Taku 2021 - 3: Making Progress
July 15 - 18


Sunset and moon over the river

Photo Album

Our pilot, new to the area, landed a little downriver of the usual spot, which put us on an incline, to the advantage of the dogs hopping out of the helicopter. Eric was new to the area and hadn't flown us before. He was initially unsure about taking Cailey in the front, but when I told him that's what we usually did, he agreed, and Cailey was PERFECT, sitting in her little nook between my legs and behaving exemplary. She laid down once and Eric said, "Now that's cute" which is, of course, music to my ears. It was a beautiful morning and we flew over the top. I helped hand the dogs down and, though Jenny wound up on her side, it was a soft landing and she was none the worse for wear. Poor Eric had been growled at when he lifted Jenny up.

And so we arrived in the early afternoon, my mom's first trip since breaking her leg a month and a half ago (hence the helicopter). I carried our minimal gear to the cabin, opened up, lit the pilots, unpacked, and made quesadillas for lunch, which we ate with ice cold bears on the porch swing, deeted and with a mosquito coil going. The meadow is gorgeous with yellow paintbrush, white wisps of Sitka burnett, and myriad purple geraniums amid many lingering strawberry blossoms. Bumblebees seemed to especially love the geraniums. I opened up Alder and brought the 4-wheeler up and we decided to go for a walk/drive. The trail upriver had originally been cut, or recut, years ago to accommodate the 4-wheeler so my dad could drive to the property line in the evenings, which he and my mother used to walk. First we had to traverse the new trail at the very beginning, which I realized had not been made for a 4-wheeler, but other than a detour around the large wolf tree in the middle, which is awkward for walking, it worked fine. All I did was break off some of the lower branches. Farther on, my mom was able to duck and drive under the spruce that bows over the trail. The trail above Debbie's Meadow was pretty good except for the akward sloughs, though I lingered behind and clipped branches and didn't always watch how it went.

I was pleased to see many strawberry flowers and tiny nagoonberries in the meadow near the property line, including where I'd cut the alder clumps last summer. That's a good sign! We decided to drive past the property line, which required driving through a lot of uncut brush and awkward turns. Cailey ran ahead into some alders and startled a fledgling robin who ducked away and stopped right in front of my mom in a little meadow. She stopped and we admired him for a while before heading back into the brush and thence across the dryish slough and onto USFS land. Other 4-wheelers had been on the trail and had left alder cuttings. Here too, the wildflowers were just spectacular, bog candles and yarrow joining in. I detoured out toward the eagle tree and was quickly halted by the slough there, apparently flooded by the beaver dam we'd forded last fall. I startled up two Wilson's snipe along a slough and then, as I made weird sounds at Cailey to get her to look at me in a field of wildflowers, a female duck burst from the ferns just a few feet away, well away from water. Interesting!

Back at the lodge we went to check on the status of the olive barrel and were delighted and surprised to fill two 5-gallon tubs with drinking water, given that it had only rained hard a few days since I'd been here last. I think it was more than we took out last time, which is a good sign that it had been leaking from the faucet, now solved with the addition of the hose. At least I hope. It is still dripping from around the edge of the faucet, but perhaps only when we had water running. I made gnocci and stir fried vegetables for dinner and we chatted until around 9:00 when I found myself too sleepy for anything else. I was exhausted, having spent only three days in town (and those busy) since the trip with Katie, Rob, and Eleanore to Snettisham.

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I woke at around 5:00 am to a rattling sound outside and got up to find a red squirrel nibbling on the shed antler that Cailey had found last fall. Thankfully I made it back to sleep until about 7:45 and got up after a good night's sleep. After coffee and breakfast, we decided to tackle the fuel tank on the water pump. Though we presumably had a lot of water in the tank and didn't need to pump any more imminently, we wanted to get the system squared away. While my mom got dressed, I headed down to uncover it and find some tools. By the time I heard her about to board the 4-wheeler, I was frustrated and grumpy. I'd managed to unscrew one of the two nuts on the side of the tank with no problem using a 10 mm socket. But the start switch was under the other nut which prevented the use of the socket. I could find no 10 mm socket of a different size/shape anywhere, and the nut is so frozen than using a wrench began to scrape away its corners. I dosed it with WD-40 multiple times, to no avail. It didn't help that the nice dry piece of tarp I'd put down on the ground to sit on wound up under the end of the outlet pipe which dripped and soaked the back of my pants without my knowing it. My mom drove down and scoured Alder for 10 mm sockets to no avail, then crutched over to the fuel tank to take a look herself, at which point we discovered a third nut on the opposite side of the tank in an even worse position that nothing but a tiny open end wrench could possibly fit into, if that. Obviously, service providers have very specialized tools. Frustrating. We closed it back up and I grabbed a snack to help with my mood.

By then the day was turning lovely and serene. Surprisingly it had rained most of the night, but quit about the time we got up. I clipped the blueberries along the path between Alder and the garden boxes, then got to work finishing the walls of the new garden box while my mom started to organize her room, which has been a dumping ground for gear and tools for a couple of years. I first finished screwing in the plywood walls of the first wall we'd worked on with Jia Jia, then laid the other down on the ground and fit the plywood according to their marks which fit perfectly along with the middle post once I turned a couple of them upside down. The rest of the box would be assembled in situ with the side walls in the ground. My mom and I had decided that the best place to put it would be along the side of the cabin where the existing boxes are, now twin fields of fireweed, but where exactly we weren't sure. I fetched her and carried the walls over, propping them up awkwardly in place to get a sense for where they should go. We decided that one wall would be right along the downriver edge of the downriver box. First, though, I removed the wooden frame of the boxes, which were so rotten that I could lever them out with a spade. The first wall housed an ant colony complete with myriad white eggs. I carried that piece of wood to the forest floor behind the outhouse in the hopes that they could continue their colony. The rest of the pieces I stacked under the back porch for the time being to get them out of the way.

By then it was well time for lunch. I made grilled cheese sandwiches and we sucked down cold modelo especials before getting back to work. While my mom continued inside, I started digging holes, which went ridiculously well. With no trees nearby, digging up the turf was easy and everything was sand below. I thought about using my mom's auger, but I think it would have taken more time to put it in the drill than it took to dig those holes! Soon the downriver wall was in place. It seemed to be at about the right height, so I leveled and plumbed it, which went easily, then brought my mom out to make sure she liked the height. And then the hard part began. I roughed out where the three holes on the other side would go, which was pretty close, but is was very difficult to get it plum in both direction, level, level with the other box, and square. I had to lift it out of its holes a couple of times to wide them, and did a lot of hand digging around them as well. The details are mind-numbing and known to any who have done this. When the second wall was level, plumb, etc., I managed to make the corners square and quickly screwed in the 2x4s that connect them, two on one end and one on the other so I can more easily work inside. I was extremely sweaty and a little irritable by then, mostly because I hadn't finished, but the truth is that it's mostly done and looking absolutely great. Tomorrow I just need to trim a 2x4 to support the middle of the floor and secure the flooring, then add the end walls, landscape fabric and...dirt! The mosquitoes had been pretty bad, especially close to the ground, and I'd made numerous trips for more deet as it apparently wore off on various parts of my body. But before I cleaned off, I really wanted to go for a walk, so I set off, leaving gimpy Cailey behind to rest. I took off downriver toward the camera near the slough which we hadn't seen since last October. The bluejoint meadows were as high as my chin, the sloughs were mercifully only sludgy, the waving grass beautiful. I saw two fledgling fox sparrows on the way down and a Lincoln's sparrow near a yellow warbler on the way back, both in willow clumps. I found the camera easily near another gorgeous bed of flowers and hustled back, stopping to resecure a no hunting sign which had fallen off like the others, but not far, arriving not much more than an hour after I left. I took a spit bath and changed clothes, which felt wonderful, then drank a diet root beer before making tacos for dinner.

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That night I awoke to the tick tick of spruce needles hitting the metal roof and the wind beginning to roar in the trees. It was my first sense that we were in for a wind storm like the one we'd experienced last October. Banging and squeaking soon joined the chorus, forcing me up eventually to secure the shutters. I dozed on and off until 8:00, then reluctantly rose.
My mother was still sleeping, so I went out and clipped off the clumps of alder in the front meadow as well as quite a few new alders growing near the grill, finishing by clearing the trail to the landing. I hadn't wanted to deet up just yet, and was rewarded with about a dozen welty bites on my arms which, doctored with campho phenique, disappeared quickly. I indulged in a cup of Russian tea after my oatmeal. The plan was to take the morning to go on a long canoe while my mother continued working inside as well as trouble shooting the water pump and working some kinks out of the skilsaw before I made the necessary cut for the garden box. For once, I brought along Cailey's leash and secured her when we reached the meadow to help reduce the amount of bounding and romping she did. At this very lush time of year, most of the vegetation is at least waste high on me and often chest and head high, all of which is high for her. She took to it better than I thought she would.

On our way to the canoe we made a detour in the large meadow down to the approximate property line and put in the post and sign that I'd secured together that morning with wire. I hoped I'd see the post there, especially with the wind, but didn't, so guessed at the right location and took pictures to help me find it again. I hadn't brought a hammer, so it's not as far in the ground as I'd hoped it would be. The wind was raging across the meadow, ripping the bluejoint like a great ocean. Truly I'd never seen anything like it off of Adak Island. It was interesting, if a bit unnerving. We found the slough at a typical level, the water right up to the end of the grass, but uncommon seas coursed down it, upstream to downstream, probably six inches high and steady. Once aboard, I found it very difficult to push off from shore as the wind was holding us tight. I finally detached from shore and gave it my mightiest paddling strength, only to be swept sideways and downstream in a hurry. There was no fighting that, so I paddled as hard as I could to turn the bow back toward shore, having spun a full circle, and managed to make it back to land. It was disappointing, but there was nothing I could do. I towed Cailey back to the landing, tied it up, and headed back to the cabin. We'd been gone not much more than half an hour!

Forgoing that trip did lead to great leaps forward at the cabin, though. My mom was hard at work inside, so I oiled the skilsaw and got ready to make my cut. Thankfully, everything went well--the generator started right up, the extension cord was already attached, a nearby bucket was an acceptable work bench, and the skilsaw made the cut. Soon I had the center brace toe-nailed in, only to realize that the lower cross pieces on either end of the box needed to be trimmed as well to fit inside the long cross pieces in order to support the floor. I made those cuts, put everything away again, and toe-nailed them in. I only had to get the skilsaw out and start the generator one more time, and that was to add a piece to support the floor on one end, as the floor boards were only 91" long and the supports on either end were 93" apart, so the overlap was too small. I wound up cutting the other PT 2x4 and securing it to the inside of one end. The floor was laid in. I made quesadillas for lunch, drunk with the last cold beers from the cooler, which was out of ice. Afterwards, largely due to my urging I think, we worked on the water pump, having woken up to an empty tank. We brought some ice bags for barriers or catchments and paper towels, added a couple inches of gas, the last of the first jerry jug I'd brought up in May, and started her up. We held the two insulated bags between the tank and the rest of the engine and wedged and held paper towels where fuel sprayed out of the tank, strangely moving around as we plugged it up. Neither of us were happy about the situation, sitting or crouched around the engine, but it seemed safe and we needed water. I ran up to the back porch a couple of times and confirmed loud splashing water sounds. In the end, we let the fuel tank run dry, which seemed surprisingly fast, perhaps just shy of 15 minutes.

Given the daunting task of figuring out how to replace the fuel tank ourselves and the corrosion it's experienced on the ground, we decided to take it in for servicing at the experts at Honda Hut. I found it nearly as easy to remove the pipe coupling I'd greased as last time, pleased that the grease was still soft, and carried it to the 4-wheeler. For me, it was back to the garden box after my mom approved the placement of the flooring, which was nearly perfect with just one spot where a short section overlapped with another. I secured it and then the end walls and the frame was done. This was about 3:00 and I was tired. I headed inside for a break while my mom continued working. She'd nearly finished cleaning out the bedroom, had scoured the insides of the kerosene lamps to remove the yellow stain from the kerosene in preparation for replacement with kleenheat oil, and was then securing the glass in the door of the fireplace with bolts from the baggie of bolts she'd gathered from her house this spring. Two of them fit perfectly. Somewhere along the day I'd sorted through the many items cluttering the top of the cabinet inside the door, and to either side of it, letting my mom make decisions about most of it, typically to a drawer or to the shop. We swapped out the towel on top and that whole area is transformed. She was also working on decluttering the main windowsill and had sorted some of the drawers in the bathroom in the process of cleaning out her room. All in all, we were making great progress.

I took a walk after that, then heated up Indian lentils and made toast for dinner. Afterwards we drank chilled prosecco from a mesh bag I'd dropped in the river that morning while playing a board game I'd made in middle school about the lodge. It includes such instructions as "Forgot to put beans in oven, go back 1" and "Captain sends sweaters for all, go ahead 2" which totally delighted my mother as it includes many precious aspects of the lodge that I'd picked up as a kid. Then we watched several episodes of The Good Place, all four of us scrunched on the couch, me between the dogs and my mom on one end. We had a fun and ridiculous time trying to get a photo of all of us in it.

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I slept poorly again that night. It was only partly Cailey's doing, who really wanted to snuggle and came up on my pad rather than sleeping in the dog bed next to me as usual. She's been in a lot of pain lately, so I allowed it, but the pad is not very wide, so I was relegated to a corner. My legs ached and I eventually relented and moved us to the large bed next door, but my legs continued to keep me awake. It took a long time to drift back off, so it wasn't until after 8:00 that I got up again. I made pancakes for breakfast while my mom continued sorting and finishing with the kerosene lights, which look amazing. After breakfast, we suited up for the solid rain outside and headed down to the landing to pick up the dirt Jia Jia and I had tarped up there. We made two loads with the trailer, then I stapled in landscape fabric around the garden box in preparation for dirt. New, 4-foot wide fabric went across the bottom and older pieces lined the walls. It wasn't the finest job on my end, but hopefully it will work. The bugs were ferocious again and I wound up lighting mosquito coils when deet just wasn't enough, even in rain gear! When I started putting in dirt, my mom returned to work inside while I put in four bags of peat on the bottom and all six bags of soil on top. It was filling up fast and was exhausting work, and we were only going to plant some greens, so I left some of the peat out. Then I washed some dishes before we both had tea and then quesadillas for lunch. After that it was non-stop packing and cleaning and putting away as usual. After finishing her work, my mom planted chard, lettuce, and beets in the garden box (why not!), hanging onto it for support. Around 2:35 we were all done and broke for beers, chilled in the river. My mom worked on the cabin log and I just chilled, totally exhausted, until my mom asked if we should bring the water pump fuel tank in which of course we should but was already locked in Alder. When I got back from that errand, I could hear the helicopter and circled the cabin closing up. I had time to fill a watering can with one jug of water and sprinkle it on the garden box, but it was a tiny amount and we shall have to let nature do the watering. Then I carried our gear out to the spruce tree, finishing with the water pump just as the rotors stopped turning. Jenny put her paws up on the helicopter, which was encouraging, but she did it right at the seat rather than the floor, and when I picked her up she growled at me and snarled after I put her down, much worse than with Eric. I felt terrible. My mom made it up with no problem again, and Cailey was her usual wonderful self getting in and soon we were off with another new pilot, Robert. I asked him to make an extra fly by Taku Point at 500 feet so I could take photos, which worked really well, and gave us an added bonus of getting a good look at Swede Point, the face of the glacier, and Grizzly Bar to boot. An unusual route back led us over Annex Lake and Carlson Creek and over the ridge to the south of Sheep Creek. I think we both feel wonderful to be tidying up and giving the cabin some love, and with the addition of the garden box and water tower to boot!

Wildflowers