All during the journey coming home it was beautiful sunny weather right until the last few hours on the ferry when the clouds enclosed the mountains and dropped the ceiling. Rain ran down the tall windows in the observation lounge obscuring the view of the Inside Passage and, while the other pasengers grumbled, I smiled.
"I'm almost home."
I stepped outside into the fresh, rainy wind and watched as the point of land where I live moved sternward. I could easily imagine my parents in their floathouse, tucked out of sight of the stormy strait. My mom would be coloring in her rocking chair while my dad battled the poor signal to check or order something online. The house would be cozy with a wood fire in the stove. In my floathouse behind theirs my Maine Coon Katya would be hunched in a ball, grumbling to herself because I wasn't there to start a fire, or tuck her up, or generally make her feel like the center of the universe, which she knows is her due.
The rain lifted a little as we entered Tongass Narrows and approached Ketchikan. We passed close by the shipyard where my brother Robin works and I took pictures, hoping I'd get a glimpse of him. But as I was taking pictures a woman stopped next to me and asked if that was a ferry and what it was doing up there on land.
I explained that it was indeed a ferry and that the shipyard more often than not had one of the Marine Highway System's ships in dry dock to repair and paint all year around.
"Do you know someone there, is that why you're taking all those pictures?" When I explained she said, "Shouldn't you wave?"
I duly waved and got in trouble for it within minutes. Robin texted me. "You are blinder than Dad. Lol. I was nowhere in the vicinity that you were waving to!!!! Lmao."
"Just for the tally books," I texted back, quoting a favorite family movie that we re-watched a million times as kids, "where were you?"
"I will show you in your camera! You took a picture of right were I was."
Which he did as soon as he picked me up from the ferry terminal, which was right next door to the shipyard. In the picture there's a blue building about in the center with a red spot in the row of windows. Robin was the red spot. He'd unfurled a San Francisco 49ers flag to catch my eye. He said the people around him wondered what on earth he was doing, but he didn't let that stop him.
The floatplane ride home was direct with no stops along the way, which is unusual. I asked for ear plugs since there wasn't an extra headset and the engine, as anyone who's ridden in the cockpit of a small plane knows, was deafening.
On my side was Cleveland Peninsula which had, in the last few years, been massively clear cut by a logging operation. The mountains were naked and scarred by logging roads, but already I saw that the roads--only a few years old--were overgrown with shrubs of new growth, or washed out by streams, or blocked by landslides.
When we'd first moved to Alaska, logging was a booming industry and everywhere you looked you'd see such naked hillsides, but now they were rare.
I ticked off the familiar points on the chart in my head as we flew north toward home: Niblack, False Island, Ship Island, Three Islands--and then there was the communications tower standing incongruously amidst miles of evergreens that marked Meyers Chuck.
The pilot circled above the village and I looked toward the north, toward the point of land where I live, and saw the white scar my dad's skiff was cutting through the water as he headed for "the Chuck" as it's known locally, to pick me up.
The pilot came in from the south, his pontoons splashing onto the water just past the island my sister had bought and will be building on later this summer: MAD Island, as it's now known.
As we taxiied toward the dock it was possible to speak again and the pilot pointed out Cassie, the village's post mistress, at the dock. "I wonder what she's doing? It's not mail day. Steve's in Wrangell, working on the boat," he added, mentioning Cassie's husband. It made me smile to think how up-to-date he was on all the local gossip, even though he lived in Ketchikan. It just showed how small SE Alaska's world was.
My dad picked me up and Cassie opened the post office for us to pick up last week's mail. We stopped back at my brother's floathouse and gave him the shopping he'd asked me to do while I waited for my plane to leave Ketchikan. Then we headed home.
It had taken days for me to travel from Juneau to our tiny little outpost, but there it finally was as we turned the corner into our little bight.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)