I was only 6 years old, but one of the things that impressed me the most when we came to Alaska were all the wrecks.
Flying in a floatplane I saw huge blackened hulls, lying like stranded Leviathons on remote beaches, and in the villages various derelicts swamped by the tide.
Oddly, this didn't fill me with foreboding. From the first, I found everything about Alaska exactly right.
That was good, because I've been surrounded by derelicts (see opening photo on my first blog post) and wrecks my entire life in Alaska.
My house, as most houses here, has salvaged items from some of these wrecks. Pilot house windows made into picture frames, a long side window made into a shelf for DVDs, an expensive top-of-the-line green corner sink ("Accent" by SeaLand Technology) salvaged from a tourist wreck (see photo above) set in a beachcombed mahogany counter from some long ago unknown sea disaster. My parents have weathered boards with the name of one wreck, the Sea Bear, on a shelf in their house. (Note: There were no injuries or deaths accompanying that accident, I'm glad to say.)
The float my house sits on is held together by four foot steel pins salvaged from a massive ship's deck from either the late 1800s or early 1900s that is half buried in a gravel beach near here. (See top photo, and below.) When I first saw it, more than twenty years ago, it was three times the size it is now. The locals have slowly, over the years, cut away the still solid, enormous timbers to get at the good steel. You can walk on what's left of the deck without fear of rot. They built them to last back then.
The year before we moved to our current location, a 34 foot gillnetter, the Daybreak, crashed into the rocks just outside where we're now living during a violent storm tide, ripping the bottom out of it. The owner, who had only just paid the boat off, was rescued, but the Daybreak was a complete write-off. Its remains washed ashore on a beach about a seven minute walk from my house. There is now nothing left but the back deck, it's former hold filled with drift logs. The rest has been pounded to splinters in the winter gales. (See photo below.)
The derelict heading my opening blog was the leaky retirement home of an old Alaskan sourdough. After he died and before it could sink at the dock, it was towed to its current resting place decades ago, along with another oldtimer's boat, left to rot and be taken over by the wilderness. It's the view out my living room window. (See photo below for a view of the boats from the forest.)
The wreckage wasn't limited to boats. In the village we first lived in, an old fish buying general store, operating long before our advent, still advertised its goods in fading print. Below it was a tide swamped, old gaspowered double-ender, which was eventually eaten away by the sea life, leaving only the keel, ribs,oil-soaked engine room boards and a pile of rusty nails and fittings. Near it was an upturned, rusty metal hull. (See photo below.) In my time the store was a storage room of relics from the past. It was eventually swept off its pilings in a huge storm tide.
Along the village trail were abandoned houses slowly being overgrown by the forest, seedlings sprouting in their mossy roofs. In one instance, all that was left was the roof. I used to play near it, wondering who had lived in it a long, long time ago.
And then there was the former cannery where I grew up. It had burned down in the thirties, but everywhere you looked or played were remnants of that long ago, bustling operation, overwhelmed now by the heavy silence of the wilderness. There were collapsed buildings in the woods, big square concrete blocks that must have been the foundations for huge structures. On the beach there was tangled, rusted machinery and the enormous, circular steel door of the cannery retort surrounded by mounds of fused together canning lids.
In the woods where the cook shack had stood there was a wealth of corroded metal plates, pot and pans, rusty silverware and some antique pottery that we played with in our forts.
The pilings to the old pier still stood, lonely sentinels looking toward the past, washed by the endlessly returning tide. Trees had sprouted from their tops, stunted by winter gales. (See photo below.)
When we moved here there were various derelict structures which slowly collapsed and disappeared over the years. One old cabin, built early in the 20th century, of hand-hewn square logs, has slowly sunk into the moss. In the early Eighties one of my uncles and a cousin staked it out as a wilderness bachelor pad. (See photo below.)
Everywhere you go in SE Alaska, no matter how remote you are, even when you are aware of no apparent sign of habitation--no apparent sign of there ever having been habitation--you'll find evidence of those who have gone before and disappeared into the past leaving only these rusting and rotting relics behind.
Bottom image: My white charcoal on black paper sketch of the Daybreak wreck being pummeled by a winter storm tide.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)