Snettisham 2023 - 4: Johnson Family
June 26-28

Foggy inlet

Photo Album

It's a little after 8:00 am and Cailey and I are on deck looking out over a very misty, wet scene. A whale is blowing regularly off the edge of the sandbars, the meadow glistens with the night's rain, and hummingbirds tussle. I'm happy to be here, but it was a trial. Despite inconvenient tides and Ben being on crutches from knee surgery, the Johnsons were game to go to Snettisham after Jia Jia's wedding, so I finished shopping and packing in the morning and took my gear to the boat in the pouring rain and considerable breeze. They were calling for 1-2 foot seas which would be no problem for the Kathy M, but I was a little dubious given conditions at the harbor. We loaded up efficiently (after Cailey took some fluff off of Brownie when she boarded) and immediately fogged up the windows from our wet rain gear. We each chose a drink, made some offerings, and off we went.

At the end of the channel, Ben noticed the lack of GPS equipment and I boldly proclaimed that we didn't need it any more than they needed GPS to drive to work. This is certainly true in ALMOST every case, and surely it would be this day, right?! It was not long after I said that that, distracted by shifting gas cans in the bow to try to even the boat, I looked up to a wall of white in Taku Open. Long story short, I left Gastineau Channel and, I think, turned too far to the left and started up Taku Inlet--at least I think that's what happened, so I turned right and wound up along an unfamiliar shoreline. I hoped it was the Slocum Inlet area, but when I realized that the seas were not only diminishing but coming from behind I knew I was off track. Ben and Jeannette brought up a compass app which showed us going west, confirming that we were going up Stephen's Passage between Admiralty and Douglas. Shucks. We paused for a bucket break, then quickly gained Arden and, shortly thereafter, those dreaded seas started. It was unpleasant to Taku Harbor and then it got very bad, two to three to occasionally four foot seas which slowed us to a crawl and caused us to slosh up and down in trios of waves no matter how slow we were going.  Occasionally green water washed over the bow. It didn't help that the windows were perpetually fogged up, never remaining clear for more than a short time after being wiped down. I seriously considered turning around, but we'd already been underway for so long and put so much effort into going that I trudged on. Thankfully, Cailey was mostly settled in her seat with one or the other of the kids and didn't even seem too uneasy. With great relief, we won the port [fogged window clearing] and surfed in on big three and four foot rollers, finding Gilbert Bay and the river utterly calm.

It was by then about 3:00 and the tide had turned. I was able to bring the Kathy M into the mouth of the trickle in water shallow enough for xtratuffs after getting out and pulling it in with waders. The kids and Jeannette helped unload all the gear and then I took a load up to the lodge, put Cailey inside, and started opening up while Jeanette and Ayzling helped Ben through the mud and up the slippery rocky slope. The crutches sank so deep that they used their shoulders to support Ben until the ground was hard; both rubber bottoms to the crutches were lost in the process. This did give me a chance to get the lodge in order, though, and Ayzling helped with taking the newspaper off the windows. Everyone clustered onto the porch and I brought out snacks for a late lunch, then we all had drinks (hot for everyone else) and I began to relax a little. It was awfully nice to be here, especially so soon after leaving.

After a little rest, I lit a fire and then took everyone but Ben on a tour of the property; the kids were especially taken with the waterfall. When we got back we played a chaotic game of Cranium to the light of my new electric light, and then I made a simple dinner of bag caesar salad, Costco tortellini, homemade white sauce, and toasted pretzel bread. After dinner, a puzzle was brought out and I really began to relax. The kids wanted to explore, so Jeannette took them back to the waterfall while I pleasantly slipped into a tiny euphoria thanks to my vodka lemonade. Shortly after 10:00, Jeannette took the kids to get ready for bed and, a few minutes later, I left Ben to himself and slipped away to Hermit Thrush for a good night's sleep.


I expected to sleep in, but was up at 7:00. It had rained all night and light rain persisted through the morning and early afternoon. The morning bird survey was suitably subdued and I never even heard the Wilson's warbler (who had been singing when we arrived yesterday), but five geese did fly down the river, which was a treat, and a great blue heron was hunting on the highish tide which has become a common sight since one was first seen here a couple of weeks ago choking down small flounder and tiny fish. I made pancakes for breakfast, we visited, and the kids, Ben, and I finished a puzzle before lunch. After quesadillas, everyone but Ben headed out on a beach walk, first stopping by the Kathy M to raise the motor as I'd forgotten to put down the lever to keep it from sinking. Alas, it would not tilt up though it was willing to try tilting down (but was on mud). Alarmed, I left it until it floated and I could try again, rueing that I hadn't waded out to it when it was floating earlier in the day in case sitting on the flats had damaged something.

We headed upriver, stopping at the creek and a few other places for Ace to look for his beloved minnows. There were many very pale ones in the creek outlet which dashed this way and that, and Ace did manage to catch one, which did not survive the ordeal. Ayzling found a dead fish--a smelt perhaps--in a small pool. Father upriver there was a perfect moth with outspread wings on the mud and some tracks. Ayzling and I had gone ahead and, in the meantime, Ace and Jeannette had discovered myriad beach fleas under logs, many of which were holding other fleas in their arms--that is, a larger animal was apparently gripping a smaller version, often darker, in what looked like a spooning position. Their thought was that a parent was brooding a young one and I suspected mating activity. We found many more on the way back and it remains a mystery.
[I later learned that this behavior is a form of pre-copulatory mate guarding with a male holding and guarding a female until she becomes ready to mate.] Throughout the walk, two herons hunted along the edge of the sandbars. Earlier in the day one had attacked another; I caught them tussling and at first thought it looked like courtship activity, but clearly became confrontational. When they wound up close together, one of them adopted a dramatic posture: beak pointed up at a 45 degree angle, wings slightly dropped, and tail pointed up. The other causally wandered in the opposite direction, but not in a hurry, and the aggressor was forced to fly at him several times.

The rain had just about stopped while we were underway, but the small biting flies were a trial and I headed back faster than the others, encountering an unusual set of tracks near the creek mouth--bounding tracks like those of a squirrel or hare, but quite large. What other than a squirrel here would bound like that? Back at the meadow I fetched my machete and cut back the grass that was overhanging or otherwise shading the potatoes from the sun and photographed a golden colored beetle on a fern plant. The potatoes are all up and all look like they're doing well; I intended to fertilize them this time, thinking that the beach grass medium might not have the best nutrient composition, but my fertilizer apparently didn't make it into the boat. I then walked the trail around the cabins thinking I'd do a forest bird survey. Yesterday a male varied thrush had carried a beakful of bugs and alarmed at us as we walked to Harbor Seal, and this morning a female did the same thing between Hermit Thrush and the outhouse, making wonderful bubbling calls. But it was so quiet other than the distant golden-crowned kinglet calls that I abandoned the survey, but it was a pleasant walk.

We visited a little longer and then I donned my waders as the boat floated and was relieved to be able to raise the motor and secure it. By that time the clouds were thinning and blue sky was soon poking through. We wound up on the deck and porch as the evening got more and more beautiful, still dead calm. The half moon appeared, then the sky cleared entirely and fog appeared, moving down the river. A whale came and cruised the inlet for a while. I made bison burgers for dinner and we ate the second bag of salad and then Jeannette and I chatted on the porch overlooking the stunning inlet. I then washed the rather large pile of dishes we'd gone through and we continued chatting until late. Now it's 11:01 and I'm utterly exhausted. The plan is to leave in the morning before the tide falls too far, which we hope can be accomplished without too much trouble with the help of my waders. We'll see!


I was up even earlier, cleaned the cabin, and made it to the lodge around 7:00 where I did all the cleaning and leaving prep that I could including putting out simple breakfast foods, beginning to stack gear on the edge of the porch, and pulling the kayak down to the water. When I checked on the timing of high tide I realized that it was late enough for us to depart right on it, and was really the only reasonable time to do so: 9:26. Around 8:15, Brownie came over and I headed to Cottonwood to let them know the plan. The rest of the morning was all about tidying up and getting ready and I was glad I'd done most everything before anyone came to the lodge. As I did final close up tasks, everyone else was hauling gear to the boat and Ben had already boarded--through the bow--by the time I came down. In fact, everyone but me and Cailey got on over the bow, but to be fair, it was hard to pull the stern into shore until I had my waders on. We pushed away at 9:42, a smooth and easy departure, so much so that I agonized on what I must have left undone or left behind, but came up blank. The forecast had called for two foot seas from the ENE, so I expected it out of the Taku, but instead we had a following sea and a pretty nice ride all the way home. Ezra was at the dentist's, so Jeannette fetched a cart and my mom came down to pick up the Johnsons. I made it home a little after noon in time for a shower and lunch before working the rest of the afternoon. I was so exhausted that I had a cup of mint tea even though it wasn't a tea day and took a short nap on my break shortly thereafter!

A wet departure