This morning, in between torrential rain squalls and gale force winds, I headed over to the dam to pump water to the holding tank since we'd run out of water over night.
We've been having our usual non-stop November storms and I noticed, on the way to the sawdust trail that we'd laboriously built through the woods over the years, that a terrific storm surge had jumbled up our logs and a skiff. There was nothing I could do about it with the tide out, but I thought it boded ill for the upcoming days since severe storms were forecasted. Odds were good we'd never get caught up on all the maintenance jobs we had to do on our floathouses, let alone deal with logs and skiffs.
Such is life in the bush heading into winter.
The waterline follows the trail, propped up on wooden posts in some places to make sure it drains properly at low points whenever a freeze threatens. Deer sometimes knock the posts over and I typically spend a lot of time "leveling the line," but not to day, I was happy to see.
On the other hand, I noticed that there were fallen tree limbs everywhere, some on the waterline--fortunately the parts of the line that lay on the ground. One huge limb was stuck deep in the ground as if it was a spear thrown by a giant. It brought home to me why it's not a good idea to go for a stroll in the woods when there's a gale on. I hurried to get the job done before the next squall moved in.
When I got to the dam, I saw that my legs were going to get wet from the spray caused by the overflow. After weeks of heavy rains that wasn't surprising. There was so much run-off that the bay was darker than root beer from all the silt washed into it.
I removed the pump's cover, checked the gas and oil and slid the choke and "run" levers over to the start position. A preliminary pull on the recoil told me the cold, damp engine needed a shot of ether so I gave it a spray from the can tucked under a plastic cup, stuck in a hollowed out rootwad. The sickly sweet smell was overpowering and artificial in the rain wet woods. I held my breath and yanked on the recoil, but the engine refused to turn over. I let it sit for a moment, glad to step away from the ether fumes. My legs were already soaked from the spray as the water thundered over the dam.
A few moments later, shaking off the hypnotic effects of the rushing water, boiling with bubbles and beaten into foam, I tried the recoil again, working the choke, and finally the pump roared to life. Seconds later it began pumping the water to the tank. I had 12 minutes to kill before I needed to turn it off.
I was getting dripped on by the drenched forest canopy, so I headed out onto the beach. It was overcast above the forest behind me, but across the bay, toward the islands guarding Ernest Sound, there was clear sky. The mountains on the islands were sprinkled with snow and I shivered.
The creek tumbled over itself as it raced headlong for the bay. The pump's steady racket droned behind me as I stared at the breathtaking view, at the precious glimpse of blue sky. A sea gull swooped down low over me, circled, and flew off. I could have gazed at the mountains and water all day, but my watch said it was time to head back to turn off the pump.
I turned and faced a young forked horn, Sitka blacktail buck only a few yards away. It stopped walking toward me at my sudden movement and stiffened, ready to bolt. But when I held still it picked its way over the gravel beach toward me, its head up, its comically tall ears flickering with interest.
When I slowly opened my backpack and pulled out my tablet to take a picture, it began to circle widely around me, to get downwind of me. It finally stopped again to do some investigative sniffing, it's nostrils flaring sensitively. Once it was satisfied that I was the least interesting thing it had ever come across, it wandered away, nibbling unconcernedly on beach grass, not even bothering to throw me an occasional glance, except for the times when I whistled and made smacking noise. Then it looked at me briefly, reaffirmed that I was the biggest waste of time in sight, and went back to snacking.
It was past time for me to turn off the pump--I was more than a little amazed that the deer had shown itself on the beach while that alien racket was going on--but I stayed where I was. Appreciating how natural it felt to share the same stretch of isolated beach with a wild creature with nothing but curiosity and casual acceptance, not to mention good-natured indifference between us.
If my brothers had been there it would have been a different story....
Finally, I headed up the beach toward the forest. The deer watched me, thoughtfully. To my surprise it didn't even twitch when a Lear jet, coming out of nowhere and utterly alien, screamed low over the trees, headed for Wrangell, possibly chartered for a medical evacuation of someone to Seattle.
When I returned to the beach after turning off the pump, the deer was gone. As I retraced my steps over the trail, I kept an eye out for it, but saw nothing of it.
I hiked up the hill to check the tank to see if it was full--not suprisingly, considering my delay in turning off the pump, it was overflowing. It looked in good shape going into winter.
As I headed back toward home, I thought about how unconcerned the deer had been by the pump, the jet, and me. Perhaps it lived here and had grown accustomed to our scents, noisy generator and outboard motor.
My mom had long ago made a rule that no deer, or other game, would be killed near where we lived so the animals would become used to us. That way, if we were ever desperate for food, it would be much easier to get game.
At least that was her practical reason, to get the guys to comply with her rule. But I've always suspected that it was because she loves all animals, and especially deer.
Whatever the case, her rule was having the desired effect and it appeared that we had a new neighbor.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)