"Are you awake?" I woke to the sound of my dad's voice on the handheld VHF radio that we use to communicate between our houses. I always have it turned on and tuned to "our" channel. I fumbled for it, keyed the mike and managed to mutter something to the effect that I was more or less awake.
"Look out the window."
When I managed to pry my eyes open to do so I saw that the glow of a particularly rich sunrise was flooding my house. "Thanks," I said and quickly got dressed. I stepped out into a cool, northerly wind blowing directly into our bight. It must have stormed during the night because the walk plank that connects my house to the other floating buildings in our tiny "neighborhood" had worked itself out of position. I'd have to fix that later, but for now, with the sunrise coloring the sky and clouds, water, and even the air, I was in camera mode.
I followed the various walkways--glad I'd thought to put on my boots since the tide was in and my parents' floathouse decks were awash from recently losing some vital foam flotation--and reached the dock jutting out from the front of their house.
For a moment I just stood there soaking in the solitude colored in deep oranges and yellows. And was stunned and humbled at my privilege of being there to absorb it. Then I started taking pictures.
After getting my fill of clicking on every quadrant of the sky, I made me way back home and noticed the float log my dad and I had jockeyed into position near his shop with pike poles the day before. (The flotation issue is ongoing and neverending. The word Sisyphean springs to mind.) We hadn't been able to get it past one of the mooring lines, even though I'd waded out on the outside shop log--a bit slippery with a whole lot of water to one side waiting to claim me at the slightest misstep--but I hadn't been able to lift the anchored rope with the high tide pulling it tight. We'd decided to leave it till the tide went back out.
I reminded myself to do that task and then went back inside my house, stoking up the fire to ward off the morning chill. Normally the first order of the day was to make a mug of coffee, but I'd recently found out I was allergic to it. I think I missed the routine as much as anything, but I'd found a clever, if a bit nutty,way to still have the routine if not the actual imbibing. I booted up my laptop, which cannot be hooked up to Internet out here, and found a program that had come free with it. In minutes I was forcing the little people on the screen to down enough cups of coffee to power an entire city workforce.
How I love seeing those words pop up on the screen: "Making Coffee."
Once I got that out of my system I hauled firewood and grabbed a quick breakfast, an orange and a slice of Spam since I was low on groceries. My brother Jamie had offered to cross Clarence Strait to pick up some of our winter stock-up groceries from the small store in Thorne Bay (on Prince of Wales Island). But the storms had been holding him back.
Suitably refreshed, I powered up my tablet and plunged into a new aspect of my morning routine: checking and answering email. How amazing it was, after all these years of snail mail--once a week by floatplane and skiff, weather permitting--to be in almost instaneous contact with friends and family all over the country and as far away as Brussels, Belgium.
I was getting the distinct sense that I had irrevocably entered the 21st century.
One of the first emails I answered was from a very dear friend who, instead of going hunting and soaking in Alaska's beauty and bounty as he usually would at this time of year, was in the hospital, in Seattle, suffering through devastating chemo treatments. He'd said that scriptures helped him to cope, so I looked up one that I thought might help, Jeremiah 31:3.
While I was writing him my dad called on the VHF and asked if I wouldn't mind ordering a chainsaw for him on Amazon. They have a tablet, too, but their Internet signal is even worse than mine and that's saying something. Since I was a bit on the teary side while writing to my friend, I asked my dad if I could call him back. He was fine with that. I finished the email, got myself back in hand and called him to get the chainsaw specs.
He'd been having a wretched time of it with equipment. He had two chainsaws die, the new one he bought turned out to be a lemon, and then the exact same thing happened with generators! He'd managed, this summer, to obtain two used generators in the nearby village, one had a burned out generator, the other hadn't been run in years and was ancient in the bargain. With the aid of my brother Jamie, who's six-four and built like an NFL linebacker, they got the heavy diesel generators onto a float, which my dad towed home. First he had to move out the two defunct, heavy diesels out of the floating generator shed and then move the two new ones in--not to mention get them running. He moved all four entirely by himself with blocks, pulleys and a cumalong, since I was sick and unable to help.
At any rate, he'd overcome the generator situation through his genius understanding of engines, but the chainsaw situation wasn't good. No matter how much he tinkered with the lemon, it remained a lemon. He wanted a back-up as we headed into winter.
After a trial run on Amazon with one chainsaw that didn't work out--the price went up by seventy dollars as I was getting ready to order it--my dad found another one to his liking and gave me the specs over the radio as I typed them in. Moments later his new chainsaw was on its way. What an amazing boon Amazon has been for us out here in the bush with so little access to stores!
The tide was out by now so I set out to work the mooring line over the log we needed to pull alongside the shop when the tide came back in. (It's all about the tides here.) I had to balance down the slimey length of the shop's old log to reach the new one, but once I got there it was an easy task. Then I just had to balance my way back. I really didn't want to slip off into the sinking mud below.
I heard the chainsaw and remembered my dad was bucking off the ends of a float log to put under my nephew's seriously listing cabin (The Man Cave, spoken of in doom laden tones). The nephew in question, Ethan, is in the Army, in Afghanistan, which made it a trifle difficult for him to stop by for the weekend to help out. So, yes, my dad and I are working on four different floats simultaneously, hoping to get them taken care of before it snows. We should have been working on them all summer, but I'd been too seriously ill to do any work.
When I got over to where he was sawing to see if I could help with anything, he'd already finished. We decided to hike over to the next beach to see if the log we'd just gotten for my house was still tied up after the big storms and super high tides. It was, and we took a moment to enjoy the gorgeous sunny day. The water out on the strait was a deep, almost Mediterranean blue--though nowhere near that warm. We were hoping, despite the whitecaps, that Jamie would be able to bring the groceries over today.
While we were over there I tied off a log to keep everything coralled behind it and leave the beach unobstructed for ease of access. Then I hauled a 4"×6" beam back to my parents' house to be used in another maintenance project. My dad grumbled about the day when he could have packed that beam and more with no problem. But I wondered how many 68-year-old men with sciatica and one leg shorter than the other so he had to walk with a cane would even contemplate all the things he does as a matter of course. Like sawing up and chopping firewood every other day. But I understood. For someone who'd always been capable of amazing feats of strength and physical endurance, it was hard getting old.
After that it was just a matter of waiting for Jamie to show up. I did stuff around the house and worked on getting caught up on the books that our wonderful mail-rural services library in Juneau sends me.
My mom called me on the VHF a couple hours later to tell me Jamie was here. He'd arrived a little early, the water wasn't yet up to the dock. He stepped out of the skiff into water that almost went over his boots. Despite it being only in the low 50sº F., he was wearing shorts.
He casually carried a plastic-wrapped box (to protect it from spray when he crossed the Strait) weighing at least thirty pounds, in one hand, more groceries in the other hand, and waded to the dock with them.
We talked him into coming inside and waiting for the tide to bring the skiff up to the house. I offered him an orange, which he didn't hesitate to accept. Who wants scurvy?
While we waited for the tide to do its thing I got on Amazon and ordered a few things for Jamie, since he didn't have Internet.
Then we formed a line, when the skiff was to the dock, and packed winter stock-up groceries into the house: a 50 lb box of potatoes; a 37 lb box of oranges, 1 case of frozen green beans, 5 lbs of carrots, six 2-lb bricks of cheddar cheese, 150 lbs of meat, including 10 lbs of bacon, and boxes of various other staples. We'd have to do another trip at some point to do the cases of canned and boxed goods.
Jamie heaved the heavy meat boxes on his shoulder and packed them out to the freezer in the shop--wading again, since the deck was underwater. He had to leave right after that since he was getting ready for seacucumber fishing with our brother-in-law Rob, who's a diver.
My mom was left with the unenviable and more exhausting job of putting all the groceries away (though my dad handled putting the meat away in the freezer). On top of that she said she was going to do a big dinner and I was invited. Since fresh green salad was on the menu, I said I'd be there with bells on.
On my way back home I noticed the log that needed to be pulled up next to the shop seemed to be floating. But as hard as I pulled on the log it didn't budge. The other end was up on a rock pile. I snubbed it tight so the tension would pull it off the rocks as the tide came in. I just needed to remember to pull it in when it floated. But when i went over to dinner, I noticed the log was neatly in place--my dad had beaten me to it.
After dinner I did more stuff around the house and then ordered more stock-up supplies on Amazon. It was better to order it now rather than when the really foul weather hit and mail couldn't come in or out for weeks at a time.
I hauled more firewood for the night and saw a wonderful sunset, a perfect match for the sunrise. I settled down for a relaxing evening. Tomorrow I'd haul water to heat on the stove, wrassle more logs, haul more firewood, cut kindling--there's always something more to do....
Tara Neilson (ADOW)