Taku 2018 - 2: Clip Clip Clip
July 14-16

A downed tree for firewood

Photo Album

While I continue to struggle with feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and frustration by the limited amount of time I'm spending away from Juneau, overall I think I'm doing a better job of balancing town life with wilderness life. Namely, I've been doing and enjoying proper summer activities in Juneau, having full sunny summer days on the beach, on the mountain, at dances, downtown, at a play, on trails, etc. Much better than I've ever done before. It does seem like two or three weekends in town between Snettisham trips is good, though unfortunately there haven't been the convenient full weekend to weekend schedule windows to follow that I would have hoped. Nevertheless, it's been a good summer, just not as wildernessy as usual. This trip was prompted by the realization that July was rapidly dwindling and an interest in my parents to make two trips to procure firewood: one exploratory mission to see if they can strart the splitter and find some downed trees for cutting, and the second to cut and split. Since my August was already booked for every weekend and some week days besides, my mom and I sat down to look at schedules and came up with this weekend as a good exploratory trip; from there I could take the rest of the week off to go on an extended Snettisham run with my new nordic stove. We put it off until Saturday so I wouldn't have to take two weeks off at LCCC, with the bonus that I was able to attend a brilliant performance of Twelfth Night. For the first time all summer, I was genuinely excited about both trips. A strange three-day bout with food poisoning (begun, I suspect, by eating some frozen meat I'd purchased for a raven, recently euthanized, that had probably sat out too long before I froze it) stalled my week a little, but between Sunday afternoon in the garage with my mother and making multiple stops around town on Friday, I managed to put together everything that I think I need for the stove. Twice during the week my mother stopped by or called and I assumed both times that the trip was canceled. On Friday night I had dreams that it was canceled and was a little surprised and relieved to fully wake up and realize it was still a go.

Except that it wasn't. Around 9:30 I got a call that the trip had been canceled. It is difficult for my dad, at 90, to move around very much. Thankfully, this weekend also has very high, well-timed tides and the forecast today called for light and variable winds. I decided to maintain my original schedule, coming back Monday and hopefully leaving again on Tuesday. I wasn't up for trying to do it all in one fancy trip this time. So I had a couple of extra hours, the tide being at 3:30. I took Cailey for a walk around the avalanche area, cleaned the smaller aquarium, did some laundry, and loaded up the truck with most of the Snettisham gear and some of the Taku gear. It took four trips with a harbor cart to move it all into the boat house, plus an extra trip to carry my new gazebo down. A fine Friday had turned to overcast and a bit of rain, but it was so warm I regretted my hat and raincoat and shed them as soon as reasonable. From there I stopped by Foodland to pick up some extra food since I hadn't planned on making dinners, then came home, vacuumed and swept the downstairs, and finally sat down for some lunch and a relaxing beer to follow. The house looks great. At about 1:45 I headed out, stopped by my parent's house, then went down to the harbor with the rest of my gear and a couple jerry jugs of gas for the cabin. The boat started smoothly and we headed out at 2:14. Most of the channel was calm, but we hit a southeasterly chop at the end which turned into bumbly water, mixed up but not windy, between Salisbury and Bishop. At Bishop the seas built so we wound up in one to two footers, and at Cooper I wound up in three foot rollers sweeping past. They mellowed soon enough, but it only calmed down for a short distance past Jaw, kicking up again in the river. We arrived at the landing about two hours in, happy to nose right up to the bottom of the steps. I unloaded and used the piece of plywood I'd left there as a ramp, reluctantly but successfully used by Cailey. Anchoring was tricky again, as the space between the two sets of logs on either isde of the steps isn't quite boat length. I had to reposition the anchor several times, first without the engine, then with, before I finally gave up and tied the bow close to a log that's tied to shore and managed to haul the stern close enough to shore to jump, though I had to push off the logs downstream. Hopefully I'll be able to pull it in on Monday!

I managed to carry most of my gear to the cabin in one go, immediately returning for the rest. I loved the openness of the trails and the fact that you can hardly tell I've been cutting for all the grass and forbs and berry bushes. The paths are vibrant with flowers, geraniums and even bog candles, though it's all knee high. I opened up, hauled all my gear inside, started the pilots on the stove, turned off the gas line to the fridge (even if I'd remembered to bring the cheese, I don't have enough perishables to make it worthwhile for this trip), then took a walk to pick up SD cards. It was 4:55, which means it had taken me 35 minutes to anchor, haul gear, and open up the cabin. Not bad. I heated up a packet of Indian curry for dinner and ate it with a dinner roll and a tiny bottle of wine, using the hot water to make hummingbird nectar afterwards. Now I'm sitting in this rapidly warming cabin enjoying the improving view out the window and waiting for a coffee cake to bake. I love coming up here...this year it feels so much calmer, so much less stress, so much more like it's a cabin I belong at.

Sleepiness quickly overcame me as I sat on the couch reading happily after dinner. At 7:15 I roused myself to brush my teeth (after my delicious coffee cake dessert) and wash my face. I read for another 45 minutes on the couch before settling in on the large bed upstairs to continue reading by kerosene lamp. I'm not sure I'd realized that the rain had started in earnest, but it came down steadily over my head and I reflected on how magically cozy and relaxing that sound is, not for the first time that night. I wonder if there is actually something healing about that sound? I think I should try recording it. I closed my eyes before 9:00, though I didn't fall asleep right away, Cailey curled up next to me despite the dog bed available a little farther away. At 5:00 a.m. a thump bolted Cailey awake, and me as well. It sounds like it came from an upper deck, but continued down below. I ventured downstairs to take a look, but didn't see anything and returned to bed to lie awake for a good long while before falling back asleep. When I did, I slept well, until about 8:30. Cailey seems to be sharing my increased relaxation here; while she did spent some time last night staring at the window toward the cooker, she also slept and relaxed and didn't climb the stairs to stare out from there like she often does. She also slept in in the morning, not bothering me until I was ready to get up anyway. The cabin was peaceful downstairs for breakfast. I did a little bit of tidying on the kitchen windowsill and put bandaids on my ankles to protect them from chafing in my xtratuffs before suiting up to chain saw in the steady rain. Cailey was happy to come outside, but happier still to go back inside, but I didn't let her right away. I moved some of her boat blankets outside to make a porch bed in case when wanted refuge there from the rain while I bopped around outside near the cabin (or anywhere really). I also unfolded the new camp chair I'd bought for my dad so he didn't have to use the broken aluminum folding chair that is likely to collapse. I carried my chain saw and the roll of green rope my mom brought up last year down to the riverbank, determined to cut the trees on the edge after tying them off. I was immediately intimidated by the size of the larger of the two trees there, which must be 14" or more in diameter and, worse, leaning slightly over the river, making the cutting area just far enough out of reach that I wasn't sure I could make a wedge cut over the river. I trimmed some of its branches to, at the very least, make the other tree more accessible, and tied one end of the line to it. Then I tried, and failed, to start my chain saw. So frustrating! It had worked so beautifully before. The trouble seems to be that I can't make the pull cord move smoothly; of all the many tries I made over the course of the morning, I only got it to move freely twice. I looked at the troubleshooting section of the manual, but it did not address this issue. It was frustrating, as most of the work I had intended for this trip, trimming and bucking, requires a chainsaw. I confess there was some swearing, which made poor Cailey even less eager to be outside with me. On one of my early trips back to the cabin, I put her inside and let her stay there.

And so I set to work doing what I could with clippers. I took a look at the area from the cabin to see which branches could be trimmed to open up more of a view on this side of the river. I wound up cutting more alders in front of the big tree there and a number of its branches. My work sadly doesn't look very pretty down there, but from here it opened up a narrow view of the river, as we can now see into the little gap in the alders along the river where we used to pull up the boat. It's neat, and when we do finally cut those three remaining spruces among the alders, I think I'll be happy. The one that's inland from the bank looks very doable, and I'm not entirely sure why I didn't do it last time. It will also make some nice firewood. I hauled all the cuttings to the growing mound at that divet in the bank, plucked dozens of young alders from the ground, missed from the hundreds or thousands I plucked last year, moved the metals poles that were stashed along that trail 90 degrees to the nearby trail so they are not visible from the cabin, carried away a piece of PVC pipe laying there, and hauled away my gear. Sitting here I am quite pleased with my work. Before I came back to the cabin, I opened up the shop, put air in the tires of my bike, and buzzed down to the landing to make sure the Ronquil was alright. I thought at first it was grounded, sitting several feet off the narrow beach with the prop on a branch, but it was merely wedged between a couple of branches and floated nicely off when nudged; based on that, I shouldn't have a problem leaving much closer to high tide tomorrow.

It was then only 10:45, so I picked up Cailey and walked upriver with clippers. Cailey was reluctant to follow me right from the start and kept checking in with me, dancing around a little, and then disappearing. My goal was to work on the trail upriver of Debbie's Meadow, the area inside the woods, but I took the time on the way to do some extra clearing on the new trail, both of leaning branches that were too high to cut with the chainsaw and small shrubs on the path itself. I am more and more eager to walk on trails that don't require me to push through brush, so I cut some blueberries, cranberries, devil's club, and others to make walking more clear. I then took quite a lot of time trimming back branches along the trail where it turns inland, mostly spruces reaching out into the trail. Though time consuming, the results were wonderful, a nice open trail that makes me happy to walk on. I trimmed the tree that now arches over the path, and branches all the way to Debbie's Meadow. Immediately as I exited I saw a small spruce to pull and pulled seven more by barely taking a couple of steps. From there I was determined to get to the wooded part of the trail, my heart set on clearing it, so I avoided the temptation to trim the spruce branches on the avenue and the first alders and willows blocking the trail over the blueberries. It was so bad after that, though, as the trail turns upriver again, that I felt I should stop and clear it. It was not especially obvious that there even was a trail, with fresh growth nearly blocking the trail from both sides and both willows and alders growing mid-trail. It was an amazing amount of growth. I took the time to really get down into the soil with the clumps growing on the trail, remembering how my mom doesn't like to step on little stumps, and thinking of Ezra's feet as well. So it was time consuming, but resulted in a nice trail. That went on and on and on. Such a lot of growth! I remember when it was all meadow. At one point it was so overgrown I was afraid I'd missed the turn into the woods, so when I finished trimming there, I walked ahead to see how close I was, convinced I was only a few feet away. Alas, I was still on the downriver side of the little muddy slough, a long ways from the turn! Maybe I wouldn't even make it there, which had become my new morning goal. I walked across the slough and kept trimming, first one side and then the other, no long taking the time to move the cut branches off the trail to save time. Cailey had stopped visiting me since before I reached Debbie's Meadow, so I was sure she was on the porch, damp and chilly, which further spurred me to finish up and head back for lunch. I did eventually make it to the mountain hemlock that marks the entrance into the more wooded area, and turned around to work on the other side. And, naturally, when I got to the slough I trimmed through there as well, completing that portion of the trail. I was supposed to stop there, but on the way back I just couldn't help but work on the section downriver toward Spruce Avenue. Some of it was so overgrown with spruce boughs and burgeoning alders and willows that I was scraping between them to move. It was hard to break myself away, but next time I think I should be able to finish cleaning that up in short order and be able to move onto the rest of the trail, which I'm more excited about. It feels really good to have nice trails in every direction from the cabin, the trails around the cabin cleared, and a better view from the cabin, all at once. My goal of the last couple of years was to get the growth around the cabin meadow and trails under control and then return to the rest of the trails, and now I'm about there. I never would have guessed that there were a hundred little spruces under the trees around the cabin to deal with as I went, but they are just about gone.

On the way back I casually trimmed branches here or there that were more obvious coming from upriver, and soon met an eager Cailey on the front porch. My hat was soaked, my rain gear dripping (even the unintentionally upturned cuffs on my rainpants were holding enough water to dump out when I straightened them), and it took me longer to shed them than Cailey wanted. Inside I dried Cailey, changed clothes, put on some soup to heat, and soon started a fire as Cailey was chilly (shivering on the couch after lunch) and I was chilled too once I slowed down; plus there were clothes to dry. I read for a while over a cup of cafe fraincais, then dug this out. The rain has continued steadily, and I am both very cozy here and looking forward to heading back out in rain gear. I can't believe how content I am in this cabin this year!

While sitting there as 3:00 approached, I was both feeling a little sleepy and getting ready to get up and go back outside, thinking I might try to clip the top of the downriver most spruce blocking the view with use of a ladder, since I can't cut it as intended with a chainsaw. I heard a thump on the back porch, a little louder than what would seem a background pinecone falling or something, and glanced to the back door just in case, for example, there was a bear there leaning against it. And in fact there was a black bear face peering in! She stayed long enough for me to grab my phone and bring up the photo app, but dropped down just before I took the picture. She was off the porch and walking around the upriver side of the cabin when I got to the back door, so on a hunch I waited for her at the front door. Sure enough, she came up, sniffed the roll of line I'd left there for a while, then lifted herself up, front paws on the door, and peered in! By this time Cailey was onto the fact that I was watching something and, when she saw him, jumped up on this side and barked. I got amazing pictures of them nose to nose through the glass. She paused there, then bolted off the porch a short distance before sniffing around the cooker, casually eating some blueberries, and then wandering down through the meadow on the other side of the spruces. When she hit the trail at the bottom of the meadow, she turned and walked to Alder, disappearing behind it (I really thought she was going to walk inside the open door). Very cool! This was clearly the same bear making the rounds, quite at ease with us, less the barking, with a lovely white chevron that we can see in the photos. If it's the same bear that's been around for at least a year or two on its own, it's probably a female I'm thinking, still quite small. Long, lovely ears, though.

We were both up then, so I suited up again with fresh raingear and headed out; having been irritated by my soaking wet braid at lunch, this time I clipped the braid to the back of my head under my hat so it would stay relatively dry. The rain by then had largely diminished anyway; with one wet boot, I also wore my Keens, which I'm glad I remembered to bring. My efforts to cut the top of the tree failed as the ladder wasn't long enough, but since I was down there I plucked up the rest of the alders on the trail on the other side of the big spruce. More little meadow spruces came up, and I must be nearing the end of those, as well as solitary young alders. I'm feeling really good about it.

After putting the ladder back, I grabbed my staff and set out downriver of Alder in search of downed trees for making firewood. The forest there is fairly open and, though overgrown in many areas with devil's club, the stalks aren't usually much taller than my waist or chest. It was extremely pleasant in the woods, quiet, just me working my way slowly along with my alder staff peering around me. There hasn't been very much bird song, just a hermit thrush now and again and Pacific wrens, but tittering came and went along with alarm calls; some tittering sounded like normal golden-crowned kinglets, others like the frantic calling of begging fledglings. I worked my way along what seemed like the edge of the forest, the bright greens of alders and willows appearing beyond the fringe, and soon saw the telltale sign of an upturned root wad. The log was horizontal and had probably been down a while based on its blanket of moss. I put up some orange flagging and went on my way, soon coming across a dead tree leaning against another at about a 50 degree angle. I flagged that, within easy sight of Fox Hole. I continued to work my along the fringe a little downriver of the property line until I ran out of open woods; my last find was a small spruce that have been cut down with an ax and then left alone. Downriver were beer and soda cans near a big campfire and a double headed ax lying on the ground. Real classy, guys.

I walked back along the trail, then cut through the woods to Alder, past the outhouse, and through the woods beyond, fairly new territory for me. It was a little more open there, so a bit more brush and branches to push through, but still quite walkable. And so, so peaceful. I was pleased to stumble across two downed trees quite close to each other and flagged my way back downriver and, when I saw some chain saw cut small trees lying around, on to the new trail. Should be a reasonable distance with a cart. I walked back to the trees and then worked my way farther west through the woods until I ran into the back trail. I found nothing more, so walked back to Alder, found the first tree, and flagged a trail back. It's not far away either.

When I was back on the trail behind the cabin, I heard a lot of calls and stopped to check out a bird that was working its way up a spruce. I saw it several times but never got a good enough look to identify it. Something on the ground caught my eye and I glimpsed a slightly ungainly looking streaky creature hopping adorably along the ground--no doubt a young fledgling. I finally found his loudly alarming parent on a branch nearby, a beautiful Lincoln's sparrow. We turned and left them alone. After the scouting was done, I put Cailey in the cabin and wandered into the meadow and cut down some burgeoning alder clusters, both of which turned out to be growing from root systems previously cut back. While there, more wild tittering from the cluster of spruces in front of the cabin caught my attention and I saw a bird fly into another spruce nearby. I decided to see if I could get a look and was rewarded with my first ever look at an adult male American redstart. At first I only got looks at his outspread, two-toned tail but several times I saw his orange and black body. I never saw him feed his young but I'm pretty sure he returned to them in the spruces. Very cool. At about 5:00 I met back up with Cailey in the cabin, fed her, and put on some beans and rice for dinner, snacking more than a little while it cooked. I inventoried the canned foods and updated the cabin log before it was done. The cabin was so nice and warm from the fire I'd left smoldering that I was in a t-shirt for a long time. I've never really put the stove to use during the day with the air flow reduced, but it really burns a long, long time on very little wood, putting out nice heat. Cailey is on one of the boat beds there now, curled up in front of the heat, which is pretty neat. I'll definitely make a habit of putting blankets there now. A few minutes ago when I went onto the back porch, I saw a lot of activity in the trees and a lot of tittering and fetched my binoculars in time to see an adult golden-crowned kinglet with a beach full of bugs, hawking. I also followed a young one around, presumably a kinglet, though I never saw it fed and the only thing distinct about it were the white corners of the outer tail feathers and the relatively slender beak. Very cute, though. At the same time, at least three hummingbirds were zooming and chasing one another. A few times tonight I've seen two feeding at the same time at the downriver feder. One in silhouette looks like he has a tiny crest, perhaps from the rain. When I finished the walk, the rain had stopped and I could see the top of the Brassiere Hills, but it came down steady again during dinner. Now it seems to be starting to lift again.


By the time we curled up on the bed upstairs, it was raining so hard that it wasn't even cozy. I thought about recording it again, but didn't want quite that intense a downpour. I also started worrying about the boat, which I'd neglected to check that evening after all the boat traffic may have rocked it into awkward or dangerous positions, or onto a log that poked a hole in it, on top of the downpour. So it took me a little while to get to sleep and then I was awakened at 5:49 a.m. by some sounds on the porch below followed by very distinct footsteps. It could only be a human or a bear, so I stood up to find out. Cailey bolted down the stairs barking, so I suspect she could smell him. I went to the window to see the gorgeous pale cinnamon black bear bolt down the trail toward the wood shed. Very cool! This time I decided not to go back to sleep, so after curling up for a few more minutes, I drug myself downstairs and soon biked to the boat, relieved to find it in good condition. Back in the cabin I ate breakfast and decided to have a leisurely start, given the early hour and my lingering sleepiness. I read on the couch for a while with Cailey at my feet and a fire going while the rain continued its intense downpour. I've rarely seen it rain so hard and watched the water go from steady drips to steady streams and back as the intensity waned and waxed. There was a lot less hummingbird activity while it poured! I read several chapters of Isaiah and some of my novel and eventually suited up to go out and work. This time, after a quick trip to Alder, I left Cailey in the cabin where she clearly preferred to be while I rode upriver in the drenching rain, my clippers balanced behind the handlebars. The first thing I did was finish clearing between where I'd left off the day before and where Spruce Avenue starts, hating to leave that area half finished, full of alders and willows in the middle of the trail, surprisingly creeping mountain hemlocks, and so many tiny spruces unearthed in my clipping. Then I left clippers behind and cleaned up that and the rest of the trail I'd worked on, finally moving into the more wooded area. As expected, it went a lot faster in the beginning, in the first area that has larger spruces shading out rigorous alder growth, but soon enough the trail opened up again and I was clip clip clipping away at alders and willows reaching out and overhanging the trail. And spruces. It's a bit of a catch-22: by clipping away the vegetation, I open the trail to more light, which encourages the vegetation to grow. I didn't know how to feel about reclipping the same branches that had obviously been clipped in the past, but I was definitely annoyed at having to clip off the thin, bright green fresh alder shoots coming from the old stumps, mostly because they were so small as to be difficult to clip, and came in large bunches.

So in the pouring rain I clipped and tossed branches into the woods and clipped some more, inching along the trail. I wanted to take before and after pictures, as it really is quite satisfying work and at least then I could show someone what I'd been up to, but it was raining so hard and my camera was safe and dry and buried in my pants pocket that I decided against it. At some point I also stopped picking up the branches as I went, leaving them lay and working my way farther on. It got discouraging after a while and the end of the trail had not approached, and I worried about leaving Cailey too long in the cabin alone. Eventually I skipped a section to make it to the "end", to the first patch of meadow that opens up; beyond that is a dense patch of shrubs I need to cut through, and then to the meadow I cleared years ago. I decided it would be okay to leave that, and also the trail near the property line which, for the first time, needs to be trimmed to make it smoothly to the slough beyond. I clipped the inbetween part on the way back and then, leaving clippers behind, marched back along the trail moving branches and clippings into the woods or, in two places, into the little sloughs that were filling with water from the rains. I immediately felt better as soon as I started bending down to pick up clippings--maybe the change in movement helped, maybe it felt more like I was making progress. My shoulder had bothered me the day before, but felt a little better, though my hand was weak from overexertion and I found it more difficult to grip than usual later in the day. When I finished stashing away my work, I returned for the clippers and, naturally, cut a bunch of branches I'd missed the first time. Really, the results were amazing. I just wish there was someone else to enjoy them with. I look forward to riding them the next time I come! I also continued to dream about mowing the trail with a hand mower so it we would have to push through less brush.

On the way back I moved the motion sensor camera to a new location along the new trail in the woods, facing the cabin, then picked up Cailey, took the last of the 2-wheel cart pieces back to Alder, and delivered the SD card to the camera behind the cabin. I'd been working for nearly three hours and was eager for lunch, starting with the rest of the rice and beans from dinner. I'd left the fire damped down and there were just embers left, so put more wood in and turned it up to warm it up a little. I wasn't intending to do any more serious work outside before I left at 3:00, and had an hour or more to enjoy the afternoon before cleaning up. The rain had lessened by then and I could see the glacier and, at times, even a patch of blue sky, though the showers still came, sometimes intense. We were up to four hummingbirds that cheeped at each other while hovering, though not attacking, their brethren at the feeder, behavior I didn't recognize. I had an amazing cup of jasmine tea, read, and felt pretty wonderful. At 1:30 I started cleaning up, sweeping, packing, putting my bedding away, stocking the outhouse with toilet paper, washing the dishes, etc. I took one load of gear to the landing on the bike (grateful that by then it had really stopped raining), stashed the bike in the shop, closed up the outside of the cabin, and made a final trip to the landing (after unlocking Alder to put the two gas cans in, which I'd forgotten to do), dragging along with me the bottom plywood from the 2-wheel cart that is warped and needs to be replaced, figuring that it was a project my mom might enjoy doing in town.

There were patches of blue sky and the valley was bright and calm as Cailey and I drifted down the river at 2:50 while I finished getting the boat ship shape. During all the rain I had been repeatedly thankful that it was not accompanied by wind, the trees motionless in the downpour. The water seemed plenty high to go at speed along the meadow, but I did slow down a little where I was uncertain and, just off the large waterfall, felt a thump from the back of the boat and looked back to see if I was stirring up mud. No mud, but I did see what looked an awful lot like a salmon skim across the surface of the water! I tested the depth there and it was almost to the top of the paddle, still deceptively shallow but plenty for my boat. It was still then two hours before the tide, but the river seemed reasonably high and it was a big tide. I pretended I knew what the route was, remembering the landing craft I'd followed the last time by turning toward the east side of the river below the monuments, then curving toward the center. There seemed no reason to do anything but stay in the middle so I remained at speed as I escaped the river. There was a good deal of chop, though, and we banged into it, hoping that it would ease when we got to deep water. I raised up at one point to look over the windshield and lost my hat to the wind, but thankfully it floated and I was able to retrieve it by hand on the second pass. We stopped briefly in the lee of Jaw, beyond which the chop laid down a little bit, and we were quartering it instead of in the teeth of it. It wasn't great past Cooper, either, or Bishop, and another river boat just barely overtook me as we entered the gillnets--finally someone else who doesn't just pound madly through the seas. It was a pleasure to enter the channel and lose the chop, pulling into the dock almost exactly two hours after I left the cabin. Not great time, but the seas slowed me down. Before long I was home and showering, delighted when my mother showed up with a delicious dinner for my desperate stomach.

Meadow at the cabin