When I was a teenager, I lived in a place called Tokeen on remote El Capitan Island off the West Coast of Prince of Wales Island. In my early years there, the early ‘70s, before the boat burned, the supply vessel Island Trader brought our mail and groceries, once a week in the summer and every other week in winter.
Like our ferry system, the Island Trader ran all of the time, night and day, stopping at logging camps and small towns and tiny fish-buying stations like ours.
Tokeen was hopping in the summer. Fishing families sold fish to us and we iced them for transfer each week to the cold storage in Craig or Petersburg. Our little grocery store and liquor store and gas dock saw a steady stream of loggers and logging families.
But in the winter, traffic trickled and sometimes stopped altogether. We’d see occasional boats going by the “Light Point” on their way to Craig or Point Baker and we’d will them to stop for a cup of coffee. Instead, they more often than not would scurry past, squeezing every last minute of daylight out of those winter days.
Sometimes, the only people outside our five-member family that we would see for a two-week stretch would be the crew members of the Island Trader. The skipper blew the horn as they rounded the point, waking us at 4 a.m., or midnight, or 2 a.m. The entire family would get up, throw on clothes and rush down to the dock to tie up and offload the boat. So eager to visit others, our conversation was a steady babble until they pulled away.
The stop was always brief as they wended their way through the blackness to the next stop. We would shoulder the big green mailbags and trudge back up the boardwalk to the house, stoke the wood stove and light the Coleman lanterns, and eagerly go through every single piece of mail.
This is what we’re feeling right now. We are social beings and this pandemic and lockdown have been hard on all of us. This is why people flock to restaurants or beaches or invite friends over for outdoor barbecues.
Juneau has done an amazing job at knocking this virus back. We’re entering a long phase now where we need to figure out collectively what the duration looks like.
My hope is that we do so by bringing understanding to each other, understanding our basic human need to be social, our basic human need to protect ourselves and our loved ones. This is not about politics. It is about life and love. We are all each other’s Island Trader.
• Michelle Bonnet Hale is a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. The views expressed here are her own.