"This is one of the funnier, more intriguing books I have read in a long time. The author has an amazing ability to intertwine his adventures into the unsolved mysteries of SE Alaska." --Chip M., Amazon Reviewer.
I first came across Bjorn Dihle's writing when I was doing research for my series of blog posts about Thomas Bay, Alaska and the legendary Kushtaka (see categories Monster Busting and History). There was a lot more on the subject than I expected, but Bjorn's account was by far the most enjoyable. I wound up reading everything I could find online written by him. I also sent him an email via the paper he wrote for, The Juneau Empire, and was surprised and delighted when he responded.
We wrote back and forth for a while, some of the time about the book he was in the process of writing, "Haunted Inside Passage," some of the time about our various adventures in the wilderness. Then one day I got an email by someone named Mary Catharine Martin, or MC, as she preferred to be called. She said she'd read my blog and wanted to tap me for writing a column in the paper she edited, Capital City Weekly. As it turned out, she'd been introduced to my blog by her boyfriend, Bjorn Dihle. (For more on MC, click on April 2017 under Archives.)
When I mentioned it to him, thanking him for the opportunity, he shrugged it off and said that all he did was show her my blog, my writing did the rest. This is typical Bjorn, more kind and generous than he likes to reveal. He usually disguises it with his sense of the absurd, which is highlighted in all of his writing, including "Haunted Inside Passage," and in my interview with him below. (For more on "Haunted Inside Passage" see the category Books.)
ADOW: What made you decide to write Haunted Inside Passage in anecdotal form, inserting yourself and your experiences into the text? (That's always my favorite book of this type, it makes me feel like I'm part of the adventure.)
Bjorn Dihle: The short answer is I'm basically a three-year-old boy trapped in a grown man's body that wants to be the center of attention. The long answer is I appreciate narratives like Hunter S. Thompson's and other nontraditional writers [such as Milan Kundera and his "Book of Laughter and Forgetting"]. Take "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," a classic whose basis lies in Thompson being sent to cover an off-road motor race. The story is as much or more about Thompson's antics and reflections as it is about the subject matter he's supposed to be writing about.
For "Haunted Inside Passage," I wanted to create a narrative that would both entertain readers and give them a decent portrayal of aspects of Southeast Alaska history. To do that I interjected my own absurd riffing to counter the weight of often dark history. By making it personal I hoped to inject more life in the narrative.
"I remember one commercial fishing captain I worked for, a kind but tightly strung man, who threatened to throw me overboard when he caught me whistling.
"'You'll summon a storm!' he yelled.
"'I'm sorry,' I said, peeling a banana.
"'You brought a banana aboard! That's bad luck!' he squealed, swinging a salmon gaff at the fruit. 'Throw it overboard and go wash your hands with bleach!'
"....I learned a lot that season about what you can and can't do on a boat. For instance, gingers have no souls and have been the doom of many a fisherman. Bananas are the devil's fruit and have doomed many mariners. Certain words and phrases like 'drown' and 'good luck' must never be said on a boat and can lead to doom."
ADOW: What age were you, what made you realize, SE Alaska was like no other place on earth?
BD: Pretty early, I suppose. There's a 1,500 square mile icefield on one side of my home and an archipelago full of brown bears on the other. All that country is open to explore, which is an incredible gift to an introvert suffering from wanderlust like me. I spent a number of summers in Montana when I was a kid and would always miss the fishing, hunting, and woods of Alaska. Montana is great but still pales in comparison if you love wild places.
ADOW: How do your girlfriend, MC, and your dog, Fen, feel about how they are portrayed in the book?
BD: They're both considering suing me. My golden retriever, Fen, is particularly distraught. I'm trying to bribe her back with red wine and prime rib dinners and long beach walks but a silence as vast as the Great Wall of China has grown between us. We're currently going to family counseling but MC gets so mad during these sessions that she throws books, chairs and, once even me against the wall.
"On a dark December day, I walked with my golden retriever, Fenrir, past the ruins of the Treadwell Mine. Still a puppy, 'Fen' chased seagulls in the ocean's surf while I moped along behind. My girlfriend, MC, and I named her after the wolf in Norse mythology that killed Odin and destroyed the world. Her aptitude for apocalyptic behavior has proved low thus far, though she occasionally jumped on frightened strangers to lick them and drank voraciously from the toilet no matter how hard we tried to discipline her. MC was the bad cop and I was the pushover in our dog rearing."
ADOW: If you were to write another book set in Alaska, what would it be about?
BD: I have a book of hunting, fishing, and outdoor humor stories called "Never Cry Halibut" being published next year. I'm considering writing a book about the relationship between people and brown bears. It's a subject that fascinates me--I love "nature" and exploring the ideas of things that scare us and, well, brown bears definitely scare just about everyone. I'm really hoping to bring sexy back to nature with writing that book.
I have other book ideas too and will choose one after summer winds down. Right now the only thing I'm working on is a novel about UFO conspiracy culture that's more of a cathartic sinful indulgence than anything else. MC no longer wants to hear my jokes so I just write them into that book to entertain myself.
According to the prologue in "Haunted Inside Passage" Bjorn was advised by a friend that he'd never get anywhere as a writer if he didn't make it "sexy." In his cover letter to the publisher who eventually put out his book, Bjorn claims: "I made it clear my book could only be optioned into a film if Tom Hardy played me and Scarlett Johansson played my girlfriend, MC, an incredibly intelligent writer whose one flaw is that she's clumsy and burns herself whenever she tries to cook."
He also claims he's intesnely shy, with the exception of "that time at my little brother's wedding in Newfoundland when I challenged 300 or 400 Canadians at the reception to a tag-team wrestling match against me and the groom. (All I remember is yelling, 'We will destroy you, Canada!' before my speech was prematurely ended.)"
ADOW: The bio on the back of the book says that after surviving a cruel childhood nickname you went on to find success as a writer, commerical fisherman, teacher, and wilderness guide. Can you share with us what you did to overcome this early heartbreak in order to soar to such lofty heights?
BD: I hunted down everyone who ever made fun of me and set fire to their homes, slashed the tires of their cars, and blackmailed them with naked photographs.
One guy--T-Rod, a big jock who was particularly merciless--I abducted and left duct taped to a flagpole at a motorcycle gang revival with a cardboard sign that read "I love my Prius."
ADOW: Duct tape. So Alaskan. Can you please give us more details about the interesting quote on the back cover: "Bjorn taught me how to love again." The quote is credited to Sasquatch.
BD: We all have our histories. Let's just say I spent a lot of my twenties wandering alone in wild places. I was lonely....What happened in the wilderness stays in the wilderness....
Lest you think "Haunted Inside Passage" is pure comedy--it's definitely not, detailing some of the more poignant, haunting, unhappy, and unexplained events in SE Alaskan history--here's a final excerpt that shows Bjorn's serious writing chops and his more contemplative side.
"The swirling gray dimmed as we, afraid to travel any farther, dug a snow shelter and pitched our tent. After dinner, I stared up into the darkness, listened to the storm, and thought about glaciers. They're challenging and otherworldly, moving like a living thing, break open with yawning crevasses, and jumble into treacherous icefalls. Glaciers can inspire a visceral dread. I felt like a self-sentenced criminal, imprisoned in the Pleistocene Epoch. Before dawn, I crawled out of my cocoon and was buffeted by winds as I studied the nebulous wind. A ground blizzard raged, but the clouds had vanished to reveal towering mountains and a canopy of stars. An eerie expanse of white seracs, blue where the wind had exposed the ice, surrounded us. We made coffee and broke camp as mountains slowly came to life with the flush of dawn....Staring out at the the distant white of Atlin Lake surrounded by the dark blur of taiga, I thought of glaciers not as desolate geographic features, but instead as titans that created and destroyed the world."
Bjorn writes "Haunted Inside Passage" with humor, but with sensitivity, too, and reveals that he has a listening ear, people feel comfortable sharing some of their most disguieting experiences with him. On subjects that could be milked for cheap sensationalism, Bjorn unerringly finds the human aspect, the part that touches you and makes you wonder and care, and hope, one day, to learn the answers.
NOTE: All photos are by Bjorn Dihle, except the fifth one by Mary Catharine Martin and the first one, by me.
The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?
In 2006 longtime Meyers Chuck residents Ed and Marian Glenz sold their property and moved to Wrangell. Marian had been the village post mistress for many years, going from one building to the next, until an official post office was built on the end of their false island. ("False" because it's reachable by foot when the tide's out.)
After the Glenzs left, the couple who bought the property didn't want the post office building on their land so another resident, Al Manning, acquired the building from them. My dad had built his summer home, so when it came time to move the building, Al approached him. Rather than disassemble it and then reassemble it on Al's property, my dad proposed moving the building intact.
But how? Especially since there was a shortage of manpower and it would just be my dad and my oldest brother Jamie doing the work.
First, with Jamie's help, he took everything moveable out of the post office, including an old, very heavy glass and wood counter that had been salvaged from the Bay of Pillars cannery decades before, and a pool table that the locals had played at while waiting for their mail to be sorted.
I asked him how he knew what it would take to move it and he said he had an approximate idea of how much it weighed, which was more than it looked. "It's well-made," he said appreciatively, then added meaningfully: "Ed Glenz built it." He noted that, "When we lifted one corner, the opposite corner lifted. That's how well made it was."
Next, my dad pulled the sway bracing off the two outside rows of the pilings that the building was pinned to. He left the two inside ones for stability. After that, using a cumalong, he pulled two 50 foot long, eight-inch in diameter logs under the building.
To make sure the house slid on the logs, he oiled the logs and fitted homemade plastic sleeves around the four-by-eight timbers that the floor joists sat on. To stop them from falling over as they were slid down the logs, he put stiffeners between the four-by-eights. On the outside of each log he nailed two-by-sixes to keep the building tracking. To stop the logs from pulling together he put 2 four-by-six spreaders between them at the top and bottom.
He jacked up the logs until they lifted the post office just off the pilings. He had to cut off all the steel pins, that attached the building to the pilings, with a sawzall. Next he tipped the pilings in their holes and dragged them out. He did all of this prep work on his own over a couple of weeks.
Now, ready to move the building, he called in my brother Jamie again.
Together they put rollers (smaller logs) on the ground and then dropped the logs the post office was sitting on, down onto the rollers, and then moved everything until the support logs were hanging out over a sheer drop off above the water.
When the tide was right they floated the logs underneath the support logs. They secured the support logs to trees behind where the building had originally stood and then pulled the post office farther onto the supports. As neat as can be, the building (on its support logs) sat down on the float logs that were tied together with ropes so they wouldn't separate.
With Jamie on one side at the back of the float in his 13 foot Boston Whaler, and our dad on the other side in his 16 foot Whaler, they pushed the building across the harbor toward Al Manning's property. As they turned the float, ropes hanging off the logs got caught in my dad's propeller. Pausing to free the prop, the breeze took them where it willed and the tide began running out.
"There's always something," my dad says. No matter how much you think things through, nothing ever goes as smoothly as it could.
They got the float into position and let it "go dry" as the tide receded. Then they jacked up the support logs to the height of where it was going to be by putting blocks under it--six cedar blocks two feet in diameter and six inches thick--two at a time, using double jacks. They got it to the height they wanted it to be and floated the float logs out from under the two long support logs.
They dug holes to put the pilings in and leveled them by setting one of the pool table balls on the floor. "When it quit rolling," my dad says with a grin, "we knew we were getting close."
They put the pilings under the timbers, took the blocking out, and pulled out the support logs. After that, all they had to do was put the sway bracing in and they were done. The old post office had a new home.
Archimedes once said: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it and I shall move the world." I think my dad and Archimedes would have had lots to talk about.
I love the way little kids think. One fall evening we had a huge bonfire on the beach built from drift logs with a lot of family members sitting around shooting the breeze and poking the logs to make the embers spark and glow, reflecting a golden glow on familiar faces. The forest was a black silhouette of jagged points all around us, with a full moon rising like a ghostly galleon just above them on the far side of the beach.
Left: My nephew Sterling. Right: Moon above the forest, totem pole in the foreground.
I did my best to explain the earthbound facts to him, but in the end I knew I'd failed his faith in me. Instead, I did my best and got him a glow-in-the-dark moon decal to put on the wall near his bed so he could look at it when he went to sleep. And I wrote him a poem that was one of the first things I had published:
A MOON FOR ME
I see you
wherever I go.
I see you
hiding behind the trees
playing with me.
I see you
as I reach out
to make you my own moon.
Recently a friend told me her own story of the moon and an older family member...one who came much closer to giving her the moon than I did for Sterling. Here's her story:
When I was about five, I would stay at my grandparents' house for a while. That was supreme ecstasy anyway...but my grandfather had been flying since the 1920s, and had a hangar with a few planes. I adored flying, even then, and was even allowed to take the stick sometimes.
I would be in my pajamas, ready to eat, but a brilliant idea occurred to me (as it seemed to me--anyway). I refused to eat. Grandpa asked if I thought that I might have a better appetite if we flew up and kissed the moon good-night. A brilliant idea, indeed!
He had planes in his blood anyway, so this was no great sacrifice to him. He called the hangar, had the guy get the plane of choice fueled-up, and off we went. Me in my airplane pajamas and little house shoes with wings and a prop on them.
We carefully inspected the plane and climbed in.
And taxied out, lifting off to see Mr. Moon.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)