My thirteen-year-old friend, A.C., went with me today to fix the waterline and pump water to our holding tank on a hill above our floathouses.
Wearing a Hoonah Fisheries bill cap, pink flannel work shirt, and a wispy black chiffon skirt, all she needed was to shove on her XTRATUF rubber boots and grab the vegan, cruelty free purse my artist sister, Megan Duncanson, had painted and sent her as a gift. A.C. goes nowhere without it, or the valuable contents it carries. But we'll get to that in a minute.
When we got to the waterline that follows a trail through the woods, we found that the wildlife--deer or a bear--had knocked it down. After leveling it we found that a connection was leaking. A.C. handled it. "Duct tape can fix anything," she insisted, and took charge of a large roll of it. Who's arguing?
When we got to the dam, she asked if I'd allow her to start the pump. "Jamie taught me how to start the generator," she said, mentioning my oldest brother who she lives next door to in the nearby village of Meyers Chuck. "This looks like the same sort of thing."
It pretty much was, so I told her to go for it. She just needed to fill the tank with gas first, which she promptly did, looking quite fashionable in her wilderness-girl-chic style.
Once she'd filled the pump she went about starting it. Happily, since it was summer it didn't have to be primed, like in the cold winter months. It also didn't need ether to kick it in the pants. A.C. pulled on the recoil a few times but the pump was positioned too high for her to be able to pull on it as strongly as needed.
I changed places with her and it started instantly. I told her, truthfully, that she'd warmed it up for me. It doesn't usually start that easily, even in the summer months.
We escaped the racket of the pump by going down on the beach and I suggested she reveal what she had inside her purse. I'm sure my readers would be fascinated to know what a wilderness girl thinks is essential, especially if she was to get lost in the woods and thrown back upon her own resources.
A.C. obligingly pulled items out, noting them aloud as she perched them on a drift log: "...a pack of cards, a foil packet of Pop Tarts, assorted bracelets..." Then she held up two small bottles with an air of significance. "Two different shades of fingernail polish."
"A girl likes to look her best, even if she's lost in the wilderness," I suggested.
"That's very true," she agreed without smiling.
A.C. pulled out a large, roughly cut...black rock?
"And a large chunk of obsidian," she remarked.
"What's that for?"
"You never know when you might need to make a bunch of arrowheads." She pulled out a wad of napkins that had ink stains on them--I thought. She corrected this impression. "They're napkins with symbols written on them. In case I get lost in the woods I can leave them behind so that people can follow me and find me."
"Smart," I said, wondering why I'd never thought of it.
The was more: jewelry, hair pieces, a gigantic play diamond ("A girl can never have too much diamond"), a solar-powered, hand-crank flashlight, a mirror ("To help people find me when the sun flashes off it") and so many other items that I lost track. I kept expecting her to pull a floor lamp and a potted palm out of it.
Finally, though, we had to shut off the pump and then head home before the tide came in and cut us off from the floathouses. Before we left, I took a final shot of A.C. with one of Megan's Florida Flamingos. If you'd like to know more about Megan's purses and/or art, check out these links: www.livinthemadlife.com - www.madartdesigns.com
I probably should have done this a long time ago, but I just realized I should have a category for people to go to that will lead them to my column. I'll put up brief posts that summarize what the column is about and put a link at the bottom.
What gave me the idea was my recent trip to Juneau. Everywhere I went I came across the paper that my column appears in, Capital City Weekly. It was at the hotel, the jet airlines, floatplane airlines, a sporting goods store, and on the ferry itself. At one point, I came across one issue open to my column. It was an odd experience that I'm still hashing over.
My most recent column "Casting the Panhandle" was about a major television production company that's been working to put together a "documentary series" (as opposed to a schlock-filled, scripted reality TV show) that focuses on people living subsistence lifestyles in Southeast Alaska. My oldest brother Jamie was someone the multiple award-wining producer came out by floatplane to possibly recruit.
You can read all about it at: http://juneauempire.com/capitalcityweekly/ccw-columns/2018-06-20/alaska-real-casting-panhandle
For all of my columns: http://juneauempire.com/tara-neilson
In November of last year, my friend Bjorn Dihle, author of "Never Cry Halibut" and "Haunted Inside Passage" (See Authors and Books categories), wrote: "Have you ever considered [writing] a 'tell-some' memoir?" He added, "You have a real good story to tell that I think would resonate."
For as long as I've been a writer, which has been most of my life, people have told me I need to write my family's story, of moving out to the burned cannery in an extremely remote area of SE Alaska where we built a home with our own hands and rarely saw other people. But I always dismissed these urgings because the idea didn't excite me. It was normal to me, the way anyone's childhood is normal to them. It wasn't until I began writing this blog and people contacted me to tell me how amazed and thrilled they were by our lifestyle and history that I began to see it through their eyes.
Bjorn's encouragement came at just the right time. He didn't limit it to just words, though. In February of this year he generously wrote to his editor, introducing me and the story I had to tell, assuring her that I was a "thoughtful and talented writer."
His editor responded favorably and he sent me his publisher's proposal form. Following it's guidelines closely, I wrote up a detailed proposal, including a chapter by chapter breakdown of a book I'd never really given any thought to until then, and sent it off that same day.
A week later Bjorn's editor responded, telling me that they were definitely interested in my proposal and that they believed I had a great story to tell. It just had to go through an upcoming acquisitions meeting before they could tell me anything definite.
In March the editor wrote: "I'm reaching out in regards 'Raised in Ruins,' the book proposal you had sent last month. We just had our acquisitions meeting and were really interested in the book and the unique story you have to tell. We also think your blog is fantastic!"
I hadn't written a single word of the actual book yet, but as soon as I received this message I began to write about our first day in our future home:
"Our uncovered skiff, about the length of a Volkswagen Beetle, was a speck.
"The world was big, I knew that from school lessons. But the wilderness was bigger. There was no end to it. We were the only humans in it as we sped across the gigantic white cloud reflections.
"...In the photos of our first visit to the cannery ruins my dad is behind us kids as we explore; he's pushing the skiff off and anchoring it in the current of the creek so that it won't go dry as the tide recedes. Jamie is watching over the two little ones while my sister and I, blonde hair gleaming, stand together out in front. The bay stretches out behind us kids and my dad to a shimmering, hazy horizon, as if we've stepped through a curtain into another dimension, into a different experience of time."
I've since written the first three chapters, but I still have a long way to go. Thankfully, I have plenty of time.
The publishing director, who has patiently and kindly helped me through the negotiation process, wrote: "We are thrilled at the prospect of publishing your remarkable story....we're looking at publishing the book in 2020."
That gives me plenty of time to write, revise, re-write, and polish it. I'll continue to share this adventure with all of you. I want to thank everyone who reads my blog, and especially those people who have contacted me and changed how I see and think about my family's Alaskan story.
And I want to give a special thank you to Bjorn, and to Mike in Mongolia who helped me understand contract negotiations, Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Agency for his time and encouragement, and everyone else who's helped in large and small ways to get my writing career to this point.
Most of all, thanks to my family for sharing this journey and giving me so much to write about.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)