We are still rookies at living this adventurous-treacherous kind of life. We are learning that there are many challenges to accomplish everyday tasks. One of our most challenging is traveling from our cabin to the boat landing where our truck is parked. We call it a “boat landing”, but it looks more like an uneven sand, gravel and rock slew.
The boat ride from our cabin begins easy enough. We live on the back section of Chilkat Lake. Locals call it the “small lake”. There is a narrowing of the lake on one side, which gives the lake a large section and a small section.
On our ride to the landing, we travel through the small and large sections of Chilkat Lake, basically from the end of the lake to the front of the lake. The lake can be smooth or very choppy. Every ride is different, and there is no way to predict smooth waters. In a few weeks, we will have some difficulty traveling the lake because it will be full of weeds. We will need to stop several times and clear the weeds from our motor. And, as winter approaches, the lake will begin to ice over and that will be another new adventure. It’s an 8 mile trip on the lake to Clear Creek. It can take us 10 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on what obstacles we might encounter. Clear Creek is a simple and smooth creek, easy to navigate. With its wide open marshes, it reminds me of the swamps in Lousiana.
Clear creek is a short ride to the Tsirku River, maybe a mile or less. It is definitely the calm before the storm. The Tsriku is a challenge almost every time we are on it. As soon as we enter the river, we only have to take it down about 200-300 yards, then cross over to the other side, and we are at the boat landing. But, it’s an ever-changing landscape. Its rushing waters come from a glacier, and they are rushing down the mountain headed for the ocean, eventually spilling out into the Lynn Canal,
Lynn Canal is the deepest and largest Fjord in North America, and one of the deepest and longest in the world as well. The rough and changing waters of the Tsirku is the number one reason that more people don’t live on Chilkat Lake. It’s also the number one reason that people who have lived here move elsewhere. A local told us that he sees most residents leave around age 70. He says they get too old to want the stress of crossing the river. There are several couples on the lake who are that age or older, but they usually hire someone to drive them out to the lake. Crossing the Tsirku is definitely not for the faint of heart.
This river changes hourly. It is a bed of silt and rock, sticks, and fast moving rapids. Where we park, the river is about 200 yards wide. Some sections are very shallow and rocky, maybe only several inches deep. Other sections are much deeper, but because of the silt in the water from the glacier run-off, the water is cloudy and so you can’t tell very well where the shallow sections are. Many of the folks who have lived here a long time have learned how to “read” this river. But, we are newbies, so we are still learning all of this. But, even the locals can be challenged by the Tsirku. With the exception of our first day here (when our bow line got sucked up into the boat motor and the boat had no thrust power), we have had pretty good luck on the river. But, we have also been blessed with great weather. All of the beautiful sunny days however, are now causing the river to rise from the melt of the glacier.
Yesterday, we arrived at the river, and we had a little bit of difficulty figuring out where to park the boat. We like to choose a spot that is in moderately deep water, but out of the rushing current. We ended up parking further away from the creek entrance than we normally do. We ventured into town, then returned at dinner time to head back home. The river had risen a little while we were gone, but its rushing waters looked the same to me. Nathanael scoped out the river for a long time. He walked along the edge, trying to determine the best path to Clear Creek. He grew up driving boats and navigating swamps and lakes and rivers in Louisiana, so he’s a pretty damn good boat captain. The creek doesn’t scare him, but he definitely recognizes that it has a reputation for a reason. He respects its power and force, and the danger we face every time we cross it.
We wear hip waders when we travel in the boat because we are usually in the water, maneuvering the boat out of a rock bed. We store a collection of shoes in our truck so that we don’t have to wear our hip waders to the grocery store in town.
For the trip back home, we loaded the boat with our supplies we purchased in town, then we untied from our stake. I pushed off from the landing , climbed into the boat, and grabbed the oar, ready to help push the boat off of any rock beds. We started off just fine. Nate manuevered the boat down the small gulley we were parked in, and out to the rushing waters. He let the water push us out and down the river just a few yards as he surveyed the options of which path to take. He chose to drive up close to the bank of the landing just like we have been doing for the past few weeks. We made it about 100 yards, then we ran up on an all-rock sandbar. We had to get out in our waders in the rushing water, remove the rocks from the boat motor while holding the boat steady, then push the boat back into deeper waters. Back in the boat, Nate tried another path, but the same thing happened. We decided to go around to another gully and we were “beached” again. This time, we were in a current that spun the boat in circles and banged the boat up against the crumbling bank. A local was standing on the landing, motioning for us to go up the far end. His wife asked me if I was scared, and I told her that this was certainly an “adventure”. They both said to get used to this kind of fun because the river gets much worse. Nathanael let the boat drift back to where we were originally tied up, then let the current pull us out to the rushing waters again. This time, he maneuvered up the middle, then to the far end of the bank, then darted across to the landing side and back over again. We were almost to clear creek and I marveled at how masterful Nate navigated the boat to get us through the river. The boat pounded against the rapids, and my body slammed down on the front of the boat several times. I am usually sitting or standing on the bow with the oar to help maneuver the boat, but, when Nate is gunning the motor, I lay down on the bow so that he can see the rockbars.
When we finally made it to the still waters of Clear Creek, I was still laying on the bow of the boat. As soon as I could feel we were in safe waters, I cried. It took about 45 minutes for us to cross the river this time. I remember wondering why the former owner of our cabin wouldn’t bring his elderly wife and two daughters into town all together. Now, I know why. If you get into a challenge on the river, it can be very stressful.
Like the Tsirku River, nothing stays the same here. It’s kind of like changing seasons, but it happens every week, and sometimes daily. I grew up in the South where there are long seasons of the same weather. Summer is always hot, and you can expect mosquitoes at night. Winters are cold, but mild, and once in a blue moon it will snow. In Alaska, I am learning that the climate and landscape is ever-changing. It can feel like summer or fall or winter any day and any time here in Alaska. Some days, there are bugs (bees, wasps, mosquitoes, horse flies), other days, there are none.
When we first arrived here six weeks ago, I marveled at all of the beautiful wildflowers. I got a book at the library so that I could learn all of their names. I even did a blog entry called, “All the pretty flowers”, but six weeks later, all of these flowers have changed. It’s like watching God’s intricate design first-hand. All of the fields and roadsides were filled with yellow dandelions. Then, overnight it seemed, they all turned into white puffy balls, which blew in the breeze for days.
At the same time the dandelions were blooming, prickly wild roses dotted every green patch of woods. They are bright pink with a yellow center and simply beautiful. Now, the roses are shriveling, and changing into rose hips.
The dogwood flowers are withering away and in its place, bunchberries are growing. The pretty white and yellow blooms all over our property are developing into succulent strawberry patches.
Along the roadside, Fireweed is blooming. It’s probably my favorite because of its bold purple colors and the number of blooms on each stem. It’s long green stem looks like a weed for a long time. In fact, I pulled up an entire patch of them in our yard and discarded them not knowing what it was. Alaskan’s say when the Fireweed dies, it’s the sign that summer is over.
The “Alaska Berries” book I checked out from the library is helping me to identify about 10 different small shrubs and large bushes on our property that are morphing their blooms into some kind of berry.
Today, I have been marveling at the small white round bloom that turns pink and then purple, then dies, all in a matter of a week or so. If you blink, you might miss all of this. The variety of wild flowers and berries is extraordinary. I truly feel like I am in the Garden of Eden. I wonder if people who grew up in Alaska know how special all of this nature is around them. I am excited to witness the changing landscape. When I open my eyes each morning, I can’t wait to go outside and see what is new on the landscape. And, on the days we drive into town, Nate and I both are continually pointing out what has changed in the roadside florals. Maybe there is this much
change going on in Texas, and I just missed it all, either because I mostly drove on highways, or I was too busy to take the time to notice. Maybe in the slowing down of it all, your body, mind, and spirit becomes more in-tune to the nature around you. Either way, I am enjoying the parade of life, death, and rebirth in all of the things growing around us.
(Nate picked wildflowers for me for our dinner table)