Snettisham 2021 - 5: Relief
August 21 - 23


Evening on the river

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I was worn out. Back to back trips with guests, both cut short due to weather, had left me unrested. Part of me wished for foul weather over the weekend as an excuse to stay in town, but if I did that, my next trip to Snettisham would most likely be close up in mid to late September and my freezer still had no fish in it. As the weekend approached, fine weather was in the forecast and Ezra was kind enough to speak of my going to Snettisham with enthusiasm on my behalf. It would certainly be good to have a solo trip. I decided to see what Sheep Creek had in store for me on Friday in terms of the potential future of my freezer. Having only visited the LCCC women on Wednesday since the men were unavailable, I only had to work for a couple of hours Friday morning, leaving me free to head to Sheep Creek for the rising tide. I waded out to the spot I seem to often occupy just south of the buoy a little more than an hour before the tide. It was quiet, fish only occasionally breaking the surface and those perhaps pinks, which still swam freely in the green. I saw one person land a coho and a couple of pinks, but otherwise there wasn't much action. And then, out of the blue came a strike and I was surprised to find a fish on the line. When it came close I saw that it was a coho, and although he never went far, he pulled away from shore many times. A kind gentleman next door grabbed his net and eventually landed him, handing me the net afterwards with a huge silver-bright coho inside, his rosy glow a welcome sight. I fished for another hour or so, my only other strike a pink which I released. My big beautiful coho was a wonderful ice breaker into my late and short salmon fishing season, but I wasn't going to come home with the five or six cohos that day which would have suggested that I could meet my needs at Sheep Creek this year. This possibility had crossed my mind, so in addition to throwing in the big cooler (which I could use for putting any potential fish inside anyway), I'd also thrown in four jerry jugs. So on my way home, content, I stopped by Taku Fisheries and filled my cooler with ice for the weekend, placing Henry on top like a prince, then stopped by the gas station to fill the jugs. I stopped by home to change out of my waders and grab the boat house key, then headed to the harbor to deliver everything and prep the boat. Whatever I decided, I would be ready in the morning.

All in all, it felt like the right thing to do. Exhausted from previous ventures and the Fairchild's pleasant visit over the week, I got going at a leisurely pace in the morning, departing under an overcast sky at 9:55. The light and variable winds this time manifested as no seas and I timed each milestone along the route, sticking to around 4500 rpms with the exception of passing a couple of very large wakes. I arrived at the homestead an hour and 40 minutes from the bridge, delighted by the slightly boring, eventless, calm and wonderful ride down. The whole route was still strewn with multitudes of logs as it had been last weekend and the highlight was a pair of murres near Seal Rock transitioning into winter plumage which let me pass quite close without startling. I quickly dropped off Cailey and my minimal gear, anchored, and was ashore with all systems go around noon. It felt great to be back just five days after departing, with just Cailey and I. I ate a quesadilla and sat contentedly on the porch as the clouds began to part and the sun appeared on and off. The bird activity was subtle, but I was especially pleased to find a persistently chipping bird in a fern clump which turned out to be a pale Lincoln's sparrow. But mostly I read, perfectly comfortable wrapped in my quilt, and began to get drowsy. Cailey was down on the lower deck in the sun where I'd thrown her bed to her, but her blanket was nearby where she'd dropped it after getting up earlier. I appropriated it for a pillow and laid down on the couch in extreme comfort and dozed for an hour or so. It wasn't a deep sleep, as a breeze picked up and periodically banged the shutter nearby which, along with Cailey's toenails on the deck and various other sounds woke me frequently, but I did manage to nap a little. The sun was hot on my face whenever it peered out from the clouds and I was blissed out.

I got up shortly before 3:00 and packed, putting Cailey away in Hermit Thrush without objection before kayaking out to the boat at 3:30. I zoomed over to Sweetheart, very pleased to find that the two boats I'd seen when I arrived were gone along with any others I couldn't spot from a distance, and I'd have the creek to myself. Sometimes I am anxious about fishing there alone, but this time I felt very confident, I felt like I was meant to be there that afternoon and hoped that this wouldn't be overconfidence that ended in unexpected disaster. When I was about to get in the kayak I realized that I'd forgotten a key part of my gear--the dry bag backpack in which I pack out the fish. I didn't think I'd be able to fit 10 fish (if I was lucky enough to catch them) in the small day pack I'd brought, so I emptied the boat's emergency dry bag on one of Cailey's blankets and brought it along just in case. I'd work something out. The tide was dropping, so pulled the kayak only a short distance up and tied it to a clump of sedge, then headed to the creek, talking to the bears and even taking some pictures which I rarely feel bold and free enough to do. I was ascending the fishing point when I was surprised to find myself facing a bear on the opposite side, who looked equally surprised, so I quickly detoured up the slope from a slightly different angle so it didn't look like I was walked straight for her. When I passed over the top of the hump to the point, I saw another bear standing on the rock in the little crevasse between my point and the falls above it who was fishing; the other bear I'd seen was just inside the woods nearby.

I found the point and the pools in good fishing shape, perfect conditions really, much like they were when I was there last year and down considerably from Monday. The two and a half days of very little rain had done the trick. As I unloaded and got ready to fish, I found that there were actually four bears upstream including two yearling cubbies who wandered from the top of the falls (strewn with fish parts), down the side of them and right past the bear on the rock. So close I wondered if that was their mother, but they lingered there just a few minutes before joining the smaller adult at the very end of the crevasse. Surprised by how comfortable the cubs were with another adult bear--and how comfortable their mother was with them being near another bear--I wondered if these two sows were related. I know that black bear sows will share their territory with their female cubs; perhaps these bears knew each other. I snapped a few pictures on the way in and between casts, which I almost never do, a good indication of just how comfortable I was with the operation. Overall, the fishing was excellent, much like last year but with a few extra pinks. Amazed by how short my casting distance was, but overall not unhappy with the shape of the casts, I think I caught fish on every cast. A single sockeye in each of the first two casts along with a couple pinks and perhaps a jack, then a pink, then a good cast which brought in four sockeyes. Suddenly I was up to six sockeyes and the bleeding crack was already overflowing, and the bears were all gone. As usual, the net was extremely tangly and it took a lot of effort and time to release the pinks and jacks. All fish swam away, but they endured a lot as I untwisted the net and shook them out. I caught a couple more sockeyes, most fairly small, and started releasing some of the ones in the net on a whim. In one cast I caught two or three sockeyes and only kept one, in another I kept one I think and released one. When I had nine fish in the crack, I released a net with three adult sockeyes, a jack, and a pink (or something like that) inside. They were fairly small and....I guess I wanted to keep fishing. But it was so hard to get them out of that tangly net that I decided I shouldn't fool around and torture more fish, and decided I'd keep the next full-sized sockeye that graced my net. The next cast brought in a single beautiful sockeye and my fishing was done. Interestingly, this fish had two sea lice on it, something I don't remember ever seeing at Sweetheart. I guess she was fresh from the sea. I'd started fishing around 4:00 and it was then 4:40.

Taking my time, I rinsed the fish out in the creek since the crack was well over capacity and full of blood, clipped their tails, and packed up. I put everything I'd brought other than my net and the first aid kit in the front pocket of my day pack, then used the garbage bad I'd brought for the wet net in the main compartment of the bag and packed it with five sockeye, heads down. That was all that would fit, so I put the net, the rest of the fish, the stringer, and first aid kit in the dry bag and folded it up. The pack felt great on my back, but the dry bag was a great burden. I lugged the two bags up the cliff one at a time and then slowly made my way back down the creek, sometimes alternating hands carrying the bag (the other hand carrying the mace), sometimes dragging it across level ground, sometimes carrying it with both hands. It was hard and sweaty work and my neck ached from the unbalanced strain. It took 20 minutes to reach the shore where I rested a moment before lugging everything down to the kayak and from there dragging the kayak down to the water's edge, now some distance away across an expanse of rocks and rockweed. One boat was at anchor on an utterly calm and gorgeous Gilbert Bay, as it so often is when I emerge from the woods. With much relief, I sat down in the kayak and floated a moment before paddling leisurely out to the boat trying to outrun the white socks flies (or similar creatures). I thought about running away from them to process the fish, but elected to deet up and stay there instead. I first cleaned the five fish from the day pack on my bath mat on the back bench, icing them in the smaller cooler, then did the same for the other five, pleased to find them still cold within the dry bag. Eight of the ten fish were females. I packed one more fish in the small cooler and the other four in the larger one with enough ice left over for another five or six fish I think. Then I rinsed everything off and repacked, getting underway not quite an hour after I'd hit the beach, and extremely pleased with the day. By that time there were two more small boats and a Coast Guard cutter at anchor and I realized that my prediction to the bears that I would be one of the last people to bother them was perhaps premature.

Looking forward to releasing Cailey and having a celebratory dinner with the relief of knowing I'd have fish in the freezer, I sped away, only to glance to the left as I passed the cutter to see a large male orca disappearing under the green sea. Oh! I stopped and turned, which caused the kayak to slide off the back, and puttered back toward the beach in the direction he'd been going. It took him about five minutes to reappear, right between me and the cutter. He had a large fin with a wide base and a clean saddle patch. I wished again that I'd remembered to bring my good camera, though I realized I wouldn't have brought it on this expedition anyway. The orca took a number of breaths and disappeared again. I continued trying to pace it, acutely aware of the Coast Guard folks also watching for him in my direction along with the other three boats in the area. This time he came up between me and the beach, heading toward the south shore of Gilbert Bay and his fin looked quite wavy from that angle. Though I longed to spend more time with him, I let him be, perhaps hunting seals at the outlet of the creek. I had scanned the glossy water and listened for other blows, but found no other orcas then or on the way back. I certainly could have missed them, but this may have been a lone orca, or one of a small group of transients spread out.

I picked up the kayak on the way back and sped for home, passing a marbled murrelet and a gull, both with large silver fish in their beaks. As I turned into the river, I was still in the sunshine but noting the shadow spread across the inlet where I was headed. Although I'd noted how low the tide was on the opposite shore, it took me by surprise when I spotted the edge of the cut bank in front of the lodge and it wasn't until I watched two creatures swimming just under the water's surface (which turned out to be seals that I'd startled) that I realized I needed to slow down. Indeed, quite far from the nearest flats, we were touching bottom and soon were unable to use power at all. I was in the middle of the river on a falling tide. It was a long way to paddle, but I set to it because I'd really wanted the boat to go aground within reach of the homestead in the morning so I could drain it. When we'd halved the distance, the watered deepened and I was able to putter up along the cut bank until it ended, setting the anchor in the mud and carrying only my little pack to shore. It was 7:00. Cailey was freed, I cleaned up and changed clothes, and soon ate chili and toast and a freshet-cooled beer. My internet connection wasn't up for streaming TNG, so I watched an Eons episode and wrote a few emails with my good news. I was in bed and reading at 9:00 as the cabin very rapidly warmed up, along with my tea water, to a blazing diesel fire. For the first time, I actually turned it down! I'd found the cabin musty again when I'd opened it, but Cailey's presence apparently ameliorated the smell, and it was pleasant enough when we arrived.

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Other than a long wakeful period around 1:00 during which I finally relented and read for a time, I slept well, and slept in a little. Cailey had initially awakened me in the night when going for a drink of water and I was surprised to find the cabin somewhat lit by a full moon over the mountains, accompanied by what must be a nearby planet. Tonight I plan to linger on the deck to watch the night sky before the moon comes up.

It was a little past a -2.4 tide when we got up and the day was bright and fine, and I felt wonderful. I had a quick breakfast and then Cailey and I went for a lingering COASST walk, first stopping by the boat to pull the plug and let it drain and loosen up the gas cans for the predicted heat. On the way, I noted that the large log which yesterday was on the top of the usual log at the end of the rocky path had floated several feet farther up the bank. I think it's the same log that was just upriver last weekend. The boat was sticking off the end of the cut bank, so I pulled the anchor as far in as I could to take up the slack, hoping it was rest a little more easily tomorrow morning. We walked along the eroding cut bank, now with rippled sand and mud below it, and gazed at the new eagle nest which I'd spotted last weekend in precisely the same place that it was before. It'll be interesting to watch it change over the years now from this fresh start. We didn't find anything of particular interest upriver, but the walking, barefoot, was very pleasant. A spotted sandpiper visited us at the turnaround point. I'd started in only a t-shirt, but quickly put my hoody back on for the brisk wind coming down the river. I was very glad not to be returning today! When we got back, I made an effort to clip some spruce branches that were creeping up on the satellite dish from the step ladder, but didn't have as much success as I'd hoped. I made a cup of jasmine tea and had perhaps the most blissful morning of the summer--back on the porch, shaded by the spruce boughs, my feet just slightly chilly from the walk while the meadow before me heated up. A hermit thrush flew by and a chickadee lingered, singing a charming little song I'd not heard/noticed before, which was repeated with another pass that afternoon.

I read and enjoyed myself until lunch, then eventually launched into what I hoped would be a pleasant, satisfying task: building the new 2-wheel cart. I brought everything onto the deck and quickly found the directions obtuse--much worse than the water-damaged and ripped version of my mother's that I used to put hers together last summer. The biggest challenge was that there were three or four sizes of bolts, but they were not identifiable by their descriptions. I eventually just guessed which I needed, but the whole thing was difficult as I tried to hold pieces together while starting nuts. The first step was to put the tires on, which meant the whole thing was rolling around and...well, suffice to say, it was a struggle. And it was extremely hot out there in the sun, so I wound up shirtless and still sockless and sweltering unpleasantly. After an hour and a half, I took a break, came inside and had a snack, in a much less pleasant mood. But it was cold inside, and I returned to the porch and sat in a camp chair in the corner by the stairs which was the only place in the shade. A stiff, periodic breeze apparently coming in from Gilbert Bay cooled me right down and, from that vantage point, I had a much better look at the birds within the berry bushes downriver. Every time I heard a chit or saw a flutter, I looked for them among the leaves and was rewarded with quite a lot of activity: first, a YOY Wilson's warbler, a gorgeous yellow bird, perched at the edge of the bushes, then a YOY (or perhaps scruffy adult) hermit thrush in the bushes perched a couple of feet from a YOY (or otherwise very scruffy and mottled) wren. Later, another Wilson's warbler inside the bushes along with an orange-crowned warbler. Wonderful early fall birding.

I eventually recovered enough to continue work on the cart, finishing the initial build and then rolling it off the deck and into the shade upriver to trouble shoot an oversight away from the sun. I'd neglected to put bolts through four holes in the bottoms of the side walls connecting two pieces, but could not fit them through the holes now. One side was easily fixed by loosening the four bolts holding it in place and shifting it, but the other took considerably more work. Overall, the cart does not fit together as well as it might, whether the manufacture's fault or mine I don't know. I'd already had to loosen the side walls to get the end wall to slide into place. So its done, though it's missing one bolt due in part to my inability to line up its three holes and partly because one nut was lost through the deck earlier. I think it'll work--that is, in theory, if not in practice. I took it for a run down the rocky path, but I don't think it'll work well with a load on the current substrate. Oh well. The path really needs some serious, back-breaking work, and perhaps the cart will help ferry rocks its way.

Weary of the heat, Cailey retreated inside and here I am on the couch with the inverter running, for I'd neglected to recharge my spare laptop battery during my four day sojourn in Juneau. It's 5:30 and the sun has gone behind the mountain as I type, even the Ronquil in shadow now.

I had my typical simple dinner of Indian food and toast for dinner with another tiny bottle of wine. I was troubled to see that the Ronquil was once again hanging off the side of the old cut bank, its stern in a pool of water at the bottom, although I'd moved the anchor farther inland that morning in the hopes that it would avoid that transitional spot. I walked down to check on it and repositioned the anchor once again, praying that the stern would not get stuck as the tide came in. There was not a cloud in the sky and the evening was fine, surprisingly warm in fact, and despite my exhaustion and sleepiness, I vowed to stay up as dusk came on rather than cozying into my cabin in the hopes of seeing stars and experiencing that magical time when the evening takes over and the nocturnal animals begin to emerge. It was still August, though, and a clear night, and dusk was a long time coming. I left Cailey in the relative warmth of the lodge and snuggled under my quilt on the front deck, kept company on and off by a charming hermit thrush who repeatedly hopped around the lower deck, pecking at insects apparently resting on its surface. Were the insects gathering there at dusk, or was the hermit thrush bolder just before bed? Well after he ceased to appear and darkness was taking over, I saw small bird shoot up at a 45 degree angle (or so it seemed) from the meadow up into the forest. It was well past normal movement time for a typical song bird and the flight pattern was odd, and silent, so when a bat made a pass shortly thereafter, I figured it must have been a first glimpse of him. Have I ever seen a bat in August? I associate them with September, but the truth is that I am rarely outside at dark early in the summer. Perhaps they are there more often than I realize! I saw this bat pass by several times, once zooming right past the upper deck, but he did not spend long directly in front.

When the sky was still a deepening violet color, a bird flew past flying downriver. It was only a silhouette, but the wings and flight pattern were distinct and unusual: the wings looked rounded and wingbeats were consistent with no gliding. And silent. I think it was an owl, and it disappeared around the trees below the eagle's nest. I played the calls of a barred owl just in case that would elicit a response, but likely he was too far away to hear in the unlikely chance that he would have reacted. Later still, there was a bit of a crash and a scramble on the back porch, but I never saw the culprit. Eventually, the first star twinkled into sight high above me, then a neighbor, and slowly more came out, first a hint quickly lost, then found again with more concentration, then a stable light. Still, the dark was slow in coming and no planets were coming out, and I eventually coaxed Cailey off the couch and to the cabin where we had a good night's sleep.

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As I laid in bed that night, it dawned on me that the weather was fine and I'd completely forgotten that I still had staining on the lodge to do. I had so enjoyed not having any big tasks before me, I hated to sully that with a big push on the day I was going to leave, so I didn't commit myself to it, while keeping the option open. Naturally, after breakfast and checking on the boat (sitting nicely on the flat mud this time), I got to it, starting with the river side of the downriver wall. It went fairly well, doing the ladder work first and following the siding down every time I had to move, then backtracking to the sections below the windows. It was so pleasant, the temperature perfect in my thin hoody in the shade, and I quite enjoyed myself. And it went quickly, so to my surprise I turned the corner and got going on the back wall too, first treating the large lower section on the downriver end which was in the worst shape, then working above the bear proof box and finally finishing by the ladder. I had just enough in the new can of stain I'd opened to finish the job, plus a few brushfulls. I'd been worried about having enough to finish, but I later found a whole extra can unopened in the shed.

The whole process took three and a half hours. I then had lunch, unnecessarily surprised to find the sunlit porch unbearably hot, before cleaning the lodge and packing up. I wasn't too disappointed to have lost a leisurely morning, having accomplished a project that is both important for lodge maintenance and one that I'd started over a year ago and had not yet had an opportunity to complete. September close up could bring more clear days, but they might have been a bit cool for staining. It was good to have it done.

With great joy at my perfect weekend at Snettisham, feeling again like a part of the place and content until close up, I fetched the boat with Cailey in the kayak, put our small load on board, and off we went at 2:30. I'd been quite alarmed for most of the morning as the bushes were waving in a brisk breeze, so was hugely relieved to find the inlet calm as the tide came in. The day before had had a stiff breeze coming down the Whiting and I was afraid it would be repeated, despite the forecast, and trouble me out of the Taku. There was a bit of a westerly within the port, but to my great relief, we had a following sea all the way up Stephen's Passage and into the channel. I stopped and cast at Sheep Creek for 20 minutes, but the current kept pulling us out from shore and by then I was wearing out, so we headed in. Ezra met us and helped haul the coolers and other gear up. After dinner, I processed sockeyes, my ten fish yielding almost 29 pounds of portions, about $500 worth if purchased at Costco. Not that it's about saving money. The satisfaction and relief of having a substantial amount of fish in the freezer, with the possibility of more cohos ahead if I am lucky, was an enormous reward.

I paddle my catch to the Ronquil