Snettisham 2020 - 7: September
  September 17 - 21


A resident orca passes the mouth of the Whiting River Inlet

Photo Album

The rain came a few hours later than promised and without a noticeable front, let alone the storm that was in the forecast, and I'm once again quietly astonished and relieved at the peacefulness marked by lack of wind. I think it's been a windy summer to feel such relief at two days in a row of calm water! The tide is high again, a 17 some footer which is bringing greenish water over several of the stones on the path and within a few feet of the kayak, and is also flooding the bottom of the no hunting sign. This morning's -3 something tide was considerably less dramatic than it was a month ago, perhaps because the latter came after weeks of incessant rain that perhaps was flooding the river. There were far more sandbars extending out in to the river than last time and, while the cut bank was as, or almost as, deep as before, there was nothing unnerving about it and no standing waves anywhere, no roaring. A couple of seals swam at its outlet, one of which was inch-worming over shallow sections. Cailey and I slept pretty well through the night and I was even uncomfortably warm at times, thanks perhaps in part to the very warm cabin we went to sleep in and the diminishing dampness inside. I was surprised and pleased to find that the windows were not fogged up at all this morning. Perhaps the shift back to "normal" weather with the start of September and the many days of sunshine since have done their work. The pillows smell a bit of mildew, but that will be handled by a wash.


Quite depressed and discouraged with the internet situation, and probably the residual stress of getting here and the chaos of gear and unpacking, I took the night off of trip-reporting and read until I fell asleep early in Hermit Thrush. I'd lit the stove about 6:30, so the cabin was warming up nicely when we arrived an hour later, forgoing the utter stillness and beauty of a calm, fall evening on the porch to lose myself in a novel and sleep. And so I woke early, efficiently packed up, and headed to the lodge where my empty belly demanded food. I had a pack of oatmeal with a generous scoop of peanut butter and then took advantage of the as-yet rainless sky and negative tide to go for a walk, still shy of 8:00. I'd made a bit of an effort to anchor the boat yesterday so it might float in the deep channel again and was surprised to find that I'd succeeded almost exactly as I had last time, just a bit downriver. Only the highest points of the boat were visible while down on the flats, poking up from its anchorage just a few feet off from the edge of the two-foot cut bank. It appeared to be floating, though I wasn't positive, as there was the hint of a shelf at the bottom of the bank that could have extended out. In any event, I didn't plan to go anywhere that morning, but was glad to see my amazing boat calmly at anchor. Shortly after I headed out, the rain began to fall and I stopped by the lodge on the way upriver to pick up my hat. Vast sandbars were exposed due to the low water of September (which was why Tlingits used to canoe up the river to trade with interior tribes at this time of year). Back at the lodge, with slightly damp pants, I thought I'd work on the outhouse roof before it got any wetter, both for me and for the inside of the outhouse during the time it was partially roof-less. I measured the existing roof and cut two more pieces from the tufftex I'd brought from town, then removed the existing roof support and set about installing the replacements. I measured the distance from both rows from the peak on the other side and imitated that and its pattern on the uphill side. Having learned my lesson, I pre-drilled holes in the supports this time which was 100 times worth the small extra effort to avoid cracking the hard wood. Other than making another trip to the shed to pick up just one more nail, the process went very smoothly. Soon enough I had placed the three pieces of roofing up and was screwing them in, also predrilling holes. While it always annoys me to deal with the minutia of projects like needing to move the ladder half a dozen times for a couple of screws here and there, I actually kind of enjoyed the quiet, one-step-at-a-time process, puttering up and down the path and around the outhouse until the roof was done. The final touch was the roof cap--two screws on either end--and then cleaning up. The roof looked great, it matched the other side and, inexplicably, had none of the squaring problems that the other one had. I leaned the plywood back up to protect the floor from rain and took the rest of my gear back down. It hadn't rained much, or not hard, while I worked and my pants were dry, but it soon came down more earnestly. It was about 10:00 and I was pleased with the first half of the morning's work. It was time for tea and, finally, to sit on the porch and enjoy the place for a little while.


Yesterday I'd begun to do that after lunch and my initial failure with internet, but was only beginning to sink into the quiet of the inlet when a whale blew around River Point and drew my attention. He went through two breathing cycles before he came up in the mouth of the main river channel across the inlet; he stayed there two breathing cycles before moving back out into Gilbert Bay. But as he did that, and I turned back to reading, another series of blows began to register in the back of my mind. At first I think I dismissed them as perhaps a second whale joining the blows of the first, perhaps in combination with loud seal exhalations, but I finally decided I'd better check. I glassed toward River Point and big black fin cut the water. And another. Orcas.


It was 2:30 and the day was calm, the sun bright but somewhat dimmed by high haze. After gathering camera and binoculars, I headed down to the water, pulling the kayak a few feet down to the edge of the water. I don't think Cailey was took keen to be back on the boat, but at least I was able to put down one of her boat blankets, and we weren't going to be underway at speed for long. I had left my hoody on as long as I could, but the afternoon sunshine boring down on me had forced it off al little earlier, and it was 20 minutes or so on the boat before I put it back on. I headed out to the mouth of the inlet and looked around, not seeing anything but the whale in Gilbert Bay and wondering if my confidence that I would find the orcas again if I took eyes off them was exaggerated. Finally, a large male appeared in the middle of Gilbert Bay and I started to head for him, then heard blows closer and spotted two smaller orcas within the inlet close to shore. I decided to check them out first. These were the only three I could find, so I was guessing they were transients, especially since the male was traveling separately from the other two. There had been a lot of seal activity in the inlet, so maybe they were hunting. Thus, I was even more cautious when approaching the pair as I usually am, so as not to disturb a possible hunt. At first I found them tricky to follow, their movements somewhat erratic, but eventually then paired up and started moving toward Gilbert Bay just as the male joined them. I heard the buzz of an echolocation beam hitting my hull. After taking photos of all of them with my telephoto camera, I switched to binoculars to better observe them. When the male came up, I saw that he had a thumb sticking up from his saddle patch. Not transients after all, these were residents! I had several very nice passes with this group as we moved toward the south corner of the inlet where the pair headed toward Sweetheart Creek and the male moved out into the bay. By then I'd seen another two in the river behind me, and two more singles toward the other side of the bay. I left the male with thanks and headed toward them to see if I could get an ID photo of them as well. They proved to be very slippery, disappearing from their expected trajectory well before I got there. I headed toward another at the end of the bay to see if I'd have better luck--perhaps the two I'd seen earlier, with similar success. Behind me, at the mouth of the large creek coming down from Argenta Basin (Upsidedown Horse Creek), at least four orcas were milling around a large area including the male. Perhaps there was good feeding there--cohos going up the creek? Probably not, as surely that is a small run. I lingered where I was for a while, but eventually headed back in that direction thinking I might just shut down in that area and see what happened. On the way I spotted a dark gull harassing another gull...but wait, that was very aggressive behavior! Could it be? Sure enough, it was a jaeger, my first in Snettisham that I remember. I wasn't close enough to see what species, but it was a great find.


By the time I got to the creek mouth, the orcas there had dispersed from the area, but the male had joined another pair of smaller orcas and was heading out of Gilbert Bay. The conditions were absolutely perfect for viewing and photography, the wind almost at a standstill, the sun illuminating the lingering blows, the water clear enough to perhaps see an orca under water, though none indulged me in that hope! Shortly after I caught up with the trio, they split again, though all heading more or less out of the bay, and I soon gave up on more photos.


All in all, though, this group of orcas was very difficult to watch. Other than the two very brief trios consisting of the male and two smaller pod members, they were widely scattered all around the bay and their movements very erratic. I presume they were foraging opportunistically, and wished they could give me some advice as to where I could find cohos myself, if that's what they were targeting. I also wondered where the rest of their pod was. While there could have been 25 orcas in Gilbert Bay, I had only seen for sure seven individuals and had a hard time believing there were more given the quiet and stillness of the afternoon. I saw no calves, and no more than one large male. Part of me longed to follow them out of Gilbert Bay until they caught up with the other members, but we'd been out for a long time and I was concerned about bothering them on this still afternoon (even if they'd been bothered so much less this summer by tour boats), and Cailey was clearly bored and probably chilled, so we headed home. Fall orcas in Snettisham on a perfect day! I'd even gotten a picture of the male with the homestead beach in the background, if barely. There are a number of large males in the three resident Southeast pods; my best guess is that he was AG27 (both 1996) based on the shape of the fin, the thumb, and some scars on the saddle patch.


Somehow, though, the wonder of it didn't quiet sink in. Was it the elusive behavior of the foraging orcas? Or the fact that I hadn't really settled in at the homestead before heading out again to meet them? Whatever it was, my mood soon became unequivocally gloomy. I'd started to check for internet as soon as the basic unpacking was done, beginning with setting up my new power inverter which would run the modem off my 12 volt batteries. My initial attempt was foiled by haste and hunger and I postponed it until a quesadilla assuaged my hunger temporarily. Then I read the directions and found the inverter wonderfully easy to use and the battery putting out power. But neither the existing power supply nor the new power supply would allow the modem to send a signal via wireless or network cable, though the LAN light did half light up when the modem was initially plugged in. All lights had lit up at home a few days ago when I tried it after replugging the cable into the inverter in the power supply, which had been loose. Obviously that was the problem, such a simple fix! So it was surprise and disappointment to find that that apparently wasn't the problem. It occurred to me that the battery might be low, so before I tried the new modem, I should try powering the modem from the generator. But I wasn't up to that at the time, so I started a beer on the porch, only slightly chilled from its brief time in the cooler, and that's when the orcas arrived.


So when I got back, I started the generator and went through the same process, with identical success. So it was apparently the modem that was failing--the part of the plug that powered the LAN and wireless systems failing. It was time to see what happened with the new modem, which I'd hoped not to have to open. But it worked, all the lights flaring to life, but of course it wasn't set up. No problem, I thought, I knew just what to do. Going to the IP online immediately brought up the coordinates screen which I'd never seen in my attempts with the first modem until told I needed to change the coordinates manually. But there it was--I suppose because it had not been set up in town first, which was probably a mistake with the other one. Anyway, the first thing was to find those coordinates. But I didn't have them. I couldn't access gmail of course, though I'd made sure to leave the email open there that had the information I needed, I'd deleted the image from my phone, and, I was surprised to find, I hadn't added it to my tech cheat sheet, I guess because I knew I had it on my phone. But I'd worked hard to get all my summer photos off my phone and sorted a few weeks ago, deleting everything that didn't seem necessary. I hadn't prepared very hard for setting up a new modem because I was so sure the power supply was the problem. I knew better, and now I again wouldn't have internet, for the last trip of the summer. All summer, seven trips, and I never got internet going except for that 48 hours. It's unbelievable. So much time spent, so much frustration and failure, so much money wasted, and I couldn't even have the relief and satisfaction of making it go on the very last trip of the season. It was a low moment, and I can't say that I didn't rail against my HughesNet rep for failing over and over and over again to tell me what I needed to do to get internet working. If he'd told me how to find the satellite the first time, I would have at least gotten the signal in May. And if I'd been told the coordinates needed to be changed before August, I would have had it working in June. I can't believe it took that long--there was no possible way anyone would have changed those coordinates before the modem came into my hands, so how that was the LAST idea presented is shocking. Anyway, all that does no good, because there was nothing more I could do.


I had curry and the rest of a roll for dinner and lit a fire, Cailey curled at my feet, happy and warm at last and in a deep sleep, while I read until we retreated to Hermit Thrush.


And so it wasn't until this morning that I really sat down and relaxed for long on the porch. After the outhouse project, the rain started to come down a little more heavily, and I could hear its intensity change as it crashed into the trees and bushes. The bird life has been fairly quiet so far. I encountered a raven in the branches just over the upriver edge of the deck when I came out the door earlier, and he or she peered at me when I greeted him. I've heard chickadees and a brown creeper, and one of the other of a pair of hermit thrushes appeared on and off on the deck as I sat there, along with a wren that stayed in the bushes. Other birds occasionally passed by too quickly to identify. This afternoon at high tide, a solitary juvenile Pacific loon appeared near the boat and I had a spectacular view of him with my spotting scope, perhaps the most clear view I've ever had of a loon here from shore. I watched her through several dives, one of which resulted in a small flounder flopping in her beak! She would mouth it, drop it, pick it up, dive with it (for what purpose I don't know) and try to swallow it, only to discharge it again. Finally, all this work paid off and she apparently successfully swallowed the little fish while I was adjusting the position of the scope. Although it makes sense, I'd never thought of loons pursuing benthic fishes, especially in intertidal areas. A little later, a pair of grebes passed through the same area, probably red-necked, though they could be horned in winter plumage. Otherwise, the river is pretty quiet with the exception of seals and a huge log lurking near River Point.


After a break on the porch, I was thinking about all the little close up things I'd need to do and was getting quite chilled, so I decided to warm up and start to tick some of them off, starting with putting away the cabin water systems. I made the rounds and unscrewed all the filters, carrying them to the lodge in two loads and heading back out with tinfoil and a broom. At each cabin I wrapped the filter heads and hose valve in tinfoil, tidied up inside, swept each of them, opened the faucets for the winter, closed the curtains, and locked them up. I will need to return to Harbor Seal to wrap the hose valve after I drain that system, but otherwise this project is done. I also delivered a mop to Hermit Thrush so I can mop the floor tonight before putting down my new rag rug permanently. But I was quite pleased with those errands, and nicely warmed up. It was noon and I was hungry, so I made a simple lunch of a cheese sandwich with one of my poppyseed rolls, some chips, and a nectarine (and a V-8 since I'd forgotten to bring vegetables). I was engrossed in my book, but soon became chilled and came inside to light a fire, pleased that Cailey, also chilled no doubt, immediately curled up in her bed next to the wood stove. It's been there since she was a puppy but she's never really warmed up to it until this year. It's like she's finally figured out what it's there for--warming chilly dog bodies--and she is making good use of it. I sat in the rocking chair nearby and continued my book while drinking cafe francais, shifting to this afterwards.


So that catches us up to now. One day I'll probably regret how disjoined this log is as I try to reconstruct events. Yesterday started out optimistically enough, feeling less stress than usual as I got ready and loaded up in the morning (right up until I sent Ezra to park the car in 14-day parking and fetch the dog while I finished organizing the boat). It was the same sort of optimism I'd felt the day before as I'd gone down to Sheep Creek to fish a little, coming back with two lovely cohos I caught along with a third that someone gave me. It was perfect fishing, calm and sunny and not very crowded, the fish jumping enough to keep it interesting, and biting as usual just after the peak of the tide. The water was wonderfully calm down the channel, perfectly so. It was chilly and Cailey was shivering in short order. She wanted to stay forward, so I put her yellow blanket down between the seats and covered her with her jacket. And then at the end of the channel the smooth little swells that had started at Sheep Creek became rough in choppy little seas coming from Point Bishop; I saw a dry bag and something else start to tumble off the seat next to me and realized that Cailey had already retreated to the back. Based on that weather, it looked like we were going to have a very rough Taku crossing again, as usually Bishop offeres some protection from a Taku. Where else was that wind coming from, though? I covered Cailey with the yellow blanket, my legs with her brown one, abandoned in the front, and steeled myself for a monstrous ride.


And then it stopped. Coming around Bishop had the opposite effect as expected and the seas died down completely, remaining glassy calm all the way into the river, which had a small breeze coming down (making me question the connection between a northerly on the Whiting and a Taku). What a sweet ride and a wild change in my weather fortunes! And there were whales. One at the mouth of the channel, at least two between Grand and the mainland, and more based on a pair of blows I thought I saw together (though I only saw one whale as I passed) and two across the entrance to the port. As I turned inside, an explosion just to starboard startled me as Dall's porpoises erupted from the water and zoomed nearby, a couple of times in my wake, though I think that was a coincidence of my location and not because they wanted to play. It is rare to see those in this area, and this is the time of year for it. I wonder if they are after the same krill that apparently attracts the Stephen's Passage Humpback Whale Group Up in the fall? It was nice to see a glimmer of that phenomenon this year. Who knows how many whales and orcas I've passed this summer, fully consumed with managing the boat through terrible seas and rain.


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After my break I suited up and braved the rain for a few more little errands, the kind that I've been meaning to do and that provide a great deal of satisfaction. I picked up clippers and the swede saw and cleared the new water system loop trail, starting with cutting the small downed tree that's been blocking the path ever since I put the system in and then walking up to the water barrel and back the other way, clipping as needed to make a clear path. Although you can barely discern a trail in the photos I took, it was a major improvement and I'm quite pleased with it. I also went to change the batteries in the bridge camera, but it was so wet I decided to take the cartridge back to the lodge to make sure it and the batteries were dry before I reinserted. I lit the oil stove in Hermit Thrush around 6:30, but for reasons I don't remember I didn't head over there until around 8:00. It was noticeably darker than the last few days, both because of the later hour and the rain, and I determined that 7:30 was the right time to retire. I finished my book and watched an SG-1 episode in bed--my first in Snettisham, but it wasn't a very good one!


I'd been thinking about making another try for the Friday Mine, now having figured out how to use my phone GPS app to guide me to the coordinates and having studied the map more to gage where it might be. I'd thought that I'd see how I felt today and what the weather was like. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time I went to bed and I woke to partly cloudy skies, so it was hard not to go for it! The boat was upriver from its location yesterday and on the far side of a lower shelf of sand, but still in the current. After breakfast and packing, we headed down there, I pulled up the anchor, and we hopped aboard. I'd slept in a little and we weren't in a hurry, so it was already 9:40. The current was fast and I was expecting to drift out quickly into deep water and take off from there. But it was going way too fast down the channel to control and started spinning the boat. The engines hit the bank first, then we spun around and the bow hit. I didn't want to keep bounding against the bank like that, so I started paddling to try to keep the boat off. That and the fact that we went past a small promontory in the bank were my downfall. We got swept away from the "deep" channel against the bank and quickly grounded in the shoals which, it turns out, makes up most of the flowing channel at low tide. I rocked around on the bow for a little while, edging us a few feet downstream, but there was no use. We were soundly stuck a stone's throw from the deeper channel, and there was nothing to do but wait for the tide and watch the machinations of the water as it passed over riffles and holes and debris. We were broadside to the current and the force of river current created a ridge of sand at the surface of the water on the downriver side of the boat. I thought it might be an hour before the tide lifted us and I watched eagerly as sandbars at the mouth of the river began to be overwhelmed by the rising water.
As I sat there with my nonplussed dog, the current would occasionally swing the bow a little and I'd get excited, but a quick look at the bank and I could see we'd made no progress. A few minutes after the sandbars disappeared, the ripples of deeper water moved toward us and suddenly the bow was floating. We were still against that shelf on the stern, but I managed to pivot the bow so we curved around it. I paddled us to the edge of the cut bank and found that the channel there was deeper, but still only a few feet. If I ever try a low tide departure like that again I think I'll walk the boat down the side of the bank to closer to the mouth. We'd been stuck about 45 minutes.

Although a breeze had begun to set in a chill while we waited, we found the port clam and beautiful, a low cloud bank hanging over the Speel Arm side, broken with shafts of sunshine. Our first stop was Dipper Creek where I changed the batteries and reset the camera, finding only 13 videos taken before the old alkaline batteries had died. I left the existing card in there, since it was much bigger than the replacement I'd brought, started it up, and then walked to the creek to see if I could find any sign of spawning pinks. The creek was very wadeable and walking it was enticing, but we had other plans. I saw no live or dead pinks, so we headed back to the boat and took off for Friday Mine.


Though I started down the apparently road as usual, I quickly started upslope, gaining elevation and, mercifully, staying in fairly open forest with politely spaced blueberries and many flattish sections of skunk cabbage bog. I found it very pleasant going, but eventually came up against the cluster of deadfall that I remembered tormenting me in the past. Going above it would involve scaling an almost vertical mountain, so over them we went. It was a challenge for me and for Cailey, and I grabbed Cailey by the nape of her neck once when she began sliding down the log she was trying to climb over. The cluster of trees were facing straight down the mountain, too tall to step or slide over, with no room beneath to crawl under. But we endured and came out the other side and into a crevasse which turned out to be the crevasse against which the mine is supposed to be located. At every break to the sky I got out my phone and checked on the location--it was but 865 feet from the deadfall apparently, and I got predictably closer as I went. But the forest is dense and it's impossible to walk in a straight line, and I went all up and down and around the mountain there, over streams and up and down steep slopes, chasing the mine. At last I honed in on it and, in fact, walked right to it. Except that there was nothing there. It was on a gentle slope, but there was a nearly sheer slope about 25 feet away, so I figured it would be there. Long story short, I found nothing. I went back and forth along that and other slopes, up and down and around multiple times, but there was no sign of an addit or a road leading to it. Eventually I stopped, had a snack, and we headed back down after one more look around.


Although that was a disappointment, I did have good berry luck. I ate more berries than I have all summer, pilfering fat, round Alaska blueberries wherever I could which were refreshingly juicy. I also added a species conclusively to my plant index: red huckleberry. I think I've been seeing them elsewhere in Snettisham, but always small and close to the ground. These were a few feet high and they had berries. Yum!


Unfortunately, I made a poor decision on the way down. In an effort to avoid the deadfall, I went straight down a ladder-steep slope, helping slow Cailey where needed, until we were about even with the bottom of the biggest tree. But it was a mistake, because the rest of the trip was through dense berry and false azalea bushes, the kind that grasp at your foot as you try to push through, endless deadfalls of a smaller nature, rotting ground, and steep slopes. It was all around unpleasant bushwhacking. Still, 35 minutes later we were back on the boat and zooming away. I could hardly keep Cailey from leaping in the bow of the boat when I pulled it in! Back at the lodge I pulled up to the edge of the rocky path and let Cailey jump off while I fetched the kayak from just a few feet away--a great pleasure! I anchored a little closer in and put five gallons of gas in the tank, then kayaked in, more than a little tickled to fly right up over the log to land on the grass just a few feet from where the kayak lives, a very short pull indeed.

From there I took off my rain coat and hurried to Hermit Thrush for fresh clothes. Having left the breeze behind, it was already warmer on shore, and the joy of sitting on the porch, freshened up and in dry clothes, with a quesadilla and a beer, in the sunshine, was wonderful. I had things to do today that hung over me a bit, but for that moment I just needed to soak in the sunshine. It still wasn't exactly hot, except on my face, but in a hoody and wrapped in my quilt I was very cozy. So much so, that I took a little nap sitting up on the couch with my head tucked against the quilt. While I slept, the tide peaked at 18+ feet, flooding most of the meadow on the other side of the spruce, and began to drop. At 4:00, as the sun was thinking about disappearing behind the mountain, I rallied for the beginning of a multi-day project that really should be done before I leave: outhouse doors. I carried the lodge door from inside and laid it on the porch, started the generator, and began sanding. I had some hope of sanding it down to remove the black sections that I think sprung up since it was on the ground, but didn't get that deep. Still, I cleaned it up, roughed it up, and sanded down some rotten pieces from the bottom. When I was satisfied, I flipped it and decided that the inside of the door didn't need restaining. On the cabin outhouse door I did even less sanding, as only the bottom of the door was in need of it. Then I laid out visqueen on the floor of the lodge, carried them back in, and put a coat of stain on both of them after tidying up a bit. I didn't enjoy the sanding at all, but I enjoyed the staining a little bit. It was dark inside, so I used my flashlight to provide a little illumination after starting the propane light and finding it functional, but not especially helpful down on the floor. I made use of my new pandora subscription to listen to one of my downloaded stations, which made it more fun. Cailey napped in the front of the lodge.


When that was through, I ran a few errands before dinner, first cutting a length of line from the line that goes around the outhouse to replace the one that I used for a stringer off the front of the kayak Cheech. Then I anchored the outhouse to hopefully prevent it from falling over again using the anchor for the riverboat. I predrilled a hole for a utility hook in the 4x4 along the back, dug the anchor in at the bottom of the hill behind the outhouse, and hooked the chain in. It looked great, though in retrospect I realized that I'll need to raise the hook, as it likely won't do very much good at the very bottom where the outhouse could pivot down from it. Finally, I cooked a bison steak in an Indian simmer sauce and ate it on the porch in the very quiet and still inlet over a bed of leftover yellow rice from last night. Now it's 7:24, the cabin should be warm, and it's rapidly getting dark.


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It's 5:42 and I'm sitting in a warm lodge drinking a large bottle of brut champagne. I can't quite justify it, as I surely cannot finish it before I go and it's unlikely to survive a boat ride home, but still it felt like the right thing to do. I've had it here since July, intending to share it with the ADF&G crew or, in lieu of that, anything that seemed like a cause for celebration. My trip to Sweetheart Creek was probably the best time, but I was preparing to leave the next morning and I'm not sure it crossed my mind. On this trip, nothing has stood out. But, after a morning of mostly leisure and near silence on the river, I realized that tomorrow is the time to head home (weather permitting). So, I'm celebrating the end of a good, long summer. Most of the time it doesn't feel like it's been that long, but when I remember that I was here before the devil's club budded or the bears woke up, it sinks in.


So it is that I've just finished a flurry of closing up chores before I broke for the evening, or for the moment anyway. I'd promised myself a day off to relax and enjoy tea on the porch, and vowed that I would force/let myself do it. The rain had pattered just a little before I got up, but there were patches of blue sky over the river and the day looked remarkably promising--perhaps I would have a day when being on the porch was warm (enough) and pleasant. After what seemed like endless delays, I finally sat out there for breakfast, which was disappointing as I'd forgotten to add sugar to my plain oatmeal and peanut butter, but the nectarine on top was a pleasant chaser. Next on the formal agenda was jasmine tea and reading/bird watching, but first a little necessary chore to get out of the way: coat two of spar urethane on the outhouse doors. With such promising weather, I carried them out and soon had a second coat of paint on, surprised to find the areas that had rot damage on the lodge outhouse door had more absorbed the stain than been protected by it. I sanded both down with fine sandpaper and gave them both a coat, then made myself a mediocre cup of tea. As I was just starting to drink it and looking out at the Ronquil aground on the sandbars, I saw little dancing lights in the tiny puddles on the flats and realized that it was raining. I waited for a minute to see if it might stop, but the drops were coming more consistently onto the porch and so I abandoned my perch and hastily concocted a cover for the doors of visqueen and sawhorses. The rain stopped almost as soon as I was done, and later I uncovered them to hasten their drying.


This was followed by the tea and beginning Uncle Tom's Cabin, part of my effort to fill my gaps in the classics. As usual, I find these "must reads" from Freshman English classes hard to open but immediately engaging. The first cup of tea, being mediocre, was followed by a second cup as I tried to absorb the quiet of the river. This trip has not followed the usual September pattern; my favorite trip of the year, close up is always different. Different wildlife shows up (e.g., weasel, owl, falcon), the flats always have something interesting at low tide (e.g., jellyfish, fresh eagle-caught salmon or, at the very least, salmon carcasses), and mixed flocks of migrants always make an appearance here and there (warblers, Lincoln's sparrows, fox sparrows, song sparrows, golden/white-crowned sparrows), there is always sensually delightful burgundies and yellows in the meadow, and the wonderful sense of closing in of fall. On this trip there has been none of that! Chickadees have come by many times, though I haven't laid eyes on any, hermit thrushes, the occasional sparrow in the meadow, and, today, juncos going back and forth, but none of the others I'm accustomed to. Is fall late, like the salmon were, or are they gone? The flats have been barren of interest and no unusual critters have stopped by with the exception of the orcas (which is more typical of September), the jaeger in Gilbert Bay, and a hawk/falcon of some kind being harassed over the river by the end of a whirling flock of hundreds of gulls. The meadow is primarily still green and though it is quiet, it doesn't quite feel like it's pulling in.


Nevertheless, I am ready for fall, if a little surprised that it's here. I'm exhausted and ready for a rest, but not like I usually am where I lose myself just a little. And much as I enjoyed sitting on the porch this morning, going home tomorrow eventually felt like the right thing to do. Other than the staining, the first little chores I did when I emerged from my throne on the porch was to move the utility hook on the lodge outhouse higher up to prevent it (hopefully) from falling over this winter with its attached anchor. I discovered that there is no central stud in the back wall, so instead of anchoring it off center, I screwed in the hook at the very top. Assuming the dangerous forces come from the same direction, I think it'll do fine. If they come from the other direction, I'll only be helping it fall off its perch and that will not be so easy to fix. Later on, I spied the handheld radio waiting for me in the lodge and realized it was the perfect time to finally put it away in the emergency bag on the boat, since it wasn't raining and the boat was aground. After depositing it, I was moved to go explore the sandbars, heading more into the middle of the river than I did the other day, and Cailey bounded gaily along behind me. I'd donned a base layer shirt this morning to help keep the chill off as I luxuriated on the porch, and this was my first of many experiences in which the most basic activity caused me to overheat! I discovered a brisk little breeze was blowing down the river while I was out there, which was later born out by tiny arcing seas when the tide came in. Not strong, but present, and I wondered what the Taku was like.


The next little thing I did--the sort of small chores that make a big difference in "civilizing" a place, which has been something of a mantra for me this summer--was excavating a little of the lodge outhouse pit wall on the back. Whether it was always like this, or the result of the outhouse not being in quite the same place it used to be in, the back wall of the pit juts out a little just in the place where solid matter descends, whether toilet paper or something else. I grabbed a shovel and made quick work of carving most of it away, including the flat rock that I think had held it in place. Hopefully it will reduce the debris that fails to make it to the bottom. Since I had the shovel in hand, I thought I might tackle another tiny irritation in my day-to-day Snettisham life: the end of the boardwalk, mostly the last and second-to-last boards, slant just a little to the right. It would feel ever so much better if it were level. I grabbed a couple of 2x PT bits, excavated two of the supports on that end, and soon enjoyed wonderful success--it is so much more comfortable walking those (this summer) perpetually slippery boards when I am also not trying to slide off to the side. It worked so well that I made some other minor adjustments to several other spots on the boardwalk, using slim flat rocks in place of 2xs, as they needed less height. My last task before lunch was conceived when I'd closed up Harbor Seal two days ago and noticed that the windows on the front were already covered in salt spray, reminding me how exposed it is to the weather. I already had the large roll of visqueen out on the deck from covering the outhouse doors, so I cut a door-sized section off and screwed it over the door to Harbor Seal, securing the bottom with a boulder. Maybe that will help preserve it during the winter. Before I did that, I doused the front of it with multiple buckets of water, wiped it off, and sprayed its hinges and door knob with WD-40. From there I made the rounds and WD-40'd the rest of them and sprayed some on Mink's artefacts as well.


On and off I think I was on the porch, and eventually I had lunch, delayed somewhat by the tea and graham crackers I'd had after breakfast. At that point I still wasn't sure when I was leaving, but I was beginning to have an inkling it might be tomorrow (weather permitting). I only had one can of refried beans, which means four quesadillas, and this was the third, assuming that I would have a final quesadilla on my final day. The timing of the high tide is perfect--there is not much chance, or at least no reason, to make a morning escape; thus, it will be a liesurely afternoon departure, leaving plenty of time for last minute closing chores, tea, and the final perfect quesadilla.


As it approached 2:00, I decided it was time to finish the beautiful doors, brought to perfection by the addition of the gorgeous signs my mother had surprised me with earlier in the summer after paying attention to a random comment I made about wanting to name the outhouses Schist and Gneiss, the first being a bit of a pun and the second following the theme. But of course, it only made sense to do that after I'd refinished them, which I'd planned to do in situ this summer but was foiled by the weather. Anyway, the stain was dry enough by that time to add the signs, and they looked great. I took pains to center them, but only put one screw in in case they hung differently on the doors and might need to be something other than perfectly aligned with the top. As with every little project before, I got very overheated carrying the heavy doors back to their outhouses. I began with propping them up with boards to hold them in place while I bolted the hinges back in with lag screws, but nothing was the right height, so I wound up supporting both with my booted feet while I screwed them in with a socket as hastily as I could. On Schist (the cabin outhouse) I initially used a level to screw in the sign, but found that the door top was a little catawampus, so returned with a tape measure and did it that way so the sign aligns with the top of the door. Having learned my lesson, I just used the tape on Gneiss and succeeded at first try. They look GORGEOUS. Which is why I did not immediately cover them with tarps, thinking it would be nice to enjoy them a little first. At least one of them. I did quickly decide that, since I was already grumpy, I may as well do the annoying task of getting a tarp over Gneiss Outhouse. The previous tarp had been ripped up while it was on the ground, so I'd brought one of the tarps I'd bought for the Taku cabin to replace it. So it was new, and awkward, and as I went back and forth from back to front trying to evenly get it over the new roof, I finally confessed to myself that I was grumpy. I'd decided by then to leave tomorrow, and there were just so many things to do, after having done so many things already...


But it was time for another break. Despite having promised Cailey a fire soon, I was very overheated, and instead rested on the porch overlooking what had become an utterly serene inlet, the breeze having entirely died as far as I could tell, the sun bright behind a haze of high clouds. Oh, how I longed to go home in such a weather window! One can only hope... But eventually I did get chilled, and the sun was about to disappear, so I came inside, lit a fire, put away the visqueen and the sawhorses on the deck, did the dishes, rinsed out the water filters, and tidied up a little. Now a little stressed about how much I had yet to do, I then headed back outside to nail on the plywood protectors to keep the back porch dry from splatters for the winter, cover Schist Outhouse, sweeping it out before I tied the tarp on to officially close it for the winter (Gneiss remains available to use under its tarp until I leave), then removed the filters from Hermit Thrush, stopping by all the cabins on the way back to search out the missing tinfoil, unsuccessfully. I cleaned those up back at the lodge and found the tinfoil there, hidden on its shelf. Before sitting down to this, I filled a gallon jug with water along with the big soup pot. That means that tomorrow I can pull the olive barrel first thing, put away the lodge filter system, and fill the wood box in the morning. I'll light a fire first thing to warm the lodge so it's as comfortable as possible, warming us when chilled, but eliminate smoke when I remove the smoke stack in the early afternoon. Later, when the last dishes are done, I'll remove most of the water from the grease trap, remove the sink to take back to town, and wrap up the outhouse once I have no more need of it. And, when the weather and tides permit, I will head home with a sublime summer behind me. Probably the word "sublime" is a direct result of feeling a happy little buzz! I am pleasantly inebriated, as one could only hope in this circumstance. It's now 6:40 and past time to start the fire in Hermit Thrush. Perhaps on the way back I'll set up the last motion sensor camera downriver, then come back for dinner and more champagne. Hallelujah to a wonderful summer!


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That night I snuggled in to two more SG-1s in bed with tea. In the morning, I didn't hasten to get up but enjoyed my last morning in the cabin for the season. I then cleaned it up, bagging all the blankets and linens in a garbage bag, and started the morning's chores at 8:20. I estimated it would take me an hour to get the main chores done. After taking a first load of gear to the lodge and getting breakfast, I returned to Hermit Thrush, grabbing the ladder from the outhouse there, which required me to untie both ends of the rope (I'd forgotten that I'd need the ladder for the smoke stack). I unscrewed the strap holding it up, tucked the stack inside, and covered the opening with hardware cloth. Then I resecured the outhouse and headed up to the olive barrel, timing myself up on the new trail, surprised that it took over a minute and a half to hike up. Soon it was over on the left bank as usual and I headed back down, detouring to the lower cabin valve to open it before I remembered that I needed to drain the rest of the hose before I did that or it would come shooting out of the open valves below, already covered in tinfoil. Back at Hermit Thrush, I found Cailey waiting for me (I guess I'd been gone long enough for her to coming looking). There, I opened the hose valve to drain it and headed downhill to Harbor Seal to do the same, waiting there until the last trickle stopped, then covering it with tinfoil and leaving both valves open and did the same back at Hermit Thrush, turning on the bridge camera on the way.


Grabbing the rest of my gear, I locked the cabin and headed back to the lodge where I filled the wood box with wood and set up the final camera while the lodge hose valve drained the rest of the water in the system. I took off those filters before I came inside, cleaned them up, lit a fire, packed, swept, then returned to the cabin valve to open it and made sure the valves were open at both those cabins. It was 9:14 and, after greasing all the o-rings on the filters, I took a break in the clean and warm lodge, drinking one of the best cups of Russian tea I've had in a long time and reading an old National Wildlife magazine on the couch. After that wonderful little break, I headed outside as the morning waned and scooped most of the water out of the grease trap. It was the first time I'd opened it since setting it up and found it full, as it should be, with a half inch thick layer of scum on the top. When I got down to the last few inches at the bottom, which had a lot of particulates it in, I stopped, figuring there was plenty of room for it to expand when it froze, and carried the scum down to the intertidal zone and deposited it in the trickle of a creek, trusting the tide to come in before Cailey found it. While I was there I rotated the anchor to face the mountain thinking that if I kept an eye on it, I might not have to kayak out.


It was lunch time by then, so I ate a last delicious quesadilla on the porch couch and pondered how, for the first time, it felt like fall. The minute I stepped out of Hermit Thrush that morning it had struck me--some change in the smell or the wind or the light had switched gears. It was very still and, not for the first time, I prayed to have a smooth trip home. It had rained on and off all morning, but by the early afternoon it was fairly bright and still not a breath of wind. After lunch I did the final dishes, covered the windows, and began hauling all my gear down to the bottom of the rocky path, creating some anxiety for Cailey who I'd left inside to stay warm until we headed out. The tide had covered the anchor so I moved it up the little channel, bringing the boat close enough in that the anchor was high on the rocky shore and I confidently stowed the kayak under the lodge on one of my return trips. By the end, I was able to leave the anchor above the log near the gear. When that was finished I took down the smoke stack and covered the hole and wrote a few notes on the couch about the day's activities, not really feeling like writing about it at that time. The day was fine, the water positively enticing, and I headed outside for the last time at 1:26 to close down the systems and load the boat. It was then about 25 feet from the log, so I methodically hauled the gear onto it, making it ship shape as I went. We kicked off at 2:00 exactly, as I'd planned, but immediately paused as I puzzled out a strange phenomenon. Although I was confident I was in plenty deep water when I started the engine, plumes of black followed us out as though we'd hit bottom, except that a second and much fainter trail followed out the bow. And they continued when there was no question about water depth. Was I injecting something black into the water? Was the engine leaking, or putting sooty exhaust into the water? It was unnerving, but I could find nothing wrong, so we got up to speed and seemed to leave it behind. I soon saw that it was natural after all--as I sped out the glassy inlet, the water was gray-green with sooty black streaks through it like marbling. Apparently the conditions were right for an odd mixing of waters.


Gilbert Bay was also calm, but I was alarmed by a brisk little sea that followed us out of the port, worried that it was a north wind that would catch up with us in the inlet. So it was with some relief that I found a southerly sea in Stephen's Passage. It followed us all into the channel, mostly one or two feet, sometimes a little stronger, but it was overall one of the nicest trips of the season and it didn't even rain on us! I filled two carts with gear at the harbor, leaving some of it secure on the boat, and the shorter distance to the southern ramp was noticeable as I pushed them up. And before I knew it I was home and somewhat in shock that the summer was (more or less) over.




High fall tide