My dad just came back from a day waiting around at the dock for the mail plane to come in, and said he spent the time chatting with pretty much every person in the village.
The dock has always been the gathering place for the locals as far back as I can remember. People go there to wait for planes, school kids to wait for their skiff ride home (chopping up kelp and throwing it at each other in the interim), hang out, exchange tall fishing tales, gossip, tender sympathy.... It's seen everything from wedding parties, to graduation parties, to end of the fishing season parties. If there's a party going, the spot to hold it is at the dock. More than one person has been thrown off the dock, or bumped into the bay while music was pounding and spirits, of more than one variety, were high and flowing.
When we first arrived in Myers Chuck, as it was spelled then, there was a sturdy, central dock made of wood that everyone called "the state dock" since it was built with state funds. Along the wide, warped-plank causeway that led away from land and to the ramp down to the float system, local boys had laboriously carved current events and opinions into the wooden rail. Most of it involved the village's prettiest teenage girls and the local boys' territorial stake to one or the other of them, their admiration for both, and their unfriendly advice to and libel against competitors for the girls' affections.
I loved the dock as a child. It was the most alive, happening place in the world. I could go down the dock, the fishing boats rafted alongside each other two or three deep, and get treats as I went from one barbecue and dock party to the next. Who could say no to a pig-tailed blonde girl in a life vest bouncing on a pogo stick?
The men would gather in groups talking fishing, cards, and politics while someone's rock music blared in the background. The women were busy at barbecues, coming and going from their cramped galley kitchens, chatting about "Chuck Doings," the boats swaying and squeaking against the bumper buoys. The scent of saltwater and low tide mixed with beer, cooking chicken, burgers, and franks.
Some of my school friends lived down at the dock on boats. Two sisters had their own boat that was towed behind their parents' fishing boat wherever they traveled. I loved going aboard and seeing their tidy, cozy floating bedroom.
The dock was moored in place by a series of tall, barnacle-encrusted pilings that sea gulls stood atop, flat-footed, making raucous, melodramatic remarks and looking for handouts.
Could there be a better place to go pogo-sticking?
My cousin Mark has his own dock story:
August 16, 1977
As the only summer residents of the Back Chuck, along with our mom, during our first summer in remote Myers Chuck, my brother Alex and I often ate a quick breakfast and headed for the Front Chuck for some human interaction.
Myers Chuck was tiny, but its population jumped in the summer as boat captains sought refuge or came in to offload their fish at the tiny fish-buying/fuel station attached to the post office and general store. The store had the only land-line telephone in Myers Chuck, allowing us to collect call our father in Atlanta to say hello and check in on the world.
This particular day when I called my dad he told me that Greenie, my pet paraketet, had met his maker. I was devastated. Later, I'd find out the truth about Greenie's demise (an uncle's cat), but for now I just knew I was sad that I'd lost my close companion.
I went to the state dock to have a good cry and found that a grizzled old captain was having a cry of his own. He couldn't possibly have heard about Greenie, but at 9, I asked with all the innocence in the world if that was why he was crying.
He replied, "No, son. Elvis Presley has died."
I knew of Elvis from one of my dad's three 8-track tapes. Dad wasn't a big music guy, but we had The Beach Boys, Elvis, and The Outlaws. Not bad for a non-music guy!
Me crying for Greenie, and the old captain crying for the loss of Elvis, along with the rest of the world, is a day I'll always remember. Only in 1977 remote Myers Chuck could a 65-year-old weathered fishing captain console a city boy out of place about a rock 'n' roll star and a little green parakeet.
This has easily been the worst winter for violent storms that we've ever seen in all the years we've lived here. The weather forecasters have obviously not figured out whatever has changed because they consistently under forecast. When it's forecasted to blow thirty mph we will invariably get seventy mph or higher. I'm going on three nights without sleep because of the back-to-back gale-to-hurricane force winds we've been getting battered by.
My dad and I just went woodlogging in a big swell when there was a slight break in the weather and as we rounded the rocks that protect our home we counted no less than four wind-broken trees just since the last time we'd rounded the point. Last night I kept thinking about that as I heard debris constantly hitting my roof and my house being shook by one powerful gust after another. I just hoped and prayed none of the trees that surround us would come down on us.
I'm having a hard time keeping up with my emails with all the physical work involved here and the lack of sleep, so I wanted to put this up to explain and apologize to everyone I owe emails to. These storms can't last forever...I hope. And when they finally moderate into something more reasonable, I hope to get back to a better routine of keeping in touch with people. In the meantime, thank you all for being so patient.
I have a new column coming out at www.capitalcityweekly.com, Wednesday, March 15th, about tricks we've learned for coping with coldsnaps in the bush, when there's no running water. Thank you, Laura, for the idea!
I've made bull kelp candles before, using the hollow bulb to fill with wax and a wick. But this time, as I was walking along the beach and saw some uprooted bull kelp, I noticed that the kelp still had their holdfasts attached, the part that anchors the kelp to submerged rocks.
The Scottish part of our family, on my mom's side, belongs to the MacLeod clan and their motto is: "Hold Fast." This phrase is also found as part of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, a favorite scripture. It always comes to mind when I'm writing letters to people who are going through a hard time.
I decided that I'd use a bull kelp holdfast to make a candleholder, to make a "Hold Fast Candle."
I chose a holdfast that was fairly large because it will shrink as it dries. I also looked for one that had attached itself to a flat rock so that it would provide a stable base. After unraveling the whip part of the kelp, I cut it several feet up, to where it began to thicken.
Back home I collected candles, super glue, and small, clear cannisters that I could stick the candles in. After glueing the cannister to the top of the holdfast I began winding the whip around it, glueing as I went. Fortunately, the kelp had been lying in the sun for a while so it was partly dried, which meant it was flexible and the glue would stick to it. My cat found this process particularly fascinating and kept slapping the end of the whip as I slowly wound it in place.
I was delighted with how the candleholder experiment turned out and can't wait to share them with family and friends as encouragement for them to "hold fast," no matter how tough things get.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)