I'm going to try out a new format with this blog, since it appears I can no longer send multiple embedded photos in my emails, which was how I previously did my blog (and then sending it to my sister in Florida to post). The signal has just gotten too twitchy to pull that off anymore, it seems.
So what I propose to do, and we'll see how it goes, is to have all the photos at the bottom of the text. On this first outing, and possibly for the foreseeable future, I'll just describe what's going on in each photo.
It's mail day and it's always a case of wondering what time the floatplane will arrive, if the weather will cooperate, if the tide will be in far enough to float the skiff--and will it still be in once we pick up the mail so we can get back to the house and offload on the dock instead of trying to haul everything up the beach?
On this mailday the mailplane was two hours late, but since it was a 19 foot tide on a sunny day, that worked out all right. We hung out at the dock chatting with my cousin Darrell, tilting our heads every time we heard a plane flying by out on the strait. He wanted to go firewood logging on the high tide and hoped the plane would get here before the tide peaked. (Photo 2)
The floatplane finally arrives and my dad catches the wing line from inside the skiff to slow the plane's momentum. We tend to have far more in-coming mail, since there are usually groceries and other supplies, than outgoing mail, as the small pile on the dock testifies. (Photo 3)
Cassie Peavey, the post mistress for Meyers Chuck, strides down the dock that her husband, Steve, built, attached to the tiny post office that they built. She and Steve are past retirement age but handle the hundreds of pounds of mail that come in every week with can-do good-nature. We can't thank them enough! (Photo 4)
Inside the little post office Steve sorts packages for Darrell to scan while behind the counter Cassie puts the first class mail in the tiny, open post office boxes. She sells a limited variety of candy, as well, and frequently puts out homemade cinnamon rolls and cookies she bakes herself. (Photo 5)
The post office is built on rocks that turn into a submerged island on super high tides. Without this wooden walkway to shore (and to the Peavey's house) it wouldn't be able to be reached from land on a 19-footer. It's heated by a woodstove, as the small pile of firewood below the bulletin board indicates. (Photo 6)
Another mail day successfully handled. I hope you enjoyed the new format!
NOTE: I'm attempting to build a Twitter presence so I try to post photos and what's happening several times a day, signal permitting, @neilson_tara if you want to check it out. I'd love to get to know my readers better and hear any suggestions for posts that you might have.
I think the tower I get my signal from is frozen over in this severe cold snap we're having so here's hoping this gets through. I'll keep it short with mostly just photos so there's less content to send--but, as my sister recently coined a saying: A photo is worth a thousand words.
Every year thousands of Alaskans are faced with whether or not they should stay the winter. Many make a yearly fact checking (to see if the sun still warms the earth) pilgrimage to Hawaii or Florida--some stay in the latter state permanently, as my sister did. And there's a reason why there are only seven people in my neck of the wilderness now who stay the year around. It's mostly summer folks these days.
The above picture explains why that is. That's freezing spray from northerly hurricane force winds pile-driving waves twenty to thirty feet into the air over the rocks at the entrance to our little bight.
While I was courting frostbite to take that photo, my sister was lying on a beach in Miami and smugly, with gloating aforethought, took this picture of her road bike.
Hmmm. What was that question again? To snowbird or not to snowbird...?
Megan, I hope you have room for company.
"There are plenty of reasons to sympathize with our pal [in] Alaska. Just the thought of her running through a blizzard with an armload of firewood while being chased by a pack of howling otters just waiting for her to stumble makes me tremble for her safety."
A friend wrote this on a message board I subscribe to but can rarely post on. I thought about expanding upon this on my blog because of its astounding accuracy, but unfortunately I don't have any photos to accompany it.
So, instead, I thought I'd catch everyone up on a very common wilderness concern in Southeast Alaska: firewood.
Typically, everyone who lives in the bush and especially those who live here year around (a very small minority) owns a well-stocked woodshed. People spend a good part of their summer stocking up the woodshed in preparation for winter and then all winter long they try to, if possible, keep it topped up. Everyone fears an accident that will leave them dependent on the woodshed without the possibility of replacing what they've burned.
As a kid, a big thing our whole extended family did was have a day where we filled up the space below my grandparents' house and their side porch with firewood. It was a lot of hard work, but fun, too, with the guys trying to outdo each other with how much they sawed and split while us kids hauled and stacked, and our mother, aunts, and grandma made a huge, delicious meal inside.
Before the Forest Service claimed the land our floathouses are attached to, we had a woodshed on land that held several cords of firewood and we did our best to keep it stocked up. We had to dismantle it and since then we've been limited as to how much firewood we can have on hand, since the weight is a problem for floathouses. My dad, for the last few winters, has split wood every other day, enough for two houses. For a guy in his seventies who has only limited use of one leg, I've always thought this an impressive accomplishment.
Three weeks ago he accidentally leaned on an unlatched door and suffered a severe fall that effectively sidelined him in the firewood gathering department. Fortunately for us, our winter had been fairly mild up to then (with huckleberries still on the bushes in December), and we did have a small woodbox and the front of their floathouse stocked with firewood. In addition, last summer he and a young friend had split a pile of wood that they'd had to leave on the beach under a tarp to avoid having it on Forest Service land.
That had worked fine in the summer and fall months when the tides are fairly low, but we had big winter tides coming, including a nineteen footer that would wash the wood away. I paddled the skiff over to the beach with the split wood (my dad didn't think I'd be able to start the outboard since it had been acting up) and tossed in as much of it as I could. I had to go back every day to get more as the tide rose higher, until on the nineteen foot tide I was in a flat out race trying to get the last of the wood into the skiff before the surging tide carried it away.
I was also gathering driftwood poles that could be sawed into rounds, often as dark fell since there were only short hours of daylight and the tide came and went as it liked without reference to my needs. I knew I didn't have the upper body strength to split enough firewood for two houses the way my dad did, so my plan was to find small enough poles that I could pull them onto our dock so they could be sawed up with the small chainsaw.
This worked well for my smaller house, but when my parents ran out of wood and the temperature dropped to below freezing with a nasty northerly dropping the temperature even further with its icy windchill, I had to start towing in larger logs, up to 7-8 inches in diameter. These bigger logs I needed rope and tackle in order to pull them onto the dock. My dad, who was healing faster than any of us expected, sawed round after round as I pulled a log forward. My mom, who has limited mobility herself and asthma, came out into the chill wind and hauled as many of the rounds as she could.
In this manner we've managed to keep on top of the firewood situation, though we try to be careful about how much we burn. My house is often kept in the 50-60F degree range. My Maine Coon Katya isn't a fan of winter weather, so her answer to the problem is to crawl into her little house. I put a heated, flat stone under the pad inside and in addition I add a hot water bottle and a fleece blanket. She hates to come out, even to eat.
A cozy, purring cat almost makes up for the ongoing cold and constant scavenging for firewood poles.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)