Snettisham 2019 - 2: Aquatic Worms
August 3-5

Worms stretch as the shore slowly erodes into the river

Photo Album

Two months away from Snettisham! It's actually a little earlier back than I'd have expected, but such a long time to be away. How long have the hummingbird feeders been empty? How long would the grass have grown, and how many branches will be stretched over the boardwalk? Would all the trees be standing? To my great relief, everything was just as it usually is--just as I left it, in perfect condition. The area I'd weedwhacked down the path to the water was grown up, but it was obvious that it had been cut back earlier in the summer, and the boardwalk has no overhanging branches and only a few areas that need to be clipped or mowed on the ground. Perhaps I cut it at just the right time in the growing season? Maybe the endless hot weather suppressed growth? The rhubarb is alive, but not very big, and I wonder if it is for lack of water. The roses look wonderful, still rising above the vegetation around them. The rose that I brought from the Taku sits on the porch awaiting planting with them. It has considerable new growth on it since it was dug up nearly two months ago itself.

The ride down was lovely, the only chop at the very beginning, north of the bridge, and as I entered the port, both behind me, and a little southerly or southwesterly as I approached Arden. The sun came back a couple of days ago and it's been warming up; in the entire 10-day forecast, there is sun and temperatures in the 70s dropping into the 60s later, and the marine forecast has light and variable winds as far as it extends. It seems that another hot spell is beginning. I was grateful that, when I sat down on the couch to eat lunch, very hungry and ready for a rest, that the sun was just in the position to be shaded over my face by the porch. It was around 3:30, somewhat later than one would expect given that I didn't have anything keeping me in town today. But I've been sleep deprived and very stressed, so I laid in bed until 8:45 or so and then started the day, half-heartedly loading the car with all my gear, feeding the raven Bennett, and dropping his food off for my mom. It was strange leaving the house knowing that someone else would be there in case anything needed taking care of! I didn't head down to the harbor until around 10:00, and the day was already hot. Seeing no carts in the area, I parked the car nearby and headed to the boat where two carts were stashed nearby. Before returning with them to the car, I started the kicker, which worked beautifully, and loaded everything from the boat house into the Ronquil. Then I spulled both carts to the bottom of the ramp, and pushed one agonizingly up the slope on a very low tide. I left that load at the bottom of the ramp and came back up with the other cart, delivering it to the boat before returning for the first one. I left both carts where I'd found them; if it's acceptable to stash harbor carts there, I may as well do it myself and hope they're there when I come back.

I finished loading the boat and was letting the engine idle in the harbor when Ezra came down to see me off. I'd changed into a tank top in the heat and taken my shoes off, escaping my brand new xtratuffs. He pushed me off and away we went onto the green ocean, Cailey watching Ezra walk down the ramp as we puttered toward the channel. The engine didn't quite feel right, like it was working harder than usual, but everything seemed to running okay, and so we sped down the channel on nearly calm seas except for the wakes. Everything out in Stephen's Passage was quiet and I pondered again the fact that I have been getting bored on the rides down to Snettisham for the last year or two, which I don't think I used to. Puzzling. I noticed the barnacles and sea weed on the rocks of Grand Island as we passed by and pondered again that I'd be arriving at low tide, though not as spot on as I thought I would be, since I hadn't gotten underway until 11:15. I recalled that the tide was at 11:30. At least it would be rising when I got there, but I was expecting a long walk. Shortly after I rounded Sentinel Point and was heading for the river, the engine jumped, dropped RPMs, revved up again, and then died. I figured the battery connection had loosened again and checked that first, tightening the negative connection. But I figured I should check the gas too, and the tank turned out to be empty. It had been nearly full when we left, and so I hadn't topped it off, and should have been enough. That's when it occurred ot me that the fenders I'd pulled from the water had been covered in small (but not tiny) mussels and rockweed from its long sit in the harbor--the hull of my boat probably was too, which could explain both the different feel of it as I got up to speed and a greater gas consumption. Silly me. Naturally, I couldn't get gas to go through the system, at least I couldn't tell it was. When I unscrewed the fuel filter, it was just an inch shy of the top, so I think it was working, but I topped it off anyway before screwing it back on. But that's as fas as I got. Fuel was not making it to the engine. A few times I could hear air escaping, but most of the time nothing happened. I tried and retried the trick where you partly plug the connection into the engine, but to no avail. I held the bulb up and down, nothing. And so I sat for a few minutes, looking out over Port Snettisham, utterly calm, the blue mountains, so familiar and so much larger than me, feeling baffled at this chronic issue that I have. At least I wasn't stressed or upset. I was close to home, my kicker had run beautifully earlier, and if all else failed, there would be a lot of boats coming from Sweetheart Creek to help. After resting a bit, I tried the partial connection again and I could feel fuel in the bulb. Huzzah! I squeezed a few times, closed the connection, and we were in business.

Turning the corner into the river between a handful of crab pot buoys was a bit of a shock. There were none of the expected sandbars, but there were streaks of brown and green-brown water crisscrossing the river. I opened my tide app and discovered that low tide had been -4.4, but it had been at 9:30 that morning! We were rapidly approaching a 17.7' tide at 3:30. This was great news and I decided to make my afternoon expedition upriver right then rather than fetching the boat later. When we were back at the homestead, I was so pleased to open the door to my beautiful lodge and find everything in place, and I soon had pilots lit and the couch on the porch and bags and tote stowed inside. I had made the mistake of opening the valve on the water system, my pleasure at seeing the water rush into the filters as though there was still pressure quickly cut short as I heard platters inside and remembered that there was no sink! I came inside to find water on the floor all the way to the door. I was ravenously hungry (I'd dug into my dried apples on the ride over), so as soon as I got that all mopped up, I heated up some vegetable tiki from Trader Joe's (one of the snacks Eric had brought me). I was at first taken aback by how little food I had stored there (having forgotten to bring any meat, and neglecting even to buy bread)--no chips, no canned food, only some pasta and such, until I remembered that there are two food shelves in the lodge. Whew! I guess I've been away too long. I added some lime rice chips to dinner and ate it on the porch, after which I sweated and read for some time before retreating inside for a short but pleasant nap. I wasn't feeling very energized, but eventually picked myself up and managed to install the new sink and put a filter bag on the gray water system so the whole system worked. I first checked the shed and Hermit Thrush for more hose tape, which I couldn't find around the lodge, then then attic. I didn't find any, but did pull some off a used connector I found up there, which seems to be doing the trick. Naturally I found the hose tape, right there in the cupboard, when I was putting away an extra zip tie. Having sweat quite a lot (more by sitting in the sun than by hauling anything), I took a spit bath too, which felt wonderful. I read and prayed outside while dragonflies hunted over the meadow until about eight, then headed to Hermit Thrush. I got fuel to run through the stove and lit it, but it sounded like it was dripping and there was a lot of fuel in there, so I shut it off soon (it also was warmer in the cabin than out).


The morning was peaceful; I ate the first sweet instant oatmeal/crunchy peanut butter breakfast since last fall, and tried to enjoy a cup of decaf coffee, but it was too strong and I didn't drink very much. I had caffeine Monday-Thursday last week in desperation, so it holds less appeal this weekend than it might otherwise. The morning was clear and noisy with the rush of the river over the shallows. I read until it was 10:00 and nearly high tide, then changed into a tank top, rolled up my pants, and headed out onto the river for a COASST walk and exploration. First I stopped by the Ronquil and scraped away many of the barnacles on its sides and stern with the window scraper, then walked downriver along the cut bank at the first channel. As I was admiring the recently eroded bank, I noticed the very black mud that made up a significant portion of the two-foot wall below the top layer of silt, and broke off a chunk to investigate. Wondering what the black was and whether it was organic, I was surprised to find a worm, a live worm, wriggling around it! It looked at first like an earth worm, but was much more slender. As I investigated large chunks that had fallen off, I saw U-shaped tunnels and holes inhabited by the tunicates I'd been puzzling over earlier this year! So cool to see both sides of a tunnel, one in the river, the other on the remaining wall. Looking around, there were an abundance of such tunnels exposed. I picked up the stranded tunicate for a closer look, took some pictures, and deposited it in a pool of water far from the bank under the protection of its resident stick. (I later learned that these "tunicates" are actually spoon worms.)

Farther down the river, I saw a four-foot long, six inch wide stretch of bank slowly pulling away into the rushing river, spanned by a dozen or so of those thin, red worms. It looked as though they were trying to hold it together, pink ropes spanning the gap! As I watched in fascination, the bank slowly fell away and one by one the worms pulled out of the eroding silt. This mud, it was FULL of creatures!! So many worms, in that one thin slice of sandbar. From there I walked to the end of land where a shallow bay curved in form the corner of the nearest channel to the shore. I walked a foot or two out, watching the seals farther on, then followed the curve to the cliffs, walking as fas as I ever have been on the sandbars. Along the way I saw colonies of what I assume are worms that have made sandy tubes sticking out of the mud, but just in the last few feet from the edge of the drop off. Their course homes in the silt reminded me of the one I'd found on the olive barrel last fall, but they had soft protrusions at the ends of them. I wonder how they find that course sand for homes? It sure felt like sand between my fingers--could I be mistaken?

On the way back, I stayed farther inland, passed the boat, and headed upriver. The channel is still close to the grassy point, so I had to walk over the rocks despite the -3.3' tide. There seemed to be more algae growing on the flats south of the grassy point than usual. On the way back, I walked up the game trail into the woods near the creek, picking up a beer form the freshet on the way, as I was suddenly quite hungry. I made quesadillas for lunch and enjoyed them on the porch. I just can't replicate the deliciousness of Snettisham quesadillas in town. Afterwards I read for a bit, laying on the couch on the porch until the sun moved onto my face, then went and collected the camera cards from downriver and retreated inside to view them. After that I didn't have much motivation or energy, so I laid down on the couch and read for a while, then fell asleep. I was tickled when I awoke less than an hour later and continued to lie there and snooze. I haven't done that in so long and I kept reminding myself that it was perfectly okay to relax, that that's what I was there for, that I had nothing I had to do. I did eventually feel a little guilty, especially when I read a little longer on truly waking up, but managed to enjoy it. It helped that Cailey eventually got up on the couch and joined me in my nap.

When I did get up, it was still mid-afternoon, and I got the clippers and trimmed around the porch, cutting most of the salmonberries that grow through the cracks at the base, weeding around the rose bushes, up the side of the porch, and then along the boardwalk and up to the outhouse. When I was done, pretty warm in my tank top, I stopped for dinner, heating up some lentils. I drank water with dinner so afterwards I could enjoy wine with jiffy pop popcorn while watching Stranger Things on the front porch. Two episodes and, since I was running out of wine before I ran out of popcorn, two tiny bottles. I was sure I'd left a box of wine here, as I usually do, but apparently I had foresight and had taken it home, knowing I wouldn't be here for two months. I really should have looked for my shopping list from last time before I came down here. The afternoon had been quite windy, bending the bushes sideways, showing the silvery undersides of the magnificent Nigel Cottonwood (now at least 15' high I reckon), and knocking the shutters against each other. By the time I stepped out for dinner, though, it was calm again, the tide high, everything quiet and serene. Other than the crows and ravens on my walk, and the gulls and eagles, bird life has been quiet. I've heard jays I think, finches perhaps, chickadees. A few birds have flown across the opening and I saw what I suspect was a sparrow fly into the spruce tree, but I haven't seen a song bird to identify here other than a charming little flycatcher in the bushes at the end of the boardwalk while I clipped. Or it might have been a ruby-crowned kinglet, but I'm pretty confident it was a flycatcher. There has been scratchings under the bushes and tweets here and there, so they are here, but going about their mid-summer business. Now I am tucked into the cabin, pleased that the oil stove seems to be working perfectly tonight with none of the dripping noises which alarmed me last night. I am having a delightful and peaceful time. What a wonderful place and how nice to have the sinks working!


Monday morning was peaceful. I had breakfast and a cup of tea on the porch, read just a little, and then started happily puttering with my chores. I started with planting the rose, which I soon discovered needed a much bigger hole than the one I'd dug for it. It's month and a half in the pot had brought small rootlets all the way through the soil, which came out in one delicate clump. So I redug the hole, only to have the top half of the soil come off when I went to plant it. The rhubarb hadn't grown much since the last time I was there and seemed sun-parched, so I watered it, along with the newly planted rose, as we are apparently entering another streak of hot weather. Thinking that I wished there was some way they could benefit from the moss layer that helps the soil in the woods stay put (and moist) it occurred to me that there was a big clump of fallen moss on the trail nearby. I wound up covering the whole top of the pot and around the new rose with moss to help keep in the moisture in.

When it was done I fetched the ladder and trimmed the four branches of the spruce tree in the meadow that had grown up to replace the top I'd cut last year. They bent straight up, it was really quite impressive. I also trimmed back the tips of the next layer of branches. I'm afraid I may do this every year until I've trimmed the whole thing off. But for now, I once again have a view. Then I set up cameras and cleaned the night stand that Ezra gave me and placed it next to the bunk bed in Cottonwood.

With those all set, I took a little break, then wrapped new cord in my weed whacker and weed whacked a narrow trail to the beach and around the very overgrown campfire, wrapped in an overly warm flannel shirt to protect my bare skin from any cow parsnip I cut. I was forced for lack of options to buy commercial grade cord and it worked amazingly, powerfully driving through the dense grass and sedge. Feeling pretty content (I love landscaping jobs at Snettisham), I had quesadillas and a beer from the freshet on the porch and read until it was time to clean up and say goodbye. I decided to leave a jerry jug of gas behind and, as I was taking a last walk down the path to the boat and sweeping off the grass from the rocks that I'd missed when hastily raking, I heard a loud clap like a gunshot from just upriver. I'd been making noise with my foot, so I wasn't certain about it, but Cailey was also looking in that direction. What could have made it? Unnerved, I peeked in the shed and nervously walked down the boardwalk until I could see Mink and Cottonwood Cabins, both in good standing. If there is evidence elsewhere, it wil have to wait until my next trip. I did putter upriver along the property shoreline in case anything jumped out at me, but nothing did. We left around 3:30 and wove through gillnets in Snettisham and here and there in Stephen's Passage. There were a couple spots with southerlies (in Snettisham and between Grand and Arden) and then westerlies out of Stephen's Passage and down the channel, but most of the water was calm and I scanned and scanned for fins sparkling in the sunshine--to no avail!

Spoon worms in an eroded chunk of riverbank