Taku 2018 - 3: Lool (Fireweed)
August 9-12

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The view from the rock slide

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Dreams of Pavlof dissolved Monday night after first checking the weather for Wednesday's departure which called for the first big storm in weeks and weeks, heavy rain and five foot seas in Chatham; since Ezra couldn't extend the trip a day, missing the first day meant that a visit to Tenakee was too short to be practical without nearly eliminating the chance to fish Pavlof for any length of time, so I would be on my own if I went. Four days would be plenty for me to spent full time at Pavlof, and the idea wasn't unappealing, but with more heavy rain called for in Chatham, three foot seas at least, and no windshield wipers, I decided that my message was to let it go for yet another year. I mourned on and off all night. But lying in bed, trying to cry silently so Cailey wouldn't notice, the idea of checking the tides for the weekend came to mind, and they were perfect. I'd been also saddened by the realization that, with such a busy August, I wasn't going to be back on the Taku until September, and I would miss yet another summer to show Ezra my home territory.


So here we are, Saturday evening at the cabin, and Ezra is making spaghetti. We left the harbor yesterday at 11:10 for the second time that morning in the Kathy M. After weeks of glorious sunshine, it had finally rained a bit last week, and in combination with the storm the day before, had left the Ronquil was so low in the water that adding my and the battery's weight on the same side of the boat put the stern under water. It was taking so long for the bilge to work that we went and fueled up while it pumped, stopping back quickly to tuck the battery back in the boat house. The end of the channel was choppy and the seas built to around three feet at Bishop and I was grateful to have the Kathy M, though I probably would have bullied through in the Ronquil. Cailey and my back were happy about it. The inlet was filled with debris from the river, one huge log after another to avoid among the flotsam. To make it even more exciting, we rode into a thick fog past Jaw Point that obscured the glacier and, soon, obscured the river more than about 50 feet in front of us, enough for me to actually slow down in the river to make sure a log didn't take us by surprise. We didn't see Taku Glacier until we were alongside it and I took the right turn past Taku Point too early and had to correct when the rock islands came into view in front of me! It wasn't exactly the spectacular entry into the Taku I'd imagined for Ezra! Even more surprising was the state of the "meadow" past the cliff face. I've seen high water where the river was starting to overlap the bank, but this was in a serious flood state. Only tips of sedge showed above river water and the top few feet of branches showed where higher ground permitted willows and alders to grow. It was shocking! I knew the river would be high, as its height had skyrocketed during the last couple of days from around average (30,000 cfs) to a whopping 65,000 cfs that morning. We found water over the bottom four stair treads at the landing, the stairs floating and twisted sideways, and the bank behind it undercut behind the blanket of roots. Unloading was made easy by nosing up right to the steps, and anchoring was easy with the experience I'd gained earlier in the summer in tossing out the anchor well upriver of the landing site and closer inshore than I normally would, and because Ezra was able to toss the stern line out to me in a perfect throw to pull me ashore. While I was on the bow, a boat came downriver and, for the first time I can remember, slowed down as they passed, but probably only to ask if we were alright! I don't think they realized we were at a landing and thought we might be in trouble sitting in the middle of nowhere.

We managed to carry everything to the cabin in one uncomfortable load, Ezra carrying my new mower along with all his gear. After we opened up, we unpacked, ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and walked upriver to check out the nagoonberry situation in alternating drizzle and sunshine. The clouds were low, but we could see Taku Glacier most of the time. On the way back we picked up the motion sensor cards. I tried out my new spiral/push mower and was impressed by how well it worked, even in wet vegetation and grass. It doesn't mow down tall vegetation (merely rolling over it), but it does a lovely job on everything else and I started making trails. Ezra figured out that getting something caught in the blade caused the wheels to freeze rather than something in the wheels themselves. While experimenting, I discovered that the meadow is delightfully full of strawberries, a very welcome sight. Ezra made noodle-corn-pepper soup for dinner and we watched Mary Poppins before bed. Rain came and went all evening and through the night, so loud at one point that I had to turn up the volume on my computer during the movie.


I was up at 7:00, inexplicably, and read in bed for a while before getting up at 8 when Ezra joined me. We moved the lumber staged at the landing into Fox Hole and I picked several cups of strawberries for a mystery dessert. After leftover soup and sandwiches for lunch, we walked back to the meadow where I got a little off course and wound up taking a left at the slough rather than a right to find the canoe. The meadow was more wet than usual, and I was thoroughly thrown for a loop by the wild flood stage of the slough. The entire grassy shelf that borders the water was flooded above the tips of the grass. I turned around at one likely clump of alders and noted the small spruce tree that is normally a landmark and walked beyond it to see the mountain alder at the edge of the grass where the canoe is. The water came right up to the alder and was over my boots for a full canoe length on this side of it. Ezra, whose rainpants were already wet inside from the soggy walk, heroically waded out and untied the canoe, dragging it far enough up that we could tip it to dump the water and I could board without getting my feet wet. We soon slid out onto the glassy slough and turned upriver, Ezra paddling with such strength that I could not match him so he had to correct our course periodically. The clouds were low and the mountains reflected stunningly on the flat water. A few goldeneyes startled in the distance, but otherwise it was quiet. I had hoped at some point during the weekend to hike up the rocks at the corner of the slough where it reaches closest to the mountain, but the slough was so high that there was no landing below the rocks and we would have had to step straight from the canoe onto vertical rock; even with the rope still there, it seemed a risky proposition. Instead we continued paddling around the corner, noting the rock in the middle of the slough at the avalanche a couple of feet beneath the surface, and paddled right over the first beaver dam. We continued on a bit farther and then beached the canoe to climb the steep bank and look out over the cottongrass meadows. On the way back I found and rescued a floating bumblebee with my paddle and left it on a willow branch to hopefully recover. The hike back was much more direct as I was paying better attention to where I was and we soon shed our wet rain gear and played a board game in the afternoon before dinner, homemade bison spaghetti. I was so exhausted that I went to sleep fairly early.


We were up around 8:00 the next day. Ezra made oatmeal for breakfast and then we headed back to the canoe mid-morning after much debate about what to do with the day. The river had dropped precipitously overnight, so I was uneasy about taking the Kathy M across the river, but the day was gloriously clear and I remembered that we could climb the big avalanche behind the cabin for a view. We found the slough also considerably lower and had to drag the canoe back to water. The avalanche was still in the shade when we started out, so we paddled downriver and explored the first slough we came to until it became overhung with alders. There I saw the most abundant (only abundant) salmonberries of the summer, but most were not ripe or overripe or possibly waterlogged. From there we paddled close to the mouth and, on the way, I reached out to pick up a 3" dead fish that was floating by to take a closer look. When I grabbed it I shrieked a little and then burst out laughing, as it was apparently an aptly named stickleback. Near the mouth of the slough we went ashore on the upriver side to walk to the fireweed meadow and, along the way, the small secret strawberry patch, replete with strawberries and a few sun-warmed nagoons. We hit the fireweed at just the right time; the pink in front of the glaciers was stunning, and the meadow was alive with feeding and quarreling hummingbirds. Overnight the rain had stopped and the day was clear and sunny. From there we poked our heads into the river and then turned back to explore the first slough on the downriver bank, a wide winding slough that I remember skiing over the first time my mom and I visited during winter. In the shallows among the sedges were more schools of the tiny fish I'd been seeing, maybe half an inch long, groups of hundreds together. This slough was so clear that we could see all the way to the bottom, maybe six feet or more down. Closer to the mountain, it shallowed and became rocky and we entered a little bower, still wide but overhung by branches, alders on one side and a large spruce on the other whose roots lined the bank. As we stopped at the wall of low, overhanging alders ahead of us, I spotted a trout-like fish about 8" long cruising along the bank. I think it is the first large (live) fish I've seen in the slough!


On the way back we rescued two more bumblebees and then turned into the slough that I thought led to the base of the avalanche. I heard what sounded very much like an eaglet screaming nearby and we saw an adult in a tree on the mountain that vocalized in the middle of it. The only other possibility, I thought, would be a hawk, but it sure sounded like an eaglet. I wondered if a fledgling was on the ground nearby or if there was a nest back there? Then I saw two wheeling eagles that, with binoculars, turned into two red-tailed hawks! They were clearly hawks, anyway, and one had a faint apricot orange tail. I couldn't see any color on the other tail, but the secondaries were white and it was flying with the other, so presumably they were both red-tails. On the day we arrived, we'd seen a large hawk fly out over the river from the cabin, though I couldn't tell what species. Unfortunately, they soon disappeared from sight and the crying also stopped. Soon we passed over a flooded beaver dam and into a narrow channel that became lined in large rocks. Stopping at the huge boulder where we could go no farther, we pushed through some brush and climbed onto the licheny rocks of the avalanche. Stopping somewhat up the slope we turned and gazed out over the stunning valley and I briefly glimpsed a moving brown back in a meadow at the base that soon became a bear face peering up as the bear stood for a few second before disappearing into the brush. I think it was colored brown. We continued up the slope, much farther than I'd gone before. By then it was well past lunch and we headed back to the cabin for surprise spaghetti "Os" from Ezra and sandwiches. The hummingbirds were enjoying the nectar I'd put out when we'd arrived, their number swelling to at least four. I wondered if any were buzzing back and forth to the fireweed meadow--it would surely be a very quick flight for them.


A stressful week and lack of sleep was catching up with me and I thought a nap would be in order, so I slipped upstairs and fell asleep for a little bit; unfortunately, it was quite loud what with strange pings on the roof (maybe it was expanding in the sunshine?), Cailey's movements, etc., and I don't think I slept long, though it was over an hour later when Ezra came upstairs to get me, after which we headed upriver to berry pick. Ezra rode my bike and continued riding toward the lodge while I started picking nagoonberries in my favorite spot past the big patch of cottonwoods. Cailey came back to check on me once, then stayed with Ezra the rest of the time and followed him to the cabin when he returned to leave me picking. The nagoons were bountiful, early in the ripening stage, and I picked a satisfying amount. I was intrigued to find that a patch of low-bush (?) blueberries were producing; I've seen that mat-like plant many times, and I'm not sure how often I've known what it was, and I don't remember seeing it full of blueberries! I wanted to pick a bunch and I started to, but given my limited time, the small berries, and their not-exactly-stunning flavor, I soon returned to nagoons. I didn't find many beyond that initial area and just downriver from it, so moved to the edge of our property where they were abundant, but not ripe. The meadow I am trying to keep clear also didn't yield very much. I was soon riding the bike (which Ezra had left me) down the trail through the woods, thoroughly enjoying zooming down the passages. Even with stopping on the sloughs, it was fast and wonderful. I stopped at the blueberries before spruce avenue and hastily picked, supplementing that with berries from the bushes as the trail turns for the last time toward the river. I made it back before 7:30 and found Ezra working on an amazing bison stir fry. We read a little after dinner, and I made sure to stay up until it started to turn dusk so I could take Ezra to the river bank to enjoy the lovely evening view there that I like so well. I was hoping it would be pink, as it sometimes is, but it was just pale and blue, but still lovely enough. Ezra read another chapter of "Pay up Bug" on the side of the bed and we went to sleep relatively early.


The sunny day and the cooking had warmed the cabin and, though I hadn't lit a fire, we opened the windows upstairs to sleep and I enjoyed the breeze all night. I think we were both awake when Cailey raised her head, started sniffing, and soon erupted in barks, running downstairs. I looked out the window, but saw no retreating bear, so headed downstairs to find wet paw prints on the porch and Samantha browsing for strawberries by the cooker. Cailey barked and looked out the window while we watched her until she disappeared into the woods. I headed out shortly thereafter to use the outhouse and then move the upriver motion sensor camera to the back trail close to the cabin. When I got back, I let Cailey out finally and she ran over to the cooker and immediately reared up, hackles raised, and barked again. I saw branches move nearby and, when I stepped out, heard the raking of claws on bark and the unhappy sounds of Samantha popping at Cailey from a tree. Cailey seemed quite pleased, ran over to me and, when I paused to take some pictures, ran barking back at the tree. Surprisingly, she was quite happy to follow me back to the cabin and go inside, allowing Samantha to quickly climb down and resume eating. She slowly worked her way through the meadow going downriver until she bolted into the woods for an unknown reason. Ezra made fried eggs and toast for breakfast, then I washed the dishes and we packed up and swept the cabin. The day was misty again and I had a cup of tea while playing a couple rounds of Imminent Domain with Ezra before picking a bowl of strawberries for my parents while Ezra took a walk upriver. I made quesadillas for lunch and washed the last dishes before we headed to the landing where I tied off the stairs to a tree before loading. There was a tiny shelf of sand at the bottom of the slope, but loading was going to be tricky with the stairs catawampus. I slid down to the bottom and together we somewhat straightened them by at least getting it off the stump it was resting on. We pulled the boat in and soon had it all loaded up and all creatures on board. It was 1:00 when we headed out, two hours before high tide, but the river was still pretty high. We idled most of the way down the edge of the meadow, spying some adorable ducklings that soon disappeared into the edge of the sedge, their movements inside belied by the waving grass, then got up to speed and headed out of the river, pausing near Scow Cove to pick up a couple pieces of glacier ice. The ride back was fairly calm and peaceful and we just made it under the harbor ramps (with about 6" to spare at the seven foot mark) at high tide. I took a shower, then delivered a bowl of chopped glacier ice and strawberries in time for cocktail hour at my parents' house.



Summer on the Taku