore better worn than it had been. It was a mistake, alternating black quagmires and big logs to traverse, neither of which I'd have encountered on the shore! Once, inbetween logs, I looked out into the forest below and spotted several men in survey vests and realized that I'd forgotten to fill out my permit info on the creek. Afraid there might be a trooper among them, I sat on a log and hastily filled it out, then had a lot of trouble standing on the slope in the muck while I realized that they were, certainly, just surveyors, what with all the survey tape around, no doubt from for the impending hydroplant. I thought sadly that this might be the last time I fish Sweetheart Creek as it is. I also kept looking longingly toward the creek, amazed at how long it was taking me to cover a short piece of ground. Finally I escaped the mucky, brushy, loggy "trail" and rejoined the paths through the dry forest, crossing back to the kayak. It was so heavy with the fish on board that I soon put the fish back on my back and drug that kayak with only my backpack on it. And oh what a relief that the water was so close, now actually creeping up the path through the beach grass!! Back on board I set myself up to clean, laying the tarp across the back bench and filling the cooler with saltwater (using my dry bag to gather it), where I put the fish to chill. One at a time I lifted them out, cleaned them (after successfully guessing their sex) and put them back inside. Nearby, the other boat was doing the same and chatting quietly. It was 4:15 when I'd gotten back to the kayak (!) and it was 5:10 when I dropped off the fish and gear at the homestead. I left the cooler on board and put the fish on the tarp, which I drug up the grass to the porch. By the time I'd anchored, carried all the gear up, released Cailey (who ran ahead, I think knowing what I'd been up to and wanting to investigate), and set the card table up on the porch with knives, plywood for a cutting board, spoon, bowl for scrapings, tray for fillets, paper towels, and wine, it was 6:00. I'd for the first time forgotten my fillet knife and knife sharpener at home, so I had an assortment of local knives to use, one of which soon because the favored one for its slightly better edge. Still, the cuts are not what they usually are, noticeably jagged, and I created a lot more scrapings than I usually do! Still, not much more was wasted than usual and there are plenty of pretty cuts to give away. I portioned for an hour, then started the generator and set about making bags for vacuum packing. It was efficient work, I was never idle, and in two hours I'd packed all the fillets away, having nearly the exact number of bags than I needed (two portions are doubled) with the scrapings in ziplocks. I tucked them away in the fridge and freezer, a little unnerved by the fact that the fridge didn't seem like it was cooling very well, packed some snacks, and made my way to the cabin at around 9:10. I'd had some instant peanut sauce noodles while I finished vacuum packing, but hadn't had enough, so I ate a couple of rolls on the way over and packed dried apples, dried cherries, and chocolate for a snack, feeling pretty good about the day. If it has not come across in all this detail, the fishing could not have gone better. High tide, rising tide on the way in, high tide on the way out (this makes such a huge difference), ease of anchoring which often is tricky in that area, the last group leaving a I arrived, some non-obtrusive bear company, brilliant fishing (11 sockeyes in four casts!? Casts with four and five sockeyes in them!?), lovely weather, perfect water conditions....could it have been any better? I thanked God for his favor and marveled at it all. Only a few hours out and there I was with as much fish, pretty much literally, as could carry. I have no doubt that in another half an hour I would probably have limited out. How lucky I have been these last few years at Sweetheart.
So I curled up in bed and watched the latest episode of my guilty pleasure "Salvation" and fell asleep. In the morning, I got up with hopes that I could spend the morning on the porch relaxing after my busy day and busy weeks with the satisfaction of fish freezing and a full two days at Snettisham to both relax and tackle some fun tasks. But there was this nagging concern about whether the refrigerator was working. I was at first relieved to find the lodge warm, which suggested that it was running, but I found the fish inside room temperature, everything room temperature. My precious fish had been sitting all night in a warming lodge. There was to be no rest that morning. I did have a quick breakfast and changed the propane tank in the chance that low fuel was the cause (the tank was low) but that did not help. Then I fell to troubleshooting in my very limited capacity. Panic mounting, it took a couple of tries digging through the manuals in the cabinet to find the one for the refrigerator. Troubleshooting involved cleaning parts of the burner that were never shown in a diagram and making sure the fridge was level. The latter I was able to accomplish quickly after fetching the level from Hermit Thrush, the former was a little more tricky. The manual did say that there should be no yellow in the pilot flame, but the tip of it was yellow, so I knew there was something wrong right there, if that was not necessarily the problem. I grabbed a screwdriver, pulled the fridge out, and unscrewed the only three screws I could see around the burner, which I assumed to be the area where the pilot flame is. Nothing even remotely loosened and the manual, though it suggested removing it to clean various elements, never actually said how to remove it. I returned the screws, bent out a piece of flexible metal to better access the area and probed around in there with a paper towel. The flame did lose most or all of its yellow after that, but still it would not come to life. It was as though it either did not pick up on the command to do something other than idle or it was unable to do so. I did see the cord for plugging it in on the back and loosened that, thinking that I might be able to run it off the generator, but when I was in the shed thinking about laying the extension cord out I realized what a senseless plan that would be. Even if the generator could power it, I wasn't going to run it all weekend to freeze my fish, and it would take time to cool it off anyway.
In the meantime, the tide was rapidly dropping and I could think of nothing to do but abandon my refuge and take my catch to town. Weeping with frustration and sorrow, I set about basic cleanup in a hurry as the flats got closer and closer to the boat. I lugged my gear and fish down to the water line in several trips, donned my waders, and paddled myself and Cailey to the boat. By the time I'd added fuel and puttered into the beach, the gear was already about 20 feet from the water. Leaving it floating, I tugged the kayak up near the porch and, unable or unwilling to go farther, left it there in the grass and rushed back to the boat which was already nearly hopelessly grounded, dumping the bucket of carcasses on the beach as I went. In my anxiety and frustration and panic, I yelled at Cailey to get toward the front of the boat, which of course she didn't understand, but eventually I got her down and, with all the strength I had, I managed to push the Ronquil over about six feet of sand until it freely floated again. Poor Cailey had not been spared my weeping, trembling on the floor of the lodge as I packed up, and standing down with the gear at the water waiting to go. Every time I took a load to the boat, wading through 30 feet of water and as much land now, I had to push it out farther. Eventually the last load was on board and I pushed us into deeper water, started the engine, and puttered past the bars before drifting for a while to get everything ship shape, namely the fish. It did nothing for my mood as we drifted silently on an utterly serene and wonderful inlet. Seals watched closely from all directions and oh how I longed to stay. I think there have been very few times in my life when I have ever wanted anything more than to stay there. But I could not disrespect the sockeyes who had been good enough to swim in my net. I filled the cooler with cold river water and put all the vacuum sealed bags in there and placed the ziplock bags of scrapings in several inches of water in the bottom of the bucket, propped up by the stringer and my sandals so they water didn't reach the seal. I may have cried a little more, with apologies to everyone. And then at 10:40 I left Snettisham behind, relieved to find Stephen's Passage almost calm, just ripply, which held until the channel when a tiny sea followed us in. I felt bad for Cailey, who had been promised a low tide walk and instead had a traumatized human and a boat ride, abounding in wakes the closer we got to Juneau, possibly because it was the first day of the salmon derby. Everyone seemed to be going full tilt, kicking up large wakes, especially the usually more sedate displacement hulls. At 12:15 we arrived at the dock, me in raingear, dirty and messy in a dirty and messy boat under clearing skies. I hailed a well-dressed man who walked by to help me lift the cooler onto the dock and then onto one of the metal carts, which he noticed nearby. I felt a little silly later when I realized that I could pick it up easily once the water finished spilling out.
But things were not all despair. As I was leaving the port, wondering what to do and how to salvage the situation, I'd come up with a plan, largely in response to the realization that I'd left the stove on in my haste, with a fairly new tank no less if I remember correctly. It finally dawned on me that there was no reason I couldn't turn around the very same day and go back. The water was lovely and was supposed to be so for several days, it wouldn't require repacking, and I already had all the food I needed. In fact, I could leave most of my gear at the harbor in the boat house so I didn't have to haul it back down. And, if I spent the early afternoon at prison, which I am always loath to miss, I could be on the water around 5:00 and that would put me at Snettisham at high tide so offloading would be easy. And I could take Monday off, especially since I I hadn't taken Wednesday off as I'd originally intended.
that in mind, I tucked my backpack and duffel with the other boat gear
in the boat house and left the battery on board, loading everything
around the cooler in that big awkward metal cart. Of course it was by
then just after low tide and I looked with trepidation at the ramp. It
didn't seem likely that I'd be able to make it, but I thought I may as
well try and started up better than I expected, so kept going. I only
just made it, my heart pounding in my chest at the top, leaning heavily
on the handles as my momentum carried me to the road. I looked and felt
like a wreck and apologized to the very gracious people who were
loading around my awkwardly positioned cart. In fact, one of them
helped me (unnecessarily) lift the cooler into my truck. He probably
thought I hadn't done very well, not feeling the weight of ice or
carcass! At home I spread the fish out in the chest freezer, wanting
but not taking the time to dry off the wet bags. With the fish safe at
last to start freezing, I hopped in the shower and dressed for the
public, taking the time to have some lunch and write an email to Ezra
before I headed out to prison. I got there around 2:00, or half way
through the service, and was surprised to hear them singing Holy Ground
from the bathroom in the reception area! Surprised both that I could
hear them and because they are usually done singing by then. I wondered
if I could possibly get there in time to join them for Sanctuary, my
favorite song we sing, and to my great surprise (and everyone else's
surprise at seeing me) I entered just in time, singing with gusto in
the company of my friends, all of whom were happy, to one degree or
another, to see me. It was a wonderful couple of sessions, and
it was great to see Kira.
the way back I stopped for three jugs of gas and the liquor store
where I bought beer in order to grab a couple bags of ice for the
cooler. It didn't take long to change and gather food at the house. I
stopped to chat with my parents briefly before heading to the harbor
with only my rain gear, cooler, and gas. I was underway at 5:05 with a
beer in hand, gratefully spilled into the ocean (and later accidentally
spilled as I turned in my chair).
Sadly for both Cailey and I, the weather was not as accommodating as it had been on the way in. The chop in the channel was not unexpected, but it only got worse, the kind of short, rough seas that bang you incessantly. It didn't matter how slow I went; short of an idle, it still beat us up, coming from the south, so angling across Stephen's Passage most of the time. Oh it beat us up. And to make matters worse, a Disney cruise ship passed us alongside Grand and I don't think we really lost its endless massive wakes until we got inside the port. And not only its wake, but endless smaller boat wakes, some from obvious sources, some from nowhere, and all rising against the seas and making the already messy water even more confused. Bang, bang, bang bang bang. Poor Cailey, who'd been promised a walk, and then tentatively promised at least a pleasant ride south. My back and neck ached from all the banging, my fury at the cruise ship only just kept at bay with my reason and my deep gratitude for being able to return that night at all. But I think it's safe to say that this was the worse boat ride of the season. The sun was out, though, so at least it was relatively warm, though my hands were numb by the time we entered the port, whether from nerve damage or just the cold I wasn't able to tell. It seemed to take an awfully long time to get anywhere. Oh, all the wakes and all those seas. It built to two footers around Grave Point, clearly defying the forecast, then diminished a little beyond some standing waves just north of Limestone before building again into the port. And all along the way, one wave of huge wakes after another as the ship receded into the distance.
But we did make it into the utter calm of Gilbert Bay and up close to the log at the homestead. I managed to unload without getting my feet wet on rocks covered in a couple inches of water, grabbed the kayak, anchored up, and was on shore around 7:15, with huge relief and gratitude. I had had this image of myself on the porch with Cailey eating some pouched Indian food and getting a little drunk on red wine, which did come true, though I didn't drink enough to really even get buzzed in the end. In my bitter frustration, I'd thought about how I hadn't even had the time to see a bird from the porch, had heard chips and seen a flutter of wings here and there, but hadn't actually seen one. To my surprise and joy, a bird soon showed itself perched and chipping on a bare branch, and it was a young common yellowthroat, a very unusual bird there, but one that I saw at this same time last year! There was also a hummingbird that came repeatedly and I brought out the promised fresh nectar that I'd made from the water I'd boiled my pouch of spinach paneer in, but I don't think she ever tried that one. The inlet was absolutely still and magnificently peaceful and I sat there on the couch with Cailey curled up beside me, blankets wrapped around both of us, until nearly 10:00, watching the inlet turn from pale pink to blue as the half moon brightened into brilliance over Gilbert Bay before setting behind the trees as the stars slowly appeared. I opened my eyes once and saw a brilliant star which began moving, so I thought at first it must be a satellite, but it faded as it moved and then winked out and I realized I'd seen a bright shooting star. It was in part hoping I might be in time for the Perseids that I stayed up as late as I did despite my sleepiness, but the light of the moon lingered long and we eventually retreated to bed, Sitting on the porch from evening until twilight was fascinating, listening to the gradual quieting of the birds and rustlings that eventually faded into the quiet of night. I know that other critters were awaking, and I imagined Lily somewhere blinking her eyes and stretching as she started her day, but all was quiet here. The last bird to put in was, surprisingly, a pair of sandpipers who peeped at each other from downriver and then apparently over the water. It occurred to me that I do not know where sandpipers sleep, what with the tides moving around all the time! Cailey oddly curled up at the foot of the bed, which seemed a little bitter, but I managed to coax her up next to me, where she seemed relieved to snuggle up. I pulled the edge of the comforter over the top of her and, in the middle of the night, put on the bottom half of my pajamas for the cold.
And so it is today. I had my peaceful morning under an overcast sky, a large pancake of biscuit mix for breakfast with jasmine tea, and then a lot of reading. And there were good bird times too. A steady stream of chips belied wrens and other birds in the bushes. At one point I walked down to the water and when I came up, a trio of sparrows were chipping and watching me from the bushes downriver, boldly perching on the dead current stems. One could not have been other than a young fox sparrow, but the others were less obvious. One continued to strike me as a Lincoln's sparrow, the other I'm not sure, but soon I heard a few soft whispers of a song and I wondered if it might be a song sparrow like the one I heard here whisper singing last fall. Could a trio of unrelated species be hanging out together? Why not! To my joy, a gorgeous, yellow throated Pacific-slope flycatcher (or so I assume) worked the bushes downriver and into the woods and let me take a few photos of him. A jay made charming calls and posed near the alder, also a juvenile I think, and then the yellowthroat appeared again for photos. At one point while I was reading a passage from Lion Country about a beautiful woman appearing almost mystically lovely in a dress the color of the moon, walking toward the narrator (similar images are too common in literature and on television, a vision I despair ever to attain), I finally realized that a whole cadre of birds were alarming downriver. There was a thrush somewhere, it sounded like the meadow, and several others, and it lasted quite a while. Cailey and I looked out expectantly in that direction for some time but never saw anything and the chorus ended abruptly. Several times interesting sounds did come from the forest downriver; once a crack like a rock or large branch falling, another time a couple of huffs separated by scraping. Surely a large animal!? I listened and waited, but nothing came of it, and I can only hope whoever it was--if in fact it was someone--walked in front of the camera there, left on from my departure yesterday. Twice an adult eagle brought something to the nest, the second time I could see it was a small fish, and the eaglet screamed it in. When I went for a COASST walk, however, I could see no one in the nest, though both parents were calling to each other from nearby trees and I took some photos of them from below, both in the same shot. Upriver I pushed a spotted sandpiper along the shorelines and had to call for Cailey to come when I was long past the creek and no sight of her; she appeared on the rocky point, pranced down like a goat, and ran to me with a bit of the bear hips in her jaws. We pushed out three juvenile eagles downriver, any one or all of which could have been fledglings.
By the time I returned I was very hungry, so I enjoyed quesadillas and a beer on the porch, read a little, then went inside drowsy for a little nap. I woke up a little out of sorts, still too tired and uninspired to work, but feeling badly about that. I tried to find the metal strap I was planning to use to support the last vertical piece of stove pipe in the attic and failed, which didn't help, looked for it in the shed and failed. All I wound up doing was sanding and bleaching the unfinished windowsill of Hermit Thrush in preparation for staining, which I really must do along with the back walls of the other two cabins tomorrow if the weather holds. I also waited long enough for oil to run through the stove system so I know it will work tonight when I plan to go over early to, at this point, watch something as I am nearly caught up on my trip report! I finally realized I was hungry, so cooked fresh sockeye and peas on the stove top and toasted a couple of rolls, eaten with a glass of wine on the porch overlooking the still beautiful inlet. For once I cooked the fish nearly perfectly and it was tender and wonderful, a proper tribute to that beautiful fish. I read scripture afterwards and Cailey curled up next to me so sweetly, as she is now, that I grabbed my laptop and books and tablet just to be sure and here I am, finishing this up. It will be hard to tear myself away from this porch again, so we will see how long we run the stove tonight! My hummingbird friend just came by again, but again is sticking to the old syrup and not the new. Perhaps we are too close to the other, or it is just habit. Both had nectar in them, but the downriver one had a thick layer of bugs floating on the surface when I arrived, so perhaps it had turned inedible. I should probably just switch them when I leave. The eaglet is crying again from around the nest, so either he or she has returned, or was low and resting when I came by earlier. I know some eaglets are still nested in Juneau, so it seems likely they are here as well. A small sparrow just chipped at me from the bushes, so fluffy and disheveled, pale, streaky on the back and breast. A little ragged charmer. And sooty grouses have been hooting too. I have been trying to be nicer and pay a lot more attention to Cailey (as I have since the last porcupine debacle, but especially since yesterday's marathon) and it seems to be working.
I lit my little nordic stove when I got to Hermit Thrush last night lay on my bed (not IN bed!) to watch an episode of Better Call Saul, plenty warm without covers. During the night, Cailey started shivering as the temperature dropped and I had to cover her in a blanket to warm up. So when I woke up at 6:30 I lay there for a while and then, on a whim, went and lit the stove and put the kettle on. Somehow I managed to fall back asleep and didn't get up until 8:30. By then I couldn't see my breath anymore when I exhaled, but I wouldn't call the cabin hot and the water certainly wasn't boiling. I'd had the fuel dial right in the middle, so I turned it up and had water boiling for the first time in about half an hour. Cailey was polite enough to run around outside and then come back to curl up on a tidy bed while I first had some oatmeal and then a cup of tea, my first cup of tea in Hermit Thrush.
It was another gorgeous day and when I finally headed to the lodge and fed Cailey, I got right to work staining. Yesterday I was so unmotivated and a little cranky in the afternoon that it was with huge relief that I was gifted not only a will to do the work ahead but joy in the undertaking. And how beautiful the two back walls of the cabins looked after they were freshly stained! I certainly should have done all the walls of all the cabins, but that'll have to wait until the clear coast fades again. After the walls were done I walked all the cabins and stained the insides of the windowsills that needed it, only needing the ladder on one side of Cottonwood. I had quesadillas for lunch and then grabbed a beer and a chair and my binoculars and my camera and a book and walked down to the bottom of the stone path to deliberately enjoy the late summer sun (who knows how many more warm days there will be!) and read. I heard the eagles screaming and was delighted to find that I could see much of the nest from there and that there are not one but two eaglets inside! So they must have been resting yesterday when I walked by.
After a good respite and some nice sun it was about 1:00 and I got started on another task, pulling some 2x4s and a 2x2s from under the lodge to make a table for the nordic stove oil tank. I'd been very relieved to find the tank safely at rest at the top of the pile of items I'd placed it on, but anxious to make something more permanent. I had this image in mind of two sets of crossed 2x4s with 2x2s connecting them below a plywood top. Working in the sun around sawhorses on the deck is always kind of fun--I love building things--and it was so hot I wound up shirtless and eventually even went to put sunscreen on which I haven't for a couple of weeks and wasn't sure I'd need to again this year. I crossed the first pair and tried to make sure they would be even (I don't know the word I'm looking for here) by ensuring that the triangle between them was isosceles. The bottom distance between the legs was greater than it was at the top, which I thought would be more stable and left room for the 2x2s. I screwed the two pieces together and then drew a line across the bottom of them with a straight piece of lumber so they would stand flat on the deck (or that was the idea anyway). It was the right idea, though my cuts were imperfect. I then made the same cut across the top of the cross, as close as I could come to exactly 30 7/8", the height of my existing pile. I then repeated the process for a second set, which came with its own set of complications trying to get the dimensions exactly right. It took some futzing around to satisfy me that they were close enough, and they too were screwed together. Then I cut the edges off the top four 2x4s so I could snuggle up a 2x2 against them to connect the two crossed pieces. Naturally I made at least two unnecessary cuts, as I cut the bottoms of one piece instead of the top. Then I cut two 23" 2x2 pieces and, with surprisingly difficultly, screwed those on, crouching on the ground to support everything. A piece of T-111 siding became the top, sanded more or less smooth. Before I put it all together, though, I took a break for a little adventure with Cailey. As I cut the last pieces, one of the adults landed in the nest with food, and the tide was low, so we walked downriver and up to the eerie that looks eye level with the nest. Both eaglets were clearly visible, and one tucked into food. They were both facing away from me. Then an adult flew in and landed on a branch just above the nest! He watched them, glanced at me, and tracked what I expect was another eagle flying by. Mostly he sat there, and you can forgive me if I say he seemed a little proud. He would look down and watch as his two young ones dodged around the nest eating. I think both eagles had a go at the fish (I saw skin and orange flesh a few times). His perch was perfect to observe them, just above the nest but out of the way, and I took many pictures of the three of them. When I finally saw the face of one of them I was struck by its ferociousness and thought I'd call him Dragon. I didn't get as good a look at the other one. One seemed to have tiny bits of fluff at the end of his back feathers, maybe a day or two younger than the other? After about 20 minutes of observation we returned to the lodge, descending downriver of the eerie ledge as the other side is crumbling, and I finished building the table on the porch. It turned out pretty much as I had hoped and seemed fairly sturdy.
Then started a series of little chores and tasks: cleaning up the porch and putting away all the tools, carrying the table to Hermit Thrush, carrying four loads of wood back (the previous "table"), screwing in the new table, the tank, and the stove itself (after making sure the chimney was still more or less plumb), delivering a pillow to Cottonwood, and clipping some persistent salmonberries away from the porch. All this required numerous trips between the lodge/shed and the cabin. Actually installing the table was a little tricky, as the tank needed support at all times, and the stress caused a small and, so far, temporary leak in the fuel line just this side of the fuel filter. But boy does it look cute! Once I was happy with its location I put a screw in each of its feet, though it was plumb and sturdy enough as it was, then four screws in the tank and, after I picked up a level, a screw in each foot of the stove. Now the system really is complete with the exception of the rest of the chimney which still needs the steel support strap that I can't find (I am very fed up with having so much stuff here and not being able to find things--I may need to do another thorough inventory soon; I was sure the strap was in the attic, but two attempts to discover it there failed, as did one attempt in the shed). I also worked at getting all the unnecessary gear out of Hermit Thrush so it can be tidy again, including the mildew smelling rug. I opened the windows to air it out.
Somewhere in there I put some cherry cobbler on the stove and when I finished running around I ate a little as an appetizer with a glass of wine looking out over the inlet. It was still quite warm out, about 5:00. With that sustenance I didn't need dinner right away and had a few more tasks I wanted to do, starting with moving the boat out to deeper water so I can leave in the early afternoon when it would certainly not be floating based on what I saw today. Cailey came with me and soon we were back after leaving the boat at the edge of the sunshine, having quickly given up on the notion of starting the kicker which was stubborn as usual, if looser in the cord. Because I was not looking forward to it, I thought it would be a good idea to clear coat the windowsills tonight so that somewhat awkward task would not wait until departure day. The back walls I'm letting dry more overnight, but doing a whole simple wall is a much easier task to approach than a lot of awkward windowsills. It took me a long time to find the brush I'd put aside earlier, but eventually I was gloved up with a cup of clear coat and a sponge brush. I started with the back wall of Cottonwood, quickly realizing that I had more work to do than I realized, as I had to coat all the windowsills, not just the ones that I'd stained earlier, as I'd not clearcoated any of them the last time I was here. And I was quickly interrupted by loud flapping that ended in a dramatic landing in the trees nearby, the tree that these eagles often use in the fall as a staging area when carrying fish to the nest. I awkwardly pulled off the sweaty gloves and hastened back to the lodge to grab camera and binoculars. I walked up closer to the eagle, who was panting in a tree with the fish out of sight. I suggested that he could just drop it to me, but when he finally flew off it looked to be a lot of loose skin and the back end of a fish. I wonder where he picked it up, and had he eaten the rest? One came by just a few moments ago with a nearly identical parcel, staging this time in a tree downriver before heading past the nest, probably to another staging tree. Hard work, that flying with fish!
Then I went back to work, carrying the ladder to each of the cabins so I could stain the insides of all the windowsills, ending with the very satisfying trim on the repaired window at Hermit Thrush, which looks absolutely beautiful with the fresh stain. After that I tried to tighten up the nut I thought was leaking, though I didn't get it to budge and may not be leaking anymore, and attempted to put more diesel in the tank. I went as far as pouring some from the yellow jug into a coffee can, but I'd brought the funnel with a valve on it to control the flow, which still has oil it in from the generator. I'll bring the other funnel on the way over there tonight. I cooked a sirloin steak in strips on the stove in soy sauce, Italian seasonings, and pepper with peas which turned out to be tender and delicious. And now here I am overlooking another lovely evening from the porch, the waxing gibbous moon hanging over the mountains, Cailey snoring beside me on the couch, snuggled under the same comforter I'm using, mosquito coils keeping the bugs down. The little flock of unrelated sparrows came by again, along with the yellowthroat, making me wonder if he travels among them? It seems an odd coincidence otherwise. A hummingbird is here and has been feeding among the shrubs. I'm pretty sure I heard two chittering to each other earlier and this one does not eschew the fresh nectar. This evening I have heard again, and for longer periods, the soft whisper song that I believe is coming from the young song sparrow. So tentative and soft and delicate.
It was late enough and warm enough that I didn't light a fire that night, but lay in bed reading to the joint light of the kerosene lamp and solar lamp. Cailey was curled up toward my feet. At about 9:30 I heard a very distinct scrape sound against the cabin and another sound that might have been a huff or a footprint. I was convinced it was an animal, but was equally nonplussed by Cailey's complete lack of reaction. She evidently had not heard or smelled anything amiss...I doubted myself, but could think of no other explanation. I finally got out of bed and opened the river side window, shining the solar lantern about. I saw nothing, but Cailey jumped off the bed and came over and her black nose instantly went to work. When she got a good smell she barked and danced about the cabin, then smushed her nose against window and door cracks searching for more smells. I looked out every window and saw nothing, so eventually opened the door and let Cailey out. She shot around the cabin smelling, hackles raised. I think it must have been a bear. Given that there were none on my cameras and no sign of them around, I'd almost gotten nonchalant about walking around the property, but this was a good reminder that they can turn up anytime! I could easily have encountered him on the way to Hermit Thrush if I'd just gone to bed a little later.
I woke up at 6:45 and needed to get up and use the toilet. The sun was streaming through the windows, promising another sunny day, and I thought perhaps I should get up. Instead I crawled back into bed and slept until about 8:30, and I think I needed it. On the way out I verified that, sadly, there were two leaks now in the fuel line where the copper tubing enters the flare nut between the tank and the fuel filter. A project for another time. I had breakfast, cleaned the lodge and washed the dishes, then looked at all the motion sensor cards to see if my friend from the night before had shown up, but whoever it was had missed them all. After I set them all back up I clearcoated the walls I'd stained, finishing that project for the summer. I had quesadillas, put up newspapers on the windows, and stacked my gear on the deck. My goal was to leave around 1:00, so I had a little time to read on the porch overlooking the sunny inlet before I headed out. The boat, it turns out, was now anchored well past where it needed to be on this minimal of tidal changes (I think it was only about five feet). I took all my gear out to the boat in the kayak except for the cooler and fishing pole, having already kayaked out the propane tank the evening before. The whole process went so much smoother than it had a few days before, less distance to haul the kayak and no real fear that the boat would go aground while I did so. I like traveling light! I was also extremely grateful that the little north wind that had been coming down the river all morning (a sure sign of winds out of the Taku) had lapsed, as it had the morning before. Therefore somewhat hopeful and hugely relieved, we headed out onto a mostly calm sea for a pleasant ride north, back at the dock before 3:00.