Snettisham 2020 - 5: Ready for Guests
July 10 - 12


The summer theme of failure

Photo Album

I took a more leisurely approach to my departure this morning, sleeping until 7:00 and not rushing around. After feeding the raven and finishing packing, I headed out in a light rain, stopping first by the gas station for some jerry jugs of gas and then to work to water the plants. It was a good thing I wasn't in a hurry, as loading took considerable time. For one thing, I had to walk all the way down the harbor to the other ramp to find a cart, for another I had two loads of gear including the long sheets of toughtex. I loaded all the gear from the boat house first, hooking up the battery which thankfully ran the bilge pump to pump out the very full boat from the few days of heavy rain. Then the first load of gear, fueling up, then the second with Cailey and the toughtex. It was 9:25 when I left toward a perfect forecast--light and variable winds, seas one foot or less. It was calm and pleasant down the channel until we encountered the edge of a breeze out of the Taku. It slowed us down crossing to Arden and beyond, little one foot choppy seas, but wasn't rough enough to compel Cailey to stand up, which is unusual. I was entertained by a Coast Guard helicopter apparently drilling retrieval exercises, lowering a device to the water and then hovering directly over the Coast Guard runabout boat; when adjacent, the wash from the rotors kicked up a wide ring of spray and rocked the boat; from above it must have been intense.

Beyond Grave Point the seas calmed and it was smooth again. As I neared Port Snettisham I saw a whale blow in the distance down Stephen's Passage, then was delighted to see two humpbacks together just off the reef near Point Styleman. I didn't notice a size difference when I first saw their backs together and was contemplating the fact that I couldn't remember ever seeing a cow and calf pair in this area. One of them moved farther in the port while the other stayed near the reef and frolicked a bit, rolling to expose white fins or flukes and raising his rostrum above the water (was he peering at me?). I lingered at a polite distance and watched until the whale headed in the direction the other had taken. Having gotten used to his size, it was a shock to see his magnificent mother emerge from the water in front, for it was then clear that this was a calf. I watched them a little longer as they took a breath or two and then disappeared for a bit, then left them to continue on against a little chop coming down the port.


We arrived a little after a zero or so tide which exposed the cut bank of the channel closest to the cabin. We slowed down and crept up alongside it as far as we could go, noting as I went little splashes at the edge of it--not from eroding mud (which was only about five inches above the water), but from what I thought must be fishes. Odd, I thought, for fish to be splashing in that fast-running river channel. What were they doing? When I could go no further, I shut down and leapt to the bow, but realized I had nothing to hold the boat in if I jumped ashore and quickly started drifting downriver. As we went, I pulled the anchor and a generous amount of line out and tied if off, finishing as we neared the mouth of the channel. This time, one of the splashers became recognizable as it leapt from the water and onto the mud flats! The tide was already coming in and the leap was just an inch or two up where we'd drifted down the channel. I watched with fascination as this small flounder arched his back and flopped around, and with anticipation when an eagle flew low overhead. The eagle evidently decided to wait on this easy prey until later, or passed on it for other reasons (perhaps because of my proximity) and the flounder soon stopped its wiggling. In fact, it had nestled itself quite nicely into the mud, burying its fins in a classic ambush position. And then he was awash with the rising tide. The whole endeavor seemed intentional--do flounder jump onto the sand ahead of the rising tide? If so, to what purpose? The wiggling into the sand could have been instinct to get back to water--either the nearby channel or deeper into the mud where water would seep in--but the leap onto the sand? Could something have been chasing those flounder to the safety of land?


This time I leapt ashore with the anchor, pulled the line taut, and kicked the anchor into the mud. It was a long way from the lodge. I organized things, using the toughtex overhanging the passenger seat to keep the items I left behind dry, and trudged agonizingly to the lodge with backpack, camera, and tote. I did leave the tote at the bottom of the rocks, unwilling to mince my way with everything all the way to the lodge. I thought I might leave it at that and bring in the boat at high tide, but soon found myself walking back to the boat for a second load, very pleased with how I carried the large pack of toilet paper and paper towels on the toughtex under one arm and the weed whacker in the other. Content that the wine box and beer could wait until low tide tomorrow, I realized at the lodge that I hadn't fully raised the engine. With a sigh, I walked back and returned with the beer and something else, leaving only the wine and can of paint. At the lodge I unexpectedly thought that a beer sounded delicious, so I took the new ones to the freshet, cleaned out the debris in it to make more room, and returned with a modelo. Before drinking it, though, I went to light the pilots on the stove, but the first one barely lit and then went out. Evidently that long absence with the pilots going used more propane than I realized. I changed tanks, got the pilots going, then glued a couple of loose pads on the bottom of the porch couch down before enjoying that beer with a granola bar overlooking the rising tide. Birds were dominated by thrushes, including a hermit thrush that repeatedly perched on the no hunting sign and a fledgling varied thrush in the alders upriver. At least three hummingbirds were around, which was good to see, as the ones in Juneau have vanished. Wrens were also active and hermit thrushes had been joyfully singing as I carried gear. Later on, a large flock of common mergansers floated upriver.


I read for a little bit, then started the satellite internet troubleshooting. I had a new radio, it's possible that the dish move order had finally gone through, and I was to check and see if the generator was on economy mode. When I saw that it was not, I grabbed clippers and set about trimming the berry bushes in the path of the dish. It was so impenetrable from the river side that I came back to the dish and worked my way out, clipping branches far above my head, fighting through dead current stalks and cutting anything that seemed like it could be in the way. When I was finished, I'd left a swath of destruction far more serious than I realized while inside the briar! There were spruce boughs closer to the dish that I thought also might be an issue, so I pushed the step ladder into the bushes in a couple of places and clipped them. After that I grabbed the swede saw and cut an alder that I thought could be disrupting the view, afterwards taking the saw down the boardwalk to cut four alders that had leaned too far over the trail, dragging them back to the alders next to the shed where I was cutting for the dish. I also took clippers and cut smaller branches along the boardwalk and then along the path to Harbor Seal and the freshet. It had stopped raining before I arrived, but was back at it and I was grateful to be suited up in full rubber rain gear and hat. Figuring I may as well get it over with, I started the generator and brought the extension cord over and had a go at internet. It was the same as before. I wasn't able to get to the pointing screen, as Install took me straight to registration this time. No ranging, nothing else. I hit the Re-register button and immediately the ranging turned green, but there was no other progress other than a message that popped up periodically saying that it had failed because the terminal had failed to resolve NMS address. Hopefully that is a clue.


I may have stopped for a quesadilla then (3:00) and made hummingbird food, but I was back at it shortly thereafter. I rinsed out the cabin filter housings in the sink, threw one of the filters away, and discovered that another one was missing. I delivered Harbor Seal's filters and set that system up without a hitch, noting that I need to excavate that side of the foundation again, then came back with the rest of Cottonwood's filters and got that system set up, which required me to take my new trail up to the water hose junction to turn on that valve, disappointed to find a single-hole leak. Back at the lodge, I needed the step ladder to access the attic for more filters, but the ladder was set up at the satellite dish, so first I grabbed a wrench and a screwdriver and swapped out the radio with the new one--the last thing to try this weekend. Then I carried the ladder inside, grabbed a couple more filters as well as the inflatable mattress and a spare pillow, and headed back to Mink to get that system going. Other than the bear bite, there are no issues so far, which I am grateful for. It will be nice to have the cabins used again, even though it means putting away the system this fall. When I got back, I cut a couple more alders (standing on a neighboring alder for one) and started the generator again and gave internet a go, but it was a no go. I'm going to keep the new radio--no sense in swapping them back out. I did note today that both the transmit and receive lights were solid, which I think is an improvement. I also got on wifi and accessed the Hughesnet setup app which showed that I had a high signal of 125--pretty good.


By then it was almost six and I was bushed. I fed Cailey, finished unpacking the goods I'd brought, read a little, and took a short nap on the couch, totally exhausted. I really needed this little break after a long weekend at Tenakee and two days of bustling around to get ready for this. For some reason, top ramen sounded irresistibly delicious for dinner, so I indulged and now I'm sitting at the card table at the window just in case a canine or a bruin happens to walk by. I'm looking forward to a lingering evening in bed reading.


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It's evening again (6:20 ) and I've just finished dinner, a scrumptious quesadilla. I struggled with an upset stomach all last evening, and am grateful not to feel that way today. I lit the Nordic stove last night, not so much for warmth (even in the persistent rain, it probably wasn't necessary) but to have a cup of tea somewhere during the reading session, which started before 9:00. The tea was delicious and so was the warmth of the cabin after the stove had been running over an hour. I slept late and so didn't get started to work until 9:30, delaying breakfast until I'd accomplished some of my many tasks for the day. I started out with prepping the cabins, making the rounds to dust, sweep, empty the buckets, clean the sinks, and otherwise spruce up the insides. On the way back I swept the porches and the cobwebs stuck to the trim on the doors and windows and corners as well as the bridge. I didn't have a dust pan with me, so I had to repeat the circuit, this time bringing along hot vinegar water to wash the outsides of the windows. Having finished, I hauled some tools up to the outhouse and removed the old roofing from the river side of it. Upon measuring everything I realized that I hadn't brought enough toughtex for both sides (I needed six 40" pieces and only had enough for four) so resigned myself to replacing only half the roof; thankfully, the other half is almost wholly intact other than the overhang above the door. I needed to get a hammer to remove the last pieces of roofing support and a marker to mark the toughtex for cutting, and by that time it was 11:00 and I was in desperate need of food. A little depressed by how much more I had to do, I broke for breakfast-lunch, making up a box of Amy's pasta.


Feeling somewhat satisfied by the food, I was anxious to get back to work but forced myself to read for about half an hour in order to let my stomach settle and avoid a stomach ache. After that I switched gears. It was sprinkling a bit when I got up, but hadn't precipitated for most of the morning, so I decided to do the really critical and also least fun task at hand: weed whacking. First I needed to protect the roses, which had been driven to the ground by the rain, so I scrounged around in the storage cabinet in the lodge to locate a variety of strings, twisty ties, and hooks. The rose I'd transplanted last year was still upright (being quite small), which worked out well, as I only had three brass hooks. These I screwed into the front of the porch on either side of and between the larger two roses and supported them some short pieces of the string I'd found; the small offshoot of the eldest rose I joined to its progenitor with twisty ties. Pleased with the results, I then turned to clipping the cow parsnip in preparation for weed whacking to avoid as much as possible the inevitable burns. These I gathered in a large clump on the porch and tossed over the log before carrying the genset over and starting the final work, first along the porch, then down one side of the path and up the other. I'm thankful it's such a powerful machine! I was hearing on and off a peep from the direction of the river (now low) that was tantalizingly unfamiliar; though I desperately wanted to finish the task, I decided I'd better stop and take Cailey for her promised walk and see if I could locate that bird. Frustrated by my inability to complete anything, I grabbed my binoculars and realized that I really needed to attach the strap to them before I went for a walk. So I sat down to do that just as the rain started again. It was a complicated process that took some time and by the time I was finished, the bird was quiet and I decided I'd better finish weed whacking before everything was soaking wet again. As a little reminder of joy, a toad
with beautiful brown markings hopped through the cut vegetation. So then I finished the front area, during which time the bird started peeping again. Since it was raining, I put on a rain jacket and hat and grabbed the bag of recyleables from this summer and a garbage bag with the extra towels and pillows I want to bring back (having discovered this morning that I have an excess of nice towels here). I also ate the last of the mac and cheese, still hungry and irritable. At last I set out for my survey, already hot, and sweating in my rain jacket from my previous exertion and carrying the gear. After successfully stashing it under the dash of the Ronquil, I reluctantly grabbed the paint can and box of wine and returned to deposit them at the base of the rocky path, It has stopped raining and I was quite hot, so I shed my jacket and flannel walked the rest of the way in a t-shirt.


Naturally, the bird never spoke again, but Cailey seemed happy with the walk and, other than the extra clingy mud that made me feel like I was wearing platform shoes, I was happy to be out and about too. Near the tip of the point, a new log with wonderful branches had lodged itself. When we returned, I weed whacked the boardwalk and then put the generator and extension cord away, having decided that nothing else really needed to be trimmed; I could always bring it back out tomorrow. With that done, I returned to the outhouse to nail in the wooden corrugated supports for the toughtex. It seemed a simple thing; measuring from the bottom of the joists, I made sure they were straight, and lined subsequent pieces up with the first. I nailed in most of the rows of them (each requiring three overlapping pieces) and then, desperation mounting, forced myself to take a break for tea, though not before raking the cut vegetation into several large piles to facilitate bird foraging that I might watch while resting. While it heated, I returned to the outhouse to gorilla glue a support piece that had broken with its second nail, wrapping it in masking tape.


Tea was actually cafe francais, and I spent a lovely hour on the porch luxuriating in the dryness of the afternoon (it hadn't rained since I started the COASST walk) and the peace of the place and the tidiness of the cut vegetation in the small sliver of a path and around the firepit. Finally I was feeling at peace, the peace I'd so badly needed after an exhausting week. I read on and off, often distracted by the bird life. First was an adorable fledgling hermit thrush, not just spotted on the breast like a robin, but all over his back, contrasting with his solid rusty brown tail, held up perkily like a wren. He perched on a bench for a bit before disappearing, too quickly for a photo. Later was a fledgling varied thrush who was more cooperative while bopping around the stairs. I heard the wren family that's been making an appearance around the bushes and the wood pile, along with several display dives of an unseen hummingbird. I wonder if it's a subadult male, as I haven't seen a breeding adult for a while. Eventually I returned to the outhouse and cut the third and fourth pieces of roofing to make sure they would work before I started screwing them in. They weren't fitting square with the building, though the overlap on the front side was even and the two sets of supports lined up. Rather than fighting it, I went ahead and screwed all three in, splitting too many times the supports but unwilling to take the time to predrill holes. To line up with the ridges of the supports, the three pieces overlap unevenly, so I wound up cutting the ends of them so they look even from the ground. I don't think anyone will notice. To finish the job, I put two screws in the cap to hold it in place until I replace the other side of the roofing. I swept out the inside, discovering that the floor was wet and leaving the mat upside down on the toilet seat to dry it out, then started ferrying tools back to the shed, which took several trips. Between them I did other odds and ends including ferrying other tools I'd left on the porch back to the shed, sweeping the boardwalk and porch, shifting the chickadee box more toward the porch, and laying the cut spruce branches in the wet ground around the satellite dish pole. When all the tools were put away, I folded the tarp and stashed it in the bear proof box and carried a garbage can up to pick up all the pieces of roofing I could find. The large pieces I bundled to throw away whole in town as they didn't seem eager to break into small enough pieces for a garbage bag. I swept the porch and the stairs, immensely pleased at the tidiness of the lack of tools spread around and the drying deck free of spruce needles. There's something very depressing about piles of wet tools and quickly accumulating debris from wet boots around the porch, and I was very glad to be free of it. Finally, I headed to Harbor Seal to put up the curtains I'd washed two years ago along with a bottom sheet for the bed. On the way back, I cut one of the branches off the fallen top of the great log, which was reaching out toward the steps down to Harbor Seal, and shut off the water supply for the first two cabins since there's a significant leak there (if only one hole).


I fed Cailey and returned to the freshet for a beer, setting up camp on the benches around the firepit to enjoy it. At least three hummingbirds fed at once, but I saw little else. What did catch my attention were strange moaning/rumbling sounds from the river. They were a bit like harbor seal sounds, but something was different about them. Otters maybe? I scanned with binoculars and saw a shape in the water out at the edge of the inlet or in Gilbert Bay that looked a bit like a porpoise fin coming up, but not quite. It wasn't a cetacean, but what was it? Only my spotting scope would tell. I rushed to set it up and found the odd looking shape. It was two harbor seals rolling around together. One would come up, then the other and they would twist together--one almost looking like it was biting the neck of the other, and then would roll and disappear underwater. I watching this several times before they apparently parted, or moved out of site. Seal love making...? It seems likely!

And finally it was dinner time, and now I'm sitting on the porch watching thrushes and listening to them sing, Cailey snoozing on the couch beside me sharing my quilt. Twice I've heard something downriver that seemed too big for a bird, and both times (shortly after), Cailey perked up and stared attentively in that direction, starting to get up before I encouraged her to stay. I waited both times with camera at the ready, but no one appeared. It still feels like something magical might happen. The Pacific slope flycatcher is also singing downriver, and he's kept me company all day, even through all the rain. It sprinkled a little this evening, but is once again calm and bits of blue sky are showing through. A strong breeze came in this afternoon and repeatedly scraped the overhanging bough of the downriver guardian tree against the roof, so it looks like I need to trim that again. Perhaps that and bridge repair will be my small tasks for tomorrow. I hope to leave in the early afternoon (probably not as the boat floats) and put up a couple of cameras on the way.


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I retired relatively early and was in bed reading before 9:00. For once, the cabin was actually too warm and I got up while still reading to turn off the oil stove! It also heated up the kettle in record time. I had another somewhat restless, long night of sleep, before rising late again and cleaning the cabin. I decided to tackle one of the two goals of the day right away--trimming off the end of the long branch that's overhanging the front of the porch and rubbing the fascia badly in the wind. A couple of years ago I'd trimmed off one of its side branches, but now the main branch was rubbing and I could see wear marks. I set up the extension ladder against the porch post and was disappointed to find that the branch was still some distance up and protected from so many little branches, dead and alive, that tossing a rope over proved futile. I did manage to grab a low hanging frond and wrapped the rope around it, looping the other end around the post and drawing the main branch down. Another step up on the ladder, hanging onto the roof beam for support, and I was able to pull another branch down to reduce the distance further, tightening the wrap around the post. It took a lot more effort than I expected, but I was eventually able to reach the actual branch with the end of the swede saw and begin cutting, efficiency reduce by the wiggling of the branch. I had to rest between attempts, but the branch did fall. I felt a little sad about it--I liked the overhanging branch and the great guardian tree that bore it, but I didn't see another solution to the rubbing. There are two branches in contact or almost in contact with the roof (one dead and one alive) that I should also trim at some point, but not today.


After that I carried the piles of cut vegetation and tossed them over the log, did the dishes, including washing all the glasses and mugs exposed on the table that have built up dust since last used, and finally made myself a rather unspectacular buckwheat pancake, followed by a cup of jasmine tea that I drank during morning prayer. It had started raining in the night, but at least the inlet was calm for a while. Now it's high tide (12:49) and I'm waiting for lunch to heat up. After reading and watching the hunting thrushes and wren family passing through (one of the little ones following the parent through the bushes and branches, its yellow beak standing out) for a while, I headed to the bridge with the cordless drill and a bag of screws. On the way I stopped by the leak in the water line and wrapped it in duct tape after drying it off with paper towels. At the bridge I drilled new holes in the railing board that had fallen off, as the existing screws had broken and were still sticking out, then put new screws in to secure it. The two loose boards had longer screws replacing the old ones in the same holes. Up on top, I screwed two existing screws farther down to make contact on the end of the last board on the right, then drilled new holes in the other end of that one and the matching board on the other side, adding new screws so it wasn't loose. At least the bridge will feel whole for a while, until the next branch pops out the new screws too! It does feel good. Cailey appeared and was ecstatic to have found me and I had to turn the bridge camera off temporarily lest it take a bunch of videos of her. Then I swept and covered the windows of the lodge and did some other chores before sitting back on the porch, fully ready for more work but with nothing before me. An adult thrush came by a couple times with bright green caterpillars in her beak; another sang downriver. Could they be on brood #2, or is she still feeding fledglings? A breeze has been stirring the leaves mildly, and I hope it will not cause us much dismay out in Stephen's Passage. The boat never really went aground, so I will wait for the tide to rise a bit and then kayak out, carrying down as much as I want to haul back. If I can get the boat far enough to be even with the path, and perhaps the water to the edge of the green algae, it shouldn't be too bad. I still hope to set up cameras on the way out; at least the exertion should warm us up each time we disembark.


After lunch I hung out outside again, waiting fruitlessly for the boat to go aground so I could carry a load or two down there. When it didn't, I watched the tide slowly rise, feeling full of energy and ready to work, if there was something to do other than wait. It was so nice to have the place feel lived in--paths walked on (even the path to the outhouse which I tried to make look civilized by walking on the vegetation at the edges, which really could have used weed whacking), everything tidy, outhouse useable, shelves organized, etc. I finally carried everything to the porch, put the couch away, and shut down the systems. Dragging the kayak to the water was easy following the stream channel that trickles down; Cailey wasn't too enthusiastic about boarding, so I let her stay behind, though this caused her to stand in the water up to her belly uneasily while I fueled up and pulled anchor. I was able to come up to the beach even with the lodge and hauled down two loads, leaving the air mattress behind. We took off around 2:35 under a pleasant cloudy sky and into a strange breeze crossing Gilbert Bay, rising into real 1' seas that rolled us a little as we turned into the trough to cross the entrance to the port and into sheltered water beyond Point. Styleman. The glass water there was teeming with groups of murrelets and gulls--there must have been hundreds just in the short stretch I passed through. Because the deck was very muddy and we would be getting in and out a couple of times, I hadn't put Cailey's blanket down, and she was huddled unhappily on the wet muddy floor.


We pulled up to the perfect beach at Dipper Creek, drew the anchor up the rise, and walked through the grass toward the woods. I'd hoped to plant the camera at the edge of the creek itself, but it didn't look like that would be an option close to shore, so I ducked through the fringe of alders and up a step into a lovely little airy first growth spruce forest growing between the beach and the typical Southeast cliff behind, there about eight feet tall. The grove was maybe 50 yards wide with young spruces and long dead alders and lots of moss. Back aboard the Ronquil, I gave Cailey her bottom cushion for the ride over to Whigg Creek. We arrived at a much lower tide than before, disembarking on barnacle-covered rocks. It wasn't difficult for me, and tying up to the overhanging log was the same, but poor Cailey could not climb the steep rocks to follow me. I scrambled up and up and up, telling her to stay, and hastened to find a good place to set it up and not doing a great job. Still, I'm enjoying spreading my attentions beyond the homestead.


We cruised around the inside of Mist Island and slowed to weather the steady seas coming in from Stephen's Passage; we watched
a double-ended ice berg across the port entrance, but the whales had moved on. To my great relief, the seas were much better than on either of the last trips; they were still 2-3 feet in many places, but we were able to ride comfortably over them and Cailey did not rise from her bed, covered in a blanket since she was very wet from standing in the water and wading through wet grass. We wove through gillnetters along Stephen's Passage and then hit a wall of white at Point Arden, a little earlier than the wall of white wet we encountered in the channel on the last two trips. It was so dense I couldn't see the channel, so I kept going in what seemed like the right direction, glancing at Admiralty to see my progress and thinking that I'd been underway long enough that I didn't think I should be seeing Point Arden anymore, but there it was. Eventually, I did see land to the right, but there was an island at the end of it, which neither Bishop nor Salisbury sport... Of course, I wasn't seeing Arden over and over again, I was following the Admiralty coastline and that was Marmion Island. I beat a hasty right and left the fog and rainbank behind in the inlet. Ezra met me at the harbor and quite soon I was at home with a hot shower and a hot dinner to follow a long day.


Low tide arrival