Taku 2022 - 5: Solo Tromping
August 31 - September 3

Fall light

Photo Album

It's early evening on day two and I'm pleasantly whooped, pleased for the warm cabin and the moment of brightness out the window where the rain has stopped. Cailey and I made it up yesterday without incident, the river low in terms of CFS (about 28,000) but high for the 17+ foot tide and I did not touch bottom. I was a little anxious because I left later than I like to, only an hour before the tide, and wasn't even in the river by the time the tide was high, but as hoped the tide was lingering nicely. The inlet was mostly calm with seas at their worst between Cooper and Jaw. For the first time I can remember, Cailey stood on the side of the boat and sniffed the air as we passed the cliffs above Taku Point just like, and where, Nigel used to. Even with the high water, some seals were on the sandbars flanking that section, only the heads and tips of their back flippers showing on most of them. Others clustered in their hole along the cliff. Six mergansers (common I think) fluttered along the water in front of me as though they couldn't fly and I was glad they finally ducked into safety at the mouth of the slough when I went past. The day was unexpectedly fine, partly cloudy, and I took the opportunity to stop by the yellow-rumped warbler tree to pick up the nest I'd accidentally left behind on our way out last time. All was intact including the unhatched egg.

I floundered a bit at the dock, as it's the first time I've been here in the Ronquil this year and the fenders are not set up for it, then carried everything up the landing in two loads which fit easily on the convenient two-wheel cart. It smelled absolutely wonderful, scents that you only pick up in fall, one of which, so sweet and distinct, heart-wrenchingly sublime, I simply could not place. On the front porch I found a fairly fresh hermit thrush body with just a bit eaten out of its breast. I couldn't see any sign that it hit the door window, but it's possible. I went through the normal rigmarole of opening up, but everything went well (once I realized that I had turned the gas ignition knob the wrong way on the refrigerator) and in half an hour I was unpacked and settled in. When I took my clothes bag upstairs to my room I checked the water level in the tank on the deck and found it very low and it was clear that I'd soon run out. Since the weather was unlikely to improve, I put the hose into the top (the fitting is in town for repairs) and started the water pump, returning to the deck to read while the water level rose until it was close enough to run down and turn the pump off. Once full, I grabbed my large green kerosene lantern whose wick had crept above the last inch or so of diesel in the bottom and took it downstairs. My mom had switched all the other lamps over to smokeless oil, so I had decided to do the same. I replaced the wick with a new one I'd bought at Western Auto, dumped the rest of the diesel into the canister by the stove, swabbed out the rest with a paper towel and a knife, filled it with clean oil I'd brought from town, and let the wick soak it up. Cailey and I relaxed for the rest of the peaceful evening, lighting another lamp for ambience and reading on the couch. Dinner was Indian food, leftover French bread, and half a rather old salad bag. Outside, the air was swarming with moths--presumably more of the black-headed budworms; I estimated about one per square foot around the edges of the spruces.


I'd lit a fire in the evening, which was difficult to get going as they all have been this year, and by the time we retired upstairs, it was still quite cool there and we both slept with wool blankets over our usual bedding (fur for Cailey, thin comforter for me). I read until ten and then slept amazingly well on a single foam pad, having removed the second one as an experiment. I got up around 7:30 and checked the water level in the tank and found that we'd lost two inches overnight--quite a lot of water. I found that I wasn't very hungry and didn't feel like lingering inside, so I ate a spoonful of peanut butter and suited up in rain gear (rain had started falling just as I was waking up), disappointed to find that I'd forgotten my good rainpants; I'd intended to wear them, but the sunny day meant that I didn't seek them out on the way to the harbor. Outside I found that the hermit thrush had been dragged into the corner of the building by the door and that more of its breast had been eaten. Weasel? I packed no hunting signs, my drill and bits and an extra battery, hammer, electrical wire, zip ties, wire, leatherman, and inreach, and headed out with a garden fence stake in hand. We exited the trail and headed downriver to the boundary line past the glen. The fence post there had fallen down and I didn't spend any time looking for it, instead selecting a good, visible location on solid ground. I pounded the stake in, then estimated where I needed holes drilled in the sign to line up with holes in the post, then drilled them against the ground, cut lengths of electrical wiring, and used them to secure the sign. My hope is that the rubber coating on the wire will help "insulate" the signs from chafing in the wind so they might last the winter without the wire cutting through the sign. Cailey was not happy about my standing around and made every indication that she would prefer to return to the cabin. Instead we headed first into the glen area toward the river where I put up the first no hunting sign within the boundary, arranged to be very visible for anyone coming from the same direction as the hunter we caught on camera last year. Then, back toward the slough. I stopped to pick up a sign I'd left on a willow last year when I couldn't find the fence post, and briefly tacked it back up, then changed my mind as I didn't want it to imply that one could assume a straight line between the two as the boundary line since the willow was well inside the property line. Instead I headed to the next stake in line and repeated the process, pounding it in more securely first. Then again at the slough. I had taken waypoints on a couple of the markers and took one at the canoe as well, which is how I discovered that a bear had taken one exploratory bite to the bottom of the bow! Four perfect canine impressions, two on either side of the keel. I can't tell whether it penetrated the hull, but I think it'll be alright. Naughty bear! They do love plastic. On the way back to the trail, I stopped by the iris meadow to check on the status of the nagoonberries there and saw that it looked like a great time to pick them. Then, in the open area of the woods just before I reached the little slough, I put up another "within boundary" no hunting sign.

We got back to the cabin at 9:00, just an hour after we left, and I was ready for more. I dried Cailey off and left her inside while I turned to other chores. First I clipped down a blueberry bush behind the cabin that we had just about killed while splitting wood, then pulled up a large alder near the garden box, then folded my nemesis the blue tarp and stashed it behind Alder. On the way out I picked up a spool of green rope and went down to the point where two trees are leaning over the bank, each with one or two lines around them attached to trees presumably in the river. With the water low and the tide low, I could see that there still is a substantial shelf at the bottom of the sand bank, and I bet that long-dead tree in the river is one of the ones attached to the ones on the bank. My first task was to deal with impending girdling. The tree on the downriver side wasn't there yet, but it was close; thankfully I was able to break open the bowline knot I'd tied to it and loosen up the line. The other tree had two lines, one of which was quite snug. I wound up cutting into the knot and removing a couple feet of line, but thankfully there was just enough left retie a bowline leaving a loose line around the tree. By the time I was finished with that, all done awkwardly beneath and among scratching branches at the edge of the bank, I'd nearly forgotten what my real goal was! That is, those trees are doomed to fall in the river and if they are not secured, then they and everything they're tied to will be released into the river/ocean. I fetched the line I'd brought nearby and looped it through the lines on both trees, tied a bowline, than let out a lot of slack--hopefully enough for the trees to reach the river but not much more--and tied another bowline around a spruce about eight feet back from the bank--about where the other trees had been when they'd been used as anchors originally.

After I returned the rest of the line to ALDER, I cut a couple of large alders I'd missed last time in the meadow--one a cluster off a long stump I should swede saw off and the other growing up in a blueberry bush--then finished clipping blueberries from the trail along the river so it is even more walkable without brushing wet vegetation. Leaving clippers behind, I walked down to Fox Hole and took waypoints on the property marker and on the spruce with a boundary sign on it at the edge of the alders. I found the latter first, then backtracked until I found the marker; I need to remember that it's behind the cabin, meaning that you walk back from the back side (with the windows), not the side that faces downriver as I'd thought. I had to leave the second marker and walk to an opening in the nearby alders to get a signal, but the inreach seems to recognize that, counting how far you are away from the waypoint, which is neat if that works. It still took a long time. I saw that a couple of my pieces of blue survey tape were still in place, so I thought I'd see if I could find my way along the boundary line again. It worked great for about 20 feet and then became impossible to walk in a straight line and all previous markers were immediately lost from view. It is dense alders and devil's club in there and I wound up down in a wet wash, eventually making my way to a little meadow. Before me was a finger of spruces, beyond which I was pretty sure I'd found the first boundary sign I'd put up earlier. I followed the slough through this little meadow upriver until I hit forest again, emerging into the area of the glen camera. Neat! But instead of heading back out to the main trail, I turned toward the river. This path took me into the spruces and devil's club behind the landing, so I stopped by the Ronquil and refueled. Again I noticed the low water which I thought might be even lower than it was when we put it in, though that seems unlikely. There is a nice little shelf of sand, maybe 18" wide between the outer pilings and the river. I used my paddle to probe for depth; it seems to deepen gradually until it was four feet deep half way out the floats, then suddenly too deep for the paddle. I managed to manhandle one of the spruce boughs out from around the floats and added it to the pile under the landing.

For some reason, I still wasn't ready to quit, so I took the clippers and walked upriver with the intent to finish cleaning up the very end of the trail. On the way, I clipped away a few blueberries roots I'd overlooked, but tried to focus on the area past the devastation that I managed last time. It was a lot of little spruces reaching out and a lot of blueberries, but it looks pretty decent now. There is always more work to be done, but one can walk that whole trail now without ducking (except where intentional) and without brushing up against or through blueberries, or tripping on spruce or blueberry roots. Since I was already down there, I went through Boundary Meadow, noting only one good patch of nagoonberries, still not quite ripe, but not as many as I'd seen before. Not sure if they've been picked over since I was last there. Then I browsed through the dense alders downriver of the cottonwood tree looking, hopelessly I thought at first, for the boundary marker. I was quite surprised to stumble upon it. This time I had to walk quite far away back toward the meadow for the inreach to find a signal, but again it seemed to track me accurately as I walked.

And so it was around 11:30 when I finally came back into the cabin. My pants were completely soaked as were half my socks from my inadequate rainpaints, which was one of the reasons I didn't want to break until I really needed to. I lit a fire, laboriously, changed into dry clothes, and made a quesadilla for lunch with a cold modelo especial and lime juice. Lovely. I relaxed and read for an hour or so, then prepped for another similar trip to the other side of the property. This time I drilled holes in all the signs inside and pre-fitted them with electrical wiring. At 1:25 I headed back upriver, this time leaving the trail at the new junction into TEWA meadow (Tennessee warbler meadow). I picked up old signs, all but one on the ground, and replaced them with new ones, straightening and securing the posts while I was at it. For the one just inside the willows near the main slough, I replaced the old sign with a "within boundary" sign since it sits within the border there. Then I replaced the still-functional sign at the slough with a new one. At that point I thought I might head along the back of the woods and put up another "within boundary" sign near the crossroads on the way. But, when I walked through Pretty Meadow, I saw a good spot for a sign on a branch-less section of spruce and thought that was a good place for one. Nearby, a break in the trees led to a tiny meadow and another scene of terribly spruce devastation from the snow, all the trees there broken and weeping.

Since I was out of no hunting "within boundary" signs, I changed my plans and decided to explore a slough I'd been curious about, the one in the meadow past Pretty Meadow that points toward the river and narrows where it reaches the forest. I suspected I'd find our trail just inside the trees there. So I walked along the edge of the little slough, surprised first not to find a clear game trail, and second that the slough ended not in the forest but in a drier meadow surrounded by trees and filled with tall, dense lady ferns and other vegetation. It was so dense I actually called out to bears, as it seemed like a good place to curl up for an afternoon nap. On the other side of that I finally entered the forest and a more open environment, to my relief. Just moments later I was drawn toward some spruces that appeared to have bare sides and, when I got closer, confirmed that they had been limbed. I was appalled. Who would have the audacity to chainsaw so deep within our property!? It was such a clear area I first wondered if someone were building a cabin there, but immediately abandoned that thought as preposterous. Maybe a moose hunting stand in the tree?? Then I realized, with great relief, that this was where we'd had Talon buck up a tree this summer and where he'd inexplicably limbed several spruces beyond what seemed strictly necessary. And so it was an easy walk along our wood-hauling route back to the trail and the cabin.

And still I wasn't done. I would really like to feel like I have the freedom to tramp around, berry pick, and bird watch this weekend, so I picked up the last two "within boundary" signs, an old boundary sign, and another fence post, and headed back behind the cabin again. First I went down the loop from the downriver side, placing a sign along the trail at the Crossroads which I hope can be seen both from the main trail and down the crossroads trail, and then placing one closer to the entrance along the side of the trail, having no other ideas in mind. Then back to the glen area and down into that little meadow area I'd walked through earlier where I now suspect the hunter we saw last winter accessed the glen. The finger of trees there is only about 20 feet wide, so I poked my head out the other side until I could see the sign I'd put up this morning, then put up the new one on the other side. I was back around 3:30, pleased to find the cabin still warm. I drank a slightly slushy cherry bubbly on the swing while Cailey chewed on a hoof that had been softening up since last night, enjoying the very peaceful fall afternoon. I warmed up, read, and dozed off for a few minutes before Cailey got me up for dinner. I ate the rest of the salad--half frozen now--and last year's spaghetti-os for dinner and am now quite warm and content. It wasn't until I sat down that I realized how worn out and foot sore I was, but I had done more than five hours of tramping around, mostly off trail, but now all the signage and most of the chores I wanted to do around here are done.

During a pleasant, bright portion of the evening, Cailey and I walked down to the landing and back, using the newly-trimmed trail along the river which I like so well. On the way back, I finally found some of the birds that have been tantalizingly, endlessly tittering through the woods, so hard to pin down. As expected, there were golden-crowned kinglets and chickadees, but also a ruby-crowned kinglet. A lovely mixed fall flock. The chickadees in particular were charming; there were at least five of them, calling sweetly to each other from tree to tree.


I again slept through the night, only adding the wool blanket sometime early this morning. And, once again, was underway at 8:00, though this time with oatmeal and peanut butter to fuel me. I'd lost another two inches of water overnight. The day before I'd perused all the places where water enters the fixtures--one toilet and two sinks--and found no evidence of leaks anywhere. The hose to the toilet was damp, but I think from condensation rather than from leaks. I thought I'd try to turn off the valves on them one at a time, but they didn't seem to work, as rotating them to any angle didn't change the flow of water.

For my morning expedition, I left Cailey behind, as my plan was to pick berries and maybe bird watch, neither of which she cares for. The atmospheric river predicted had hit during the night and heavy rain made the loft cozy, but by the time I left, the sky was bright and rainless, which was a pleasure. I returned to the iris meadow and set to picking, leaving my binoculars inside my pack. It turned out that I needed to pick as selectively as last time, but this time for the least ripe berries instead of the most ripe berries, as the last few weeks has set most of them into overripeness and some were even beginning to rot. As I began to pick, a raven flew in, calling and circling me, alighting in a tree at the edge of the forest; later there were two. It really looked like he came to check out what I was up to. I picked two tubs (six cups) in 45 minutes and called it quits. I headed to the slough, looking again for the boundary marker I know is there on the way to the canoe. My thought was to sit on the canoe and do a bird survey overlooking the slough, which turned out to be quite comfortable. Almost immediately, a flock of seven (probably) green-winged teal flew by, so fast I could hardly take the cover off my binoculars to look at them before they were past, heading up the slough and out of sight. I saw no other birds and it started raining, so I didn't linger past the 10 minutes I'd planned.

So back at the cabin at 9:30 I settled into the long-awaited hot drink; cafe francais was the choice. It was the right one, and sitting on the porch as the rain came down with Cailey next to me was perfect. I finished a Branden Sanderson short story while I sipped, then got up for a couple little chores. First I put aquarium sealer in the holes the bear had made in one of the blue water jugs in June, then examined the hummingbird feeder bottoms for leaks. I wound up filling each of them with water and placing them on paper towels to see where water came out; it was somewhat effective, but I'll probably be liberal with the sealant anyway. I put them up on the stairs to dry. Then I heated some water, mixed in some Murphy's oil soap, and washed the kitchen cabinets. It was a satisfying task, though I had to go over a few places multiple times once I put light on them, and the water was surprisingly dirty afterwards. They look great, though probably difficult to tell without more light. By that time it was nearly noon and I broke for lunch, a quesadilla again. The refried beans were frozen, but I managed to scrape and chip away chunks to make it work, so I left the turkey out to thaw for dinner. I lit a little fire and stoked it when I headed out around 1:00. I'd intended to take Cailey with me, but when I'd returned this morning, she'd met me at the door with her right foot off the floor, and limped badly around the cabin. She wanted to go out, though, so I decided to stick around the cabin for a few minutes while she was out. She immediately started happily chewing on the hoof, so I walked down to Alder and did some tidying, adding the loose kayak seats to the bag of kayak accessories, putting the life jackets into the cabinet under the window, putting a loose spool of rope with the other on the back cabinet, and making a stack of an old box, broken glass, empty bags, and no hunting signs to take with me. I used the push broom to sweep again.

By that time, Cailey had come to find me, so we walked back to the cabin and I put her inside again; I sensed she was somewhat reluctant, but I just couldn't take her with her foot the way it was, and I was still hoping for more berries. Again I found the trail upriver just a wonder to walk--it'll be even better once we either bridge the one awkward slough or bypass it. This time I took a right at the junction into TEWA Meadow and over to Devastation Alley. The nagoonberries in most of that area were, as expected, still quite unripe because of the late lingering snow piles, but one area closer to the slough and on only slightly higher ground was absolutely chock-a-block with big, ripe berries in eye-popping clusters. I picked two more tubs there in less than half the time I'd needed this morning. If those other berries were ripe, there would be no end to what one could pick.

Although I was anxious to get back to Cailey, it was still early and I'd really wanted to get across the slough upriver and check out the cottonwood grove and the spruce grove behind it. For that, I needed to find the beaver dam across it, first having to backtrack far up Boundary Slough to find a place to cross it (I think it is a tributary of the larger slough and also backed up by the dam). I tried to head to the slough from the other side, but was blocked by willows and standing water. I skirted them and continued toward the main slough until I could hear roaring water through the willows and pressed into them. It was a bit unnerving, as there was actively running water coursing through the dense willows for dozens of feet before it cascaded six feet into the slough on the lower side of the dam; the roaring I heard was not from water going over the dam itself, which was sloped, but from this wide stream. Actually, I suppose that isn't quite true, as I later discovered that the dam is a very wide arc which continues well into the willows, flooding them but with only a few inches of water. I walked through the overflow carefully, but it was only ever ankle deep and with solid ground beneath. It was through these dense willows that I crept up on the dam proper, where the slough was, and inched across. It looked like the beavers use the middle of it for a slide down. When I reached the other side, about ten feet away, I found that it actually curved another twenty feet or so, creating a pool against a steeper bank beyond. I was not crazy about this, as the dam is sturdy but quite narrow, but I was already committed and made it the other side, relieved to climb into the ferns.

From there the walking was relatively easy and I headed for the cottonwoods. About half way, I stopped in my tracks. Before me was a pile of rocks! I knew that the 1918 surveyor had described piles of rocks which he'd put in places as markers. Could this be one? It sure didn't look like your typical erratic; there was one large stone with several smaller ones on top and around it. Certainly it could be an erratic with a fractured one on top, but it was intriguing enough that I took a waypoint as well as a compass bearing to our cottonwood boundary and to the cottonwood grove nearby. I also took a waypoint on an erratic there at the cottonwood grove. But my real objective was the nearby spruce copse, where I took another waypoint and discovered another area of ripe nagoons, enough to pick another seven or so cups, filling my large tub (cumulatively) and one small tub. I was delighted, but wearing out and the rain had started to fall again (it had brightened again for my afternoon walk). I headed back, crossed the dam without incident, and plowed through the loop trail. Yesterday I'd noted an area of snow devastation along the edge of the slough I followed back and used this to access the forest part of the loop from that meadow (the one past Pretty Meadow). The broken boughs made it easy to access, though I need to remember to bear right when I get through them. I did the whole thing in good time, not much more than it would have taken on the regular trail. It took three minutes to get from the end of the loop to the glen and from there I followed the same route I had yesterday, this time turning upriver when Alder came into view. I did have one mishap--as I left the glen forest to cross the end of the marshy meadow to get to the forest on the other side, I immediately sunk in to the top of my boot! Clinging to alder branches, I beat a hasty retreat and found the same ground relatively firm just a few feet away. I like about half of that route, but it does get pretty dense with devil's club once we approach the river; still, it could be an easy trail to make if we were so inclined.

It was approaching about 3:30 by then, so I hastily changed out of my wet clothes, cleaned up, and had a snack. Feeling guilty, Cailey had a generous snack of now-thawed turkey. Soon the fire was going again, clothes were drying, the wood box was filled, and my belly also filled with my own turkey sandwich. I wrote in the cabin log and am now sitting in a camp chair, overhot by the fire, with Cailey lying at my feet, nagoonberries chilling in the fridge. What a good trip. I think I'll take Cailey for a walk down to the landing and then settle in for the night.


The walk turned out to be lovely. On the way, a quiet quack drew my attention near the old landing and I found a jovial duck paddling on the river and pecking at items that floated by. Later from the dock I saw more on the river and eventually all flew upriver together--seven in all. Could it be the same flock I'd seen earlier? Naturally I had left binoculars behind.

I slept more fitfully that night and wound up sleeping in, to my surprise, until 9:15. But it was Saturday, I'd been tromping hard, and there was no reason to rush. The first thing I did was check the water level in the water tank--11" exactly!! Perhaps I have finally solved the missing water problem. The day before it had dawned on me that the valves in the water line might not be the in-line valves I was used to, which close and open with a quarter turn, but might be more screw-type valves. Sure enough, I was able to shut them off by turning them all the way to the right. So, before bed, I shut the valve on the most likely culprit--the toilet. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was quietly flushing itself and using up the water by refilling the tank. If this solves the problem, we will be pumping a lot less water!

I ate granola and yogurt for breakfast and lingered a little on the couch, starting the last short story in a Brandon Sanderson collection. When we were ready, I took Cailey out behind the cabin to set up cameras. Cailey was eager, as always, to go home, and got a thorough toweling off when we did. There had been more heavy rain overnight and the bending bluejoint was awash with glistening droplets. While we were out, the rain was steady but moderate, but once we were safely tucked back inside it came down in force again. I lit a fire, swept, cleaned, and packed a bit, and then washed the vanity in the bathroom with Murphy's oil soap, having noticed the night before that it's made of the same beautiful wood as the kitchen cabinets. By then it was noon, so I ate a turkey sandwich and snuggled in on the couch with Cailey to finish the short story, fueled half way through with a cup of decaf chai tea that my mother had brought up in May. It was a wonderful break.

And then I looked outside and saw a patch of blue sky over the glacier. The rain had stopped and the sky was rapidly clearing. I suited up for one more foray upriver. Again I was amazed that it only took 10 minutes to get to TEWA Meadow. By then the sun was shining, though I got sprinkled on now and again, and I was much too hot. I wound up having to take off rain coat and sweater to berry pick comfortably in a tshirt. I returned to the same patch of nagoons, but this time picking around the fringes closer to the slough which I hadn't targeted the last time. Soon I had a tub full and turned to blueberries. I wandered around the area a little but didn't find blueberries to pick. Everything was just spectacularly beautiful, though, the willows turning orange, the combination of purple asters, yellow goldenrod, and burgundy fireweed achingly beautiful, the short iris meadow around me dotted with ruby berries, the light shining on the bare blue mountains. I do love the fall.

I wandered back toward the trail and got distracted by a very well-worn trail which I followed toward the trail, thinking I might wind up in Boundary Meadow. It must have been a little downriver of that area, though, as I wound up at the edge of a tangle of willow trees....and an abundant patch of blueberries. There were several bushes together, each hung with huge, ripe berries, apparently untouched by the creature who made the trail. I easily picked two cups there while hardly moving more than a few feet, and left many on the bushes. An amazing find! From there I returned to the trail via the usual way, made a detour upriver to pick from some bushes I'd noted along the trail, then turned around and topped the tub off from the as-yet-unharvested berries from near the garden boxes at the cabin. Cailey returned to enjoying her soft hoof while the sun shone around us.

I wanted to bird watch a little, but also wanted to get the cabin cleaned up and ready to close, so I did those chores first--cleaning the bathroom, washing the dishes, and bringing the water jugs inside. I'd found that two of the three hummingbird feeder bottoms were no longer leaking, but the third was, so I put some more sealant on it where it seemed to be leaking. And then I left Cailey inside while I walked down to the landing with binoculars. I always thought that I'd want to linger on the new steps, but the alder on the left and the spruce on the right rather impede the view, so I wound up sitting on the bow of the Ronquil. Fog sat in the crevasses of the glacier as it had been for a couple of days, making dramatic, shifting fingers over the ice. A fog bank moved upriver, too, occasionally obscuring a large bird sitting on a stump on a sandbar. About nine mergansers swam on the river, crossed a sandbar, and disappeared upriver; it looked like two smaller ducks were also in the area. Seven Canada geese flew by. And a couple of boats, too. The first one slowed down as he passed, and I took the opportunity to ask about the weather in the inlet. He said it was a bit choppy, maybe two-footers. Better than the forecast! I was uneasy earlier looking at the alders along the river waving and listening to the cottonwoods rustle, but it looked to be dying down. He was heading upriver and was unsure of the route, but unfortunately I couldn't help him with that one. He described a route I'd seen boats taking over the weekend--out from below the landing along the side of the grassy sandbar, then back to the right all along the marsh, around the corner, and then across the river. That's a new one. He asked if this was Ron Maas's old place and said that he'd camped there once when stuck on a sandbar.

After he left, I lingered a bit and studied that bird on the stump. It was very dark on the back, and wasn't an eagle. I went up to the point to investigate, then to Debbie's Meadow (such an easy walk, after all!) and got the best look I could from the riverboat. He had a dark, banded tail edged in white, pointed wings (as far as I could tell when he stretched them), and a black and white face (mustaches and eye stripe). I think it was a falcon, but could not see well enough to be more precise, and he was on the large side. I willed him to fly, but he was happy preening in the sunshine on the river. While there, I heard rustling and saw a fluffy ruby-crowned kinglet peering at me from inside a spruce tree nearby.

Back at the cabin I filled out the log, loaded up and headed to the landing, leaving just after 6:00 on a 6:48 tide. The afternoon was glorious, the fall light striking the mountains and meadow brilliantly through the gaps in the clouds. The river was calm and I enjoyed a beer as I slowly made my way down the river, eyeing the sandbars I passed on the right and watching the depth on my depthsounder. At the post marker someone had put up on the bank, somewhat upstream of the start of the "danger zone" sandbar, I saw what might have been a channel and decided to take it. The water depth went down to just over three feet for a short distance and then deepened to eight or ten feet on the other side. I don't know whether I had crossed a deeper part of the shoals or just crossed over a sandbar at high tide, but it never was as shallow as the sandbar had been at its shallowest when I'd come on a higher tide a few days before (2.9') and this channel was never less than about five feet, probably when I shied toward the edge. I wove a little to try to stay in deep water, but was generally going in a straight line from where I'd left the meadow (lined up with the south end of the pair of avalanche chutes upriver) and the edge of the large avalanche chute in the middle of the cliffs downriver. It felt like I was mid-way in the river, but I was probably closer to the meadow. When I was about 3/4 of the way, the water began to shallow and I changed course, bearing to the left and going straight for some cliffs that were upriver of the avalanche I'd been pointing towards. I watched the depth go from nine feet to 25 in short order as I reached the deep channel along the cliffs. To my surprise, the depth sounder appeared to continue working as I got up to speed and I was able to watch--sometimes with pleasure and sometimes with alarm--as the water depth changed beneath me. It was only about five feet deep where I passed between Taku Point and the glacier, and I don't know whether I was off-channel or not. It got shallower until I snugged up against the rocks again, making me think I should head over there around the southern cabin rather than making for the point below that. I was definitely in a deep channel as I headed toward Scow, but it shallowed up about half way there, though whether because I'd gotten off track or because the channel had shoaled out I don't know. Either way, it was at least five feet the whole way and some of it was eight to twelve feet. And it was deep all along the Scow coast line, though in one place it was definitely a little shallower than other areas--probably that sandbar I remembered which blocked our route last year when we came up at low tide.

To my great relief and joy, I found the inlet with only gentle ripples and we took ten minutes between points--Flat to Jaw to Cooper to Bishop. The closer I came to Juneau, the cloudier it became, and I was chilled in my t-shirt, hoody, and rainjacket, so I put Cailey's old blanket over my legs (she was in her jacket), donned my shoulder-season warm gloves, and put up my hoody hood and jacket hood. We drove through fog banks as evidenced by sudden fogging of the windshield (though I couldn't see the fog), and Sunny Cove looked like it was in solid rain. We hit a rain squall between Bishop and Salisbury where the seas kicked up a bit and a drenching rain descended. Everything got wet and I hunched in my seat, peering out through the streaming windshield. Two boats appeared from the channel and I wondered if they were heading up the river, thinking that it was getting late and the tide was falling. One of them seemed to be on an intercept course with me, but eventually turned away. As they passed, I kept my head down, enduring the pelting rain, rather than look up and wave as I would usually do. I hoped they'd forgive me for my poor boat etiquette. When I paused a little later to use the bucket, it looked like the two boats had stopped and I wondered if they had second thoughts about being out in that downpour.

Thankfully, the wind and the rain stopped once I was in the channel and I could enjoy the peach sunset from behind Douglas Island and the glassy calm water. We picked up speed and made it to the harbor a little after 8:00 where the boathouse was quite dark in the diminishing light. To my surprise, I found the Kathy M gone, and Ezra told me that my mom had let him know that she and Roger were heading up to the cabin. I had passed no other boats that I noticed--and visibility had been good up until the rainstorm--so that must have been them that I passed! It is so rare for me to not pay attention, and she had even tried to intercept me. I had missed a rare opportunity. I had left the log in good order, but failed to mention the water issue (and had left the toilet valve closed), so I sent a text to her inreach before jumping in the shower. I soon received a text from my mom that Roger's boat (the second boat I'd seen) wasn't working well, so they'd turned around. And now as I write this the next day, I am still dazzled by the marvelous fall colors in the Taku meadows and the September light on the mountains. It is sublime, soul-building stuff.

Fall meadow