The first in a series of severe storms that pummeled us last week struck in the night, like a criminal. Typical behavior for our November weather.
I didn’t even try to sleep through it. I turned on the light to read Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that a kind friend had sent me, and tried to pretend my house wasn’t creaking and jerking like a tormented animal. I heard things crash and bang, but since I knew there was very little I could do on my own, with a flashlight, and I wasn’t going to drag my parents out into the sotrm, I just hoped for the best and figured I’d clean everything up in the morning. My house shuddered as two long pilings tied to the front of my float, that were meant to replace the brow logs I had, rammed me in every surge and gust. All through the night I could hear the gunshot crack of trees giving in and falling before the roaring fury of the hurricane force winds.
As the tide went out and my float house started to settle on the ground I knew something was seriously wrong. My roof made a terrible cracking sound and the walls groaned. Things popped and shook. Older floathouses often made these sounds as the wood frame flexed as its float settled, but my house had never made them.
It was still blowing in the morning. At first light I went out to see what the damage was and immediately saw why my house had made so many hair-raising sounds. Our floathouses are tied and anchored so that they always sit down in the same place. Over the years the float logs have worn deep grooves in the mud that we call our “track.”
During the storm one of my most important mooring lines had snapped and my house had skewed over toward the garden and green house floats. In fact, the garden float had rammed my float, damaged the outer, foam flotation. When the tide went out my house had sat down out of its track. It had knocked my center log onto its side, which might have contributed to all the crazy sounds my house made. My walk plank had come loose and had crashed down on the forward, outside foam flotation, damaging it.
My parents’ house and my dad’s workshop also took some damage. The shop roof had a hole in it, directly over my parents’ large, well-stocked chest freezer, and the walkway from my parents’ house to the shop had come loose and broke off a large chunk of their outer foam flotation. The boys’ cabin and the generator shed came through unscathed. Some lumber fuel jugs, and various other items had been blown away and my dad spent the morning rounding everything up and re-tying logs.
I re-tied my snapped line, but I could no nothing about pulling the house into place until the tide came back in. Meanwhile, the storm was re-newing itself with a serious storm surge that made it imperative that my house be well secured. At least I could tie the pilings differently so they would no longer ram my float. I also tied my walk plank differently so that it couldn’t break loose again.
On my way back to my house, a gust of wind, at least a hundred miles per hour, buffeted me, almost knocking me off my walk plank. A second later, I heard my screen door slam open and crash against my porch roof support. I hurried to get to it, half expecting the glass in it to be shattered. It was in one piece, but it had separated from its hinges. My dad came over and between the two of us we were able to screw it back into place. He then went to take care of the hole in his shop roof.
When our houses finally floated I tried to pull my house back over but found that the storm surge and gusts were too much for me. I kept timing it to pull on the rope when the surge went in my direction and then I had to be quick to put a wrap around the brow log as the surge and the wind pitted the whole weight of the house against me. Unfortunately, the rope was cumbersome and too stiff for me to work the surge like I needed. Eventually, I wore out and had to leave it with too much slack in it. I’d have to wait for the tide to go our, get a different rope, and do it all over again when the tide came in the next day.
Meanwhile, I saw that the greenhouse had come loose on one side and it and the attached garden float were swinging over and ramming me again, threatening to damage more flotation. I hurried over to it. Everything was surging in different directions and moving up and down. In addition, my one foot wide walk plank, which was in a different place due to my house being out of its track, was not only acting like a see-saw, but it had also situated itself on a knot on the log it rested on so that it rolled from side to side. I felt like a circus acrobat as I balanced over it and then went from one float to the next, timing the surges so I wouldn’t fall in the water.
After tying off the greenhouse float it was just a matter of waiting it out, watching the forest sail past my windows in fierce gusts of wind. My house was moving way more than it should have because of the slack aft line. The surge was making the house rise and fall, as well. My mom, her own house moving around, came down with a severe case of vertigo.
In the photo below you can see the groove worn into one of my float logs by my front mooring line, caused by my floathouse moving in storm surges.
The days are short now, so I was unable to do anything more about my mooring line before night fell. It was another long, sleepless night, listening to trees come down and feeling my house move far too freely for comfort.
The next day a new storm front moved in, stronger than the last, with a far bigger storm surge. I had to get my house secured before the tide came in and the surge descended on us. My dad directed me to a hundred foot nylong line long enough for the job and more malleable. The only problem was, it was wrapped around every log and piece of drift on the beach. It took me a while to free it. I carred the coil to my house and clambered onto the back brow log. After securing the line to the brow log, I realized I had another problem. The seventy foot expanse between my float and where I needed to tie the line was nothing more than a bog of quicksand-like mud covered in seaweed. I couldn’t cross it on foot. Which meant I’d have to throw the line across the distance.
My first throw, in the drizzling rain, balancing on the slippery log, came up short. I recoiled the line, a tiring business since it was so long, and threw again. And again, it came up short. I recoiled it. This time I looked around and saw that a snag, an ancient, fallen tree, was pointing to where I stood and bridged some of the distance. I thought that if I could just throw the line to it, I could walk down the snag to retrieve the line. I threw the line at it–the throw came up short, but was close enough that I was encouraged. I recoiled the line, my arms heavy and tired now, and threw it again. This time it landed right on the end of the snag.
I trekked over to it, circling the sinking mud, and found that the snag was incredibly slick with algae and slime. I placed my boots as carefully as possible but I kept slipping and I was afraid I’d fall and either wind up in the mud or break something. Finally, I got down on my knees and crawled down the muddly length of the snag until I could reach the line. Then I crawled back. I wished I had claws instead of boots–my Maine Coon, Katya, navigated the slippery snag with almost insulting ease.
When I secured the line I returned to my house. After all the damage to my foam flotation my house had gone down far enough in the water that the surges swept clean over my back deck. I decided to replace the damaged foam on the lowest side with a new piece. To do that I had to put a chunk of foam on the mud to stand on while I worked. Unfortunately, since the house was out of its track, the deep channel of the outside track had water in it and floated the foam I stood on.
Newton’s old equal-and-opposite reaction (the bane of floathuse living) came into play. Every time I tried to push the unwieldy, eight foot, new foam block into place, the foam I stood on sailed in the opposite direction. I was under the gun to get it done, once I’d taken out the old piece, because the tide was coming in and would reach me in a matter of minutes. Without any foam on that end, my house would be in serious trouble. As I struggled against the obstacles, I started to laugh. By then I was so tired I was afraid hysterics were next and decided praying might be better than laughing. Finally, digging out a path for it in the mud, I got the new block into place.
I took a breather and got out of my wet, muddy clothes and put them to soak in the sink. I was handwashing everything because our generator situation wasn’t allowing us to use the washer and dryer. When the tide came in around the houses, I walked around to check the lines and found my dad checking them, as well. He looked…odd.
“Look at that,” he said quietly. He pointed toward a log in his house’s float which wasn’t floating yet. I watched as the tide poured over it in a tremendous rush, almost boiling. Even the largest of tides, coming in from a minus tide, didn’t move that fast. We watched silently as, a few moments later, it rushed in the opposite direction just as fast.
We were looking at the biggest, most violent storm surge we’d ever seen.
“Can you tighten up the lines to the boys’ cabin?” He asked. The cabin was tied to their float. In a surge like that, any slack would make the two floats tear at each other and slam each other to pieces. I went down their brow log and between surges put another wrap in the line. My attention was caught by something and I didn’t get my hand completely out of the way before the line tightened and it pinched my thumb. It hurt, but I barely noticed it.
The storm surge was so huge that as it rushed around the boys’ cabin it caused white water rapids to form. I stared at it, disbelieving what I was seeing. I pointed it out to my dad and he just nodded.
We stood there watching the incredible force of the storm surge, like nothing we’d ever seen before, and thought about what kind of movement that would cause in floating building tied together by ropes, with a roaring, hurricane force wind slamming the houses.
“I don’t think we’re going to survive this one,” my dad said calmly.
11/12/2016 11:56:52 am
OMG! How frightening that must have been wondering if your house would come loose and you would wake up in the middle of the ocean. I don’t envy you the heavy labor in repairs. You must be exhausted and probably more work to be done before the next storm strikes. You are pretty inventive though – who knew rope tossing would be something you would have to do. I guess if this doesn’t work out, you could always join the rodeo circuit. Big money can be made in that, so I’ve heard. Hope everything gets back to normal soon without any injuries to you and yours.
11/12/2016 12:50:18 pm
Yikes! What an adventure! I’m SO glad you’re okay.
11/14/2016 10:38:00 am
What a brilliant job you did with part one and part two. I experienced the storm with you! Well done! I recently went through a bad hurricane and am extremely relieved I did not have to go through it on a float house!
1/6/2017 10:50:15 pm
Thank you, Wendy. I tried to respond to this before but my tablet crashed! I’m impressed that you were impressed with this post since I remember being anxious about you when hearing posts about you during that vicious hurricane last summer. I hope you are getting a respite from bad weather!
Mark T Morse
1/6/2017 09:39:53 pm
My Mom (PJ) just sent this to me at 10:45 here in Chicago. Your article just took me back 40 years in about 8 secs!! How cool you have carved out a niche opportunity with blogs and tales. I first arrived Myers Chuck in the summer of ’77 coming from Atlanta and a somewhat wealthy lifestyle. My mom had moved into a little trapper shack on the most southern point of the back chuck surrounded by the creeks ( that supplied our running water ) on both sides that fed in to the back chuck access side and what I would call the back chuck lagoon at High Tide, Low Tide it drained and made for an easier walk to the Front Chuck, the Hub of activity but by boat made for a longer more dangerous trip around the tip of the front chuck and its harrowing entrance as opposed to the cut through’s at High Tide. Our first night in Myers Chuck somebody had a party for us. A 1977 party in the bush is a little different than most folks can imagine but listening to I believe Fleetwood Mac Rumours, a speaker fell on my 8 yr old brothers head (i was 9) and as you know head wounds really bleed. I remember my brother lying in my mothers lap and experiencing my first boat ride from a friend in a small Lund at low tide thus the long way around to our home for the summer in the Back Chuck. Kerosene lamps, running water through a hose from the creek and a wood burning stove. I chopped a lot of wood the next couple of summers and of course my first outhouse. I dont think people really appreciate indoor plumbing until going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, In The Woods!! I dont want to be mauled by a wolf, I just want to pee. If you remember the path thru the woods between the Front and Back Chuck it was beautiful but it was a rather long walk in the Alaskan woods. I laugh when I think of the Hockey moms here allowing their kid to walk that path in the daytime much less night?? We hung out with Aunt Pat and Uncle Frank, write a book on him Tara and you got a best seller. I posted a picture of a 27lb King Salmon, the first Id ever caught with Uncle Frank and his old McKee. ( Your Dad or Uncle contacted me soon after which was cool} Apparently back in the day he was a logger in Montana but the first time he came over to help catch us up on wood,,,,,Holy Sh.t!! I’ll save it for another blog one night but at 7;2″ he could cut some wood with an axe, one handed into log size or kindling. He was amazing! We hung out with Lance and read the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros,, ask your old man!! Ray Norman was certainly a positive role model as was Danny Peavy who I remember shooting a protected bird that would upset most veterans. He had like a 75 Mercury on a 13 foot whaler, if it was even that big? it sat at the dock with the nose up in the air out of the water. We always returned to Atlanta for the school year and our fellow 3rd/4th/5th grade classmates never believed any of the stuff Alex and I told them. What a cool way to reach all these Discovery channel want to be outdoorsmen Tara. Congratulations on your success with the paper. If you ever need some ’70’s color for your blog I gotta lot of stuff…lol!! I’ll vet it thru you with the email I provided. I am curious where ur floathouse is in relation to the entrance to Myers Chuck. I couldnt figure it out from the pic’s?? I wish I could express better to your followers how cool your family was and NO DOUBT, The original Alaskan Bush Family. I cant wait to take my kids there one day. Say hello to your family for me and take care. Ive been kinda down as of late and this blog just really made my night Kiddo!! Thanks Tara! Really cool!
Mark T Morse
1/6/2017 10:02:18 pm
++ Ray Miller not Norman. I think that was his Dads name?? Anyway it doesnt matter but you guys will agree the Miller boys deserve their props in Original Bush family lore!!! lol I had some great Ray Miller adventures….. for another night.
1/6/2017 10:47:44 pm
You are absolutely correct about the Millers! (Norman was Ray’s brother, they were the two youngest. Their father was LeRoy. Their sister Marion married my Uncle Rory (my mom’s brother).
The Miller boys and Peavey boys were justly famous. That 13 foot Whaler you mention had a 50 hp Mercury on it (way overpowered, as you suggested) and it was what I learned to drive a skiff in. 🙂
1/6/2017 10:43:39 pm
Mark, how great to hear from you! Of course I remember you and your brother and your mom and all the fun and mischief we all got up to. I seem to recall that you guys brought a hint of city glamor to the bush with you–didn’t one of you have the famous Farah Fawcett poster on your wall…? 🙂
I would absolutely love it if you did a guest blog about those early years. Jamie lives in the Back Chuck now, right near where you guys used to live, in his own floathouse that he built himself. Please contact me through the contact option on this blog (click on the three lines, upper left corner in the header, and then on “contact”). I would love to hear from you.
What a great memory you have! Thanks for sharing all this.