To John Muir cabin in October

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010

By sheer luck, a late October ramble on the Auke Nu trail to the John Muir cabin found us in partial sunshine. Some of the boardwalk was even rather dry, although most of it was still very wet and slippery. All the usual mudholes were still there, of course, and we can only hope that someday they will be filled with gravel. A major erosion channel is developing along the trail near the trailhead and a large spruce has tipped up its roots, exposing its very shallow root system.

Courtesy Of Bob Armstrong
Courtesy Of Bob Armstrong

A few dwarf dogwood and bog laurel flowers stubbornly persisted, but they waited in vain for a passing bee or fly to do the pollinating. Blueberries still hung on the bushes - we just don't get enough migrating thrushes and wandering bears or other critters to clean out the berry crops and accomplish all the potential dispersal of seeds, especially in a year of bumper berry crops like this one.

The John Muir cabin has been nicely renovated. New floor, new table, new bunks upstairs and down, and a nifty spiral staircase to the loft. A door at the top of the stairs helps control heat distribution, and an escape hatch, with ladder, provides an emergency exit from the loft. New windows offer great vistas and ventilation if needed. There are lots of pegs for wet rain gear and grab bars for swinging into the upper bunk.

The wood stove now sits in the middle of the floor, with space around it for folks to move about. The propane heater works well. And there's a brand new outhouse, complete with gravel walkway from the cabin. Pretty cushy!

October is the mating season for porcupines. The babies of last spring are still very small, but they are now on their own, chowing down on the remaining herbage before shifting to a winter diet of bark. So their mothers are ready to mate again. If you hear strange calls coming from up in the tree canopy, and you are pretty sure it's not an unusually inventive raven, it might be a male porcupine announcing his availability to nearby females or perhaps a couple of males squabbling over mating privileges.

Winter arrivals from the Interior have been here since September. Slate-colored juncos now mix with our local Oregon juncos at feeders. Black-billed magpies call raucously, visit seed feeders, and are constantly on the lookout for something better. They are good scavengers, and salmon carcasses are high on the list of favorites. Just recently, I saw an eagle perched on a rock in the Mendenhall River with a dead coho at its feet. Hanging around, just out of the eagle's reach, was a hopeful magpie, waiting to dart in for a morsel or two. No doubt there were a few more magpies lurking nearby.

Postscript on the Bear Creek Dam in Douglas:

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the early history of this dam. Here are some tidbits about later history there. The CBJ water department tells me the dam was decommissioned in 1985, when Douglas went onto the city water system. No one currently at the water department knew about early maintenance activities at the dam, but some Douglas residents remember that CBJ occasionally cleaned the walls of the reservoir when water was low. At low water, residents could hike up the canyon above the concrete dam and find an old log dam, presumably left from the abortive attempts to mine that area. When the reservoir was full, this was a popular spot for picnics and swimming in summer, and for skating in winter. Between the dam and 5th Street is an old viewing platform, reportedly sponsored by Gastineau School for access to the creek and class projects.

The dam is reported to be structurally sound still, and the CBJ water department goes up there once a month to make sure the tailrace is clear of obstruction, so water flows freely through the bottom of the dam.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.



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