I hopped out of the skiff and clambered up the steep rocks and then waded through the leafless (but not thorn-less) devil’s club with a bag full of plastic pink flamingos over one shoulder. In my other hand was a large sign that said: “Welcome to MAD Island.”
My sister, Megan A. Duncanson, a very successful artist who uses her initials for her art-empire-in-the-making, had bought a small island in Meyers Chuck last month and she wanted me to stake claim to it for her. She lives in Miami and decided pink flamingos were going to be her representatives. She had a flock of them migrate up here for the winter via Amazon. They’re waiting for her arrival in early summer, when she plans to build a cabin and Alaskan studio on her island.
But she didn’t want it just to be her island, she told me. She wanted it to be for the whole family. Which was why she told my oldest brother, Jamie, who’s always had a hankering to build a tower, that he could use as much of the island as he needed, aside from where her cabin/studio will go, to fulfill his dream. She put no restrictions on what kind of a tower it will be and we’re all waiting with baited — in some cases, apprehensive — breath to see what Jamie comes up with. Knowing him it will be, at the very least, epic.
As I dropped the bag of flamingos, nailed the sign to the nearest tree, and thought about Jamie’s plans, I couldn’t help remembering my childhood, when we built forts all over the old ruined cannery where we grew up. Jamie built his first tower on top of a giant red cedar stump. The fort at the top of it, about twelve feet up from the ground, could only be reached through a trap door that opened onto a hollowed out section of the stump. He rarely allowed visitors into his secret kingdom.
Megan and I, meanwhile, worked together to build various elegant forts out of scrap lumber from my dad’s mobile sawmill, driftwood, and what we called “tin things,” long, corrugated core sample containers for ore that were heaped to one side of my dad’s sawmill. Some of them were lightweight tin that we could bend to our will; others were rigid steel that made great walls and rainproof roofs.
One day, when Jamie had a friend from Meyers Chuck visiting, Megan and I showed off, to our own visiting friend, one of our multi-level forts stocked with glass bottles, pots, pans, plates, and cutlery from the old cannery ruins. To our horror, when we ushered her inside, we saw the place had been destroyed. The bottles were broken, the shelves torn down, our mossy beds and couches ripped to shreds, and the cannery dishes flung all over.
There was absolutely no doubt in our minds who the culprits were. Jamie and his visiting friend, who happened to be the brother of our friend, had decided to go on an all-out-Viking marauding spree. Without a second thought, Megan and I snatched up some pots, pans, and large metal spoons.
“What are you doing?” our friend asked warily.
We didn’t even need to look at each other as we shouted in unison, “Revenge!”
Our friend hurriedly grabbed a pan and spoon. Our little brothers, wide-eyed with awe at our vengeful rage, fell in behind us as we marched through the towering forest, our voices ringing out as we sang at the top of our lungs and pounded out a martial rhythm on the metal dishes: “Pots and pans/pots and pans/we’ll kill ‘em/with our own hands!”
They must have heard us coming and wisely made themselves scarce until our friends had to leave. It’s really amazing that Megan is now willing to let bygones be bygones and allow Jamie to build his tower on her island. Though perhaps it’s best to remember that Megan does have a vengeful side and MAD Island might stand for more than just her initials….
Her studio/cabin will be opposite his tower, with a view of the whales going by on Clarence Strait. She’s always been obsessed with whales and used to traipse out to the island to watch them and take pictures of them from the very spot where she’ll now have a studio window to watch them from. She plans on doing an Alaskan line of art once she gets settled in. (For more on her art see www.madartdesigns.com.) The plan is for my dad to figure out the logistics of anchoring the cabin/studio against the terrific windstorms that hit her island in the winter. We’ll all pitch in to help put it up, and then, she says, it will be available for anyone in the family whenever she’s not there painting.
When we were kids skiffing to school from the cannery to Meyers Chuck, we always passed a large island named Misery. I was curious about its backstory, but no one seemed to know how it got its name. As I finished nailing up the sign and arranging the flamingos, I wondered who, many years in the future, will wonder how this island came to be named MAD.
• Tara Neilson is a columnist for the Capital City Weekly. She also blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.