Snettisham 2023 - 5: The Next Generation
July 14 -  16

Kayaing down the river

Photo Album

It's Sunday morning around 10:00 and I've just had breakfast after cleaning the cabin and working through a bunch of little chores I haven't had a chance to do. At my feet is a bucket of slimy, green strands of seaweed that grow so well where the seep on the beach begins to flatten out, as I've once again forgotten to grab the fertilizer, this time left in the Ronquil. I poured boiling water over it in the hopes that that might help to break it down so it doesn't just dry on top of the potato mounds. Perhaps it will help a little. The plants are healthy, but not particularly large, and I fear they don't have sufficient nutrition.

The sky was overcast and misting when I got up, but has progressed to a full downpour, thankfully a calm one. This breaks a fine weather streak of about two weeks with a few days of scorching temperatures including yesterday. After hoping and thinking about it for years (and even a failed attempt last year), Jia Jia and Guo Zhong, along with Kyle, came down to Snettisham yesterday with hardly a fuss. The weekend worked for everyone, I loaded the boat the day before, and without any excess stress we got underway around 10:15 am to arrive around noon as the tide was just getting high. The seas were mild, from the southeast, but didn't slow us down. We saw one whale blow off the Seal Rocks. It was almost too easy.

Actually the whole weekend has felt easy in the company of these three wonderful and easy going people. While I was opening everything up, the others settled on the front porch in the fine weather and there we spent much of the afternoon, on and off. Once everything was more or less put away, we took a tour around the property during which Cailey romped and bounded with verve and delight--making me slightly uneasy, but things had been going so well. Later, having noted that the water pressure was rather low, we trekked up to the water source and, as expected, found the hose well above the water level which has dropped in all streams during this mid-summer dry spell. Guo Zhong was the only one other than me in boots and offered to help and, as it became clear that it was going to be a long job, the others headed down. Cailey had joined us again and had even taken a detour across the bridge instead of going up under the log toward the outhouse, sprinting up the trail to meet us, and I was again uneasy and glad that at least she went down with the others.

In the meantime, Guo Zhong and I adjusted the dam, fought with the stiff pipe, and, at my direction, started filling in the dam leaks with small rocks, sand and gravel. Eventually we raised the water level until the pipe was partly under water, but then we needed to get the hose to fill and start flowing. As always, the pipe immediately dips down below the dam before rising again over a log to start the long fall down to the lodge. I shut the valve off, tried to get water into the pipe by pumping it (getting a little in, then raising it so it could drain down), turned the valve on again, all with little effect. I was hot and sweaty, tired and frustrated. Guo Zhong, seeing the problem with the immediate dip in the line, suggested we run the pipe under the log and spotted a big hole. I told him why I didn't think it was a good idea a couple of times, but finally realized that he probably had a point and we pulled the hose back and threaded it under the log around the middle of the pool below the dam, me pushing and him pulling. The pipe, however, wasn't long enough to reach the upper pool and the bottom pool, though convenient and deep, was lower than the next portion of the water system. Guo Zhong spotted another hole under the log farther along the left bank of the creek (looking upstream) that might allow access to the upper pool, so we retracted the pipe and threaded it through that small opening. This time it reached the upper pool via the side channel on the left side that I have to dam to keep the main pool deep. The end of the pipe fit right under the little waterfall that feeds the pool and, with a little adjustment and some removal of rocks, it was it a perfect spot to receive water. Guo Zhong held the arc of the pipe down while I scrambled down to the valve to see if water was running through. It was, so we weighted down the hose with large rocks and, as promised if his idea worked, named it after him. However, he chose the "Maas" water system rather than the "Guo Zhong" water system!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and some of the evening on the porch, eating a feast of mushroom stroganoff that Kyle had made, sourdough bread, and caesar salad. When an inexplicable flock of about 30 white-winged crossbills briefly landed in the spruce upriver--one quite close--and then swept past us a couple of time, I started a bird survey which Kyle completed with me. It was just as fun as I imagined hanging out with another bird watcher. All the warblers have stopped singing here and, unfortunately, I haven't even seen a Wilson's stop by. The Pacific-slope flycatcher is still calling intermittently (I think two were calling back and forth at one point), hermit thrushes are working the bushes (including at least one fledgling), varied thrushes are singing now and again, and we often flush them from the berry bushes along the boardwalk, a hermit thrush is singing sometimes, I just saw a family of three wrens including at least one fledgling, the inlet is alive with murrelets (a conservative count of 180 yesterday morning in the calm), and two Lincoln's sparrows have come through a couple of times, one of which appears to be a fledgling. And the hummingbirds. All four feeders were empty and no birds came around the first day, but by yesterday morning there were at least five coming around and now the count is at least eight and there is near-constant activity, all females and fledglings.

But back to Friday. When the noseeums became a nuisance we retreated inside and played a practice round of pinochle for Guo Zhong and I. Unfortunately, absolute crushing exhaustion had claimed me by then and, with panic setting in, I could not stay for a second round and headed to Hermit Thrush with Cailey and Jenny (who was otherwise under Guo Zhong's care). Cailey was limping again--not badly, but I felt terrible for allowing her so much uninhibited exercise, those two big romps around the property on top of a long avalanche walk in the morning and ramblings as we unloaded. I had her on a leash to prevent further romping and assumed Jenny would follow me as usual; she was reluctant and had to be encouraged and, when we got close to the outhouse, she just turned around and went back to the lodge. I tried calling her, but she wouldn't respond, so I dropped my gear, left Cailey, and ran back to pick her up at the shed, turn her around, and get her to come with me. Thankfully, Cailey had stayed behind near Cottonwood, where Jenny tried to stall. She tried to stall again at the outhouse, so clearly wanted to just go inside somewhere. It was dark, after all. In Hermit Thrush, she rushed in and collapsed on the floor, though happily got up on the bed when I settled down. I slept diagonally in bed that night between Jenny in the middle of the bed and Cailey at my feet. I woke up multiple times including when Jenny went through long bouts of panting, but awoke feeling a bit better around 8:00.


At the lodge, I made some oatmeal and settled onto the porch for a peaceful morning, undertaking a long bird survey in honor of the very calm water where I could make out all those murrelets, many around a bait ball attracting around 30 gulls. A heron was feeding at the water's edge which made Cailey quite nervous, shaking as she watched him from the porch. Jia Jia came over first around 11:30 and everyone was up by shortly after noon. I made quesadillas for lunch again and then we headed out on a kayak adventure, leaving the dogs in the lodge. Kyle and Jia Jia took Kooshda, Guo Zhong took Keet, and I took Cheech as usual. The wind had come up and there were one foot seas on the river, which was a little annoying, but did serve to cool us nicely in the heat of the day. We angled over to the avalanche area where Jia Jia had kayaked 14 years ago. We beached the kayaks on a sedge spit and played around the main waterfall. Guo Zhong shot up the side of it and, one by one, the rest of us followed until we were maybe 50 feet up at a nice ledge in the waterfall with a commanding view of the valley. Asters grew at the edge of the water, which may be a new species for me locally, as well as narrow beach ferns, Sitka burnett, and other interesting species. After we made our way down, I took Jia Jia downriver to where I think we hung out when she was a kid and we tried to recreate one of the pictures we took of her then up on the rocks. She'd gotten a bit wet on the way down the waterfall--including in her boots--and was so hot that she floated in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall (still wearing her boots). We all hung out on a big flat rock for a few minutes, then launched the kayaks on the falling tide and headed back. I made it to the opposite side of the river just above the grassy point and was happy to find the current helping me paddle the rest of the way.

We again settled onto the porch and cold drinks were probably had. At 5:30 we took advantage of the lowering tide (which was going to be very high) to explore the flats, first heading downriver so I could complete a proper COASST survey for July. The flats weren't very large, but we had plenty of room upriver. One oddity we came across was a perfect circle carved in the sand with a hole in the middle, a groove connecting the hole to the circle, and a pair of tracks meandering away before disappearing. Ideas including a crab pot, a "protractor" log caught in an eddy, and aliens. We went all the way to the end of the sandbars above the grassy point, then headed back to the lodge where I made bison burgers for dinner and, after I washed dishes, jiffy pop. Making jiffy pop popcorn as an eight-year-old is the only thing Jia Jia remembers from her first trip here, so we had to repeat the experience, and Guo Zhong had never seen jiffy pop made. We enjoyed cold drinks and popcorn on deck and spent the rest of the evening chatting over a spectacularly calm, clear evening with a hint of pink in the sky and on the mountain across from us. With a more peaceful day behind me, I enjoyed the late hour and didn't crash until around 10:30, to Hermit Thrush before 11:00. This time Jenny followed me amiably and I managed to sleep in a more normal position by forcing Cailey (with a cookie) to temporarily reposition so I could slip into bed before she laid her head on my feet.


And I slept better. It's now 11:00, the inlet is diffused with soft mist, the water calm and populated by a large group of mergansers. The potatoes have been fertilized, Hermit Thrush's windows have been closed, there are SD cards in the cameras, and I will soon get some grilled cheese sandwiches ready for lunch and bring the boat in. To my numb disappointment, Cailey is badly limping this morning, back to where she was two months ago. So much for my prediction that she'd be off her renewed confinement in a week. It could be the rest of the summer.  Hopefully it will heal faster this time, but we may have to be patient.

I had the lodge clean and was prepping grilled cheese sandwiches and a final quesadilla when Jia Jia and Kyle showed up and I soon sent Kyle to wake up Guo Zhong. I brought the boat in and anchored it to shore, made the rounds to make sure all the cabins were locked and cameras on, cooked lunch, and we all sat around and ate together in the lodge, three of us with delicious cold beers. We broke about 1:15 and began the last round of closing up, made considerably easier by all the help from the others, especially in loading the boat and putting up the newspapers on the windows while I was otherwise working in the lodge. The dogs were able to load over the back of the stern with little trouble and we were underway right on time at 1:50. The inlet was misty and alive with murrelets hanging around with fish in their mouths. The ride was nice and smooth, pockets of gillnetters hugging the shore along the way and making it easy for us to avoid them, and Jia Jia took a little nap with Cailey. It kicked up crossing Taku Inlet, but nothing too dramatic, and less than two hours after getting underway we were pulling in the boathouse just as Ezra was coming inside.

The next generation (plus Cailey)