Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18

If you have been wondering about pictures and an update we have been without internet for six days. The wi-fi at the library appears to be down. I started typing this on the ferry heading for Juneau (to pick up more building supplies) and this post is from the comfort of Mick & Sherri’s home. The pix are not in proper order, but you will get the idea.

The boys sorting and trading candy from the 4th of July haul. The parade participants throw candy at the kids.

Grandma, aka Gammie, got to hold all the candy and coats during the games.

This moose track in front of the cabin has a stride of 54 inches! We didn't see the moose or calf but a neighbor did.

The boys (red shirts) pulling for all they are worth in the first round of tug-of-war on the 4th of July. They lost to the girls!

The boys checking out the ROV ocean explorer in the repair shop.

Jonah at the control panel while Micah and Jayden "check" the functions before launch. Only in Alaska would kids get a hands on experience like this.

You will have to ask the boys about the "mine" pushups done on the trail.

Gammie and Jayden at the trailhead to the airplane crash. You will have to ask the boys what the forest was like.

The first few days saw rain and wet conditions, so Paulette came up with a makeshift clothes drying rack in the cabin for jeans.

This bear is named Gus and is a favorite climb aboard for kids.

A sneak pix of Jonah sitting on Gus.

Papa (foreground), Jonah (red kayak), and Jayden (middle) on the river in kayaks.

I liked to tease Jay about trying to hide this puppy in his jacket pocket and take it home.

Jon and Jonah coming through the narrows at high tide. There are a lot of barely submerged rocks just below the surface.

We were given a few of the largest Dungeness crabs I have ever seen. They provided Jon and myself two meals each.

Mr. Porcupine walked through the morning after the boys left for home.

Each of those dark objects is a salmon. Pink salmon are spawning thick in the river for the last few days. All that white junk on the water is from the shedding cottonwood trees.

I guess we are sentimentalists. We think of areas now in terms of the grandson’s visit. We drive past the trail we all took to the airplane crash, or, we are sitting on the ship in the same booth were we took them for lunch. Jayden intentionally left his boots here and Jonah left a pair of tennies. That empty footwear tugs our hearts when we step out the door. Paulette saw Jay’s boots this morning and talked about Jay begging to do an errand for her, any errand that could be reached by bicycle. She came up with sending him to the store, a two mile round trip, for cookies. The fire pit by the river is another touch-point. Many evening memories were made there with smores and firecrackers and boys burning sticks. I would have hidden the sticks so no one got burned, but the forest has no shortage of suitable sticks. One evening I snuck off with Micah and put him in the back of my kayak and we went up river as far as the tide would let the two of us go. I hope he enjoyed that as much as his grandfather did.

Time of day is important, but a lot also happens here based on tide; boat launching, fishing, and river access to name a few activities. Most folks here own a boat or two. A few own airplanes also. These are ways to get around despite being on the perimeter of the largest road-less area left on the planet. I have a boat in mind for our five year plan. Can’t say about an airplane. By the time an aero machine would be on our horizon Paulette would probably have to pilot my wheelchair and me around. On the other hand I cannot say enough about the kayaks. A truck gets us to the regular road places and trailheads. But the kayaks have expanded us (uh, me, though the neighbors are intent on getting Paulette in one. I tell them good luck. I wasn’t even able to get her in on the back lawn in California for a picture). There is at least as much water here as land. Kayaks are a way to somewhat access the waterway and deeper wilderness. They have doubled our wilderness horizon. I am told the Beardslee Islands rank as some of the best kayaking in the northwest. There are no motorized vehicles allowed in the area. Whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins, and even an occasional orca are visible via kayak. Last afternoon a friend called and wanted to know whether I was up for kayaking the Bartlett River with him to do some fishing. The two of us went in through the narrows about 90 minutes before high tide and spent the next 3½ hours fishing. There has been a lot of bear activity in that area as the bears need salmon protein to lay on fat for winter hibernation. An aggressive brown bear recently worked the banks where the sockeye salmon are running, taking fish from fishermen, and even charged a group of six fishermen back into the woods. (We kept the grandsons in the kayaks in mid river while we had them up in that area.) Once John and I exited the kayaks for the riverbank bear evidence was prevalent. I kept my bear spray in a chest wader pocket, finger hole on the canister exposed, and even thought about the times I played gunslinger as a child, wondering how long it would take to draw and fire the bear spray for real if necessary. John was literally “loaded for bear” with two cans of bear spray, an air horn, and a pistol. I found one eye regularly checks the riverbank or the tree line, except when a fish on the line holds the attention. Despite all the precautions and bear sign we never saw a bear (Murphy’s Law?). I caught a fat dolly varden, a little under two feet in length. John, using a fly rod and wet fly, had a sockeye salmon break his pole (it was an old pole) on his first fish of the afternoon. He was bummed as the fish then broke the line and took his only wet fly with it. I was using a middle weight casting rod and thought about loaning him my old flyrod, also in the kayak, but quickly realized it also is too old and light for these fish. We had a great time and lost a lot of fish, and after all the standing my back was tired and I was ready to head back on the outgoing tide. As a cap on the day kayaking back I counted at least nine whales in the cove or at the mouth of Bartlett Cove, with their blow mist beautifully backlit by the evening sun. We beached below the NP lodge, carried the kayaks to the truck, and headed for the lodge were we met our wives for a simple dinner. Life doesn’t get much better than this. At times I wish we had bought up here ten years ago.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 14

Micah seated ahead of me in a double kayak as we paddle into the Bartlett estuary and approach Bartlett River.

Jayden with his salmon.

The boys called to us from a log on our riverbank.

Our ritual was often to have a campfire by the river in the evening. After the 4th of July this included the use of firecrackers to blow cans in the air, or explode a cardboard boat.

The grandsons in an airplane that crashed in the forest back in 1957

The boys and Jon heading for the airplane to go home.

The boys left for home the evening of the 12th. The two weeks flew by way too fast. The next morning we looked at the two beds where they slept and were both misty eyed. During their stay we hiked, kayaked, fished, and then repeated all those activities several times. Two of them caught their first fish ever. We saw moose on several occasions, but no bears, which may be a good thing. For me the highlight was kayaking into Bartlett River with the grandsons. One leaves the National Park lodge and in 20 minutes is surrounded by spectacular wilderness and what has been called perhaps the best kayaking in the west. High tide (necessary to get in and out of a shallow area) was late so we had the boys out until 11PM. That seems late to most of you. Up here there it still plenty of daylight.

We staggered the taking of boys out in kayaks. At ten years old they don’t have the fortitude to paddle long distances. With Jay up front in a two-seater kayak at the entrance to Bartlett Cove whales were blowing in the distance, and small fish were jumping out of the water. I suspected a predatory fish was chasing them and when Jayden cast he got a nice hit on the first try. The fish was scrappy and the two of us took about ten minutes getting it in. Jay was on cloud nine about his first salmon. From there we paddled over to Bartlett River and Jayden was soon catching Dolly Varden trout one after the other. We had three of those trout for dinner the next night. They were nice sized trout evidenced by the fact three fed seven people. There are still two in the freezer, along with his Salmon filets. We took the other two boys out the next night expecting the same results. Unfortunately that didn’t work out at all. We only had one fish on the line, and that one broke free after giving Micah a fight.

Jon Brawley came up from Portland in the middle of the grandson’s stay. We accumulated about two days work on the cabin. The rest of the time was spent…. Guess what... hiking, fishing, and kayaking. Jon seemed to have a great time and the area really grew on him.

The morning after they all left a porcupine waddled past between cabin and the 5th wheel. That was an animal they did not get to see. The boys became more relaxed about wandering the area, much to our concern. Bears and moose seemed to not be around. But two nights ago we were awakened by neighborhood dogs barking. That usually means a bear is in the area. A nearby neighbor got up to see what his dog was barking about and witnessed a confrontation between a brown (grizzly) bear and a moose on the drive outside his house. The bear apparently wanted moose calf for dinner and mama moose wasn’t having any part of it. Eventually she chased the bear off. That all happened about 300 yards from our place. Then this morning I saw a lot of unusual wave activity in the water on the river. After high tide receded I realized why. The Pink Salmon run had begun. This year looks to be a healthy run. The river by our bank is black with salmon. They will rest in the shallows until next incoming tide and then move higher up-river. The downside is once they are spawned out they will die and the whole area will stink for a while, which brings in bears. But I wish he boys could have seen the actual run. It is hard to imagine salmon so thick at times one can almost imagine walking on them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th

The 4th was pretty incredible. Tourists come in from all over SE AK and even the lower 48. First the parade where float riders throw candy to the kids. Paulette brought garbage bags for the boys. They made a haul. Then lunch at the fire department. They scarfed down burgers. The Declaration of Independence is read, followed by games and contests in the park. Here are a few pix of them on the tug-of-rope. I’m not sure what the other game is, but Micah participated in it three times. Jonah and Jay did the bubble blowing contest to see who could get the biggest bubble out of gum. Jonah did pretty well. Jay cheered him on. A friend gave us a string of fire-crackers much to the boys delight that evening. We blew cans in the air and holes in the ground. Tuesday AM they are on a Discovery Days at the NP with rangers looking into tide pools and aquatic life here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2, 2011 With Dry Rice

July 1, 2011
Ben and Clint departed and the grandsons arrived on the evening of the 28th. We had great weather for two weeks until that transition of guests. Then rain began to fall. We have had rain off and on since, and rain is forecast through the 4th of July. No big deal. We are thankful parents sent along rain boots and gear. The boys use these almost constantly.

When the plane arrived we saw some patches of red shirt behind the flight attendant atop the stairway after all other passengers deplaned. Soon eyes spotted Gammie and were all peeking to yell and wave at her.

Once home they wanted to explore everywhere as fast as they could. They went from cabin to woods to river to 5th wheel. Ten year old eyes are looking for ten year old activities. I had hoped they would see the beauty, let their senses drink in the river view, be awed by the vista from the cabin and the rainforest, and want to see wild animals. The cabin tour took all of thirty seconds and their comment to each other was, “It’s small.” Within an hour they were dragging my lumber to the “perfect spot” in our dense forest to build a fort. I am amazed how much wood three motivated boys can transport in a short time. (I’ll probably lend a hand if we have down time). Since then we have kept them too busy to do much fort construction. Later I overheard one say to the others in the forest, “There might be a bear out here so we should make noise.” I hadn’t told him that so smiled that these must have been a parent’s concerned words. We took them to lunch on a big ship (200 yards long) when it docked. I figured they would be impressed by the size. Few places would let them be 20 feet from a docking ship. They looked but somewhere in the observing one realized the snow grate floor of the dock could be spit through. Soon the ship was out of mind as they each tried to exercise their salivary glands to the max and watch the splash in the ocean thirty feet below. We took them for lunch at the lodge. One side of the restaurant is all glass. The view is magnificent and several yachts were visible. We seated the boys where they could take in the view. Each table has binoculars. Instead of scanning the view the boys were looking at the table with them, or turned them around to look at things smaller. I had to smile. On a walk through primeval forest with a ranger three boys got bored quickly and ran ahead. We did not need to worry about bears the rest of the 1.5 hour hike as the boys made plenty of noise.

We walked out the dock to the end floats. One at a time I readied their poles with lures. “Be conscious of where your hook is at all times.” Every other cast I had to untangle reels. A little later Micah yelled, “Hey!!! I got one!!” The other two looked on in amazement. None of them knew how to fight a fish, so he just cranked away while the fish pulled against the drag. A foot long flounder appeared, his first fish ever, and he caught it all by himself. The other two now wanted to fish in exactly the same spot. For fishhook safety I spread them out and instructed Jonah to go to the other end of the float. He went reluctantly but soon was yelling himself with a fish on. This one was what the locals call a “double-ugly” (for reason) about thirteen inches long. Now sad Jay was the only one without a fish. After a few hours I told them we were going to have to leave. Jay kept casting and then yelled. It was another double ugly. All three had the hang of casting by the time we walked toward the truck. And Papa was proud to help two of them catch their first fish.

We gave them pocket knives, “tool” instructions, and safety talk the first evening. The desire to sharpen sticks was overwhelming. Soon they had the knives out in places where they shouldn’t, like the truck back seat. And I saw one running with his open, so decided to collect the knives, much to the boys chagrin. They will get them back for a second try, and hopefully realize I meant what I said about safety. They bring back latent memories of my childhood. I don’t think I wanted to listen at that age either.

This morning we walked to an old (1957) airplane crash site in the forest. The boys really enjoyed that. Where else can they climb all over a large crashed airplane? Then a second day of kayak time this afternoon. Micah was tired the first day we kayaked so wanted to nap instead. Thus he is a little behind the other boys in practice. Jay took to kayaking like a duck to water. Jonah isn’t far behind. I get a workout getting the kayaks loaded here and unloaded at the pond, and then the reverse when we go home.

Getting into a kayak it dumped both myself and Jonah (at separate times) into shallow water. We have had no history of that instability here on the river, so I suspect the problem is related to the steepness of bank putting them in the shallow pond where the grandkids practice. The upshot is I got both my camera and cell phone wet in my inadvertent bath. After a day in a bowl of dry rice the phone started working again. The verdict on the camera is still pending. It was in the case and got only a little moisture. We are hoping it didn’t get wet in a vital spot. The bummer part is if the camera dies we won’t get any pix of the grandkids activities for the next ten days. (update: After two days in the rice the camera came back to life, hopefully permanently.)

Rain most of the time they have been here. All their pants are wet. Paulette isn’t happy about that. I said let them wear them anyway. She is reluctant to do that. It is tough with this many people, three very active, in a close space, but we are managing.

A neighbor called late yesterday and said a black bear had just wandered past and was headed our way. I guess it got detoured because we never saw it and after an hour I let the boys go outside. So far the boys have seen only eagles. Saturday morning they are outside playing Starwars. Sounds like the whole planet is in danger. Even the neighbors dogs are barking.

Oh, Micah informed me of his own volition he wants to come again next year.