Memoirs Excerpt: To the Ruins

Alaska Living
(Our floathouse in the superintendent's inlet of the old cannery)

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 waterfowl.

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:

The floathouse, with wooden skiff my dad built and cannery pilings between them


9/19/2019 02:23:39 pm

What do I think? I think your editor is right!

(Wasn’t easy to find the continuation, but it’s there. After following the link you provided, one must click on the HOME box under the logo and then scroll down a considerable amount to get to it. But it’s worth it!!)

Tara Neilson

10/16/2019 10:45:32 pm

Thanks, Daneel! I had my sister fix the glitch from Florida. 😀


10/9/2019 11:16:42 am

Great memoir! Where exactly is this? Would love to see it for myself.

Tara Neilson

10/16/2019 10:43:15 pm

Thanks, Johnny! It’s available for pre-order right now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie stores. Here’s the Amazon link:

I hope it works, my poor signal sometimes messes with links. You can go directly to any of the booksellers and request it, tho.

Thanks so much for your interest!

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