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Are We Walking to Alaska? A special #FourthWallFriday

“Are we there yet?” “It’s taking so long?” “Is that Rudolf?”

Are We Walking to Alaska? Fourth-Wall Friday Feature

These were the things my children asked as we made our way through Canada on our seven-day trek with a minivan, Subaru, 15-foot U-haul, five kids and two cats… well that and “He touched me!” “She won’t stop touching me!” “The cat farted!” “I’m hungry!” were also known to be uttered in our 4K mile trek! Today’s author moved from California to Alaska in the 1950’s, almost exactly 50 years before my family did. When she signed up to be part of my Friday feature, I was quite thrilled.

This is one of those finds… it is not a cover with a flashy cover, it’s not a book full of vampires; sparking or not, it is a book full of truth and memories. It is also a book about a girl who grew up in Alaska. A very little known book, so consider this my shout-out. The stories within are rich and full of the realities of what it is like living life here from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl.

450-wideNow days with some advancement of more settlement and foundations of more communities, stories like this are being forgotten, however… stories like this are still happening all over. Living in Alaska is not for everyone. I deal with the fact every winter we better be prepared for those little things if the electricity goes off, we either have a backup generator, a propane heater or a reservation waiting at a hotel in town. Otherwise we freeze to death. This is reality in the Interior & Bush Alaska. Hauling water, outhouses and the occasional moose eating my basil is just how life is lived!

But I didn’t live where today’s author grew up, in fact I never have even been in Sitka or the outlying areas. Living where JoAnn Dunlap Bayne lived is a different kind of life. This story takes place in Angoon, which is a village bit north of Sitka. She is right about one thing, disaster is something you have to prepare for. I still haul my water, have a squirrel (many of you know him as Herbert) and a pair of twin moose who showed up this week for the winter. But she watched Alaska grow up around her as she herself was growing up. This is a bit of a departure from the normal Fourth-Wall Friday, let’s call it a moment from the past… Flashback Friday perhaps!

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It is early in the morning, in Washington, the waves are gentle on the shore.  I like this time of the day – seagulls calling, ducks floating in rafts as the seasons change and migration begins, solitary walkers on the windswept beach.  I pull my sweater tighter around my shoulders, pick up my hot cup of tea and wander to a sheltered spot in the autumn sunshine.  I’ve always lived by the ocean, it calls to me, but it haunts me too.

As the sun warms my arms, I slump against the rocks – watching through my drowsy eyes as the waves curl and burst on the shore.  I’m tired now – scenes of my childhood flood back with the familiar sounds.  Times were hard when I was a child growing up in Alaska, disaster often waited just around the corner.  One had to be very careful in every step they took. . . .

The lonely skiff moved slowly across the bay, the currents fighting to keep it from hitting its mark, the small dock on the road that leads to the fishing village of Angoon.  There are four people in the skiff, mother and three children.  The oldest one, Jimmy, rows with all his might, he is the man in the boat for this moment.  He must get his passengers across safely – then he must return to help his father ready the fishing boat for the trip to town.  His brother, sister and mother will spend the night with friends in  Angoon.  They have packed up their belongings and are moving to town, where the children will be enrolled in public school.

Angoon, Alaska. View of houses along shore. 1945 Garfield, Viola Edmundson, 1899- Photograph courtesy Library of Congress

Angoon, Alaska. View of houses along shore. 1945
Garfield, Viola Edmundson, 1899-
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress

Jimmy and his father ready the fishing boat for the short trip from Killisnoo Island, down Chatham Straights and into the safety of the harbor behind the fishing village.  The storm catches them just as they leave the safety of several small islands – the towering waves beat against the sides of the boat, the wind whips through the rigging with frightful moans, perhaps warnings.  Jimmy can almost hear whispered voices, “turn back, turn back now, before it is too late.”  

Finally they reach the safety of the harbor, where they will spend the night,  and Jimmy’s father declares that it was the worst storm he had ever been in, and he’d been in some bad ones.  They settle the boat for the night, anchor a little ways from the dock and go ashore for the night, spending one last evening with friends.  Jimmy tosses and turns, the voices still ringing in his ears from the storm, “turn back, turn back now”.  

Everyone is up early, breakfast is finished and Jimmy and his father head for the boat.  The rest of the family will follow in a few moments, as soon as the engine is started and the boat is ready to get underway.  Jimmy heads for the cabin below, but his father stops him and tells him to wait on the back deck while he starts the engine.  Tells him to watch for the rest of the family so he can row to the dock and pick them up as soon as they get there.

Claps of thunder?  Bombs? Attacks?  What is happening?  Jimmy is hurtled into the frigid waters, there is fire everywhere – his eyes are burning – he looks up towards the boat, shields his eyes against the heat and the flames.  Where is his father? What is happening? How did the fire start?  What is all the shouting about?  Why is there burning debris in the water all about him?  

People come running, fishermen jump into their skiffs, rowing hard to reach Jimmy and his father.  They first pull his father from the water where he is floating – pulling him into a skiff with great difficulty, he is moaning with pain and everywhere on his body are burns.  They take him to the dock, many hands reach out to gently lower him to the floor of the dock.  Someone brings a tarp and pulls it over him – he is delirious now, he calls for Jimmy to come up on deck – he thinks he is still on the boat.

Another skiff reaches Jimmy, who, though unhurt, is confused.  He can’t understand what has just happened and he hears his father’s cries and wonders what happened to him.  The last thing he remembers before the explosion is his father pushing the button that starts the boat.  Then the blast that threw him into the bay.

On the dock Jimmy is taken away to a house of another fisherman nearby.  His brother and sister are there.  People are talking to them, comforting them, but they are all confused, what will happen to their father?  What will happen to them now that they don’t have a boat.  How will they get to town?

Back on the dock two men have nailed some boards together for a stretcher, they gently lift Jimmy’s father to the board, covering him with some plastic sheeting,  The friend from last night, Peg, who is a nurse, hurries down to the dock, giving instructions. Someone radio a doctor in Sitka, someone get fresh water, someone make sure Jimmy’s mother is looked after.  Everyone moves in unison, doing as they are told, no one talking.  The only sound that can be heard is the screams from Jimmy’s dad as his body feels the pain of the burns which cover most of his body.

The doctor from Sitka is on the boat radio, giving instructions to Peg, who relays them to those tending to Jimmy’s father.  A plane has been dispatched from Sitka and will arrive within the hour.  The pilot will fly directly over the mountains rather than taking the safer route following the coastline.  The hospital has been alerted. There is hope in everyone’s voices, despair in their faces.  They work and do what they can while they wait for the plane.  No one talks.

The plane comes into view, relief shows on everyone’s faces, they know that help is coming, but still they doubt that Jimmy’s father will survive.  They load the nailed together boards, along with Jimmy’s father, into the plane.  Jimmy’s mother climbs in beside the pilot, kneeling on the front seat, looking back, trying her best to give comfort.  It will be a long plane ride for everyone, and those left behind will worry and wonder what is happening.

As the plane roars up off the water and heads over the mountain peaks the other fishermen talk about what they’ve just seen.  The shock and horror of a boat blown to bits.  The talk turns to the storm last night, the shaking and rattling of the small boat and then the explosion this morning. The only  explanation they can come up with is that the fittings of the gas line were wrenched loose in the violence of the storm and all night long the gas had leaked into the bilge of the boat.  As the button was pushed to start the boat the spark ignited the fumes and gas and blew the boat to pieces.  One man mentions that it was good fortune that Jimmy was on the back deck instead of below, where he usually was when the boat was being started.  Another talks of the sound of the boat shattering – another of the flames bursting through the boat and blowing everything inside the boat into the bay.  It is a story they will long remember and talk about. . . .

A loud clap of thunder startles me back to the present, I taste the tears running down my face, feel the strong wind as a storm descends on my once quiet beach.  I shiver at the memories of that day long ago in Alaska.  I wish that Jimmy was here to comfort me as he did back then.  The rain begins and I take my now cold cup of tea back up to the beach cabin, tucking the memories of Alaska back in my thoughts, I reach for a book and begin reading, escaping the thoughts of those long ago days.

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Are We Walking to Alaska? 

A note from the author – Our family moved from sunny northern California in 1952, when I was 6. Our dad was a commercial fisherman in Alaska and we started our new life living on a 20 foot fishing boat – our dad, our mom, my two brothers and me. Adventure was everywhere – from meeting up with a grizzly bear to finding a dead whale on the beach. Boats burned at sea, winds threatened our home, cats swam in the ocean, accidents and illnesses in the wilds of Southeast Alaska, before Alaska became a state.

Living without the luxuries of California, the family relied on hard work to make it in Alaska. We hauled water and ice for washing,cooking and drinking. We shared the hard work of a commercial fishing boat and enjoyed the animals and natural surroundings, including a squirrel who visited through a trap door and kittens that could swim.

A book for the whole family – happy tales and frightening times – all seen from the eyes of a little girl (me), who discovered a whole new country and different ways of doing things. After a few years the family moved to the town of Sitka, away from the fishing villages, so the children could attend public school, and even more new and exciting things appeared – elevators, gas pumps, museums and new friends.

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About the Author

JoAnn Dunlap BayneJoAnn Dunlap Bayne was born in California, and her family moved to Southeast Alaska in 1952. She lived in Alaska until after she was married and had started her family. She writes about her adventures as a young girl in a new and interesting country. Alaska was not a state, and things were very different from the sunny, warm California weather.

Her family lived first on a 20 foot salmon fishing boat, then in abandoned fishing villages on islands, where her father fished for salmon and halibut and her mother taught her and her two brothers, using Calvert Correspondence School materials. They sometimes would work industriously and finish two or three weeks of schooling in one week and then have a few weeks off for going to other nearby villages to visit with friends.

This book has been compared to “Little House on The Prairie” type books – giving readers a view of life in Alaska from the perspective of a very young girl. There were many things to be experienced – dead whales, fishing for crabs with bits of bacon rind, accidents that scared the whole family, boats burning and much more.

JoAnn has raised a family of three children, moving about the country, again, always in search of adventure. The family has lived in Alaska, Texas (twice), Wisconsin, southern, central and northern California and now NW Washington.

JoAnn and her husband Don have three delightful grandsons and enjoy spending time with them, as well as doing some traveling, gardening and nature photography. She is currently working on a picture book of “Are We Walking To Alaska?” for younger children – publishing date in 2014 or early 2015.  

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Are We Walking To Alaska? 

walking-to-alaskaThis book is a true story of a young girl (Jo Ann) away and mysterious land of Alaska in 1952.  Told in the words of that little girl, you will feel yourself drawn along with her as she explores her new homeland.

Southeast Alaska was far away and unknown to a six year old girl from sunny California. When her parents decided to move to Alaska in the summer of 1952 they left many comforts behind, as well as their extended family and a cherished doll.

There were adventures ahead, as well as accidents and dangers, and many new and wonderful things to learn and explore. Living without the luxuries of California, the family relied on hard work to make it in Alaska.They hauled water and ice for washing, cooking and drinking. 

They shared the hard work of a commercial fishing boat, encountered accidents and sickness and enjoyed the animals and natural surroundings, including a squirrel who visited through a trap door and kittens that could swim.

This true story is written from the view of a nine year old girl (I am the girl on the left in the cover photo).

~Get your copy today~

Amazon ~ Smashwords

4 Comments

  1. I love that kind of book, that gives you teh feel of being there and shows you what it is like to live in a total alien place. (Let’s face it, European winters, not even in Switzerland, can probably be any comparison to Alaskan.)
    Great post Kriss, hope you have a good winter, without any mishaps.
    xoxo

  2. I have read this book and am very glad that you have opted to publicize it. I found it hard to put the book down, moving from one adventure to the next, marveling at the sheer amount of effort it took to keep that family fed, clothed, warmed, and entertained. As I turned each page I felt more and more like part of the family. JoAnn brought me right in, alongside them all, sharing experiences as far removed from my own Midwest suburban lifestyle as you can get!

  3. Thank you for sharing this great review!

  4. I have read this book, not once but twice, as it was utterly fascinating. I can recommend it for sure. I loved it so much that I ordered a few more copies for friends and for my mom! FANTASTIC book! 🙂

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