A Winter Fireside (True) Story Part III
This month we conclude Nell Parker’s story of the time she and Glen braved the wind, waves, and freezing weather to take their boat to Juneau for badly needed winter supplies back here at “the Point”. It all happened 66 long years ago, yet anyone who has been here for any length of time can relate to the hardships of travel that plague us even today. This is now their third attempt leaving Salmon River, having endured many frozen nights held up in Swanson Harbor with no water and little food—only to have to return back home…
So, for the third time we loaded up and started out determined to pound it through this time. We bucked a hard southeaster for four and a half hours, and as we neared Rocky Island we could see that the little hill of rock was covered with three or four feet of clear blue ice from the spray of the breakers going over it. Our light boat seemed like a fragile shell in those stormy winter seas.
Turning up Lynn Canal, we had fair wind and tide. How our boat did roll! But Glen reminded me that it was better to have the waves washing over the boat than freezing to it, and I had to agree. He fought nobly against the waves for eight solid hours, and when at last we pulled into Auk Bay at six p.m. we were dead tired. Every muscle in us ached, his from struggling with the wheel and mine from just holding on.
Next morning I caught the bus into Juneau from Auk Bay so I could get in quickly and visit the dentist while Glen brought the boat over the bar and into town. We were in a hurry to get everything done and get home before it started to freeze again.
I did everything I could and waited for Glen but he didn’t come. Where was he? What new misfortune had come to delay the Christmas boat? I was almost frantic when at six o’clock he called. What a relief to hear his voice and to know that he was safe! He had crossed the bar safely, but had run into an ice jam on the end near Juneau. He had been unable to get through and within sight of his destination he’d had to turn back and go all the way around Douglas Island to approach town from the other direction. Six more tiresome hours added to his trip!
Next day we loaded the boat and started out, having to go around Douglas Island again—another six hours of extra running. We spent the night in Auk Bay and left next morning in a snowstorm. Down Lynn Canal we rolled steering most of the way by compass and stopping at Swanson Harbor—to leave some groceries and homemade jam for the trap watchman who in the typically Alaskan spirit of friendliness and kindness had shared his food with us.
We reached home at midnight on the twenty-third (December 1947) and hurried to the airfield to get men and trucks to unload the boat before the tide went out. Boats always go aground in Salmon River when the tide is out, and the strain of the heavy load on our boat would have been too much without water to float her. No one seemed to mind coming out to unload in the dead of night. It was a happy time for all now that we were safely back with the groceries and Christmas goodies, and all the little extras that Santa had shipped in by our little boat. When everything had been disposed of and the boat cared for we went home to thaw things out. Our two little half-grown kittens had kept the homestead while we were gone. In their snug little house, with its small door to protect them from wolves and coyotes, and with the fresh meat and bones that Glen had left for them, they were just as fat as when we had gone away.
We put our Christmas tree up in the living room and festooned it with electric lights and glass ornaments that reflected the dancing flames of the fireplace. By Christmas day we were ready to celebrate as if nothing had happened.
Meanwhile the mercury dipped to a new low, and everything froze outside. It was the coldest winter of the ten I had spent at Gustavus. Glen and I, cozy by our own fireside, hugged each other and rejoiced that we didn’t have to make any more gas-boat cruises for awhile. This time we would wait the weather out…at home!