Taku 2020 - 2: October in July
July 23 - 25


Cottograss meadows

Photo Album

As predicted, heavy rain fell this morning, which did nothing to ameliorate my general pre-trip anxiety. I had a teleconference in the morning and the tide wasn't until 4:30, so I wound up working until 2:00, running errands at lunch to, among other things, update my harbor parking permit. By then not only had the rain lifted, but the sun had inexplicably come out, met unexpectedly by a very brisk breeze up the channel that promised chop all the way down and who knows what beyond. But I won't say that the sunshine while loading the boat and the prospect of leaving under sunny skies was not welcome. Although I had to run back home for my backpack, I still managed to depart right on scheduled around 2:30 (and Ezra even bailed the boat while I was gone). The chop up the channel was the kind that we could take comfortably at speed and Cailey didn't get up, although she did raise her chin above the floorboards for much of it. Around the corner we rolled in the trough of two foot seas and then put it all behind us around Bishop, which saw the largest seas as usual. The seas picked up again in the river which saw two foot seas all the way to Taku Point. I slowed down not just to avoid going aground (though with a 17' tide that seemed less likely) but because the seas were so large I was forced to, or crash strangely through them. I suppose it was a combination of wind and tide fighting against the current. A jet skiier group was on the beach in front of the Forest Service cabin and another on the isolated rock just before the curve above the point. I had hoped that I would encounter other boats using the tide who knew the channels around the shoals, but none had showed up and none did until I was already at the cabin. Without that, I did my best to estimate where the mid-river deep channel was, turning shortly after the large avalanche chute. There wasn't much to go on, but I was reasonably confident with the tide and kept us just up on step most of the way, slowing down in places that suggested shoals. I turned into the slough as I've seen the other boats do and soon enough was passing the old landing. With a month and a half of summer erosion, the vertical cliffs now had small sandy benches at the bottom of them (possibly at the expense of the integrity of the slope), but I still returned to the first landing in part because I had a larger load than usual and didn't relish the idea of carrying it all from the old landing.


It took me 35 minutes from nosing into shore until everything was off and the boat was anchored. The water was higher this time and the inner log farther from shore, but there was a submerged bench to stand on about 18" wide fronted by a small dead tree that was sturdy enough to stand on. I tied off the boat, hauled a few things up the slope, then returned to the boat to stage almost everything else on the bow, fill the fuel tank, and tie off the stern line to the rail. Then I alternated between beach and boat, hauling things up the slope. The sand and clippings had stair steps of a sort in it, which made carrying and tossing things up easier than last time, and I didn't wind up anchoring the rope ladder I'd brought as I'd intended. But there was no easy egress for Cailey, as the boat could not get closer than about five feet from the bank, which did not make for an enticing landing. I ran down to the other landing and picked up a piece of plywood that I thought might bridge the gap, but it was much too small. I laid it down at the base of the bank, but Cailey wound up making a heroic leap onto the bottom of the slope and scrambled up. At half an hour past high tide I had to run the engine in reverse when anchoring to get us back downriver. Naturally the generously long stern line had gotten caught under the outside log tied to shore and it took some finagling and maneuvering to free it. Finally I was back on shore, the boat was anchored, and I retied the stern line so it wouldn't get lost in the logs and debris.


When I approached the cabin, I saw the first signs of the bear rampage. The ladders and airplane propeller blade on the porch were knocked over, and the hummingbird feeder had been knocked down and broken. Around the corner, I saw that the propane tank was out of place and, when I turned it on, I heard hissing gas and saw that the old kink had finally broken. The back porch itself looked very tidy except for a few small items that had been knocked over, but the bear had destroyed the top of the olive barrel catchment and rolled all four water tubs to the ground around it (undamaged as far as I can tell so far). Thankfully, the barrel has some water it in, as there is very little left here other than what is in the three small jugs on the counter (and the emergency water in my boat).


I brought two more loads up and then unpacked a little. I was warm and the cabin was warm, but after a little mulling over I decided to light a fire to both heat up dinner and have some hot(ish) water for washing up later. I was beginning to feel hungry. I poured an Indian lentil dish into a pot and placed it on the stove along with the wash water and lit the fire, then headed out onto the porch to drink a small bottle of wine in the sunshine while gazing out to the river. It was amazingly quiet; there were times when the only sound I could hear was the waterfalls in the distance. I robin chuckled, a couple of kingfishers chattered, and a few boats passed by, but little else. Some chittering alerted me to a bird up in a spruce who turned out to be a sold lemon yellow warbler. What a beautiful place, and I wished my mother could be here to enjoy the quiet. At some point I checked on the fire and put a tortilla on a sheet of tinfoil (newly arrived) on the stove to add to dinner, thinking that instead of quesadillas for lunch I'll eat the keiser rolls I'd intended for dinner. When I finished the wine, and the sun was about to nip behind the spruces, I came in and relished my supper.


And then I tried to make my bed. I'd brought my comforter cover and pillow cases to town last time to wash, leaving the actual comforter behind. But now, after three thorough checks, I've not found it. My feather bed is there, but no comforter. Where on earth could it be? I'm positive I did not bring it to town, but it is nowhere to be found in this cabin. Could someone have stolen it? I found a crow bar on the floor inside the door just in front of the wood box that I did not remember anything about, and couldn't imagine having left there. But nothing else seemed disturbed other than a few things on the floor by the fridge (a small tub of insect bite relief and a packet of sauce that had been on top). I attributed those to the mattresses upstairs having fallen over again, which seemed like an expected thing to happen, but now I'm wondering it they were knocked over as someone was searching for....a very old, thin comforter? Surely not. The shed door looked closed at a glance, but I've not been down there. I think I'll head out now and salvage the water from the olive barrel and check on everything.


I nearly filled two of the white jugs with water, now safely tucked inside from future bear attacks. The remainder, which got a bit of debris in it while I was seeing if I could get the dregs to come out of the faucet (I couldn't--no water came out and I didn't work too hard at it as it is loose and appears to no longer screw into the barrel), I scooped into the remaining jug that still had its lid on when I arrived. I decided the other needed to be washed out before I wanted to drink anything out of it. Anyway, when I went to carry it to the porch I found that it had a leak in the bottom so I set it on the edge of the porch and let it drain into the other jug. Perhaps we'll be grateful for a little wash water later. There are bite marks on the top too. I then managed to rebend and put back together the pieces of the water catchment and balanced it on the barrel--not perfect by any means, but it might catch water until the next naughty bear comes by. The biggest problem is that the catchment was separated at the seam, so a significant amount of the water was going to drain out. I used the mallet I brought to drive the filter insert into the middle.


By the time I was done and had made the rounds it was about 8:00 and I was completely beat, so much so that I just laid on the couch with my eyes closed for about half an hour; after that I read for half an hour before dragging myself upstairs where I slept on the main bed in my comforter cover and under a strange comforter. Cailey snuggled with me all night, so aggressively that I had to push her away a couple of times so she didn't inch me off the bed. I didn't read for long before falling asleep, which is probably why I was up earlier than I usually am on a weekend. I had instant oatmeal for breakfast with a little cold water and a scoop of peanut butter. It was flavored oatmeal and the peanut butter was the sweetened kind, so it was like eating candy. I finished with a banana, packed a backpack with SPOT, a snack, my leatherman, a hat, and two cameras, suited up in rain gear, checked the boat, and headed back to the canoe with the camera stand in hand. It was still so quiet I felt like it was fall, October. I am now wondering if the feeling of fall in these wilderness places is less a matter of the time of year and more a matter of the absence of the bulk of humanity that visits it? I did get distracted as I entered the meadow, though, by aggressively tweeting birds in the spruces near the copse. In stark contrast to the quiet, I had to investigate. Their calls sounded like golden-crowned kinglets, but when I finally had a good look at them they turned out to be a family of ruby-crowned kinglets both by sight and by the alarm call that one of them was throwing up. A jay also scolded me and a fledgling varied thrush was there with her mom. I picked up the nearby camera card and made my way to the meadow, figuring that any wildlife would have heard the alarms and disappeared. Indeed, in the quiet of the morning (it was not much after 8:00) I saw nothing as I glassed all around me. So we trooped on toward the canoe as I mused about how the meadow seemed all the world as if it had been abandoned. As if nothing was around, no life, nothing going on. Dead. It reminded me of one effort in Mongolia when I finally had a morning to bird watch and suddenly found very little to see. It was such a stark contrast to the cacophony of birds and insects I'd encountered on my last trip here, but it is only six weeks later, and I knew that it was an illusion; life continued, unseen and unheard, all around us.


I found the paddle where expected and we launched the canoe onto a glassy, quiet slough. The day was low overcast, cozy and calm. I looked toward the beaver lodge on the other side of the island in front of the avalanche and saw some potential for a camera, but moved on in case something better came up. Three goldeneyes on the right side of Yellowthroat Island made me decide to take the other side so as not to bother them, but then a young green-winged teal burst out of the sedge where she'd been hiding on the left and landed in front of us peeping in a most terrified manner. Soon three goldeneyes flew overhead, so I took the right passage and left the teal alone. An alder flycatcher was calling regularly in that area along with a Lincoln's sparrow making abbreviated songs.


After the slough turned toward the mountain, swallows suddenly dove all over the slough--both barn swallows and either violet-green or tree swallows--and there was much tittering in the willows nearby. Parent barn swallows fed fledglings in mid-air, something I'd only noted in violet-green before. I finally trained my binoculars on a perched swallow and found a whole clan of swallows! I counted at least 11 in one clump, all barn swallows with various shades of color. I wished I could entice them to the cabin! As we passed, a loud cheep caused the whole flock to take flight and a swarm passed over us. A song sparrow also sang several times from the same area.


We picked a willow with some dead branches to tie the canoe to and headed downriver along the mountain for a stroll, pleased with the beauty of the morning. When we returned to the canoe, I decided to just turn the corner at the mountain before heading back, where we found an active beaver lodge. Just as we left, the mist began to fall. We paddled back past the song sparrows, Lincoln's sparrows, alder flycatcher, and green-winged teal (and a small hornet's nest hanging over the slough on a slender branch). About half way up the channel heading toward Big Bend, a ripple in the water ahead caught my eye and, perhaps for the first time in the slough, I had a clear look at a beaver swimming, head and body. I couldn't believe it! He swam into a little side slough, then back out and across the slough before finally slapping his tail and disappearing. What an amazing morning!!


On the way back we picked up the camera from the glen, finding the batteries dead, and made our way back to the lodge, rather wet and, in Cailey's case, also muddy from the little slough crossing on the way back. Before I went inside I unscrewed the door to the shed and grabbed a screwdriver and some sockets in preparation for working on the chain saw as well as a short length of wire I thought I might use to reconnect the two ends of the water catchment. There were sets of holes that lined up on the two sides, so I drilled a second set of holes nearby so I could loop the wire through both of them and secure the two sides by twisting the ends together. There's still a slight gap at the bottom, but nearly all the water will now drain into the barrel. I had already heard it dripping into the barrel with the fresh rain. I wiped off the muddy water where I'd been working and left it to fill.


Inside I changed into dry pants, hung everything wet over the fire, and, to my surprise, lit a fire. I was chilled, Cailey was soaked, and I thought some heat would make a very welcome addition to some time inside. I ate a sesame bun cheese sandwich and some dried mangos while copying videos to my laptop, indulging viewing a few of them along the way. I ate some chips, read a few pages, and then fell into a very lovely nap for an hour until Cailey got thirsty and woke me up with loud lapping. It was good timing, though, and I felt wonderful, remaining on the couch for another luxurious half an hour. Then I got up, thinking we'd take a leisurely walk upriver on the trail and cut back the last few patches of alders in the meadow at the edge of the property. Suited up again in now-dry rain gear, we headed out, stopping by the tree I'd like to buck up on the way. The forest there is so easy to walk through that, instead of returning to the trail, I kept walking through that area, winding up on a very clear game trail. Eventually it left the large spruces and opened onto a sweet gale slough. I didn't know how far I'd gone and followed a channel to the left to see if it would meet up with the trail, but gave up when I hit impenetrable willows and spruces. It was hard walking, but we stayed along the slough, skirting on dry ground when we could, getting wetter and wetter. We soon found ourselves in a beautiful highlands area, one of them covered in strawberries trying to put on berries. I'm sure some of the side sloughs would have taken me to the trail, but not wanting to risk it, I kept on until I was at the property boundary and then cut in, finding myself at the meadow in question. I again heared sooty grouse hooting, as I had when I first arrived.


To Cailey's chagrin, I started cutting alders...and cutting and cutting. It's never as simple as "those two clumps". There's always more behind them, or once they're cut, you have to cut that other one too, and then there's the ones that sort of overhang the trail (that I don't want there to be in that meadow anyway) and after I cut those, there's the spruces reaching out... Anyway, I cut a bunch of alders, pulled up the spruces under them, and laboriously drug everything into the woods. It looks good, though. I also walked to the end of the 4-wheeler trail to check on the status of the signage and what I need to fix them. On the way back, Cailey ecstatic at the return, I trimmed the last portion of the trail that I'd left the last time and, to her irritation I'm sure, a bunch of overhanging alders probably brought down by all the rain. I also carefully cut up some willows and alders growing in the middle of the path near the blueberries. It was a pleasure to walk down Spruce Alley. I was not too pleased to see how well tread the trail is near the property boundary and in the woods, especially through the blueberries, though I don't know for sure it is human traffic. Tempting Cailey's wrath, I also stopped to dig up two dangerous stumps in the woods past Debbie's Meadow that required cutting through underground roots and prying them up. There are plenty left, but I am picking away at them.


Inside I changed clothes again, shirt too, fed Cailey, and when I realized that I was probably hungry, lit a fire for supper. I think it's about time to check on it.


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I watched an episode of The Deuce after dinner and read a little. At 8:00 I went upstairs to get something and let some heat up and Cailey followed me...and didn't come down. I heard her hop on the bed from my seat downstairs. On a trip outside, I noticed again that the water catchment dish looked off center; I was sure it had been draining water into the barrel earlier, but it didn't seem possible that it still was. I went to check on it and, sure enough, the center of the dish had become unscrewed from the top of the barrel. I tried and tried to make them connect with the plastic support my mom had added between the two to help keep the dish from being bent down, but it had been warped by the bear attack. I finally removed it and later added two sticks of firewood to support it; it now looks perfectly positioned to catch this rain that's falling.


I slept poorly, or rather, I was up for a few hours in the middle of the night with an inexplicably itchy left arm; it had been covered since I got here, so I wonder if I got into something poisonous back home. I slathered it in campho phenique but even that didn't help; the warmth in the covers exacerbated it, but it was too chilly to sleep if I left my arm out of the covers. Eventually the burning itch diminished and I was able to sleep. So I slept later, until almost nine, and then felt no inspiration to go out into the on and off rain to work, so I laid on the couch and read while Cailey curled up at my feet. Around 10:30 I finally got going, starting with the dreaded assignment: changing the chain on the chain saw. This actually went pretty well, and the sockets I'd brought up before actually worked once I figured out how to exchange the heads on the wrench (just, er, pulling them off forcefully). With that ready, I filled the saw with fuel and chain lubrication and, brilliantly, it started right up. First I headed down toward the water and cut the top off the spruce I'd cut there about 30" inches off the ground. I meant to cut it all the way down, but it occurred to me that it might make a nice little stand for something later, so I just trimmed the top off to make it more or less level. Then, leaving Cailey inside, I headed upriver to the fallen tree with SPOT in my pocket, chaps on my legs, and gloves on my hands. The project went very well and I soon had the log all bucked up and a bonus round cut off the nearby tree I'd cut with Rich last year.


Back at the cabin I went to try to get the 4-wheeler running, which required the removal of the two pieces of plywood blocking it in. But, it looks like the battery is dead again, so nothing happened when I turned the key. What I did find, though, was very strange. The lid was off the main generator in front of the 4-wheeler and there was a wide gap in that corner where it looked like plywood or another covering was gone. I walked around the back to check it out more closely and found the lid lying on the ground behind the building. There were indeed some pieces of plywood on the ground at the gap. Is that what the crowbar had been for? Why was the lid off? Very strange. I didn't see how the plywood would fit, so left it leaning there and put the lid back on the generator.
And then I finally used my bike, riding down to the little cabin to check on it, as I hadn't done that yet this year. I was relieved to find the neglected trail downriver from my boat was in pretty good shape and wouldn't take much trimming and mowing to make it very pleasant. But I didn't make it all the way to the cabin! I found, to my surprise and, a moment later, delight, a large tree that had fallen parallel to the road, crossing it at the tip. It was just adjacent to the landing, right there on the trail. What luck! It's quite a large tree, maybe two feet in diameter at the base, which is about seven feet in the air. Firewood problem solved. The little cabin seemed to be where we left it, the tarp off the wall but among the holes at the bottom. The inside looked good. And then I turned around and went upriver on my first longer bike ride. It took me about 9 minutes to ride to the property line where I screwed the no hunting sign back on and drove the stake back upright as well as I could. There were several places where I did have to dismount or at least stop momentarily, but mostly I was able to ride with no issues. It was more work than I expected, but the flat open places were very pleasant to ride. On the way back, I stacked the newly cut rounds under a neighboring tree, having found no tarp to protect them, noting on the way that the top of the huge dead wolf tree had snapped off, providing more potential firewood. I was so hot when I got back that I worked in a t-shirt for a while to do odds and ends including moving the key to a new location. Or maybe I did that earlier, but anyway, it was moved and hopefully the camera will catch any would-be intruders.


When I came inside and looked down to see the wet knees in the pants I was about to take off, I decided to do the last outside project right then rather than risk having to change pants yet again for the ride home: I went out to set the cameras. Both were a little wonky. The one in the copse came up with the typical word "Waiting" when I turned it on (without the dots) but it never changed, not even when I turned it off. I finally popped the batteries out and it worked normally then, but unfortunately it says it only has 53% batteries which means it will probably die soon. In the glen, I changed the batteries, but the battery box would no longer latch in place. I moved the camera onto a branch to hold it in place and strapped it on snugly. Both Cailey and I were very happy to get back to the cabin where I changed, lit a fire to dry us out and make tea (I figured I had earned it for bucking up enough wood for several such fires today) and had lunch. It was 2:00. While the tea water slowly slowly heated, I cleaned the cabin and packed and filled out the cabin log, so when I finally did sit down, all my inside chores were done, the cabin was clean, and I was able to sit contentedly and gaze out the window with my Russian tea. There is something just so civilized about hot drinks, especially inside in rainy weather! That may have been my favorite part of the day. Yesterday I'd offered Cailey a large dog bed in front of the fire, which she used only to lean her head against at the time. While cleaning I tossed it onto the stairs landing to take back upstairs, but Cailey immediately adopted it and is snoozing contentedly there now. I'll have to remember that! Now it's 4:37 and time to head out. What a nice stay and a lovely place.


A modest addition to firewood