Taku 2018 - 1: Opening
June 16-18


Beaver lodge in the slough

Photo Album


I've had an unusual number of struggles this year. That is, things that normally go well for me have thrown up hurdles, though my effort seems the same. Last Friday, on my first Southeast boat camping trip in over two years, everything was going typically well on a beautiful evening until Cailey arrived with quills just as I was about to start a fire. We boated back at dusk and walked out of the vet clinic around 11:30 that night. For this trip, preparation went well in Juneau. Yesterday, Ezra helped me carry Rob's handmade cedar table and old leather couch down to the Kathy M, which I was borrowing for this trip in order (in part) to take the load of hemlock and some other lumber up the Taku; it was a benefit not just to be able to haul items big too large to carry comfortably in the Ronquil, but I'd be less stressed about the weather given that I don't have much choice for when I leave the river (in terms of tide) and don't have a way to check the marine forecast there. In any event, the morning load was fun except for the streams of water that drained from the tarped lumber whenever the boat tilted off center, and I spent most of today prepping in some way for nearly a week out of town. I left the house around 2:15, dropped my gear at the top of the ramp, and parked in 14-day parking. Cailey and I walked Myron's mountain bike down to the boat, also bound for the Taku, and I managed to sneak it inside despite the limited space on the back deck, where I also left Cailey. By the time I made it back to the ramp, the cart there had disappeared and I headed north toward one I could see about half way down. It turned out to be bound to the houseboat next to it (presumably owned by it), but I'd already passed two other carts at the end of two fingers, with not attendees or activity around them. Surely there is no greater sign of the degradation of society than the increasing failure to return harbor carts to the ramps. Come on, Juneau!!


I wheeled my find back to the ramp and was pleased to find that the rest of my gear fit snugly inside. I unloaded it at the boat, then unlocked the boat house to grab propane tanks, gas, and my emergency bag, noticing that there was a bit of water in the bottom of the Ronquil. With a couple of days of rain ahead I thought it would be wise to remove as much as I could, though the week was supposed to be sunny starting Monday. So I grabbed its battery and hooked up the bilge pump and let it run while I loaded the rest of the boat; it had finished by the time that I was ready at 3:15. Cailey was snug on her bed on the port bench seat as we puttered to the fuel dock across a strong current. I was pleased with my docking, and jumped through the front window to the dock with no one to meet me. I pulled the boat up far enough that I could watch the fuel gage while I fueled. At 3:43 we were underway again; beer in hand (or, rather, propped between my feet). I called Ezra to say goodbye, sent some texts, and headed down the channel. A light rain cleared off in the inlet before becoming steady again as I entered the river. There was several feet of mud in front of the steps at the landing and I used a line hanging out there in the bushes to quickly tie to the bow. It was rather awkward unloading, as I had to keep pulling the boat in to make it to dry land with every load, and several items I tossed into a tangle of dead spruce limbs which broke their fall and hung onto them nicely. I eventually untied that line and used a line attached to the lumber across the top to bring it in closer for the last load. The bike was especially difficult, as I had to back it out door and onto the tarped table. I tried and failed to carry it along the outside of the boat and wound up shimmying it across the lumber on the top. The plywood we had laid over the stairs last fall to pull the floats up was still screwed on, so loading everything up them was very awkward, but I eventually had it all stashed in the woods.


THEN the debacle began. My plan was to anchor the boat in the river and tie a line to the stern so I could pull it to shore when needed. I had considered unloading the lumber at that point, but it was getting on in the evening, the bugs were out, I was tired and it was past Cailey's dinner time, and there was really no simple way to do it, especially with the plywood over the stairs. I decided to do it tomorrow, so went to anchor up. The longest line that was convenient was the yellow line that was partially holding down the tarp over the lumber. I untied it and tied one end to an alder by the stairs, tying the other end to a cleat on the stern of the boat. As we drifted back I started the engine and puttered up the river, dropping the anchor somewhat above the landing, thinking it would float back as I let out line. When we were about even with the landing I tied it off and walked back to pull myself to shore. After some effort it became clear that I didn't have enough length in the anchor line to make it, so I let out more line, but it still didn't work. After failing to reposition the boat with bow and stern bound in different directions and the river ripping past (it was not pretty maneuvering), I wound up pulling anchor and repositioning farther upriver and a little closer to shore, tying off the line just off the landing. By this time the stern line had wrapped around a log just upriver from the landing on the other side of the spruce branches that caught my gear. This made it extremely difficult to pull myself ashore, but I did managed to get close enough to jump, to Cailey's relief. However, when the boat drifted back out with the current, the stern line wasn't long enough and it wound up somewhat broadside to the current, maybe 45 degrees, not a good position. The line was shortened by going upriver around that log, so I clearly needed to disengage it. But, to do so I needed slack, and pulling the boat upriver broadside to the current from a silt bank entirely covered by the branches of a dead spruce tree was not easy and the log was out of reach. There was so much tension on the line there was no way I could dislodge it without significant slack. I pulled and pulled and pulled and it remained caught on two branch nubs. After I slipped and went in over one boot I finally just plunged into the river. The log was in thigh deep water, but I had terrible traction there and still struggled. I worked at it for a while, pulling in vain but never enough, stepped out to reconsider, and finally plunged back into the river up to my crotch. What finally worked was untying one of the lines that held the log in place, which let it drift downriver a few inches and move more freely. I was finally able to haul the boat's stern upriver enough to unwrap the line from the log and free it. The stern drifted out until, to my great relief, the boat was sitting at anchor with slack in the stern line. I left the two propane tanks, the bike, and a handful of other nonessentials in the woods and trekked to the cabin to Cailey's exuberance. I dropped my main bag on the way, as I had too much for one load, but came right back for it as soon as I dropped the rest of the gear off. The cabin looked great, the meadow covered in white strawberry flowers and blue lupine.


At the back porch I grabbed the motions sensor camera SD card, stripped from the waist down, unlocked the door, then turned on the propane and opened the shutters. Inside I put on dry clothes, brought my gear inside, fed Cailey, put out my SPOT messenger to send an OK message, lit a fire, lit the pilots, unpacked my food, and filled some water bottles with the water from jugs on the back porch while I boiled water to heat my package of Indian food. Now I'm sitting on the couch in a surprisingly warm cabin with Cailey at my feet while a steady windless rain falls, creating a whiteout over the river. Very cozy and I am grateful to be here. Tomorrow we'll see what chores I can do and if I can get my chain saw started. I've had a generous cup of wine and plan to treat myself to my novel. Although, it is already 8:00!

I slept on the couch, avoiding my hammock because of mild sciatica and staying in the only warm room of the cabin, but didn't sleep quite as soundly as I usually do there. Whether for warmth or snuggles or another reason, Cailey was stretching out more beside me and less keeping to her space at the bottom of the couch. With my leg occasionally aching and my right shoulder often aching, I had to move her around periodically, and myself more often, resulting is somewhat fitful rest. At 3:30 am I woke to a bang on the ladder still sitting on the porch and, at the same time, became aware that a thrush was making an alarm call nearby. Predator? Though I really just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, I roused myself and strode the three steps to the front window, peering out onto the porch. Sure enough, after maybe a minute, a sharp nose appeared just underneath the sill, bolting away once it saw us. It was the marten that had just appeared on the motion sensor camera few days ago, replacing the golden fellow whose company we'd enjoyed in March. His very dark coat and extremely pointed muzzle were distinct. A few minutes later I could hear him roaming around the outside of the cabin and looked for him coming down from the porch upstairs before crawling back into bed. Cailey was not to be put off so easily and watched alertly. She went to the back door when Pierre started scrambling around back there and I looked back to see his head appear at the edge of the window, half way down. Cailey lunged and he disappeared, only to reappear again, this time at the bottom corner of the window! Mischievous marten.

Despite the daylight, I managed to fall back asleep until after 8:00, lounged for a bit, then started the day. I ate oatmeal with a banana and some peanut butter, which filled me up nicely until noon. I made some hummingbird food and hung the feeders and set up the olive barrel water catchment before starting work on the chain saw. First I mixed gas in my new tank, using a plastic bowl to pour 2-cycle oil into so my cute little oil mixing syringe could scoop it up and learning by accident how to use the confusing fuel spout on the nearby jerry jug (I was grateful it was handy, as I hadn't brought any off the boat). I mixed about a gallon of gas, not wanting to use too much or mix too much. When the saw tank and lube chambers were full, I noticed that the chain seemed a little loose. Since adjusting that required loosening the brake nuts, which required sockets in Alder, I first put air in the tires of the bike, which seemed to be a success. In the shed I found one of the right sockets and loosened the other nut with a wrench. At last the tension seemed right and to my relief, the saw started up fairly readily.


So, my first big task was cutting. Last summer I'd trimmed with clippers all around the edge of the property, identifying a number of small spruces that were too big for clippers and some alders I wanted to push back. The way the vegetation is reaching into the remnant of a meadow we have is really troubling to me, and the longer it goes, the worse it will be. I think we've all more or less forgotten how open this whole area used to be. I started with the small spruce on the corner where the path to Alder turns downriver and wound up trimming a lot of alders right there too, along with the alders surrounding the spruce across the trail (that my mother and I agreed would open that area up nicely), and then kept trimming the reaching alders in that open area and along the path, along with the dozen or so small spruces I'd exposed last summer. I circled a couple of the big spruces and cut small spruces beneath them and few branches, then made my way down the trail to the river trimming here and there along the way, turned to trim the corner at the river and the trees that were overhanging the trail to the boat. Mostly I was cutting alder trunks down to the ground that were three to five inches in diameter. On the way back I stuck to the river and trimmed a few trees there. All in all, it was a good start and I was pleased with how open it was looking. At that point I was ready to quit cutting but not ready to break, so I walked upriver with Cailey, finding the path through the timber just upriver from the cabin that my mother had mentioned as an alternative to the path along the river that is close to the bank and requires much more maintenance for the alders. I found a piece of flagging that I figured marked the entrance and was pleased to find walking through the forest quite easy; it would be much improved by cutting a lot of small dead trees and trimming dead branches, but it was already very walkable, joining the existing trail at the old eagle tree. I picked up the motion sensor card there and then walked upriver to scope out the state of the rest of the trail for future cutting endeavors. It would be nice to have a full trail system that was walkable this summer, and the cabin meadow maintained. The brushier parts of the trail need a lot of work, but much of the deeper areas are in pretty decent shape. Toward the end, I happened to see a nice opening into a meadowy area and left the trail, wandering through meadows among clumps of alders, crossing some nearly dry sloughs, and eventually making my way at last to my friend the birch tree whom I haven't seen in years. Its bronze trunk is magnificent! The upper trunk is broken, but still connected, the branches trailing all the way to the ground, and the main lower branch is intact as well. It leans charmingly downriver with no growth on the upriver side. I greeted it warmly and I think took a GPS waypoint so I can give instructions to have my ashes scattered there if I so choose.

From there I walked back to the main trail, now on Forest Service land, and righted the leaning "Please No Vehicles" sign near our property line. When I got back I broke for a lunch of quesadillas and a beer before heading back out with the chain saw. This time I went to the river, first cutting back a clump of alders that was pushing away from the alder fringe and into the meadow; this revealed about a dozen young spruces inside which I also cut before cutting a free standing clump of alders a little upiver. From there I walked along the spruce fringe toward the cooker, cutting the small spruces at the edge, before walked down to the "new" trail through the timber and cutting and trimming my way through there. It really is far superior to the trail by the river and I wished we'd been using it for years! Once I clear the cut trees and limbs I think it will be quite nice. I took another break then, feeling worn out, reading a little and then taking a short nap. At 4:00 I headed to the river with the intent to unload the lumber and was quickly met with difficulties. Or, rather, one difficulty. Pulling in the stern line was nearly more than I could manage. Standing on the slick clay shelf with little traction, inching it toward shore, losing ground every time I repositioned, was agonizing. I finally started using the root of one of the logs tangled downriver of the landing to tie off the line each time I had enough slack. With all the strength I had, I couldn't get it close enough to board and the log I was using began to be pulled from its lodgings, so I hastily unwrapped it, awkward with all the strain on it, and let the boat drift back into the current. It was not a good start. It was still an hour before high tide, which I thought might help, along with a board or something to help get me aboard if I got it close. Either way, it did not bode well for an early departure the next day.


On the way back I started hauling the cut alders behind Alder for future cutting into firewood. I looked around for line and found none (I think it's stored behind the screwed plywood where the 4-wheeler is) and set my eyes instead on the ancient two-wheel cart that's been moldering in the woods behind Alder probably since we moved here. Although the plywood frame was rotten, the wheels still turned and I thought I'd give it a go. It did quite well carrying loads of about eight alders at a time! I made two or three loads and left one in it before I realized that I should really have dinner before the tide. I came in and heated up some soup and fed Cailey and forced myself to sit still for 20 minutes before heading downriver again. I reached it right at the 5:15 tide and was able to pull the boat in a little easier, using a post in the bottom of the stairs to wrap the line as I pulled it in. I'd brought a step ladder to help board, but didn't wind up needing it, scrabbling up from the logs. I thought that bringing the boat closer to shore might make the process tomorrow easier, and possibly unloading as well, so I went ahead and untied the stern line, pulled anchor, and pulled back in bow first. It wasn't an elegant offloading procedure, me largely tossing pairs of boards onto the stairs and muck, many of them breaking in their weak points. There may be fewer of any value than I'd hoped. When that was done, I tied the stern line back on and anchored closer to shore, running into that same irritating log that had snagged the stern line last night as I came in. Thankfully, I had enough force behind my arms to shove the boat up on shore far enough for me to leap to the beach. I believe it'll make a big difference when we leave tomorrow. With only my personal gear and chain saw gear, hopefully loading will be quick and easy. Hopefully! I then piled all the lumber at the top of the stairs to stage it, clearing the beach. More than a few are a bit muddy. At 5:53 I started moving the pile to its resting ground nearby, stacking it on the remains of the stair railing that conveniently had three nicely spaced PT 2x4s that would keep my lumber off the ground. I was finished and tarping it at 6:07, using the nice brown tarps my mother had wrapped it in on the boat. I stuck around to watch two river rats race by at speed, watching its effects on the Kathy M. The wake bounced it and brought it closer to shore, but it recovered afterwards. On the way back I walked along the river planning the cutting for tomorrow, then came inside, hung all my gear, and lit a fire if only to dry them off. I've worn four different pairs of pants today and three shirts, changing as each got too wet to wear. The combination of walking through knee-high wet vegetation all day and being showered by wet trees from above (and also getting wet offloading lumber) resulted in the casualties. I was grateful I'd brought so many clothes! When everything was in order I ate a reeses peanut butter cup and settled in for the night, surprisingly having the best birdwatching all day. In the meadows I'd watched a fox sparrow and Lincoln's warbler sing and had seriously troubled a female varied thrush when I was trimming the new trail. But from inside I saw a gorgeous yellow-rumped warbler and Townsend's warbler in the spruces outside as well as thrushes bopping through the spruces downriver. Earlier in the day I was roused from the couch by an unusual songbird silhouette in a spruce by the river and managed to see it in poor binoculars enough to see that it was yellow with gray marked wings. Definitely something interesting, but it had gone by the time I pulled out my binoculars. Last night a hummingbird had come and hovered in front of the downriver window and today there have been at least two--a male and a female. Now I think I'd better go check on the boat before bed.

The boat was laying at anchor nicely. I made a quick trip by mountain bike, gliding with ease down the meadow and along the river and back (though I did wipe out on a sharp turn); I think I'm going to really enjoy that bike. Although I hated to miss a chance to see the marten if he or she returned, I opted to sleep upstairs in the hopes of a full night of sleep, setting up my simple bedding on the king bed with the dog bed next to me, evidently appreciated by Cailey. I was glad I had, as I lay in bed listening to the resumption of rain on the roof. But despite a long day or work, I couldn't get to sleep for more than a doze and eventually went downstairs to go the bathroom and get a snack. I'd meant to eat some more before bed, but had forgotten before I brushed my teeth and hunger was gnawing at my sleepiness. I read for a little while after that, finally getting into the book about the Phoenicians and Carthage I've been looking forward to, and eventually fell asleep.


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The morning was lightly overcast and I got to work shortly after breakfasting. The first task was to finish cleaning up from the prior day's cutting. I'd left a cart already loaded with alder on the path and moved it and several more loads to the growing mound behind Alder. By the time that one area was clear, I'd decided that it already had more alder firewood than we could possibly want, so I hauled the rest to other locations--some to the mound I'd already made last year along the downriver path to the river, some at Landing #1 to fill in the little gap there, some in the woods on the way to the boat, two to help cover the lumber stacked there, and the rest in the eroding divot just downriver of the stretch of alders on the riverbank we can see from the lodge. There is no vegetation for a gap of several feet there and it is eroding noticeably in relation to the relatively stable bank to either side. There is still some debris from last year there and my additions brought the mound over the top of the bank, but I don't know how much will stay without being tied down. However, that was not my goal for the day. When that task was done, I moved upriver to clear away the limbs and trees I'd cut on the new trail, pausing just at the beginning as a thrush wheee alarmed at me with a beak full of bugs; another soon joined it. Either a nest or fledglings were nearby (probably a nest), and I really wanted to find them, but opted to leave the anxious parents alone. Hermit thrushes evidently nest on the ground and I also didn't want to encourage Cailey to find the nestlings. Clearing the trail was easy and satisfying, mostly dragging dead trees away and sweeping the trail clear of cut limbs with my feet, resulting in quite a nice timber trail. I moved the motion sensor camera upriver to a differenet portion of the trail in the hopes of less false readings and more encounters. It didn't go far and it's an untested site, so we'll see. After that I took the bike down to Fox Hole to measure the plywood siding and flooring so we can buy what we need to replace the rotten pieces that were cut out, carrying the chain saw gas can and bag of chain saw sundries to drop off at the landing on the way. Naturally I'd forgotten the measuring tape I'd found in the shop earlier, so Cailey and I headed back to the cabin; I was grateful for the fleet bike, though it was harder work riding than I expected. I decided I needed more air in the tires with my weight on board.


Measuring was a bit of a challenge as the edge of the plywood was frayed and the lighting was poor, but I think I have a handle on it. Everything was dry and tidy. I still wasn't ready to quit, so I started the chain saw again and finished cutting along the riverbank alders, finding more and more young spruces inside; they just kept cropping up, even where I'd just cut! This time I let the saw idle more often and cleaned up alders as I went so they didn't stack up. I also cut a few spruces I'd missed under the other spruces that I thought I'd cleaned out earlier. So many young spruces that will not reach into the meadow any longer. It's amazing how much of the bulk of the larger spruces was actually made up of young spruces growing in their shadow. I considered cutting the large spruce, the rivermost of the three big spruces at the bottom of the meadow, but couldn't steel myself to do it. Instead, I broke for lunch and considered my options. I was pretty much done with the cutting I wanted to do around the cabin and didn't want to proceed upriver. It was a beautiful day and, I thought, time to take the canoe out to its summer haunt on the slough. It was then around noon and I wasn't planning to leave until 4 or 4:30, so there should be ample time to do that and still have time for a few more chores when I got back. I did most of my packing, swept the carpet and washed the dishes before Cailey and I headed to the canoe with only a paddle; in my pocket were my phone and SPOT and my leatherman was clipped to a belt loop--it would be a simple trip. And as soon as I was adrift in the serene river with the sparkling blue sky beauty all around, I was ever so glad I'd gone out. We drifted south, only paddling enough to keep the canoe pointed downriver, enjoying the calm and the beauty.


Turning into the slough I soon encountered a small bronze duck with a square of vibrant emerald on its wing (a green-winged teal) shining in the sun, who soon flew off to join another. I could heard warblers in the mountain alders, too far away over the sedge to see, and enjoyed the fact that I could see the bottom clearly most of the time, summer vegetation just beginning to spring up from the muddy bottom. I reached the haul out all too quickly and overshot it a little to go around the island past the beaver lodge; I think I could see the entrance underwater, but it was unclear if it was active. On the shoreline ahead was another lodge that looked newer, so I decided to go around that island too. Between the two was a lovely female goldeneye. Paddling back downslough was a little harder than expected--maybe the breeze--but about an hour after I left I had the canoe tied up and the paddle stashed and was marching back toward the cabin. I replaced the card in the camera, made sure it was level again, and marched back to the cabin. I still had a couple of hours to kill before even a very early departure, and I didn't quite know what to do with myself! It was by then very hot and sunny out and I just puttered. I'd already dug up two roses that had come up in awkward places--one right on the path and the other in front of the porch, and had carried those down to the landing along with my bag of clothes and books. Sitting inside and out and looking toward the view, which was beginning to appear again mostly, I think, because of cutting the spruces inside the alders, I saw that the leftmost spruce right in front of the cabin was creeping into the view with its branches. I started trimming those and, through several iterations, regained several feet of view. I also sucked it up and went ahead and cut the largish spruce I'd had my eye on, with much apology, cutting it into three chunks to move it under its large neighbor where a space had been created from cutting alders the day before. On the way back, more small spruces beneath larger ones came out, as well as more on the riverbank. When I got back to the cabin.....for the first time in years, there was a bit of a view and I did not feel frustrated or claustrophobic. Yay! I also made a small attempt to start the water pump and fill the tank, but discovered that the pump had been moved into Alder for the winter, so didn't pursue it. I also made a foray into the island of vegetation that houses the cottonwood trees in a futile effort to take a cutting (the leaves are all well out of reach, the trees surrounded by spruces), finding there another parent thrush with a beak full of bugs.

When I was at last fully packed up, had filled in the cabin journal, closed the shutters, and turned off the propane, I wandered down to the landing with all my gear. Thankfully, the boat came in easily and I tied it to the bottom of the stairs again. After I tossed all the gear on the boat I got it ship shape, hoisted Cailey up, untied the end of the line, and hopped aboard. It was sweltering inside the cabin, but I kept the windows shut until we were underway to keep the bugs down. I took it slow down the meadow and may have touched bottom once--it was maybe a foot or a foot and a half lower than when I'd come up, then got up to speed along the cliff face before slowing down again across from Hut Point. I was a little embarrassed to be going so slowly in front of the cabins in case anyone was there, but I was really in no hurry; in the distance, a landing craft cut across the river toward the lower cabin from the opposite shore, so when he went by, I swung over in that direction before picking up speed as I angled across the river in what I thought had been his direction. Id' wound up slightly on the glacier side to avoid what looked like a wide riffle in the river. The presence of a seal was encouraging. About mid channel I straightened out again as I've seen people do and, where I thought they might turn toward Scow Cove, I stayed in the middle as it seemed like there was plenty of water and I know there's a sandbar somewhere over there to avoid. As always, I was very relieved to reach Flat Point and the start of deep water; it was about 40 minutes after I left the cabin and I headed toward Jaw.



Summer cabin