The kind and talented Grace Augustine at the website Originality by Design, asked if I would do a guest blog to help promote my memoir Raised in Ruins (due out April 7, 2020) and I agreed. When it was posted and the editor of my memoir read it she said she loved it and would be delighted if I'd make it the new opening to the book. See what you think:
Every day as a child was an adventure for me and my four siblings as we lived in the burned ruins of a remote Alaskan cannery. Some days had more adventure in them than others. Mail day was a day that promised parent-free adventure.
Our mail arrived at a nearby fishing village by floatplane once a week, weather permitting. We only lived seven miles of water away from the village—there were no roads, or even trails—but the route was hazardous, even deadly, because of the mercurial nature of our weather. What had been glassy water an hour before as we made the trip in a thirteen foot open Boston Whaler could turn into a maelstrom of seething white water only an hour later to catch us on the return trip.
Tides, weather forecasts, and local signs had to be carefully calculated before the trip could be made. So, it sometimes happened that we would miss several mail days in a row and get three weeks’ worth of mail all at once. My parents usually made the trip by themselves, leaving us kids behind in our floathouse home. (A regular wood frame house resting on a raft of logs.)
Our sense of adventure, always present since our family comprised the entire population of humans for miles in any direction, quadrupled as we waved good-bye to them. We watched them turn into a speck out on the broad bay with the mountain ranges of vast Prince of Wales Island providing a breathtaking backdrop for them.
Then we cut loose. We ran around the beaches, jumping into piles of salt-sticky seaweed and yelling at the top of our lungs, the dogs chasing us and barking joyously. We tended to do this every day, but this was different. We lived in an untamed wilderness that could kill full grown adults in a multitude of ways and we children had it all to ourselves.
At our backs was the mysterious forest that climbed to a 3,000 foot high mountain that looked like a man lying on his back staring up at the sky that we called “The Old Man.” In front of us was the expanse of unpredictable water with no traffic on it, except for the humpback whales, sea lions, and water fowl.
And we were the only humans to be seen in all of it.
As we scattered, my littlest brother, Chris, wound up with me in our twelve-foot, aluminum rowing skiff. I was twelve and he was seven, and we were buckled up in our protective, bright orange lifejackets that we never went anywhere without.
“Where shall we go, Sir Christopher?” I asked in a faux British voice as I sat in the middle seat with an oar on either side of me. “Your wish is my command.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”
I looked around. The floathouse sat above a small stream below the forest, its float logs dry, since the tide was halfway out. Opposite it was a smaller floathouse we called the wanigan that we used to go to school in, before our dad built a school for us on land, but was now the washhouse.
The small, sheltered cove suddenly felt restrictive since it was the only part of the old cannery we saw on a regular basis, and there wasn’t much of the old cannery to see, just some pilings sticking half out of the water.
“Let’s go to the ruins,” I said.
The rest of the post can be read at: https://originalitybydesign.blogspot.com/2019/09/to-ruins-by-tara-neilson.html
On August 6 of this year I turned in my manuscript for my memoir to my publisher West Margin Press. RAISED IN RUINS is about growing up in the ruins of a cannery in the Alaskan wilderness with only my family.
It took me just over a year to write it. I'm not somebody who dwells on the past a lot, so it was a struggle, but also an adventure, to constantly delve into things I'd experienced that I hadn't thought about in years.
I found that just the process of writing memories down made more memories surface. And when I re-wrote them, additional details I'd forgotten jumped to the surface. To help me remember, I had written a lot of journals when I was a kid, we'd audio recorded conversations, and my entire family generously shared their point of view of what had happened. Of course I had to write it the way I experienced it, but they helped me remember a lot that I'd forgotten, making it a fuller, deeper story.
And in the process of writing the memoir I came to realize in a way I never had before what an amazing experience we had. We lived so remotely that it gave me a different perspective on space and especially time than I would have had growing up in the world.
We learned many lessons children aren't usually taught, including the basic one of how to survive, which I wrote about in a guest blog for a wonderful woman and inspirational blogger who in one brief experience of Alaska understood it immediately and deeply. Her name is Carla Kirkland and you can find my guest blog at:
Due to ongoing signal problems my blogs will have to be shorter than usual with less photos, but if this works I'm hoping I can post them more regularly in the future.
I can't wait to see what happens with RAISED IN RUINS and how readers will respond to it when it comes out next year.
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.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)