HOONAH - Driving slowly around Hoonah, you quickly learn a few unspoken rules of the road. Wave to everyone you pass. Offer a ride to anyone who looks like he needs one. If you see someone's dog running loose, call its owner. And on Wednesday, pickup trucks loaded with split firewood illustrated one more: make sure elders have enough wood to keep warm in the winter.
The sun had barely risen above the Chichagof Island community at 9 a.m., but Christmas music was already playing at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall as volunteers gathered for a day of distributing firewood to elders around town.
Brian Kleinhenz, the environmental manager for Sealaska Timber Corporation, organized the event. Two other members of the Sealaska Natural Resources department flew over from Juneau with him for the day, and about a dozen Hoonah residents volunteered to help out as well.
Three Hoonah students - Chadem Wolfe, Andrew Jack and Miguel Contreras - joined their basketball coach Pete Schneeberger to help for the wood drop-off. Helping out their neighbors was nothing new for these students. Wolfe, for example, said he volunteers at the ANB Hall, the fire department and the senior center, in addition to making honor roll and being captain of the basketball team. But today, he's just splitting wood.
The Hoonah Senior Center had prepared a list of seniors who most needed firewood, and the group worked its way down the list, making drops at about 20 homes before daylight started to fade by mid-afternoon.
Much of the wood being chopped and distributed on Wednesday is what Kleinhenz called "orphan wood" - wood that wasn't enough to fill a barge and be sold. Since wood will deteriorate over time, it's best for everyone if this wood gets in the hands of people who can make immediate use of it.
Firewood is often made available to Hoonah residents through a round log drop-off in town, which is available for everyone in the community to take from as they need to.
"We can hardly keep the wood stocked," Kleinhenz said.
Similar drop-offs are made in other Southeast villages, including Kake, Angoon, Hydaburg, Klawock, Kasaan and Craig. Depending on resource availability, supply varies from year to year but Sealaska always likes to do a large-scale community firewood drop off each year, Kleinhenz said. Still, it's unusual to have a trip this late in the year.
"It's a lot easier to put down firewood in August or September when the weather's good, the days are long and you can actually get out the road to the forest if you need to collect some wood," Kleinhenz said. "So that's what we've generally tried to do. This is just ... a little extra push for the holidays. We're kind of fighting the short days here."
Schneeberger estimated about 80 percent of Hoonah residents have some kind of wood burning system, and community members routinely help make sure their neighbors are warm.
"All through the year if seniors need wood, we get it to them somehow," he said.
• Spielberger is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. Readers my contact her at 789-4144 or at email@example.com.
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