My sister, Megan Duncanson, a successful artist, recently moved herself and her entire studio to Miami to begin a new chapter in her life. See her inspiring blog post on the subject here: http://www.madartdesigns.com/blog/irma-and-life-lessons-live-your-best-life
As anyone in touch with the news is aware, Irma, the record breaking Category 5 hurricane, is taking direct aim at Miami after decimating various islands. (Wendy, I've been thinking about you and hoping and praying that you and your loved ones are safe. If you are, please comment and let me know!) Megan had to evacuate, leaving almost everything she possesses behind. She'll be coming up to Alaska to be with us as we wait to see what happens. Foruntately, or unfortunately, she is no stranger to hurricane force winds as this latest post From the Dairy Crate of old school newspapers and items from our childhood shows.
Our youngest brother Christopher did this drawing of the old pilings from the burned out cannery where we lived, showing the storm surge and wind from a particularly memorable winter storm that my brothers called "Hurricane Union Bay." (We lived on the shores of Union Bay in a very exposed location.) In Chris' words:
"Hurricane Union Bay/blew us away/and we began to fly/away with the wind/and then we began to cry/as we went up very high."
In the far right corner you can see family members being blown away by the winds, metaphorically if not literally.
Here's my coverage of the same storm (I was apparently addicted to exclamation points, big words, and broad irony at the time) for the Meyers Chuck School Gazette circa 1984:
"The storm that struck Meyers Chuck and surrounding areas was a screamer all right! It didn't raise any roofs but it did raise a lot of hair.
"Meyers Chuck seems to have come through okay, what with only gusts up to 70 or more and a 19 ft tide! It seems that quite a few people were afraid their houses were going to float--houses that aren't supposed to float.
"I feel pretty sorry for anyone who stayed at their boats that night! Lots of people had an enjoyable time concerning docks and other floating objects (and some that weren't supposed to float) during the rather high tides and gusty winds.
"Unfortunately one of the out-lying areas that can easily be reached by a skiff, known as Union Bay (or unofficially as "Fools Paradise") has had a few problems.
"During the night there was a loud snap and the Neilson's floathouse was floating free of its imprisoning bonds. It seems as if their sawmill deck finally rebelled and it, too, has caused some vexation to the inhabitants of Union Bay.
"Otherwise our local storm was quite tame compared to the rest of the state. You'll have to find out about that on the News."
Another reporter, in first grade by the name of Josh, also contributed to the storm coverage with the following article:
"Steve Peavy lost his skiff. They looked for it during the night. It was stormy and rainy."
While we have never suffered the kinds of winds that people suffered from Harvey, or now Irma, I feel for all who have suffered through a high wind storm. Hold fast and don't give up.
Clockwise: Clarence Strait with the mountains of Prince of Wales Island towering above it; my brother Robin's floating cabin; my first floathouse, formerly our childhood homeschool before it was winched off land and onto a float.
NOTE: Since my sister will be staying with me in the coming days, and it's through her stable signal in Florida that my blog is normally posted, it may be a while before I can put up another blog post.
If you need more Alaska For Real in the interim, my column appears at www.capitalcityweekly.com every other Wednesday. My next column is titled "Floathouse Living" and comes out September 13, 2017.
For all of my columns Google: Tara Neilson Juneau Empire.
I decided to put up a new category called Re-Purposing after I went to do a blog post on the subject and realized I had way too much material for one post. Re-purposing is a way of life in the bush where it's hard to get access to materials, especially on the spur of the moment. Besides, no one in the bush likes to throw anything away if they can possibly give it new life as something else.
Take, for instance, the picture (above) that I'm going to use for all of my "re-purposing" posts. My mom loved her charmingly old-fashioned alarm clock, so when it unexpectedly flat-lined and couldn't be resuscitated, she decided to re-purpose it as a picture frame and put in it a not so American Gothic moment between her and my dad when we first moved to Alaska. I think it looks terrific.
For myself, I recently realized that I needed a mobile, smallish bookcase that I could put my library books in. Usually they're stacked on the table, or next to my bed, or wherever I can find a clear space for them. But I wanted them all in one place that was easily accessible and could follow me wherever I needed them.
Looking around, I spotted a battered suitcase that I was getting ready to throw out.
Suitcases have a rough time of it in the bush. This poor thing has been hauled in and out of skiffs, wheeled up and down steel-grate ramps and the warped planks of docks, and been soaked in salt spray. On one memorable return trip, after landing in the village via floatplane, a local offered to give me a skiff ride home. When we got to where the tide rips get bad and started bucking into eight and ten foot waves, the local decided he'd had enough.
Instead of returning to the village with him, I asked him to let me off on the nearest rocks with my luggage. I had so much that I had to do a relay hike over the rocks: Walk ahead so far and drop them on the rocks, then go back for the rest, and repeat--for over an hour. This suitcase got dragged and bumped over every rock, barnacle, and weathered chunk of drift wood in the area. But it survived to travel another day. ( In addition, my Maine Coon Katya made her displeasure at my leaving known by attacking the case with her claws whenever she got the opportunity.)
Because of its faithful, uncomplaining service I was loathe to destroy it, but since its zippers no longer worked, there was a hole in the back, and the front was Katya-clawed, I didn't know what else to do with it. Until it struck me that here was my mobile bookcase!
All it took was an hour of sawing a 1x6 piece of spruce into sizes that would fit inside the suitcase as shelves, nailing them together, fitting them inside the case, and then spray painting them black to match the luggage. And voila! I had my mobile bookcase to shelve my library books in.
The painting in the background is my sister Megan's art. For more of her paintings go to www.madartdesigns.com.
One of the things that struck me when we first moved here were all the graveyards.
And by that I mean the skiff, boat, and outboard engine graveyards. They were everywhere.
There was something strange and mysterious about skiffs, small water vessels, resting in tall grass, on solid ground. Like spawned out salmon. No longer a thing of speed and grace, swooping and jumping from wave to wave in breathless freedom...instead, they were pulled out far above their natural element and left to decay under the skirts of the indifferent, superior spruce.
The abandoned skiffs were sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. We played around them and clambered in them, pretending to take them out onto the strait to have wild adventures. They were our playgrounds, but no matter how familiar they became, I always viewed them with a sense of wonder and mystery.
SE Alaskans are hard on their skiffs, especially the teenagers. It was considered a point of honor, for example, when I was a kid for the local teens to "jump the dock." This was when the airplane dock that jutted out from the main dock, had a ramp on one side for floatplanes to haul-out on.
The trick was to come at this ramp full throttle (after manually disabling the locks on your outboard). Your skiff shot up the ramp, the outboard kicking up, and you soared over the floatplane dock, perhaps waving to the locals as you went, and landed hard in the water on the other side.
Flourishes were optional, and sometimes if you flourished too hard--say, doing a sharp turn on the landing--the outboard came off your stern and sank to the bottom. You wound up looking more dumb than debonair, so flourishes were added with caution.
In at least one case a couple of teens wound up adorned with sheepish grins when their skiff refused to go the distance and landed in the middle of the floatplane dock with a bone jarring thud. Naturally, they pushed it off in the water and tried again. As with all worthwhile pursuits, if at first you don't succeed: try, try, and try again.
Two local teen boys (Matt and Dan Peavey by name) had their own outboard graveyard mouldering in the tall grass up behind their house. I used to wander around it in the golden summer silence when I was a wide-eyed six-year-old, as if I was taking a tour of Egypt's ancient monuments. I could only imagine the adventurous, painful stories those outboards could tell. One of these brothers had an engine right inside his bedroom, an oil-soaked floor beneath it, as he operated on it without a license. Even if the engine could be resurrected it would eventually end as all Peavey outboards ended: in the outboard graveyard unmourned and untended.
The young people, pre-TV (which didn't arrive in the bush until the Eighties) saw "hopping swells" as high entertainment. My mom, new to this pastime, said that one of the local guys invited her out on a sunny day when the waves were white-capping, and she, always up for an adventure, hopped in his skiff.
The deal was that once again the driver went at full throttle, in this case without regard to wave height. You stood in the bow, where the waves hit the hardest, holding onto the bowline as the skiff slammed into the waves. Hulls of fiberglass and of human flesh were known to separate under this brutal treatment. You had to have good flexibility and balance--the key was to bend your knees to absorb the impact. My mom caught on quickly and thought it was great stuff, yelling her encouragement to continue as the spray flew and the skiff WHOMPED down violently on wave after wave.
When they finally returned home, the local guy looked at her and said, "You're crazy."
I guess SE Alaska was the only place for her.
After hard work, and even harder play, skiffs and boats are literally put out to pasture here. If you visit SE Alaska in the bush, you will see them and wonder, as I do, what stories they have to tell.