The ruminations of an artist on art & quilts, beading, knitting, drawing, painting, printmaking, bookmaking are all my passions, I love to explore creating....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The View From My Cabin

As far as I am concerned, there is really no better view anywhere than the view from my little cabin in the woods here in Port Alexander on a sunny day. This tiny hamlet, located on the Southern tip of Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska (in the Alaskan Panhandle) is the home for about 50 people (counting kids and babies) year round.

The economy here is based on commercial fishing and sports fishing---the town has three small sports fishing lodges. I am currently the chef at LAUGHING RAVEN LODGE, and with my chef job comes my own little cosy cabin to live in for the summer.

Whenever we have lovely sunny weather here I feel blessed to have such strong ties to this place. I lived here from 1971 until 1989---raised babies and small children here--in fact , my youngest daughter was born here--a home birth. At that time the population was about 120 folks, still tiny---but I learned many valuable life lessons living in "the bush." Many of the lessons were about community and how living in a small community breeds not only life-long friendships, but a sense of responsibility to the community one lives in.

Sadly, I now feel that this sense of responsibility for one's neighbors and community is missing in much of the United States. I used to think that the type of community I experienced in Port Alexander (PA for short) was only possible in a small town--but now I'm not at all sure this is a criteria since I have found small pockets of similar communities in cities and large towns in the "lower 48" (which is one way Alaskans refer to the rest of the United States).

I was married to a commercial fisherman when I lived here in the "70's and '80's---and so spent a great deal of time home alone with 2 small children, but I always knew I could call ANYONE in the town for help if I needed help. I traded my handwoven crafts for childcare and home-cooked meals for chainsaw repair...and of course depended on my woman friends for support and companionship.

Port Alexander is an Alaskan second class city---with a city council and a mayor chosen by the elected council. I served on the city council---we all had our turn;-)---not at all surprising in a town of only 120 people. In this process I learned more about city laws and state laws and government than any college gov't class could teach me. I helped to write a "comprehensive land-use plan" for our community---which the state required we have in order to regulate our growth in any way.

All this added to my perspective of what made up a good community---self-government which included everyone (believe me, if you were on the city council you sure heard everyone's opinion on most issues---it was much more fun to be the person giving opinions than to be a city council person) and genuine care for everyone in the community.

Of course, some folks owned more and made more money than others, but we all helped each other out when we needed it. If one person shot a deer (this was Alaska--and eating game and local caught fish was one way we survived) and another family was struggling because of a bad fishing seson you could count on some of that venison being shared with the family in need. If a person was sick or injured, others helped them with food or firewood---and there was a great deal of security for me around living in a place where I knew everyone would help me out if I needed it.

Since leaving PA, I have lived in small cities (pop. 55,000) to larger cities ---like Berkeley, Ca (pop. 102,000)---and each place I have eventually created a community of friends and neighbors---but it has never been with the same sense of community and security that I felt all those years I lived in Port Alexander.

I have long pondered this difference and wondered if the the town's isolation had anything to do with it? The only way to travel to PA is by boat or small float plane---the larger town of Sitka (pop. 8835) is 70 miles away but there are no roads connecting PA to Sitka on this mountainous island in the Alexander Archipelgo. Currently there is not store in PA--so all fresh food, fuel and goods are either brought in by boat or floatplane. This remoteness kept the town small---but also caused us to depend on each other.

For example, if your outboard motor broke down and you needed a part for it---you would have to order it "from town" OR maybe a neighbor would have just the right part you could use right away. One learned to plan ahead but also to help others when they were in need. In our current economy we could sure use more of this neighbor helping neighbor and trading (without money--just trading services and goods) with ones friends and neighbors to survive--and perhaps it would also help foster a sense of community?

All I know for certain at this point is that I am blessed to have lived here in Port Alexander in my youth--I really grew up here-- since I was 21 when I first came here, and left when I was 39. And now I continue to be blessed to be able to come here in the summers and work and eat local caught fish, pick berries, hike, sit on the beach, watch the eagles and ravens and deer--- and once again be part of this special community.


Anonymous said...

I think it is wonderful that you have such a rich experience to draw upon in your life now. You are much the better for it.
It is sad to see some communities "at war" with each other so to speak. No trust, no common welfare just what is in it for me.
When my husband was in the military we usually lived on the base he was stationed at. The neighborhoods were like those I image people of the 40's and 50's lived in; everyone looking out for each others kids and doing what they could for each other whether they new you well or not.
We are so intent upon labeling EVERYTHING and I really think that THAT is what drives us all further and further apart.
Enjoy your beautiful summer!!!!

Patty Ashworth said...

I grew up in Ludlow, Vermont. We never locked the back door to the house. Even on vacation, we left a note pad on the kitchen counter and if someone came by to borrow something, they left a note on what they took. The keys were always in the ignition of the VW bus, and your Mom always knew what you had been doing before you got home! It was a great way to grow up. Going back there today, it's all different.