Snettisham 2019: A Late Opening
June 2-4


Rainbow over the new whale park

Photo Album


It's going to be a busy summer. It's already been a busy spring! My already full life was swollen with decisions and tasks when I became engaged in mid-February. On top of an early May trip to Tasmania that I'd booked in January (the soonest I could get mileage tickets on a schedule that worked), there was no way that I was fetching the boat and getting to Snettisham in April. Then, several days after I returned from Tasmania, a small surgery prohibited me from lifting anything over 10-15 pounds for two weeks, so I let a couple of beautiful weekends pass as I healed. And then it was June. In a flurry of activity this week, I picked up the boat and retrieved the kicker from the Kathy M (actually, Ezra did that), cleaned the garage, and got packed over several days. Early in the week the forecast called for light and variable winds, seas to one foot through the weekend, but by the time it came, a little southeasterly had come in and kicked the forecast up to three feet. I spent Saturday putting around the house doing a lot of well-needed chores (including working on the exams for renewing my master's license test), but worked too hard and ended the afternoon stressed out and not at all sure I wanted to head out on the water the next day when the winds were supposed to die again. I always feel anxious before the first trip. But Ezra came over and we moved furniture and he put a few books into his bookcase and by the time I turned in, sleeping in the (former) library, I was content with the idea, which only turned to excitement when I got up. My mom and I drove to Douglas Harbor and launched without incident. Without a pickup truck bed to climb down, I did have to pull the boat back out of the water to detach it from the trailer, though, to prevent getting my feet wet. The engine started up perfectly, I said goodbye to my mom (who drove the car and trailer home), and headed out. Except that as I pulled away from the dock there was no water coming through the telltale hole. Uh oh. I puttered out of the harbor, picked up a little speed, but nothing. Although I'm familiar with the little discharge hole getting clogged up (because it happens often on the Kathy M), I was afraid it was something more serious because I'd just started the engine in the driveway the day before and water from the hose was spraying out at great force. Surely it wouldn't have gotten clogged so quickly. I looked around for something small enough to fit, failing with a screw driver and a zip tie, and then the engine died and I discovered that the fuel hose wasn't fully attached to the engine. And then of course I struggled to get gas to go through the system. I partially disconnected the hose again a couple of times, then held the bulb upsidedown from the way I thought I was supposed to do it and it filled up immediately. Relief. So I got the engine going again like a charm and then noticed the green cutting line of my weedwhacker. I cut a couple inches off with my leatherman and leaned over the back of the boat to poke it in the telltale. And, lo and behold, water came jetting out. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


It had rained when I was loading the boat, so most of my gear was under tarps, but by then it was partly cloudy and fine. There was a little chop in the channel, but it was pretty easy all the way to Arden where I first came into a little northerly and then chop from the south. I stopped off the shore of Grand to use the bucket and was surprised to see a huge fit break the surface right against shore, like a male orca, but too rounded. It was a humpback lunch feeding, and I soon saw the tail, then what looked like another mouth coming up. Maybe two lunging together! It was a good sign. We puttered around the shore and saw whales sounding, but no more lunge feeding. On past Grave the chop grew and slowed us down a little, maybe one footers, from the south, then followed us easily into the port. There was a whale near Sentinel Point and another down the shore in Gilbert Bay, and loons on the water. And, oh, I was so pleased to be out there in this beautiful world, the state of my homestead as yet a great mystery. Rounding River Point I peered eagerly ahead until I could see first the satellite dish and then the lodge, looking in order. When I pulled in I could see the no hunting sign at a low angle, not a very obvious marker, but undamaged. The tide was rising and I was able to pull onto the rocks below the log and load everything off the bow tidily without getting my feet wet. Before I picked up a kayak, I opened up the lodge and peeked in, just as I left it. Cailey joined me to anchor the boat, then we paddled ashore to settle in. The stove started without a hitch, but I could not even get the fridge to light. And I was quite surprised to find that the lodge outhouse had fallen over on its door! The winds must have been ferocious. I soon had all my gear inside and the couch outside and was sitting with an overwintered Pacifico in perfect happiness on the porch, my legs in the sunshine.


After savoring that for a while, I took a tour around the property, picking up the motion sensor cards and finding everything in good shape. I heated up some water to cook a pouch of Indian food in, watched videos, ate some lunch, read a little on the porch, then swept the porch and boardwalk before laboriously clipping all the wild celery in the areas I want to weedwhack so I don't spray its oils on myself later. I also clipped the bushes that were growing through the porch decking and the stairs, clipped back the reaching vegetation in the new sit spot above the shed and along the boardwalk, and weeded by hand around the rose bushes. I was shocked and delighted to see that the older bush sticking above the top of the native vegetation was blooming! One flower is open, one is already gone, and four are budding. To my even greater surprise, the one that I transplanted last year, which was entirely covered by other vegetation, also had a single flower bud. When I weeded around them, I found a third rose, all new growth from this year from a runner. Yay! I finished an orange drink on the porch then, and started writing this. I think I'll get up and see if I can weedwhack a little now. I won't go as crazy as I have in previous years, making a wide path and outlining the irises (which are blooming beautifully) but will conserve what I suspect may be a diminishing store of line.

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Joanie started up beautifully. First I trimmed around the boardwalk past the shed, then around the stairs, around the roses (sadly chopping off a chocolate lily that was blooming nearby), up the side of the porch, and then down the path. The line ran out as I was doing some touch up back up the path, so it worked out perfectly. Later I saw a rodent or shrew scamper quickly across. Before it got too late, I reluctantly decided to do another task, an important spring opening task, but one that I loathe, partly because of the dense devil's club I'd have to weave through, partly becaase of the manual labor involved, and partly because it is tricky to get water to run through the system and I expected low water levels. Yes, I was going to try to get running water going. I grabbed dish gloves and a hoe and hiked up with Cailey via the cabin outhouse. To my surprise, much of the dam was still in place, and the hollow was filled in only with sand and small rocks. I set to work excavating with the hoe, tossing my hoodie and phone onto the bank, and making a big pile of sediment in the middle of the stream. The excavation went fine, the rest of it was a trial. Having hit bedrock, I placed the barrel atop it; the level of the hose was below the surface of the water, but only just, and it didn't look like I'd get more water in front of the dam without a lot more work. Eventually, I thought I might be able to feel water flowing through the hose and when I checked the top valve, I confirmed it. A little surprised, but relieved, I hiked down, only to find that no water was coming out of any of the hoses. I'd forgotten to shut any of the valves, so I was expecting water everywhere, but as I toured the cabins, I found nothing. The valve near the lodge was breathing a little, but nothing more than a trickle came out. I really didn't want to go back up that "trail"--I'd already stumbled enough, once falling on my behind near the freshet. But, I went back up anyway, with the idea that I'd check the hose along the way. I shut off the valves to the cabins and wound up back at the olive barrel, the front of which was now floating. It needed weight to stay beneath the water level, so I put three rocks inside. On and off I could hear it gurgling loudly, which I presumed was air making its way out of the system as water moved in, but it was inconsistent. Sometimes I could feel water in the hose, but then it would stop. I remembered from previous years that sometimes I have to elevate the front a bit to get/keep water floating, which eventually worked. Sweaty and grumpy, I headed down, clambered back to the upriver cabin valve, turned it on, then made my way to Hermit Thrush via the outhouse to see if water was flowing. Disappointingly, it breathed, but nothing came out. But I wasn't going back up, Instead, I went to the lodge and found water flowing there, so I think that I just needed to wait for the lower system to fill before the cabin ones would. I placed the lodge filters, replacing one of the 100 micron filters that was covered in greenish patches that I was afraid was mold with a clean one, and turned the water on. It gushed through and I could hear it pouring out inside. Unfortunately, it was coming not just from the open faucet, but from multiple places beneath the sink and the floor was covered in water. I turned the valve off and quit for the night, which is when I discovered that I was missing my engagement ring. Thinking back over the wild, devil's club landscape I'd just been in, having ducked and weaved and stumbled repeatedly, and the digging into the sand of the creek with my bare hands (the second time), I thought it surely lost. But I'd also worn those dish gloves the first time. Just in case, but imagining my ring in the creek or on a bed of moss somewhere, I squeezed the dish gloves and felt something hard; to my astonishment, I found my ring!


A little on edge, I opened a can of baked beans and ate it on the porch with a tiny bottle of wine, overlooking a calming inlet at low tide. The Ronquil had grounded with its stern on a rock and its bow tilting into a channel. I listened to what sounded like two whales working the inlet, as they had been all day, occasionally catching glimpses of them. The mosquitoes were terrible, so I lit a couple of mosquito coils and invited Cailey, who was badly harried by them, to join me, covering us both with a quilt for warmth and protection and placing the burning coils between us. It was quite cozy and I read for a while as I finished the wine. I haven't seen very many birds today, and it was similarly quiet then. Well, in a visual way. In addition to the Pacific Slope flycatcher that greeted me sweetly as I drifted into shore on my arrival, I've heard ruby-crowned kinglets, Townsend's warblers, and chickadees; a flock of crows moved along the falling tideline mid-day, landing near the eagle's nest and calling; and below Cottonwood, I heard and then found a hairy woodpecker working a spruce branch. Now as I sit in Hermit Thrush I am listing to its namesake, punctuated by some very loud whale blows.


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We slept pretty well all night, and I even shed my hoodie sometime in the dark. Facing some daunting tasks on an empty stomach when I got to the lodge didn't start things off very well, though. I put some water on to heat for washing my face, finding the hose tape and getting started under the sink while it heated. It had looked like both inlets were leaking yesterday, so I unscrewed the inlet hose, replaced the hose tape, and then....couldn't find the nut. I was baffled, turned the water off, looking everywhere for that nut. Where on earth could it have gone? I looked everywhere, but had hardly been anywhere! Was I going to have to abandon the whole sink now?? I finally realized that....there wasn't a nut to find, because that inlet attached to the water line. This gives a glimpse into my grumpy and disoriented mind. I screwed the hose back in, did the same for the nut that closes off the other inlet, and turned the water on a trickle. Those didn't leak, but water was still dripping from a hole in the bottom of the sink between the two inlets. Something, again, was broken inside the sink. I tucked a towel around it in the hopes that it would keep the water from dripping down the wall, which it does if I barely use it. Otherwise it is a steady leak. I did finally wash my face and go to the outhouse, and moved some things around and put some things away, which helped my mood a little, but I still didn't stop for breakfast. First I grabbed a couple of matching rounds from the stack near the shed to build a mink-saving tunnel. I placed them on either side of the mink run coming out of the downriver salmonberries and laid a piece of plywood over the top of them, laying the other end on the deck and nailing it onto the logs for stability. The idea is to allow mink to pass from the bushes to beneath the porch without being seen by the predatory Cailey, and to prevent her from ambushing a mink emerging from beneath the porch as she did last time. Then I started work on the smoke stack, which seemed to not go as well as it has in past years, but appears to be secure enough. I had trouble aligning the holes where the stacks connect inside. And then finally I had some oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana and hung out on the porch finally, a little surprised at how pleasant it was after all the little chores. I tried lighting a citronella candle to test its efficacy against the hungry mosquitoes, but soon quit and went back to mosquito coils, as it seemed to do nothing to deter them. Maybe I needed to let it burn longer, but I needed immediate relief, as did poor Cailey.


From up there I realized that I'd made the mink tunnel much too high, as I could see clearly the whole area underneath it and, therefore, Cailey probably could as well. A little later I replaced the logs with lengths of 2x6 and nailed the plywood under the edge of the porch to lower it. Cailey was attentive. The tide was low, but starting to rise, so I shed my shoes and took Cailey on a COASST walk. Downriver I saw what looked like a small blob of internal organs in a hollow in the sand with a tube mouth. I actually thought that might be what it was, but when I touched it, it retracted a bit into its hole. It was vaguely peach in color. The water was low, but there is a channel right along the edge of the grassy point again this year. In areas where the exposed silt is covered in fine green algae, there were places where that top layer had been peeled back like a potato peel. In another area, which was covered in mats of longer green algae like seaweed salad, there was a constant hissing and buzzing and burbling sound. At first I thought it was air escaping, as sometimes happens when the tide retreats, but it was so consistent and isolated that I investigated further. I saw no hint of burrowing clams, but pulling back the algae revealed a number of small arthropods. Could they be squeaking? It seemed unlikely, but... I believe something from among the seaweed was making those sounds.


After that I decided it was time for an early lunch, so I made quesadillas and enjoyed them on the porch. I then dedicated myself to some relaxation and reading, although this was cut short when the mosquito coil stick went out and I decided it was time for our little across-the-river expedition. I grabbed my backpack, camera, and binoculars, and rowed Cailey and I out to the boat. We pulled the kayak aboard, pulled anchor, and puttered across the river, watched by a myriad of seals, the first I've seen this trip (though I've heard them). We started to go aground on and off about half way up the grassy beach over there, so we soon went ashore and shoved the anchor into the sand. There was a a bit of sandy beach exposed most of the way, so we walked alternately there and in the waste-high beach grass near the river, singing to the bears. Once we finished exploring and turned around, Cailey was ecstatic to be heading back to the boat, running forward and romping back with glee on her face. It had been raining on and off, and picked up again in the alders, but I was all suited up except for my feet which got wet from kicking through the grass. We got off the beach without a hitch and I cruised down the river far enough to look toward the entrance just a little in case there were any orcas out there before turning back to the lodge. After I anchored, two curious seals came quite close repeatedly and let me take pictures of their dark-eyed faces. On the way up the path, I weeded the rhubarb pot (mostly grass and some buttercups, possibly brought from town). The rhubarb isn't as large as I would have expected, but seems to be doing well. I wonder if it was starved for water this drought-stricken spring? While over there, I discovered that the downriver bench had been pushed from its base. That isn't uncommon, but what was strange is that one of the support rounds had been moved about eight feet away and chewed. Judging by the dead area under the bench, I suspect this was done last fall. Are there insects in there?


While I finally read a little bit, wrapped in my quilt, Cailey and I both heard noises from upriver and, later, noises in the bushes nearby, the latter of which caused Cailey to get up and make for the stairs. I stopped her and she briefly considered jumping off the deck. Instead, I directed her inside and made her stay there for a little bit while I watched for any activity. When all was quiet I let her out again and she stood attentively at the edge of the lower deck watching the mink tunnel. When I was suitably chilled and at a stopping point in my book, I came inside and lit the first fire of the season, enjoying the sensation of being heated from an outside source again. I started the generator to charge my laptop battery (having left the spare behind in Juneau) and returned to the rocking chair only to have to repeatedly scoot farther away from the too-hot stove. That stove warms this lodge almost instantaneously! Cailey sprawled out on the rug. I stayed only as long as it took to finish my decaf mocha (all from powders), then retreated ot the relative cool of the couch. Cailey followed.


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The wind, as I'd hoped, appears to have diminished a little. It's been breezy on and off most of the morning, with some big gusts roaring through. Now the inlet is calm, with just a gentle swell, and the rain is chiming in off the bushes, rather than onto my lap as it did a couple of times earlier. A humming bird just hovered in front of me as I wrote this--I wonder if this was her first trip here this year? There have been as many as three ladies, and yesterday I heard a male make his dive tail whistles a couple of times. Golden-crowned kinglets are singing just downriver and yesterday I heard a consistent Wilson's warbler song from downriver, and once, from upriver as well. Varied thrushes in the morning, also seen in the woods. I just finished unhooking the faucet from the sink so I can take it to town and replace it, the last of the annoying chores before heading out a little later. Even when departure is scheduled for 4:00, the whole day feels like I'm getting ready to go. First thing this morning I set up the filters at Hermit Thrush and was happy to see that there were no leaks despite having left the faucets closed and finding the little screen at the end of the faucet in the sink. I cleaned up the cabin and swept the pollen off the porch, then swept the bridge and the stairs by the outhouse on the way in. Though I was hungry again I wanted to get another task done, so I returned to Hermit Thrush with my drill and set up the smoke stack for the Nordic stove. I opened the valves to see if I could get the stove going, but lost patience and came back to the lodge to wash the dishes and make breakfast. The view from the porch was exciting; it had been a -3' tide and I could hear the water rushing in the channels. There were standing waves across much of the mouth, inhabited by many seal heads. Perhaps a hundred more lay on two sandbars near the mouth across the river. There were loons and hundreds of murrelets off the main channel, and an active group of gulls diving off another. Two whales dove, one consistently at the mouth of the river. One was smaller with a pointy fin and a very white tail. They were both fluking, which is rare on the Whiting. Two eagles sat at the edge of a sandbar. I also noticed that, at the mouth of the river, a sandbar extends along the far bank for some distance; I picture the current being against the shore there, but I think it must be just a little farther up.


After that I set up the motion sensor cameras, then I cleaned up the lodge a little while waiting for water to heat to wash all the windows (lodge and shed), after which I applied a fresh set of UV light reflectors to discourage bird strikes. Yesterday a flycatcher hit one of the downriver windows, but bounced back to a branch and sang a couple of times at me. Maybe he was only after an insect on the window, but I'm glad he was well. Then a break, then lunch, then cleaning, then faucet, and here we are, a couple of hours out. I wanted this to be a cozy and relaxing day, and perhaps I will have a bit of that yet. I have certainly needed all the rest and reading and sweet wilderness smells I've had here. If the water is as inviting as it is right now, I think I will enjoy my ride home. Right now the only sounds are the occasional bumble bee, like the one visiting me right now, the rain and waterfall, hummingbirds, and the frequent blow of the whales working the inlet. What a wonderful place, I am so glad I made it here. I don't feel the ecstasy I remember last year following my uncertaintly about Snettisham in my future, but a great deep joy and pleasure in being here, late as it is, and as long as it may be before I come again. No anxiety, this is my place and I have a wonderful routine here and I know what to do.


On the way home, I was tickled to see two DPs in Swimming Eagle Cove on the way back, but they were not eager to play with us.


We are both enthusiastic to be at Snettisham!