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.
One day, much to my surprise, I got a 1-gallon Ziploc baggie in my mail that had a business card with a picture of a boat on it named "Always Friday." In the baggie was a beautiful, hand-knit muff. Fortunately, the card had a name and email address and when I contacted the mysterious gift giver it turned out to be a reader, named Sue Oldham, of my friend Jo's blog, over at www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com. My blog was mentioned and she subscribed to it so when she passed through Meyers Chuck she kindly dropped off the gift.
She described her travels up the Inside Passage in emails to me and when I asked her if I could use them as a Guest Blog, she agreed, and sent along some photos. And here they are!
Hi Tara, sorry for the delays. I got your email in Sitka, then we traveled back on the outside, into Lisianski canal to Pelican and Elfin Cove and Hoonah for the 4th of July. What a spectacular route! The outside passage was 2 foot seas and glass. The marine life was everywhere although we saw the most whales in Tenekee Springs on our way to Sitka. Each community has its own special personality. I loved Sitka for all of its efforts to preserve its musical and artsy roots. It didn’t do everything just for the cruise ships. Pelican is a community trying to reshape itself after the closure of the fish processing facility. It’s residents had warm and generous hearts. We were greeted by a small lodge owner with dog biscuits for Ike. The couple who run the cafe are so sweet. I left a new flag with them we had bought but didn’t fit our flag stand and they were so excited because they wanted the city to have a new flag for the 4th.
Elfin Cove is a beautiful community. We bought a freshly caught king salmon from a fisher woman who came in to sell it to the tender barge in the harbor. The Stolis vodka boat rising sun stayed out of the harbor and had the owners of the local lodge send fishing guides out. I couldn’t help but think how much is they were missing by not visiting this beautiful community and ordering home made chicken and rice soup at the little cafe. Their boat is 246 feet with a crew of 26. I’m sure the meals are fine restaurant quality but if you miss the people of Alaska, you have missed Alaska.
Hoonah somehow made me sad. The people are suffering at their new cruise ship dock facility. They pay minimum wage and take 60% from the vendors for rent and fees. It feels like the hope that was there two years ago was gone. We took the tender out for a visit of the cannery and probably would have spent some money but we went through 3 people who did not have the authority to let us tie up to the back of the dock only to find a supervisor who said coast guard regulations would not let us tie up or to land on the beach. They are cruising for trouble I fear. Juneau is nice but over crowded. We rented a house from a local owner and brought our kids and their families in. The harbor is full of fishing boats that are not being allowed to fish. Most of the private boats ended up in Harris Harbor or Aurora Harbor because Auke Bay is first come first serve and filled with cruise ship vendors and docked fishing boats waiting to be sent out. We finally got into Auke Bay after one Harbormaster did some rearranging for us. I read one of your articles in the Capital City Weekly. It also says you are related to Artist Megan Duncanson. I love her art! You do have a very artistic family.
I’ll attach a couple of good whale shots we got at Tenekee Springs and an oops by one of the local cruise ships just outside of Sitka.
We are in a 64 foot troller named Always Friday. It is white with a green cove stripe and it has a “back yard” with a 4 foot square of AstroTurf and a sack of petunias for the traveling needs of our chocolate lab, Ike. Every day is a new blessing whether it is a bag of beach asparagus from Jo, or an evening watching whales break from the dock in Tenekee Springs. Our brief visit in Thorne Bay still floors me. We were immediately given 5 crab then 10 lbs of halibut by Jim Silverthorn then the same day Jo brought us a bad of beach asparagus. I went to a dog show during a hale storm put on by Bear , a young tween who lives there and loves dogs. You live in an amazing place with amazing people. Keep writing, I want to buy a copy of your first book.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)