Snettisham 2022 - 6: Fall
  September 16 - 25


Dramatic fall light

Photo Album

It's coming on toward evening of the second day of my close up trip and I've just redonned my flannel and down vest. The sun went behind the mountain around 3:45 and brought an immediate chill to the air. The inlet is lightly rippled by a breeze off Gilbert Bay and the sky has mostly clouded over. I'm hearing what sounds like a hairy woodpecker nearby; other than that, the only sounds are the waterfall just downriver, a chickadee nearby, and the occasional calls of thrushes feeding on current berries in the bushes. Just this moment, an explosion sounded from ...

... and now it's about three and a half hours later and dusk is coming on. I've just returned from Hermit Thrush where I started the oil stove so the cabin is warm when we arrive--maybe in an hour or so--unlike last night when we arrived around 9:30 on a clear night to a cold cabin. Even after an hour, the stove hadn't quite warmed us up and, for the first time, I left it running when I went to sleep, turned down a little. When I woke up a couple of hours later, it was still quite cold and I was still not quite warm, so I turned it up to high again and fell back asleep, finally turning it off at 2:00 am. Prior to this, I'd checked to make sure the carbon monoxide alarm was on, just in case. For some reason, I'm uneasy about sleeping with the oil stove on, though possibly not for good reason. Anyway, we both slept pretty well I think and I was very warm and comfortable when I woke up around 8:00. Instead of actually getting up, though, I picked up my clothes for the day and took them back to bed with me to warm up. I lay in bed until the sun rose over the mountain and cast a golden glow through the windows around 9:00, all of which were fogged up. I finally got up to face the day, which was gorgeous, a corner of the lodge deck already in sun, which Cailey quickly took possession of after breakfast.

For my own part, I decided to test out my new Goal Zero solar panels on my Yeti 1500 battery, having apparently used 15% of its power last night streaming a couple episodes of Stargate: Universe. It could not have been more simple. The panels fold apart and rest at an angle on hinged legs, and a cord that was neatly curled up under it attached to the battery, which itself was much easier to move than a standard 12 v battery--probably lighter, but either way much easier to carry with two handles on top and no terminals to avoid. I set up the panels on the downriver (sunny) side of the deck and pointed the battery's face toward the lodge so I could watch the amount of wattage it was receiving and see the hours until full charge change over time from the deck above. It started out receiving about 44 watts when it was still partly shaded by spruce boughs, and peaked at 166 watts when in full sunshine. Cailey's bed was in front of it and, when she stood up and put it in partial shadow, input went down to zero! It at first predicted a full charge in five hours, but with improved sunlight as time went on, it took only about two hours total.

In the meantime, I had some tea and, when I spotted a loon on the river, decided to start a bird survey even though there wasn't a lot of activity around me. It turned out to be quite fun, as it usually is when I turn my full attention to the bird life. Close in, the highlight was two (later three) hermit thrushes feeding on gray currents. Their method involved perching below the berries, then flying up to them and sort of falling back to a perch. I saw the movement many times and caught them with gray-blue berries in their mouths a couple of times. One looked scraggly and had spots on the back of his head and nape, who I presumed to be a juvenile, and the other looked like an adult (the third also looked like a juvenile). Several times, one of them chased the other, posturing with open bill and then charging. I also saw a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets, watched chickadees feeding in a large flock high up on the hillside in the tops of spruce trees, golden-crowned kinglets lower down, and a wren in the spruce tree (the latters spotted while sitting on the kayak in the meadow). On the river were at least six loons in pairs and horned grebes in non-breeding plumage. There was also a lone female surf scoter and a raven. It was great fun, and occupied much of the morning.

Other than that, I read from the book I had been saving for this trip, dug up the commercial potatoes (perhaps the best haul I've ever gotten, getting two handfuls from three seed potatoes), and took Cailey for a walk around the property. We are again in a cycle of low tidal variation, so even just an hour or so after low tide (6.5'?) we could not get beyond the creek upriver for a regular COASST walk, so we walked all the trails on the property, including checking on the water line in the creek. It was mostly covered in rocks and gravel and I could barely make out the opening. No problem there though--the water is cold and as sweet as it could be.

During my various times on the porch, I was startled twice by boats coming into the river, both Hewescrafts. The first anchored in the main channel and inflated a large skiff, the two occupants heading up the river in camouflage. It is dark now and I don't think they've come back, so they must be camping on the river. The other came in just as I started writing this; at first I thought it was the Rock come to visit, but it turned out to be another similarly-sized boat with raft on top.

Before dinner, I used aquarium sealant to cover the seams on the heel of my left xtratuff boot which I'd discovered was leaking a little on the last Taku trip, leaving it by the fire for the evening. Then I cut up my bison roast into strips and fried some up in flour and spices along with asparagus and half an Asian salad bag for dinner, watched another SG:U, and here I am as the darkness comes on.

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Friday-Saturday
But back to the beginning? I didn't feel at all guilty about enjoying the day around the lodge today in part because it was a very busy and stressful week leading up to this trip between a night at Echo Ranch (hiking back Saturday night to make it home at 9:00 pm), Cailey licking her stiches out Sunday night (resutured Monday morning), Ezra's parents coming over Monday evening, and game night on Wednesday. I wasn't at all disappointed when the weather window promised all week on Thursday changed and I put off the trip until Friday. I slept in that morning and didn't move in a hurry, finally getting underway around 10:30. As with the last several times, Ezra helped me not just in loading but in pulling the Ronquil out while I repositioned the Kathy M on the inside slip. As I left the harbor, I met the Rock traveling a parallel path as Rob and his parents were leaving the fuel dock for a day of fishing. We waved and wished each other well, then they quickly outpaced me as we headed down the channel at speed. There was a little breeze coming up from the southeast and I feared it might build as we went, which it did, but I found that as I entered the Open, I was in the trough. So I did encounter those two foot seas they were calling for, but they were coming out of the Taku (instead of the SE as predicted) and, after I got through the tumult of the Point Arden area, it was on my tail all the way down. Along Grand I saw a large cruise ship coming up Stephen's Passage and sped up, hoping to get to Grave Point, or at least well on the mainland side, before they overtook me. We passed close enough that I had a good look at the people on deck and got nice waves from a couple on their balcony and several people on their back deck (I'd like to think the pilot also waved back). Overall, it was a very pleasant trip, the few rain showers at the beginning turning into partly cloudy skies. I was a bit disappointed not to see a single whale or other marine mammal on the way down, so if a group-up happened, I missed it.

As always, I was immensely grateful to find everything in order when I arrived, again almost a month from my last trip. Arriving on a lowish and rising tide, I was far enough out in the little channel to want to wait for the tide to rise for serious unloading. Instead, I carried up the tote (with perishables), backpack, and clothes/book bag and left the rest until later in the afternoon. Otherwise, I went about my usual unpacking and opening up and getting everything in order. The day only got more gorgeous, the sky clearing up until there wasn't a cloud to be seen. After a bit of a rest on the porch, I finally returned to unloading, which was a bit more than usual (especially for September) as it included not just a bunch of linens I'd washed but also my Goal Zero solar panel and lithium battery, the latter of which I soon got set up next to the 12 volt batteries (one of which was dead) inside, changing the structure of the wiring to fit around it.

Back on the porch, I got chilled before I came in for dinner, so indulged in hot top ramen with a can of peas and, because it was vacation and because I had a new power toy and because I'd been thwarted from watching Stargate: Atlantis here two years ago (first because of internet issues and then because Amazon stopped carrying it for a while), I streamed Stargate: Universe for TWO episodes. It was indulgent. I was surprised to see how much power the modem and laptop were using, about 15% over those two episode and a few minutes for texts, but it was delightful to watch shows without the whirring of the inverter I'd used before (not that it wasn't wonderful in itself).

When the stars started to come out, I put a cone on Cailey's head inside where a little fire had warmed us up nicely and headed outside with a quilt to watch the sky from the log across the path. It was a perfect night, the moon not rising for a couple of hours. I watched as the sky became populated by more and more stars and the Milky Way became more and more clear. I scanned the sky with binoculars, as usual in total awe of the sheer number of stars. I love how it feels to stare up at the vast universe, like seeing magic before your eyes--something absolutely impossible made manifest, like seeing a unicorn or a long-dead friend. I was surprised by the number of satellites I could see with and without binoculars and tried to tell if I could notice more stars in the Milky Way with binoculars than other regions of the sky. As hoped, a planet rose as I watched which I predicted, after peering at it with binoculars, would be Saturn. Soon another appeared to the southeast. In binoculars I could see a satellite--it must be Jupiter, I thought, surprised I could see one of its moons with only binoculars. I was also surprised at how fast it was moving relative to the stars around it. Wait, that didn't make any sense! Of course, it was an airplane and the "satellite" was the light on its wing. Embarrassingly, it's not the first time I've mistaken a plane for an exciting galactic body.

I watched the sky until after 9:00, then pulled out the spotting scope and dialed in Saturn from the front porch, in total awe (again) at the fact that my eyes were looking at a round planet with clear rings around it. My eyes! I was looking at another planet and could see its rings! I don't think that awe will ever go away. Eventually I fetched Cailey and my gear and chatted with the bears on the way to Hermit Thrush, which I have already described. Which brings us back to that explosion earlier today (still day 2). A whale had just come into view along the rocks downriver toward River Point. When I looked up again from beginning to write about it, I saw more than a nostril and fin--I saw a gaping mouth. Maybe for the first time (second time?), a whale was lunge feeding in the river inlet! And not just once. I trained the spotting scope on him and had a spectacular view of him lunge feeding several times right against shore, his white pectoral fin breaking the water afterwards. He then moved across the inlet, lunge feeding several times along the way, before returning to the more usual Snettisham feeding pattern of a single breath and no fluking. Actually, he hadn't fluked on any of the dives I'd seen. It was at that time that the second boat cruised into the river and I started to scramble thinking that I had guests. That boat spent some time over with the whale, then cruised upriver until it shallowed before heading back out again along the shore where the whale was and disappearing. Having seen no whales on the way down (or much this summer) it was an amazing treat, especially with the lunge feeding via spotting scope. With all the sea bird and loon activity, gulls apparently feeding on bait balls, and now the whale, it makes me want to troll the area all the more.

Now it's pretty dark, 8:23. I think I'll close this down and sit until my eyes adjust to the darkness and then head to my (hopefully) warm and cozy cabin for the rest of the night.

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Sunday
It was in fact quite warm and cozy. I turned the oil stove down after a while, thinking that we only needed to maintain heat, and found that my hands quickly felt the difference. Fascinating. I also found the water from the sink suddenly foul... It tasted terrible, maybe a bit like sulphur (?) and I could smell it as well. I made it through brushing my teeth, but forwent tea, trying to figure out what would make the water taste so bad. Was it me stepping into the creek in boots that morning? Seems unlikely. The filters? A leak in the water line? It had tasted fine the day before, though, and the water in my water bottle was okay. I'd have to trouble shoot the next day.

In the morning, awake at the same time, I was quite pleased to find only a little fog on the couple of the windows on the river side. The day before I'd wiped the fogged windows down with the towel and left it outside to dry and the windows and door open all day. Mimicking the day before, I grabbed my clothes and went back to bed and stayed there, watching the clouds descend and ascend on the mountain, somehow unwilling to get up. When I did, it was after 9:00. All this day I've felt like I just missed something interesting, that things were just not quite right. It started with a frantic squirrel running around behind the lodge accompanied by the sound of flapping wings. I ignored it for a while, but finally realized I should take a look at something involving squirrel and bird, and peered around the side of the lodge in time to see a large brown raptor taking wing from a spruce. Given all the sounds of wings contacting (presumably) branches, I suspect he was chasing a squirrel, but did not see if he was successful. Young goshawk? While I considered that and kicked myself for not getting up sooner, I ate granola and yogurt for breakfast.

Late in the morning, Cailey and I took off for an off-campus adventure. I originally intended to try trolling around River Point, but the river made the water there so opaque that I moved over to Sentinel Point instead, losing the kayak off the back of the boat on the way (tied on, so easily retrieved). I had hoped to get close to some of the myriad birds that had been in the inlet yesterday, but it was comparably empty today. I started trolling from the white rocks around the corner, then into Gilbert Bay and a few points down the coast. I don't think I was doing it very effectively, having no flasher and only a small weight to keep the artificial lure underwater. The water was choppy in the entrance to the port and I was grateful to gain the shelter of Gilbert Bay. For its part, the kicker worked wonderfully, starting in and staying in gear as is its habit. The day was nice enough and I did enjoy, made myself enjoy to some extent, watching the gorgeous cliffs and beaches go by, trying to stave off the boredom of trolling and the irritation of juxtaposing a peaceful outing on the water with holding onto a vibrating, noisy engine. Eventually I grew weary of it and gave up on my initial notion of trolling past Upside Down Horse Creek and the milling cohos there of my imagination. Instead I cruised down toward the back of Gilbert Bay and anchored in about 80 feet of water to jig for halibut. It was past noon then, so I drank a warming Pacifico and ate a healthy share of puffed corn snacks and BBQ potato chips and a fig newton. Well, "healthy" might be the wrong word, but it seemed like appropriate fishing fare. I made it almost 45 minutes before giving up, having had not a single noticeable nibble. I am just not cut out for the sheer boredom of trolling or halibut fishing on my own--not without some action to make me think it was worthwhile, or company.

While halibut fishing, I did have a good view of a pretty beach next to the little stream I'd noted several years ago as surely harboring coho, which I think the AWC team also explored when I wasn't along. At high tide, we went ashore on the point to the west of the creek and started a lovely tramp. The beach is beautiful, cliffs backing the point, large slabs of bedrocks beneath that might be good for picnics, and huge flagstones dotting the beach beyond. Back toward the creek, savanna sparrows flew among the sedge, often perching helpfully, and I started a bird survey, noting some terraced, comfortable rocks that would make a fine survey perch in the middle of the beach. A number of ducks paddled along the shore and in the mouth of the creek, but I couldn't identify any of them before they flew away (another exciting moment unfulfilled). One large duck had a dark crescent just behind his bill and a regal appearance. Smaller ones had pale, blue-gray bills and cinnamon breasts and sides, maybe widgeons, or pintails. Too far offshore to identify were large rafts of ducks, probably scoters (I later confirmed most were surf scoters), but mixed with grebes and other ducks I also couldn't identify, frustratingly, partly because of my inability to get close. The creek itself was bigger than I remembered it, with a section of clay in the intertidal section that I'm beginning to associate with Snettisham creeks. We walked up a ways, stopping at a deep pool below a couple of fallen logs which begged for fishing, had it been full of the cohos I'm sure are waiting for high water. A jay and young varied thrush came over and watched and, as we returned to the beach, a Lincoln's sparrow hopping up and perched on a stump in plain view, the highlight of my survey.

On the way over, about half way between the point and the creek, I'd see a largeish fish jump just off shore, twice in a row. Remembering that, I returned to the boat and decided to try the final type of fishing I could fail at and anchored at the mouth of the creek, casting there to no effect. Then another fish jumped in the same place down the beach so I repositioned closer, several times, as another fish jumped. It turned out there was a deeper patch of water than was immediately proximate to the creek--a little hole for coho? What else would be jumping? Well, we'll never know, for nothing followed my lure and I abandoned the effort. In the meantime, the clouds had dispersed and the sun was out and I was getting too warm in my long underwear and rain pants.

And my self-esteem was continuing its descent into self-loathing as it so often does when I try fishing. I pulled anchor--again--and headed up the shore to Daisy Beach, soon grateful that I'd left my rain pants on, as the sun had apparently yet to hit the beach (or had left already) and the sedge was wet from the night's rain, or heavy dew. I ducked into the forest for a few minutes, then, finally, we headed back to the homestead, anchored, collected gear, and kayaked gratefully to shore. It had been about three and a half hours out and about. Cailey ate the breakfast she'd left this morning and I unpacked a little and poured myself a mimosa with half-frozen orange juice. This and being on the porch revived my spirits a little. It was so hot I doffed my wool socks and long underwear and all tops except my t-shirt even though I knew that the sun was setting within minutes and the chill would follow. And when it did, I quickly donned my overshirt and flannel. Once I finished my drink and relaxed a little, I carried my jug of diesel fuel, a funnel, and step ladder to Hermit Thrush and put the rest of what I had in the tank, which must have been pretty empty at that point. I drained the jug without filling the tank, but it'll be plenty for the rest of the trip. I picked up camera cards on the way back, laboriously submitted my time sheet on my work computer, then started some bison and asparagus cooking while I watched camera cards. I watched a bit of SG:U while eating dinner and now I'm back on the porch looking out over a fine, calm, mostly clear evening, just as peaceful as when I left this morning. Everywhere we anchored today we bobbed in the seas, which did nothing for my nerves. Cailey I think had a decent time, as she had rest time on boat blankets when I fished and had a good time exploring the beaches (she even did a bit of hunting at the mouth of the creek, presumably for voles or their kin). She seemed happy. For myself, I still don't feel like I've totally relaxed yet on this trip...although I've only been doing odds and ends, I don't feel like I've really sunk into the place. I feel a bit out of sorts, uninterested in doing any chores whatsoever, and hence a bit anxious about the time when I must do them, to close up. In the meantime, getting any fun bonus tasks done as I usually do in September seems unlikely. Am I more worn out that usual this year? Is it just the week I came from?

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Monday
I'm going with "it's just the week I came from." That, and it honestly hadn't felt that much like fall. The grass is browning in the meadow, but I saw no burgundy as I usually do, there are birds around but not mixed flocks of fall migrants, the weather has been warm during the day and it hasn't rained really at all, and I haven't felt much like doing normal fall things. It was a bit discouraging as, even if I stay a full week, it seems too short. So it was with some relief that I woke up this morning at 7:00 feeling better (I think I went to sleep earlier last night in a very warm cabin) and didn't linger quite as long in bed. Thus I wound up at the lodge earlier than I'd even woken up the last two days for a decidedly fall feel. The inlet was in shadow, though sun shone on a band of fog in Gilbert Bay, and the air was cold. I don't even think the song birds were up yet. It was wonderful. Not the part where I spilled my bowl of oatmeal on the deck (Cailey, who'd skipped kibble for breakfast, helped me out), but the rest of it. Even my jasmine tea was pretty decent. Wrapped in my quilt, I watched the morning while I sipped tea and read when I finished, noting the sun hit the beach downriver first, then work its way in my direction as it approached 9:00. The breeze coming down the river picked up its pace, as it often does in the morning, and sent cold wind through the branches to chill my fingers, which I shoved under my quilt as often as possible. I loved it. Three ducks flew in and cruised the beach, dipping their heads below water and all of them taking sips. Cailey saw them and rushed down to the log to watch as these mergansers preened at the water's edge. The thrushes woke up, chickadees came through calling gaily, and a male junco flew by a couple of times as well. All morning, fog horns sounded from Stephen's Passage, so long that I wondered if the cruise ships were going very slowly, there were a bunch of them in a row, or maybe the horns were coming from slower ships. Anyway, it lasted a long time. Around 11:00, a heard a motor from upriver and saw the inflatable return. I watched while they unloaded, pleased (but don't tell them) that I saw no carcass come aboard. A little earlier, I'd joined Cailey on the lower deck to try to glean some warmth from the sun for my very stiff fingers while I updated this, but she came back up to the deck with me when I pulled out the spotting scope and begged, putting her paws up on my arm. I couldn't think of anything she wanted but to maybe come up on the couch (I thought she might have made overtures the day before), so I patted the quilt where I had sat earlier, and up she came, and was soon wrapped up in it. I put my books and gear on the deck, grabbed another quilt, and we are now sitting together with the sun on us and I, for one, am beginning to warm up, and so relieved for the fall day and the relaxation that is finally starting to seep into my soul.

The afternoon was similarly pleasant. I lunched on quesadillas and lounged (read) on the porch as the sky grew increasingly overcast with the bright sun glistening through on the inlet, now in gentle ripples. At one point I really did lounge, sprawled out on the couch, hat on my head to cut off the glaring sun, and just enjoyed the view, at a perfect temperature (now without my down vest) except for my wrist which was a little cool. Shortly before the low tide (7.7'), I walked upriver, barely making it around the Rocky Point, but finding at least a few meters of sand/silt up to the grassy point and beyond. In fact, the river is so low that even though this was an exceedingly high low tide, I could walk farther up the river than usual.

On the way back, I tried to take the water filters off Cottonwood, but found, as I'd suspected, that the valve just ahead of them no longer stops all water. I hiked up to the junction and shut the water off there, then managed to loosen them all once the water drained. Then I prepped for some close out chores later, grabbing tools from the shed, delivering the tarp from the bear proof box to the outhouse, etc. And then, after a sip of semi-frozen root beer, I harvested Tlingit potatoes from their mound in the meadow. I could not have been more thrilled! I'd hoped to get at least six--that would be one to replace the seeds and one to eat for each of them--and instead got the equivalent of about 12 full sized potatoes, several larger than the seeds. It was perhaps the most satisfying and bounteous potato crop yet. Then I prepped dinner and watched an SG:U while my laptop and phone charged, again a little disappointed in how quickly the Yeti drains. When it starts raining, I'll try out the solar panels again if I'm up for it and see how it compares to a sunny day. I measured the distance from the porch to the battery inside and saw that I would need less than 30 feet of cable, so maybe it's worth investing in an extension. After all, the panels are weather proof, so they can remain up in any weather and constantly charge the batteries. In all, it's been an exceedingly pleasant day and I feel far less anxiety than I have had about close up. The fire is finally warming the lodge and I have a piece of sockeye cooking over yellow rice and broccoli on the stove.

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Tuesday
Seven fifteen and the inlet is already getting dusky. I've come from inside where I made the final meal of fried bison strips, accompanied by slices of buttered toast, with dark chocolate and peach yogurt for dessert and watched the second episode of Stranger Things, season 4. Last night I went to Hermit Thrush a little earlier than usual, deciding to forgo watching evening come onto the inlet, lit a fire and stretched to the first episode of Stranger Things, a series I've been saving for this trip. I finished it in bed, and then read for a bit, but couldn't keep my eyes open past 9:15. The day before I'd flushed water out of the Hermit Thrush system by letting it gush from the hose valve outside and, thankfully, I had no more problems with off-tasting water. When I got up to use the facilities at 7:00 am, it was dim outside and, unlike yesterday, I was not ready to get up. I climbed back into bed and slipped into the sweetest sleep I can remember in a long time, more like a deeply satisfying nap than night time sleep. It was delicious while it was happening and each time I woke up from it. I think only someone who has experienced this type of blissful sleep can understand, as words escape me. I think the fall day yesterday when I finally relaxed triggered the ability to sleep this morning, and the fact that I slept until nearly 10:00 is probably indicative of recovering from delayed sleep deprivation. I felt almost no anxiousness about it. Cailey, too, was perfectly content to sleep and showed no indication of wanting to get up until I did.

And so the morning was off to a late start. Once again, we had a bright, overcast day and, partly as experimentation, I set up the solar panels and started charging the Yeti battery. It was fascinating. Then late morning, the panels were putting out a mere 26 watts of power and estimated 15 hours to fully charge; I had expected the wattage to drop significantly from a sunny day, but with the brightness of the sky I did not expect it to drop to less than a sixth of the power. The forecast had called for showers in the afternoon, so I was expecting the cloud cover to grow, and was curious how low it would drop then. With that in mind, and since it was so late, I delayed breakfast until the chores I had planned for the morning were complete--everything I could do to close up early. I put tarps up on both outhouses (as yet unbound so I can continue to use them), nailed up plywood around the back porch to protect it from splatters over the winter, set up both motion sensor cameras (bridge and downriver), reset the stake for the no hunting sign and secured it with electrical wiring as I'd done on the Taku, and opened all the valves and covered the valves and filters at Cottonwood with tinfoil. In all, it took less than an hour. The hour was rounded out by changing the propane tank on the refrigerator which had gone out long enough to thaw the sockeye head in the freezer. As it had the last time I switched tanks, the pilot lit very easily and I think I don't need to hold the gas button down for any length of time before igniting it as I have to do when it's "cold." With that done, I fetched the leftover rice and salmon from the fridge and ate it out of the pot on the porch. This was followed with a cup of Russian tea on the porch and reading, a combination that was Snettisham fall perfection. I'd enjoyed the Russian tea so much that I went for a second cup, but at the last minute switched it out with cafe francais instead.

In defiance of the forecast, the sky only brightened until I, one by one, doffed the hot water bottle that was keeping my hands warm, down vest, comforter, flannel, and sweatshirt. Cailey was panting, though didn't leave her bed in the sun as she has been to seek shade. The solar panels jumped nearly to the peak levels I'd seen on Saturday--up to about 155 watts--and the time to charging dropped as low as three hours. Around 2:00, I decided to poke around at some of those fall tasks I'd despaired of ever getting to a couple of days ago. First, I was tired of walking by the wheel barrow on its side next to the lodge, an area I've tidied up a few times but remains a storage area of unwanted plywood. The wheel barrow was half covered with an old tarp which I believe was designed to discourage bears from chewing on its tire. I'm not sure why I just abandoned it there, but I soon discovered that the wood on the bottom that connects that wheel and supports and bucket together were rotted through and need to be replaced. I put everything behind the shed.

There I grabbed my maul and headed behind the lodge to try my hand at splitting wood! I found the rounds I'd cut a year ago drying nicely under a tarp and soon was hacking away at small rounds (a large branch?) on a larger round nearby. The smaller ones split easily and were on top, so it was an encouraging start. The larger ones proved more challenging--some more than others. A few split nicely after several whacks, others required quite a bit of effort and repeated smacks to crack at all. Others I couldn't even try to split because one end was jagged and broken and could offer no purchase for the maul, thankfully small enough that most will fit in the stove to bank the fire. It was sweaty work, but such a pleasant afternoon, and I was pleased with the number of rounds I split and the small stack of firewood I made. There are still 14 rounds to go, mostly the bigger ones that were on the bottom, which I may be able to do in one session. This one lasted an hour and was followed, by necessity, with a spit bath inside and then a cold mimosa on the porch. It was 3:15 then, the sky had fully clouded over, and the solar panels were putting out exactly zero watts of energy. It was half an hour before the sun had gone behind the mountain three days ago, but I couldn't tell whether it had already this time or not. I tried repositioning the panels and lowering the angle, but never got any wattage out. Fascinating. In the three or so hours it was running, it had charged 6%, back to 85% total. I wrote a few texts and read until 4:30, then took Cailey for a COASST survey at the bottom of the tide; 6.6' feet allowed us to walk around the point with about ten feet of sand and the flats around the grassy point were more extensive. Upriver, I waded several small channels far into the river. On the way, a song sparrow had popped out of the grass and alarmed at me from a log, so I started a bird survey, that being an unusual species here. I added six eagles, most on the sandbars, with at least one juvenile, a raven, about 30 Bonaparte's gulls, and about 45 short-billed gulls. It was a lovely afternoon, calm and serene, with not much a breeze. When I got up this morning there was a tiny breeze coming down the river but either it hadn't manifest much or was already dying down by that time, as if often does.

Cailey and I were both hungry by then so I fed her and...well, I guess I already mentioned dinner. What a wonderful fall day at Snettisham!

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Wednesday
I had a rough night of sleep with some wakefulness around the usual time, but was pleased to find the windows with very little fog on them when I drug myself up at 8:20. There had been some rain overnight, but the morning was hazy overcast as it has been often lately, with the same wind coming down the river. I had a quick breakfast and then, wearing dirty clothes, I went back to tackle the rest of the rounds. I found a second one that I just could not split for its myriad knots, but the rest of them were done in less than an hour and a half. There are a number of split pieces that--again because of knots--are probably too large for the new wood stove, but most of them will work I think. I tossed them all down the side of the lodge toward the deck, moved the front row of old lumber back a row from the front (where I've been getting my firewood), and stacked most of the new wood on the front so that's what's seen from the deck. It looks more attractive that way. The rest I stacked on the back porch or in open spots among the rest of the firewood. Then I heated up some water, took a spit bath again, changed into clean clothes, and had a beer and a quesadilla for lunch. Since the sun was fairly bright behind the clouds, I set up the solar panels and, for a while, had a good charge going, but this soon diminished, presumably as the clouds thickened. In all, I got a 5% charge before it stopped charging by 3:00. The bird life has been quieter today. I saw the varied thrush, but not a sign of the hermit thrushes. The sparrow that's been in the meadow popped up again when I walked to the water, but I still haven't identified him. The wrens are active and calling, as are the chickadees/golden-crowned kinglets. A whale has been in Gilbert Bay all afternoon, their breath just barely audible. I found him a couple of times in binoculars and, the latter time, he appeared to be logging. Thinking it was supposed to rain this afternoon, I dismantled the new BBQ canopy, pleased that it came apart in three easy-to-remove pieces, tucked all the hardware into a ziplock with instructions, and folded up the tarp that had been over the rounds.

I lit a fire as Cailey and I waited for the tide to fall, putting in one of the newly cut pieces of firewood for the fun of it and leaving it to burn while we walked upriver under the persistently hazy sky. The beach was a similar width until we approached the grassy point and then it extended much farther out into the river, even downstream of the point. We didn't make it a long walk, but it was nice to get out and stretch my legs after a lot of upper body work this morning. Having eaten all my fresh meat (with the exception of one serving of bison now in the freezer), I ate my more standard short-term Snetty fare of a pouched Indian dinner with toast. Delicious. I had intended to leave on Friday, which had a favorable forecast of 2' seas, but that changed today and now shows a storm coming in. I could have escaped today with the 2' seas predicted, and indeed it looked like it would have been a fine ride home, but I wasn't ready to. Tomorrow there are 3' seas which also aren't enticing, and then the 4-5' seas start, continuing through Saturday. Of course, as this indicates, the predications are always changing, but I may be here for a while longer. Most of me is content with that, though I will be spending more time on my laptop and maybe even my work laptop. It's so strange that I haven't seen rain yet--we'll see how that changes things.

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Thursday
The rain came just after I crawled into bed. It took a little longer to warm up than usual, I think because my pajamas were a bit damp from ambient moisture. I slept much better, and was pleased again at the minimal fog on the windows, even after a day without airing out. It rained hard much of the night, but by the time I opened my eyes around 7:00 I could see the top of the gorgeous yellow-tinged fall mountain across the river, the rain had stopped, and the inlet was quite bright with billowy clouds. I was ready to work by 7:35, but decided to have breakfast on the porch and ease into the work day. I stayed on the porch when I did start, using my work laptop, and made it about half an hour before my fingers were so chilled that I came inside and lit a fire. Most of the rest of the work day was spent at the card table by the window, with one other brief bout on the porch before I had to plug in my laptop. As it has been on other Snetty work days this summer, the day flew fast and I suffered from none of the boredom and agony of work at the home office. Dramatic fall light played over the inlet and Gilbert Bay with shafts of sunshine breaking through clouds, hazy layers of (presumably) rain, big and small patches of blue sky, and bright clouds, but no rain. At lunch we went for a short walk, but the tide was high and Cailey seemed eager to get back to the lodge, so we cut it short.

At 4:30, the tide was considerably lower, so we walked up to the grassy point and interrupted three eagles there, leaving just as some serious windy rain started. It had passed by the time we turned around, though, and as it gets dark outside, has not returned. There is a small craft advisory tonight and all day was a wall of rain on the forecast for Juneau, but it didn't manifest here. There were gusts and I wouldn't have thought it wise to leave, but the storm has not yet hit. I hope that isn't a bad sign for my weather window on Sunday. I have to get creative with Cailey's meals from here on out. I'm not sure how this happened, because it's very unlike me, but I did not bring enough dog food, apparently not even for a full week. I guess I thought we wouldn't be gone that long, or probably that I had a lot of leftover dog food here, when I only had a little [I later realized I'd been feeding her more than I had in town, forgetting that the cup I use to measure is not an actual 8 oz. cup]. Anyway, I had enough for about three meals and at least six to go. Looking around, I saw brown rice and ancient Dinty Moore beef stew were likely possibilities to supplement kibble, so I figured out how many calories were in the dog food she normally eats and how much of each item mixed together would approximate it. I came up with half a cup of kibble, 3/4 cup of rice, and a third of a can of beef stew for a generous meal, and I have exactly enough of those for six meals. I have to think dinner tonight was one of the best meals Cailey's ever had. For myself, I ate chili and tortilla chips on the porch. Now it's not even 7:30 but already quite dark. I washed the dishes after reading a couple chapters after dinner, then made a cherry buckle on the stove top by dropping pancake batter on a can of sweetened tart cherries. I think I'll go have a few spoonfuls, then retire to bed.

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Friday
Again the rain came after I was in bed, and the cabin was slower to warm up than it has been (so it seemed), but we had a good night of sleep, and this time it was raining lightly and the wind was blustering in the devil's club when we got up. I had some cherry buckle for breakfast on the porch, then started up the internet to work again. Everything seemed to be working, but it was slow and I was first unable to connect to the network through the VPN and then unable to do almost anything, though I could still send texts and even use Teams on and off. I couldn't even get the Hughesnet system status site up on my laptop, but miraculously it came up on my work laptop and I saw that I had used up my 10 GB/month plan for the first time. I did some research on what to do--on my phone--and saw that I could buy extra time ($9 for 3 GB, $15 for 5, etc.). Of course you have to be able to access the internet for that, which seemed like a flaw in the system. Finally I was able to log in on my phone and purchased 3 GB, which had me back in business. Until 10:00 anyway, at which point the system light went out on the modem and I was cut off. Disappointing, but I settled onto the couch and worked on editing my first Taku trip report until noon. Checking again, internet was working fine, so I had lunch on the deck and enjoyed the fall view until 12:30 and then set to work again. The next issue was the 12 volt battery dying, which I'd run the whole day before and this day, so I stopped charging my laptop and switched to the Yeti. Now I'm on my afternoon break with the rain pattering pleasantly on the roof. We had a fire simmering all morning, which finally got swelteringly hot by noon and we spent some time outside working. The weather has been variable again, rain on and off, bright patches of light, waves of showers, and wind from various directions. Despite the southeasterly conditions, that north wind persisted all morning and into the afternoon, at one point causing quite large arcs and white caps in the river, causing the Ronquil to rock. More recently, it's calmed a bit here, but I could see white caps moving south to north in Gilbert Bay. One earlier attempt to work outside was thwarted by driving wind and rain, imperiling the computer. I've seen the wren, varied thrush, a hermit thrush, and chickadees. I think Cailey is a bit bored, but even if I weren't working, I'm not sure we'd be out romping in this, especially with the high tide for much of the middle of the day.

It's quite dark inside and I've left the motion LED lights on, one on the cedar table and the other on the fridge, which light up helpfully as I pass. The weather forecast is still calling for a break in the systems on Sunday, so hopefully tomorrow I'll do most of the close up and enjoy the last full day of my Snettisham summer.

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I had Indian food and the last two pieces of toast for dinner, watching the start of a Stranger Things before heading to Hermit Thrush before 8:00. This time, the oil stove whooshed about five minutes after it got going and the cabin seemed to heat up much faster. I'm going to have to keep an eye on the oil inlet and see if clearing it of soot, as I did this spring, might be a good idea periodically. I had intended to do all the Hermit Thrush chores this morning prior to going to the lodge, but I soon changed my mind. For one thing, Cailey is always extremely anxious to get to the lodge in the mornings, and for another, I could see that the flats on the river were expansive, my only real opportunity to explore them on this trip if I want to leave early tomorrow. So I cleaned the inside of the cabin, stripped the bed, etc., then headed to the lodge where I fed Cailey and I (minus the beef stew which I didn't want to take time to heat up, then cool, before we headed out). The morning was extremely pleasant, a cloudy, rainless sky and not much in the way of wind, though the forecast was still calling for 3-4' seas and a small craft advisory. I very quickly found my special fall sandbar walk reward: an eel-like creature entrained on the edge of a small channel of water in the sand. I think I've seen these guys in similar situations before. They are slippery as an eel, with a sucker-like mouth on the bottom of their head, a row of holes for gills, and two thin fins on its dorsal side, toward the back. I took a picture and then moved him into the water where he delighted me by swimming energetically down the channel! Then back onto the edge. He did this a couple of times, and it looked like he was trying to attach himself to the sand by his mouth. The tide was rising and he was at the edge of the bars, so hopefully he made it wherever he needs to be. [I later learned this was a river lamprey!]

The rest of the walk was very pleasant and I came across what was probably a moon jelly and a lion's mane jelly stranded, and a little snail which I put in a tidepool (hopefully he was an aquatic snail, but either way he was going to get flooded shortly). On the way back, I headed up to Hermit Thrush and did the rest of the closing chores including taking down the smoke stack and emptying the bucket, and then headed up to turn off the valve to the upriver cabins. On the way I detoured to the water source to see if I could coax the system into producing water again. I'd noticed all yesterday that the pressure seemed to be dropping and it was obvious by evening that we were no longer getting new water into the hose. I found the end of the hose in the same location, but it was quite well buried and, when I pulled it out, pea-sized pebbles had lodged between the screens. I wasn't sure if that was enough to stop the water flow, but I tapped it until they fell out and then dunked it in the creek, raising it a few times to try to get water flowing. It seemed to be working, and I later found that it had. This is something I'll have to keep in mind when preparing it next summer.

Back at the cabins, I opened the hose valve at Hermit Thrush, then went down to Harbor Seal and drained the water from there, replacing the old tinfoil on the hose valve. I tinfoiled the valve and filter heads at Hermit Thrush, then carried a lode of gear to the lodge, returning to tie the tarp around the outhouse now that the ladder was no longer needed and carry the filters and the rest of my gear to the lodge. Inside, I started organizing my gear, strewn about the place, and packing everything I could. Meanwhile, I heated water for tea and cooked Cailey's stew, feeding her that last portion of her breakfast before I went outside for a perfect couple of hours sipping tea and reading on the porch. It was one of the best moments of the week. I got chilled somewhere in the middle and, not wanting to stop yet, filled a water bottle with hot water and continued my perfect vigil on the porch.

Eventually I got going again in the early afternoon, starting with some time in the shed. I really only wanted to pull out the coil of metal strap to replace the one on the stove stack (I intended to screw it in rather than nail it in as I'd done at Hermit Thrush), but I'd been quite annoyed by how cluttered it was getting, so first I tidied up a little. It's amazing how little time it takes to neaten a place where the clutter is superficial and it looked so much better in just a few minutes. I found the strap quickly, thanks to my inventory from a few years ago, and carried it and a tub of garbage to the cabin along with the jig saw to take to town and electrical wiring for next year's DC light project. By this time I was hungry, so I made a quesadilla and, while it cooked, continued to clean and pack. By the time I was done, the lodge was swept and tidy and clean, all except the sink, so I went ahead and did the dishes after I ate (the diet Dr. Pepper helping to fuel me, no doubt), filling a couple of tubs with water and my water glass and making up Cailey's last two meals so I could wash more dishes. I thought about what dishes I would dirty for dinner and decided I may as well finish closing the water system. I closed the valve outside and removed the filters, rinsing them out as I had the others, then detached the faucet to take to town, remembering this time to disconnect the drain pipe first so I could lift up the sink and pull it out to access the nuts on the bottom of the faucet. Then I walked back up to the water source, pulled the hose out and weighed it down on a log with a couple of rocks, then returned to the lodge, opened the valves to drain, and covered the filter heads with tinfoil. While the last of the water trickled from the hose valve, I went back up to open the both cabin valves for the winter, tinfoiling the hose valve at the lodge on my return. The water system was all put away--I just have to grease the o-rings tonight. Except there was one more distasteful task--dealing with the wonderful grease trap. I grabbed a bread bag from the trash and dish gloves and crept into the bear proof box where I pulled out several handfuls of congealed goo on the top of the water inside and deposited them in the bag. Then I used the plastic cup I leave in there to scoop out most of the liquid inside just to be on the safe side when it freezes. It was mildly disgusting and I wondered if I should be thoroughly cleaning it periodically as there were more particulates at the bottom than there had been at the top.

And that was really the last of the projects I can reasonably do today (except for o-ring greasing), but just in case I want to tackle it tonight and, because I expect I'll get chilled from sitting outside again, I lit a fire. Maybe I won't need another for the night. Since I've stayed so long on this trip, I thought that leaving early would be a good idea, but there's a negative tide at 7:00 am, so I either have to wait until late morning for the tide to rise for a comfortable departure (as opposed to pulling the kayak and loading the gear across the flats in an awkward hybrid departure) or leave as soon as the boat floats. I loathed the idea of hauling three batteries, a big bag of linens, a tote of gear, my personal gear, tools, stain, etc., across the flats, so my plan now is to use the cart to get the gear out there when the boat is grounded early in the morning, then pull the anchor in so I can leave when it floats at my leisure, more or less. I hope it'll work. If so, I won't be wanting to do a lot of chores in the morning so hope to have everything pretty much ready tonight. Last minute will be taking the satellite radio down and putting the Yeti in its box once I check the weather one last time, and the smoke stack if necessary. I hope this will all seem reasonable in the morning.

Right now the weather looks absolutely fine, the inlet quite calm, the sky a high billowy overcast. There have been rain showers today, but always brief; there was a breeze, though nothing like yesterday, and it seems to have died. I noticed sitting here yesterday that the dominant sound were the waves rolling onto the sandbars from Gilbert Bay when earlier in the week all I'd heard was the waterfall downriver and the periodic calls of local songbirds. The activity does seem to have slowed. I've seen a couple of thrushes around (one near the water source) but they don't seem to be harvesting as many berries. The rodents/shrews continue to zip across the rocky path and I had two fun encounters with them earlier in the week. One time on the way to Hermit Thrush, I chased a tiny critter along the path in front of me, nearly catching up to it a couple of times, so small it must have been a shrew or baby mouse. A similar sized creature appeared in the meadow just upriver of the path. Over at the mouth of the creek we explored last Sunday, Cailey went into full hunting mode in the tall grass, eagerly seeking something that had caught her attention.

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I checked the fire around 6:30 to see if it was dying enough that I could take the smoke stack down before dark, but it had a strong bed of coals, so instead I tossed a couple more pieces of wood on to ensure a warm night. I think I overdid it, as I was much too hot after I finished my last episode of Stranger Things, read a little, and tried to sleep. Cailey had, surprisingly, laid down in her porch bed inside and stayed there all night, so I had the couch to myself. When my alarm went off at 6:30 it was still half dark and the boat well aground. It was clear that there was no hurry, so I didn't get up right away, but did check the forecast. It has shifted from 1-2' seas to 1-3' seas, building to a small craft advisory later in the day as another system came in off the Gulf. If the weather had looked more promising for the evening, I might have abandoned my clever attempts at loading the boat at low tide, but I was uneasy about it, especially having been gone so long. It turned out to be a nightmarish ordeal, probably the worst low tide loading experience I've ever had. Thinking that Cailey wouldn't appreciate standing anxiously in the mud at the boat while I loaded (and not wanting her legs to be coated in silt the rest of the morning), I fed her the last of her stew meals and left her inside while I loaded the cart. I managed to get everything I wanted in it (two 12 v batteries, the Yeti in its box, my clothes/book bag, two bags of garbage, diesel jug, empty propane tank, bag of stains, tote, huge dry bag of linens), but the dry bad was floating around on top with the stain and garbage. It wasn't too heavy a load, but I could not control it down the slippery steps and it wound up on its end, discarding some of the cargo in the process. I left the dry bag there and reloaded, inching down the path, straddling one of the logs bordering the rocks when it was too narrow. The rest of the meadow was manageable, but a little awkward, with a surprising number of rocks that lodged against the wheels. I put the dry bag and garbage back on, but lost them again descending to the rocky part of the beach and left them there. Needless to say, pushing over those rocks, even the small, flattish ones, was rough, and I detoured down toward the rockless seep, struggling to push the cart back up the gentle incline on the other side. I inched my way along the flats beyond, trying to avoid the scattered rocks and more frequent potholes. It doesn't really sound like much, but it was agonizing, and I was drenched in sweat by the time I quit pushing, a little ways from the end of the main flats and still some distance from the Ronquil, out on the old channel bed and across a little stream.

None of this probably makes sense without pictures, but I didn't take any. The whole process took about 45 minutes. It was raining, the work was incredibly difficult, I was soaking my clothes (under my rain gear) with sweat. For some reason, I'd anchored the Ronquil well beyond the old channel edge, where I've often encountered it floating gently while I was able to walk right up to it. Now that edge is so eroded and gentle that you can hardly recognize it, but it's still maybe 8-10" above the old channel where the boat sat. The mud on higher ground was slippery as usual, the wheels digging in about an inch, but the mud at the bottom of the channel was so soft my boots sank in 4-5" inches, unloaded. Carrying gear the 25 yards between the cart and the boat was slow and agonizing, every other step taking an extra effort to extricate my boot. I think I made about six trips, hating every moment of it, feeling even more terrible when I heard Cailey cry out from inside the lodge. Miserable. First to go in was the Yeti, which I tucked on and under a tarp to keep dry. After my second to last trip, I grabbed the anchor and pulled it as far as its line would go toward higher ground, intending to board when it floated in the old channel, but found it not long enough, so after my last haul I let out a bunch more line and pulled it much farther and upriver so it wouldn't drift down too much.

Thoroughly miserable, I returned to the dry bag and garbage and delivered those, then pulled the cart back to the porch around 8:00. It rolled well, to my relief, as one of the wheels had bent badly under the carriage as I turned it around on the mud when loaded. I had hoped for a better response from Cailey, but she seemed very subdued and I regretted leaving her inside. Already wet and unhappy, I first thought I'd try to deal with the last close up items before my promised cup of tea. I set up the ladder at the smoke stack and then remembered that I needed to go inside and make sure the pipe was loose in the wall thimble, pulling out the nails or screws that held them together. Wet and covered in mud, once I took off my rain gear and boots to go inside, I decided I really needed a break. I stripped and found that my tshirt was half soaked with sweat along with the arms of the sweater I'd had over that. All replacements, of course, were now on the boat. I ate the rest of the yogurt and granola for breakfast at the window inside, then put my flannel on and headed back out for those final chores, having seen that I had not used any hardware to connect the stove pipe going through the wall after all. Taking it down was easy, as was nailing in the cover to the opening, and I took the time to take down the old metal strap and screw in a new piece for next spring. Then I took down the satellite radio and greased and covered its exposed cable end in a ziplock, and carried the ladder up to the outhouse. And finally, I heated up some water and made tea, carrying it to the porch to join my book and a quilt where I planned to enjoy my usual "final tea on the porch" as the tide rose. The hard part was done, now I could take the last few minutes to enjoy Snettisham in the fall.

Just after my first sip, I saw some cool wildlife, but soon saw that the tide was rapidly rising, the boat was floating, and the anchor was not far from the water's edge. I slurped and poured out (in a grateful way) the rest of my tea and hustled around to get the furniture inside, lock the shed, wrap up the outhouse (twice because I left my jacket in there the first time), gather up last minute belongings, turn off the propane, etc., etc. Bundled in my survival suit, I hefted the cart onto the top deck, closed the shutters, crammed all my gear onto my back and into arms, and hastened to the beach. The anchor was nowhere in sight. I've been in this situation many times, and always managed to stumble onto the chain or anchor or at least the anchor line at some point, but never had it taken longer. It turned out I was searching farther upriver than I needed to be and only by walking to the very tops of my boots down the beach did I finally spot a dark smudge in the murky water and, thank goodness, it was the anchor in about a foot of water. But I couldn't move it with my toe and my arms were more than full. I trudged up to the flats and, with nothing dry to put anything on, sacrificed Cailey's bottom boat blanket and laid everything on top of it, in the rain. Then I hastened back and barely found the anchor again, dragging it in toward shore. The line was snagged on something downriver, so the boat paralleled the shore instead of coming closer. Nothing was going well! Meanwhile, the rapidly rising tide had already reached my gear and I had to pause my boat fetching efforts to shift it farther up the beach. Finally I yanked on the snag hard enough to bring the boat into shallower water so I could approach. I hauled the gear out there, then called Cailey who was waiting at the edge of the water. She obediently, if slowly, walked toward me, but I stopped her when the water level rose close to her belly, not wanting her jacket to get soaked prior to the long ride. I waded over to her and very awkwardly picked her up, dumping her gently onto the back bench of the boat. She was wonderful and didn't squirm or let out a peep. I took water over one boot and soaked my cuffs in the process. Before boarding myself, I pulled in as much anchor line as I could until it wouldn't budge, so decided to organize the boat and then pull it in from the bow, as there would be plenty more water by then. Everything was wet and there was about an inch of almost solid mud on the floor of my boat, once pristine from the recent rains. I tucked my camera and a few other items under the tarp and my muddy backpack under the dash at my feet, tidied up everything else, added five gallons of gas to the tank, and set up Cailey's bed. Instead of the wet bottom blanket, I used the dog bed I'd brought down earlier to help keep the Yeti box dry in the cart; it had been sitting out in the light rain, but still seemed to be a good bottom layer. Her thick blanket was dry on the inside once I refolded it, and she was soon sitting on it. I pulled the anchor, laying it on deck since I could no longer access the hold with all the gear and garbage on top, and we left around 10:20 am.

Gilbert Bay was calm, and the port was decent until we neared Stephen's Passage and started to encounter some rollers. From there, 2-3' seas followed us home, not too bad all things considered. Cailey curled up in her bed and never moved until we reached the channel. I covered her up with a blanket and I think she was warm enough. It rained all the way until we crossed the Taku Open and cruised into brighter skies in Juneau. Ezra met me at the dock and helped me unload two cartfulls of wet gear, leaving some of it onboard to come out when the boat is pulled.


A hermit thrush forages for currents