Taku 2022 - 4: Firewood
August 11 - 15


Crossing the meadow

Photo Album

Calm and overcast, it's a peaceful day outside. We left the harbor yesterday around noon on the Kathy M, leaving a following westerly in the channel for calm and glassy seas in Taku Inlet. The overcast sky gave way to patches of blue and we won the cabin in good time. We touched bottom a few times as we crept up the shallows by the meadows but it was otherwise uneventful. The CFS had plunged earlier in the week and was then around 27,000. Spurs of flooding sandbars were inhabited by myriad seals along the cliffs above Taku Point (I estimated 200 on one bar alone) and we both commented that the bars had not been visible (that we'd noticed anyway) in May when the tide was lower and the CFS at 12,500. Curious.

We took one cart load up with almost everything on it and, in no time, all the systems were go and we were sitting down with a glass of wine to decompress. I'd just returned from Snettisham three days earlier and my mom from the cabin just the day before. At 4:00, I headed upriver with Cailey to check on the berry situation. I noted blueberries along the path, including on bushes I'd left beside the trail at the end of Spruce Alley, cut about four overhanging trees with the swede saw, and then pushed on to Boundary Meadow which I've been trying to keep clear of spruces and alder. I was delighted to find sufficiently ripe or nearly ripe nagoonberries and probably picked about six cups before heading further upriver. I didn't wind up going very far, for there were more ripish nagoons just down the trail and I picked some more. I also made my way indirectly back to Devastation Alley (but didn't pick up the card as the hatch is secured by zip ties) mostly to see how easy it was to access, and from there across the slough to Boundary Meadow. There I started picking blueberries along the trail as Cailey urged me back, topping off the small tub at the cabin. The mosquitoes had been mild enough that I didn't put deet on immediately, but did break a couple of times to apply it as they began to nibble on my bare arms and face. I lit a mosquito coil and sat on the porch reading until dinner time, then heated up some Indian food and we chatted the rest of the evening.

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With the help of an antihistamine, I slept later than I have in a long time. It's such a serene morning, I don't feel a push to get going, so may just have some breakfast and a cup of tea as my mom sleeps in...

And so we had a late start to the day. Our initial thought was to go for a canoe ride, this being the only day forecast to be rain-free, but in the end we both thought that working on the splitter would be a better idea. We spent perhaps an hour getting ready, starting with restacking the remaining split firewood against the wall by the door for easy access while the rest dries behind it. My mom put the ball on the 4-wheeler so we could tow the splitter instead of dragging it by a chain which we've done in the past; although they didn't fit together very well, it made enough of a connection to make it all the way and we plan to look into it further later on. Then we had to scrounge up emery paper to clean the flywheel, a cup to add gas to the spark plug and the gas tank, the right socket to remove the flywheel cover, a rag to wipe it down, a spark plug wrench that fit, etc. The flywheel had little rust on it, so that was a fairly simple project; it took far longer to insert the bolts that hold its cover in place (one is awkwardly placed) than to actually clean it. Around noon we gave it a go after pouring a little gas below the spark plug and it started after several pulls, then died as I turned down the choke. Another pull and a gentler release of the choke and we were off and running. What a good little machine! We'd set it up so the lever end was right against the bottom of the steps and my mom was able to comfortably sit on the second step to operate it. I set myself up with a tall stump and a knee pad to sit on and off we went. The new wood was wet and oozed apart rather than popping apart as drier wood will and we wound up turning around pieces often to get them to split. Some of the larger rounds split off chunks that were maybe a quarter or a fifth the size of the whole round instead of down the middle. It was satisfying work and we soon a pile of firewood going against the porch. The larger rounds were producing more than a dozen pieces and I think the largest I kept track of made 17 good sized chunks of firewood. Rolling them up onto the splitter took a little work, but overall they weren't as difficult to manage as I would have thought.

When we'd made a dent in the huge pile of rounds, I squeezed over to the porch and tossed down the rounds I'd cut two years ago from a tree upriver and the top of the tree down by the landing, causing the stack of branches to collapse above it. Smaller and dry, they were easy to toss. We cleared an area by the porch to throw that wood once split so it could be easily stacked separately on the porch. When those were split, we broke for lunch. I was drenched in sweat and really enjoyed both the cold modelo especial with lime juice and the quesadilla that followed. In the afternoon we sought more mellow activities. My mom took Jenny out to play and to pick some berries while I grabbed clippers. I started out by finishing the little trail along the waterfront so one can walk along it without pushing through blueberries, cutting or pulling up a number of alders along the way. Then I headed upriver, continued work on making a path through the blueberries at the end of spruce alley (there is now a path through, though not as wide as the rest of the path, and I left some hanging branches with too many blueberries on them to cut). Then I left the clippers at the entrance to the forest and headed for the swede saw which I'd left on a branch I'd cut down the trail. I wound up cutting all the alders and willows that were leaning into the path in the firest all the way to the area of devastation where the ten-foot tall snow bank was and several spruces cross the trail. I was thoroughly beat by then, so I headed back to the cabin. There aren't many more trees to cut and the rest of the trail should come together quickly once I pass through with clippers.

I cleaned up and ate instant Vietnamese pho for dinner and we chatted for the evening, watching a couple of episodes of Parks and Rec before bed.

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I slept well again and was awake at 6:32 with the feeling that there was another serene morning ahead. I quickly dressed and fed Cailey on the porch, then picked a tub of blueberries on the compound and checked on the boat. It was still early, so I put Cailey in the cabin and headed upriver for another tub to pick nagoonberries in Debbie's Meadow. I didn't find many (I think I must have noted strawberries there instead of nagoons) but I did notice quite a few blueberries, so I switched gears and picked another tub in that area and along Spruce Alley. When I got back it was almost 8:30, so I ate some breakfast, put some water on to heat, roused my mom, and then stacked the drier firewood we'd split yesterday alongside the dry firewood--the only firewood that we really need to get onto the porch. The rest, if we run out of time, can sit on the ground under a tarp and be no more the worse for wear. Now we're getting ready to go for a canoe. Though there were a few sprinkles earlier, the rain has held off, it's quiet and calm, and I think we should really take advantage of the opportunity for a little serene trip into the beautiful meadows around us. It is all too easy to get sucked into satisfying work and forget the reason we are here. And seeing a duck might cheer us both up.

We headed out around 9:30 under an overcast sky, everything quiet and serene. For a change, we headed downstream and explored a slough that I'd never been down (that I can recall) and had always wanted to explore. It led us down a channel with tall banks beginning to show purple fall asters and reddish dock seeds. It split some ways in and we explored both paths; one led us over large logs until it became too overgrowth with alders to continue; the other took us right to the sheer rock wall of the mountain beneath a cliff. It was tempting to try to reach the mountain but it was separated from us by a thick tangle of alders and salmonberries and we stayed in the canoe. We then turned upstream and canoed past Boundary Slough, all the way disrupting waterfowl. I had been quite saddened by the almost complete lack of ducks during the summer, worrying that the air boat traffic in the spring had driven them away, so it was with relief and pleasure that we pushed ducks before us, some taking flight from the distance, other erupting from the sedge just next to us. There were among them small ducks with bright green wing patches which I presume to be green-winged teal, but there were others with them--large, with dark napes and black lines through their eyes. Others may have been mergansers. When a group in Boundary Slough merged with others on the main slough, we must have been looking at at least 20 ducks of varying sizes. Very nice. All the way the slough was calm and the morning was peaceful. I'd spotted briefly a male common yellowthroat and, on the way back, we had a nice look at a female/juvenile common yellowthroat. Sparrows popped up from the grass and shrubs but as quickly disappeared and were impossible to identify (though I strongly suspect fox sparrow in one instance and Lincoln's in the others). Along the mountain, both jays and ravens called.

On the walk back to the cabin, I swung over to an iris meadow and we picked some nagoonberries there.

By the time we were back at the cabin is was approaching noon, so we at pretzel havarti sandwiches and beers. While my mom made Jenny lunch, I was eager to work, so I stepped outside and coaxed my chainsaw to run. I put on my chaps and my gloves and headed to the riverbank to limb and buck up the little spruce tree there that had previously blocked the view through the alders. When that was complete, I walked down to the landing and made a short cut to separate the two enormous rounds there that had been left just barely connected to we can finally move and split them. Around 1:00, we were fueled up and ready to start on the rounds again. The splitter started up beautifully and we worked for about an hour and a half before it ran out of gas (surprising, as we hadn't burned through but half a tank the day before in an hour). We were able to restart it using the choke, but not having to add fuel under the spark plug. The stack of split wood behind me grew, my back increasingly ached, and, slowly, the enormous stack of rounds grew smaller. I glanced over there time and time again hoping it would shrink more quickly and pushed myself well beyond when I'd have preferred to quit, trying to baby my shoulder so I didn't injure it again prior to (hopefully) fishing next week. The biggest problem--other than manhandling enormous rounds--was the fact that many of them didn't split cleanly, with strands of fiber persistently connecting split pieces. Most we were eventually able to separate, but some will have to be burnt together. It was tiring work, though, and I reveled in how easy the drier (and smaller) rounds were to cut. We called it at 4:00 after three hours of splitting with seven of the biggest of the rounds left to go along with the rounds I cut today and the two at the landing which we need to pick up. We came inside and drank mimosas followed up by quesadillas for dinner with home made guacamole. The rain had luxuriously held off all day, and it was a good one.

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For the second day in a row, my phone read 6:32 when I turned it on. Again I quickly dressed, washed up with cold water, and fed Cailey outside, but instead of picking berries I first went down to the spruce I'd bucked up yesterday, stacked all the many luxurious branches in a pile over a sparsely vegetated area and gathered the rounds together, a little annoyed at myself for missing so many little branches on them (and one big one), thankfully all small enough for clippers to handle. Then I put Cailey inside and headed upriver with the clippers to improve the trail. I cut the stubs of a few blueberry branches on the way, but focused on the trail through the woods upriver. As hoped, it went well and fairly quickly up to the area of devastation. First I had to tackle a large spruce that had cracked and overhung the trail with its many branches (and the top of another young spruce that came down with it), then upriver of that was another cluster of spruces and alders and willows in a huge tangle. I made a reasonable path up to the spruce that requires stepping over, cleaned up the branches I'd cut (piling some of them up on the false trail where the snow bank was to better indicate not to take it) and headed back. I'd been cutting for about an hour and found it ever so pleasant to walk back. The difference in enthusiasm for walking upriver now that the trail is mostly clear is just as noticeable as I expected. The rest of the trail won't take long to finish, but it was already 8:30 and I wanted to get back.

I found my mom already up, dressed, and breakfasted. While she fueled the engine and the water pump, I started to excavate some room around where I sat to split which had become quite claustrophobic by the end of our splitting yesterday--and dangerous, since I had no room to move or avoid anything. Then we attached the trailer to the 4-wheeler and fetched the two large rounds from downriver and the rounds from the spruce nearby and delivered them to the back of the mound. I rolled up the seven other large rounds that were already there, added the new smaller rounds, and started the engine--awkwardly because there was not much room for me between the engine and the mound of firewood nearby. It started to catch a few times but wouldn't go further, so I turned the choke off and it started right up. A good thing to note, as always before (over the last five times we've used it), it needed the choke even when warm. It has been running fabulously, as it did for the next hour and fifteen minutes as we split the small rounds and the last nine of the large rounds. The biggest one today took eight minutes to split and produced 32 pieces of firewood. Although they were a lot of work, and heavy to move around, it was fun to whittle away a huge round into halves and then smaller and smaller pieces. The smaller rounds took about five minutes each. We were ecstatic to have finished splitting it all and immediately set to work stacking some of it. We started out on the back wall between the wood we are currently burning (split in the fall of 2019) and the north wall. I worked along for a while, stacking wood on the edge of the porch and from there up along the wall. When it rose above the height of the dry wood, I had to crib it on the south side, which took a little extra time, and when it rose above my head, we brought a step ladder in and my mom handed me up pieces until the stack was against the second floor porch.

Most of the time I stacked, my mom worked on improving the system for supporting it. She took down a piece of plywood over the north wall (which was already spanned by 1x6s about a foot apart) and a 2x4 that crossed the deck in the other direction. She prepped that for a second 2x4 to put on the outside of the open wall on the east to join an existing one. She also added a second 2x4 vertical post to the existing post in the middle of the deck to provide support for a third row out from the door. She had to look high and low for a board that was high enough, but found one and cut a section off that I think became a new floor support (the existing 2x4 was not quite long enough). The old 2x scrap that had been used had several bent nails pounded down and was a bit unsightly. The whole thing looks much more professional and tidy and worked brilliantly.

By the time that was done, I had stacked up most of the second layer (behind the stack of wood that was cut in 2020 and split two days ago) only to have it collapse on me. Thankfully, I was mostly off to the side and avoided being struck by the avalanche. When I approached the ceiling, my mom handed me firewood a stick at a time again until it was right up against the ceiling again. This time I was more careful to make sure it didn't lean forward and it felt solid, though I was still uneasy being underneath it. We broke for quesadillas at lunch and then jumped back to it unusually quickly, suited up this time as it had finally started to rain (we were grateful to have had an unexpected extra day and a half of dry weather during which we did all the splitting). By around 3:00, the wood was all stacked up. We couldn't believe we'd managed it! Oh, we had decided at lunch that, although the forecast had changed to light winds and seas to one foot today (a far cry from the 2-3' or 3' seas that had been forecast for several days), we would stay an extra night. That way, we would not have to come back to the need to stack firewood and I would have time for a little more relaxed berry picking. It was a bold move given that I had hoped to go to Snettisham on Thursday, but I really wanted to leave without having JUST accomplished goals, exhausted but longing for more time. Anyway, after finished the stacking, making the third and fourth rows lower than the others, we raked and my mom started piling the mounds of bark and other debris into the trailer, fashioning a gate on the back with a piece of plywood so we could fit it all in, and collected the small chips of wood in boxes for kindling. I restacked the alder pieces that have been on the other side of the door on top of the dry firewood, swept, and stacked the water tubs against that wall, and generally tidied up the porch. It looks great. I took some tools down to Alder and tidied up the back shelf there a little and met my mom inside. We were both totally exhausted. I had thought I'd go on a walk and pick some berries this evening, but the rain was pouring again by then (it had died off for most of the early afternoon while we worked) and I found my legs to be very very tired. Neither of us had any energy. We chatted, ate macaroni and cheese for dinner, watched a couple of Parks and Rec episodes, and went our separate ways at 8:00. I'm now upstairs in my cozy room with an oil lamp burning and ready to fall asleep at any moment. We are both so pleased with our progress this summer in so many ways.

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I woke up around 11:30 and had trouble getting back to sleep, so I got up and took an antihistamine to help. Through that or exhaustion or both, I slept a little later, getting up a bit before eight. Cailey and I walked down to the boat and then I headed upriver solo, stopping at Debbie's Meadow where I delighted in picking a few handfuls of strawberries. The next step was finishing the major clearing of the trail upriver. I cut a couple more alders and the spruce tree that we had to shuffle over along with a lot of overhanging branches. The spruce was long enough and large enough that I actually cut a section through it (instead of cutting the top off) to walk through, leaning the cut section and the top into the standing spruce nearby with its skirt of broken branches. I did some clipping beyond that to improve the feel of the trail, but it needs more work. Still, now it's an easy walk to the Boundary Meadow. There I was pleased to find more strawberries and, between the two places, filled about half a large cottage cheese container. Then I worked my way upriver for nagoonberries, finding a few patches here and there with ripe berries, but most were much too underripe and, in a few places where they grew only a few inches high and seemed sun stroked, they were overripe. If they continue to ripen, there will be buckets and buckets of them, but I only picked a couple of tubs. I did find more strawberries than expected, here and there all over the place. Someone is tending at least one patch based on the many small spruces that have been uprooted, as I have been doing on our property. Along the 4-wheeler trail itself I was a little irritated at the way people have cut branches from the trail and either left them in situ or drug them into the meadow, killing the vegetation beneath and leaving an unsightly mess. I drug a few of them away.

I made it back around 10:30 and found my mother down where the large tree went down tidying up all the mass of branches and other debris left behind. I picked a tub of blueberries, cut or pulled up most of the alders in the meadow near the river, cut down several long spruce branches overhanging the trail to the landing which required a ladder and the swede saw, filled water jugs from the olive barrel, washed off the tops of the water jugs, swept the floor, cleaned the bathroom, and packed up. I made quesadillas for lunch and havarti avocado pretzel roll sandwiches for dinner on the boat and started a quesadilla cooking when I saw my mom on my way up. After lunch we hooked up the trailer and dumped the load of debris down at the landing in the bushes, then returned to the pile of spruce branches from the spruce cut in the alders by the river, loading the trailer with the smaller ones and throwing the rest over the bank. After we dropped the branches at the landing, we dropped off the trailer, installed the ball hitch on the 4-wheeler, and pulled the splitter down to Alder. I left my mom to put the 4-wheeler away and close up Alder and read on the porch for a little bit while Canada geese called and called on the river. Then I carried a few things down to the boat and inserted the branches we'd left there under the landing, wending them among the living roots, some right against the sand at the bottom. I'm quite pleased with the result. Now we're approaching departure. I'm tired and neither of us seem to be in the best of moods. Thankfully, there is barely a tremble in the leaves and it hasn't but sprinkled here and there all day, so perhaps we'll have a decent ride home. While I am deeply appreciative of the very productive trip we had, I am weary of working so hard here and hope soon to have all the big tasks behind us so we can remember to enjoy the place. Berry picking, while a wonderful opportunity, is itself a task, and not the best way to enjoy the land. September then!


Splitting firewood