Outdoors
As kids we lived so far out in the bush with only our family for companions that when my parents mentioned that neighbors would be moving in, we didn’t know what to make of it. “Neighbor? What does that even mean?” we wondered.
Alaska For Real: Finding neighbors in the wilderness 020117 OUTDOORS 1 By Tara Neilson For the Capital City Weekly As kids we lived so far out in the bush with only our family for companions that when my parents mentioned that neighbors would be moving in, we didn’t know what to make of it. “Neighbor? What does that even mean?” we wondered.

The arrows my brother carved from red cedar shakes, fixing home-crafted arrow-heads to them with tree resin. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly


The box of groceries Jo mailed to Tara and her family when they couldn't make it to the only store in the area that carries the only bread her mom can eat. Tara Neilson | Capital City Weekly


The coil of shoreline Ron and Jo sent over which will definitely come in use for holding our floathouses against the severe gales we've been experiencing this winter. Tara Neilson | Capital City Weekly

Click Thumbnails to View
Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Story last updated at 2/1/2017 - 2:03 pm

Alaska For Real: Finding neighbors in the wilderness

As kids we lived so far out in the bush with only our family for companions that when my parents mentioned that neighbors would be moving in, we didn’t know what to make of it.

“Neighbor? What does that even mean?” we wondered.

After pondering the news, my oldest brother decided action was called for. First order of business was to set up an armory.

In a very businesslike manner he produced enough hand-carved arrows, with sharpened stone and steel heads, and bows strung with fishing line, to outfit himself and each of his four siblings with a bow and a quiver full of arrows.

The neighbors had hired a local fisherman to bring in their furniture and goods. He anchored his boat in our bay, piled his skiff with furniture, boxes, and neighbors, and steered for the lonesome, wilderness shore where my mom stood.

In the next instant, the sky filled with arrows.

“Far out.” The local fisherman, a product of the 1960s, marveled as arrows splashed down around his skiff. “Where are we, the Wild West?”

“Those are my kids,” my mom was forced to admit.

“Next round!” my brother yelled.

We twanged away with more arrows.

My mortified mom called off the attack, apologizing profusely to the neighbors.

I’m not sure if it was her dinner-related threats or us running out of arrows that ended hostilities. Whatever the case, the neighbors made it to shore without a scratch and managed to install themselves with no further armed protests.

My attitude toward neighbors has evolved since then. And I’ve discovered that a person can be many miles away and yet prove to be a good neighbor.

When I first got online and started my blog in 2015, I made the acquaintance of a fellow Southeast Alaskan blogger named Jo, whose beautifully photographed blog can be found at www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com. It was a special delight to me to email someone who knew the lifestyle and understood my situation.

She and her husband Ron travel the Inside Passage in their live-abaord boat and I had hopes of meeting her when they moored in Thorne Bay, the nearest town where we often go to get groceries and fuel. It never seemed to work out—either we were in too much of a hurry to get back across the strait before the weather picked up to visit, or, when I knocked on their boat’s door, they weren’t home.

On one trip, as I was tossing groceries into a cart in the bakery aisle, I turned and saw a woman hesitating behind me.

I asked, “Are you Jo?” Although I’d never seen a picture of her, she looked like the woman I’d gotten to know through emails: kind, intelligent, and generous, with a wonderful sense of humor.

She nodded. “You’re Tara?”

In delight, we spontaneously hugged amidst the sugar, flour, chocolate chips, and coconut shavings.

I put her neighborliness to the test immediately. “Can I ask a big favor of you?”

She didn’t even pause. “Yes.”

“The strait is marginal and looks like it’s picking up. If we have to turn back can we spend the night on your boat?” We had nowhere else to stay in Thorne Bay.

“Of course,” she said, and went one step further. “Why don’t you let us give you and your groceries a ride to your skiff?” She snagged a smiling six-footer, introducing him as Ron.

They helped me stuff the back of their vehicle with an enormous load of groceries and supplies, our fall stock up. When we all, including my dad in the skiff, wound up at the community loading dock, a couple of young lumberjacks were also there, waiting for their ride. Between Jo and her husband and the two young guys, we had the skiff piled with boxes in record time.

Last month our outboard started acting up so we didn’t dare cross the strait with the extreme and unpredictable gales we’ve been experiencing. In addition, the fuel dock in Thorne Bay was damaged in the storms. We were getting so dangerously low on fuel that my oldest brother, Jamie, finally decided to do a quick run across the strait and get fuel from the street pumps.

When Jo heard about it, she suggest that she and Ron give Jamie a ride in their truck to the pumps to help him get fueled up and get home that much quicker. Not only that, but she and Ron decided to throw in a brand-new coil of line that they thought our floathouses could use for shoreline. They had only met us once, and Jamie they’d never met at all.

More recently, Jo picked up a box of much-needed groceries for us from the Thorne Bay store. She and Ron included some DVDs, and several issues she’d picked up of Capital City Weekly with my first column, and took the box down to the post office to mail to us.

Thanks to Jo and Ron and others like them, in Southeast AK, and some as far away as California, Colorado, Idaho, Ohio, and Illinois, I know longer have to wonder what that word “neighbor” means. Now, I know.

• Tara Neilson lives in a floathouse between Wrangell and Ketchikan and blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.