Snettisham 2023 - 1: Whirlwind
May 12 - 14

Spring in Port Snettisham

Photo Album

Having delayed departure when a brisk breeze picked up Thursday evening, I left under a layer of clouds with hints of blue on Saturday morning around 9:15. Having loaded the boat with most of my gear on Wednesday, it was an easy single cart load at high tide to the boat house, then a return up the ramp to move the car to long term parking and walk Cailey back down. I had hoped that Cailey would be fully healed from her surgery by summer, but her limp returned last week and she is under house arrest--at least as much as is possible with inevitable cabin trips, for which I cannot leave her behind. She settled into the pile of dog beds in the back--the usual stack with the addition of Hank's dog bed and her stove dog bed that had overwintered at home--and, with the exception of a couple of adjustments at the very beginning, she remained there like a good dog until I stopped in the port to take a bird survey near a bait ball. The channel was relatively calm, but I did run into two foot seas coming out of the Taku which slowed us down a bit and shot spray up over the boat until we were well past Arden. I didn't see any whales, but the port had an abundance of murrelets and gulls as well as a number of loons and mergansers. It was Global Big Day (the annual day of birding during spring migration) and I had hoped do to the requested five surveys, starting with that one.

We pulled into the inlet, relieved to find the lodge standing along with the satellite dish, and were able to get well up the little slough from the beach seepage. It wasn't too far from dry land, but it was quite mucky there, so I carried Cailey ashore and led her to the lodge with minimal gear, returning without her for the tote and a few other items. There she remained confined while I puttered around setting up the porch, putting things away, and getting the stove going. I wanted her to be rested, and it added to my stress that, though inside, she was following me and pacing, naturally a little on edge, having just arrived. It was a little chilly inside, so I installed the stove pipe first so I could warm the lodge for her. It went together pretty well with the new metal strap, though I lost the screw and had to retrieve a new one, then had to drill a new hole in the stack to secure the strap to it, then tighten up the other side of the strap to make sure it was stable. The stack is much lighter than the old one, much easier to manhandle.

While pouring water down the drain, I kept noticing that there was water pooling around the bucket underneath and discovered two problems: apparently there was a leak in the bottom of the bucket (not sure how that happened) and the seal around the sink drain had finally completely failed and water was freely dripping through it without being directed into the drain pipe. It had dripped last year and I knew that the plumber's putty had to be replaced. Unfortunately, the section below the sink which screws into the piece that fits into the top of the sink basin just spun the whole system instead of unscrewing. I had to hold the top in place with my leatherman and tap the bottom with a hammer, which worked immediately, but I paused the project for the moment, working on other issues first, including getting the fridge started after letting it sit for some time with the gas on. Such a relief to have it work! Also, lunch. Sadly, I discovered that I'd failed to bring tortillas, so my dreams of the traditional opening day quesadilla was thwarted. Instead I heated up a pouch of overwintered Indian food and made some toast and ate it on the porch with Cailey, confining her there with a screen I'd brought from town (actually a tatami mat). While there I made my second bird survey of the day which included horned grebes and dozens of murrelets out toward Gilbert Bay, plus the locals. Although I didn't get to log them all that time, as I think the rain that suddenly descended put a damper on things, I've heard orange-crowned and Wilson's warblers, wrens, varied thrushes, jays, crows, Bonaparte's and short-billed gulls, American pipits (when we first landed), ruby-crowned kinglets, golden-crowned kings, chickadees, and so on. The highlight was a male Townsend's warbler who stayed around the deck for several minutes, flying under the eaves to pick spiders or other critters off the ceiling and perching on a beam or nearby in a spruce bough. It was the longest and most intimate look at a TOWA I've had and he seemed completely at ease with my company.

Back inside, I returned to the sink, cleaning up both sides of the drain fittings and carved out the softest parts of the solidifying plumber's putty tub I have, spreading it under the upper fitting to make a (hopefully) water tight seal where it meets the sink. Then I screwed on the bottom fitting with its big o-right and I had a dripless sink. I then installed the faucet, forgetting to screw on the nuts that hold it in place before I added plumber's tape. I spent a lot of time under that sink and was nearly defeated by screwing in the water line from outside which I really struggled to get onto the threads, despite no change in the equipment. And, finally, I installed the rest of the drain into the gray water system. It appeared water tight, though I somewhat doubted the connection on the water line. Now all I needed was water. I left Cailey curled up on the couch, finally resting, and headed to Hermit Thrush with rubber gloves, hoe, and cordless drill. I hadn't yet made the rounds, but found all the cabins in order--in fact, everything seemed to be as I left it, which is always a relief and a joy. As with the lodge smoke stack, the first thing I had to do to install the smoke stack at Hermit Thrush (and I was pretty sure I'd want a fire that night) was to uncover the cabin outhouse, as the tarp is help in place by a line wrapped around it and tied to a ladder. I left the tarp on the ground, and took the ladder to my cabin, quickly putting up the stack and opening the valves on the fuel line to let them start moving. I'd forgotten to close the water filter valve at the lodge, so I returned to do that and pick up the bag of linens for the cabin, closing the cabin junction valves along the way. Finally, I headed up to the creek and found it roaring. Ironically, the flow had scoured away the hollow where I usually put the olive barrel, so I'd have had little work to do in order to install it! However, it remained wedged under its log downstream, so I set to work installing the pipe as I had last year. I really thought it would be easier, but in the end I think that excavating the hollow might have been less work. The line is long and not very flexible, so I couldn't get it pointed into the current, which I thought might help it to fill and start the flow. I built up a bit of a dam over the high flow area where the water line came in, which wasn't strictly necessary, but I know it'll be needed later and I thought that slowing it down might help the pipe stay in place. I pumped the pipe to try to prime the system a couple of times, checking the valve nearby to see if there were any signs of water flowing, and always there was nothing. The high flow made working in the creek very difficult and my gloves were soon flooded and my cuffs wet. Finally I left the valve closed and managed to force the opening of the pipe under the waterfall itself, pumping to fill the hose with water and try to force it over the large drop just below the falls. Water certainly looked like it was pouring into the pipe. When I thought I felt water running through, I crouch awkwardly on the edge of the waterfall and lifted up a large rock, shoving the pipe underneath until it was wedged down. I shored up the dam a little more and was very relieved to return to the valve and find water flowing through it. The intense crouch and heavy rock lifting had given me an intense stomach ache and I was desperate to go and lie down.

And so, after changing into dry clothes and getting the fire going, I crashed on the couch with Cailey and read, and thankfully my stomach ache quickly diminished. It wasn't until after I felt better than I installed the water filters outside, surprised to find the first one fill with muddy water. Apparently the 10 micron filter was functional, for the water was clear in the next filter, but I unscrewed it and let the water run for a while, rinsing the filter before returning it. To my surprise, there were no leaks in the system and we had running water again.

Although the tide was rising, the day was getting on and I knew I wouldn't want to do unloading later, so I finally returned to the boat to get the rest of the gear, having rescued the net zero battery earlier because of another intense rain squall. I was worn out and sweaty by the time it was over, having carried a propane tank, two jerry jugs, two boat batteries, and sundry other items up. I did make one happy discovery though, noticing a bit of metal shining in the muck by the anchor line which I immediately and correctly identified as a no hunting sign, probably the one that was no longer on its post in the meadow.

After making some macaroni and cheese for dinner, I headed down to the boat, now floating, at 6:00, leaving Cailey inside and dragging the kayak as quietly as I could to anchor the boat. To my delight, Cailey was relaxed and on the couch when I got back. I wasn't sure how she'd take to hearing me start the boat, but hopefully she recognized the signs. It took a few minutes longer than I hoped, as I managed to wrap the anchor line around the prop by turning away from the anchor while setting it, but it was easily fixed with a quick trip in the kayak.

With the lodge beginning to see order, but still somewhat cluttered both by gear and the wet clothes and dog bed and life jacket surrounding the fire, I managed to pull myself together to get ready to head for the cabin, washing up and putting the comforter cover (washed) on the down comforter (overwintered here). There was much more that was wanted there than I could carry, so, rather flustered, I settled on my backpack, the comforter, my pillow (washed in town), and a pitcher of water for the night. I carried Cailey's leash, but didn't use it, allowing her to follow me, which she happily did. She got pretty excited when we were around the cabin and I think kind of accidentally went inside, which I think was a lucky break because she really wanted to get back out there and track down whatever it was she was smelling. She was very amped up while I got the fire going and made the bed. She hopped up when I asked, but remained alert for some time as I snuggled into bed to read. She did eventually relax, but shivered for a full hour after coming up, perhaps because of a pop that the stove made once or possibly whatever creature she smelled.


I don't know about Cailey, but I slept very well, waking up well-rested without having gotten up in the night. Cailey was chilly, so I tucked her under a blanket as I had every time she'd moved in the night and she soon relaxed. Although I was comfortable in bed and thought about going back to it after I used the facilities, I was feeling so good that I just got dressed and ready to go. I guessed it was about 8:45 and was a little shocked to find that it was only 6:11. An early start then!

It had rained most of the night and the ground was even wetter than when we'd arrived which, combined with the high flow down the creeks and seeps, made for a very soggy and slippery world. I had some oatmeal and then jasmine tea on the porch and started a long bird survey which lasted until just after the sun struck the birds loosely congregated at the edge of Gilbert Bay, brilliantly lighting the yellow feathers on the horned grebes. Loons and red-breasted mergansers and countless (I counted 75+) murrelets joined them and I think one murre, though I couldn't verify. Mallards were here in the inlet and a Lincoln's sparrow serenaded us the whole time, appearing now and again in our neighborhood.

Once I started work, I managed to putter away at one thing after another until 11:30. Tasks included: removing the plywood on the back porch, stowing it, and sweeping the porch; setting up water filters on Hermit Thrush and Cottonwood (the latter somewhat delayed by a leak in the water line just below the junction with the main line); installing the satellite internet radio and trying for internet (this failed, the transmit light on the modem flashing which means it's trying to send but can't make a stable connection); stocking the fridge with drinks; placing a piece of plywood inside the back door where the floor is rotting; getting the rest of the solar lanterns ready and charging outside; taking Cailey for a short walk to Cottonwood; wrapping up the outhouse tarps; and otherwise tidying up the lodge further. After another lunch of Indian food, toast, and a Pacifico (so cold and delicious with a bit of overwintered lime juice), I heated some water and fixed the leak in the pipe to Cottonwood by hose clamping a piece of old hose over the single puncture (this required fetching the ladder from the satellite dish and bringing it inside to access the attic where my hose supplies are), then ran water through the system at Cottonwood until it tasted good. As the water had been muddy at first at Hermit Thrush just as it had at the lodge, I proactively unscrewed the first filter and let the water run through it first. I also opened up and checked on all the cabins and, later, swept all the porches and steps and the bridge. I felt a bit discouraged by this point, partly because I'm seeing things which are falling apart or require maintenance. The bridge, for example, is listing on the mountain side, which must be from the log underneath rotting. Also, I usually sweep when the weather is fine and everything is dry; it is disheartening to sweep away wet debris which sticks to algae-covered boards. And, I guess I'm still recovery from vacation, and discouraged about the failed internet.

I read for a bit in the afternoon then, after meeting the resident Wilson's warbler (or one of them--I think I saw one chasing another briefly), watching the male hummer courting the female by repeatedly buzzing her on the ground and then diving from high above, seeing a hermit thrush come by a few times, etc., I took Cailey for a walk down onto the meadow as the sun strove to shine from behind a high cloud layer and fed her an early dinner, after which I went for a solo COASST walk at the very low tide. I was overheating in my long underwear, so I quickly stripped down to a t-shirt and left my other layers on the Ronquil. I can't tell if the eagles are using the nest they rebuilt last year; one was perching in a tree nearby and they've flown into trees quite close to the nest a few times, but it doesn't feel like a flurry of activity. I dined on bison bites cooked in soy sauce and wine and yellow rice and carrots, eaten on the deck in the evening sun, and we're now inside as I try to get caught up. I'd sent Ezra an inreach message around noon asking for the forecast and got the message while cooking dinner. At present, the weather for tomorrow is one foot better than on Tuesday which, though I hate to leave so soon, is probably tempting me enough to take it. I am a little down about it, but I would be anxious about the weather otherwise, I can't work work here as hoped, and I can picture fighting the seas in Taku Open and regretting my choice. I asked Ezra to send an update first thing in the morning and, if the weather holds, I think I'll have time to do the essentials including planting the potatoes and raking at least a few paths before I leave.


Despite clearing skies and a gorgeous, calm evening over the inlet, I could hardly keep my eyes open and consented to head to Hermit Thrush relatively early. Cailey was once again anxious and actually whined plaintively while I brushed my teeth, which is not typical. Thinking of her lack of walks and the potential for something interesting that she'd smelled on the way, I took her back out and she rushed toward the outhouse. I stopped her shy of the steps and we slowly made our way back, but it seemed as though she were more anxious just to be outside than to pursue anything specific. We came back in and she acted cowed when I tried to get her on the bed as my stress levels rose. The oil stove was make weird moaning, rushing sounds while the fire inside flared so intensely that the inside drum was bright orange. It was genuinely scary and something I've not seen before. I shut off the oil, but it took some time for the fire to die, and I left it off overnight. Meanwhile, I'd finally convinced Cailey onto the bed and away from the stove and she settled down relatively quickly. Thankfully it wasn't too cold and we slept well under our blankets. I even slept a little longer and didn't leave the cabin until about 7:00. I mostly cleaned it up, but left a few things to do that were awkward with Cailey.

After feeding Cailey, I broke into a flurry of morning activity, adding linens to Cottonwood and closing it and the other cabins. After breakfast, I planted potatoes in the sunshine of the meadow, making four mounds from the abundant, moist, grass wrack that had built up on either side of the path. I tried to pick places where I would disrupt as little of the native vegetation as possible and that perhaps would be less overshadowed by tall grass than other areas--a little tricky to predict with all grasses about four inches high. But I remembered how tall it was around the spruce potato pot and how they got lost behind it, so I tried to avoid similar patches. I would up making two upstream of the path just a little lower than the one from last year (too grown up in vegetation to reuse), one downriver of the path just above where the kayak sits while I'm there, and one just next to the root of the big log that sits on the meadow, much closer to the river but on a little rise. Each has several potatoes it in and I have to say that I'm fairly pleased, though I'm not sure about the nutrient content of the mounds. But people grow potatoes in straw right? I'll add seaweed as it washes up. We'll see!

Finally, I hastily raked all the paths, which has such an immense impact on the homestead, swept the cobwebs out of the outhouses, washed the dishes, and otherwise closed up the lodge. As I sat with Cailey on the porch, I saw that it was 10:30, high tide, just as I was ready to go. It was sunny and glorious, the birds were singing (including the Lincoln's sparrow!) and I was finally ready to enjoy the place. And I had to leave. This always seems to be the case with the opening trip--work, mess, clutter, stress, then leaving just as it gets good. And I think I'd finally more or less shaken the jet lag. At least I was planning to be there just under a week later, but oh did I want to spend the day there enjoying it! What I did do was drink a delicious Pacifico on the porch before clearing it, putting Cailey inside, hauling all the gear to the water, and fetching the boat.

We pulled out of the homestead at 11:17 and I thought that at least I'd get home in the early afternoon and have the rest of the day to work in the garden or read, etc. The inlet was calm, but we began to encounter some rolling seas about half way out the port entrance. Could I hope they were coming from the SE? As I reached Stephen's Passage, it felt more like they were coming down and I soon turned into unpleasant two foot seas that slowed us to a crawl. White caps were everywhere on the water across to Admiralty. What would the Open be like? It was obviously more of a west wind than a north wind, so the Open might be okay, but what if it weren't? Either way, I'd have to go into this mess as I headed up. Last year I turned around when the weather was similar and I did consider it, but was mainly held up by the utter disinterest in opening the cabin AGAIN, I was tired of feeling buffaloed by the weather all the time, and I knew that if I went back, I'd be constantly anxious about when I should try again.

And so I went on while Cailey suffered in the back, crashing slowly through the awful two and three foot seas, every wave jarring the boat, never able to get above about 2100 rpms. We crawled to Swimming Eagle Cove and we crawled to Limestone Inlet. About half way between Limestone and Taku Harbor we fell into the lee of Grand Island (I think) and I was able to move faster, getting up to 2800 rpms until we passed Grave Point and soon had to slow again. It took an hour to get from the entrance to the port to Taku Harbor and another hour to get to Point Arden, but I eventually was able to pick up speed in the Open and maintain that even through the big three and four foot rollers coming from the back side of Douglas. Utterly exhausted, I pulled into the boat house exactly four hours after leaving the homestead, one of the longest trips ever. It wasn't the worst weather overall by far, just necessarily very slow for long periods, even all the way up the channel until near the bridge.

So there was no pleasant afternoon in the garden, but I am pleased to know that the homestead is ready for guests and look forward to heading back soon.