Long Weekend at the Post Office

It is Friday and Sal’s working at the Surge Narrows post office.  She is scheduled in on Monday, too.  We barely have time to squeeze in a nap and a glass of wine these days.  Still, the hub of the islands must spin and that requires the post office to be open.

Sally is first alternate at the post office.  Renate is the main person but, as there is only room in the office for one, she normally works alone and Sally fills in when Renate goes on holiday.  They are looking for a second alternate so Sal can slip ‘down the list’ to work the one or two times a year she had originally hoped.  It is now five or six times and counting.  Way too hectic.

Alternates are chosen carefully.  You have to be able to open the safe.  It is an old, heavy and eccentric thing and requires a deft touch.  And a calm temperament.  Some people panic.  More than one aspiring applicant for the ‘alternate’ position has been disappointed and frustrated by not being able to open the safe due to the pressure and the watching eyes of the postmistress.  Jobs are hard to come by up here.  But qualifications are qualifications and some people have ém and some don’t.  Sal’s got ém. She can open the safe.  That’s why she is first alternate.  We are pretty proud.    Mind you, she leaves early to be at work ahead of the ‘rush’, such as it is (maybe a dozen stamps sold in the day) just in case she needs a few extra attempts at the combination.  She may be good but she’s not cocky about it.   

The Surge post office was recently rebuilt.  It sits in an office positioned on floats down at the foot of the ramp at the government wharf.  There is no electricity.  No water.  No bathroom.  The actual square footage dedicated to the Queen’s business is about 8 x10.  Until the rebuild, there was no heat and no windows.  The former employee manned the office for years even when it was minus ten outside and the only light was a kerosene lamp.  She was doing this up until 2009.

Surge Narrows gets mail by way of Corel Air, the local float plane service.  They come, weather permitting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – sometime after lunch and before 4:00 pm.  The pilot drops out of the sky, lands amongst the debris strewn waters and taxis to the dock where he ties the plane for the fifteen minutes that he and the postal worker need to exchange bags, freight and share a bit of chit chat.  In the summer, he brings tourists.  There are seats for 3 extras and people from all over the world ride the service’s postal circuit and hop from one place to the next up and around the Discovery Islands.

We have market day at Surge on Wednesdays and sometimes the tourists drop in on an impromptu ‘hamburger’ joint that is operated ad hoc out of the freight shed side of the same building as the post office.  This ‘floating cafe’ is popular with the locals and so the tourist sees 20 to twenty five locals all eating burgers and such sitting on a small dock in the middle of nowhere.  I’ve been there when that happens.

“Wow”, he drawled with a deep Texas accent, “What is the occasion?” “Your arrival, of course.  Great silver bird gives us sky people on Wednesday!” “Hah!, you guys are pretty funny.”
“It is all part of the marketing plan.  We act ‘local’ and, in return, you buy burgers. Corel Air gets a piece of the action.” You sell burgers here?  Real burgers?  “Yep.  Deer and Elk burgers, sometimes a bit of moose.  Once we had bear burgers!”  “Wow! Really?!  “Nah.  Shawnie or somebody makes a Costco run every week but, if they had deer and Elk, we’d get it.” 

By this point the Texan is getting a bit confused and his wife, not keen on getting out of the plane in the first place, is gently tugging him backwards.  Roger says,  “Hey!  Why not buy some property here?  You can move here.  Live amongst us.  Your wife is attractive, heh, heh, heh.”  Roger is not perverted or mad but he likes his own jokes more than anyone and that last one sent him into a semi-audible giggle fit.  It was enough to scare the bejesus out of the wife and I must say, I had to dig deep to remember his humour, myself.  But I don’t think I helped matters when I added, “Never mind him.  He’s just a bit strange.  Not that your wife isn’t attractive but that is not what we are really about.” I have no idea why I threw in the word ‘really’ since all it did was add to original perversity implied by Roger.  They were the first ones back in the plane and we lost the burger sale.

But Roger and I had a good time. 

Renate is the post mistress.  She is married to Merlin and they have a lovely daughter, Anna, who is twelve or thirteen.  Renate wanted a holiday and asked Sally to work one Monday.  When the plane arrived, the tourists getting off the plane were Merlin, Renate and Anna.  Sally was stunned, “I thought you were on holiday?”  “We are.  Always wanted to see where the plane goes so we took the tourist flight!” So, Renate and family flew in to Surge and saw their house and the post office.  This disturbs me in some unfathomable but profound way but somehow it fits perfectly with the Read Island character.  I’m still adjusting.

Yesterday we hauled lumber up from the lagoon.  Doug had delivered the 16 long boards I ordered and we first stacked them on the beach and then went to rigging the highline to haul them up.  `Up` is 125 feet from the beach at a 45 degree incline.  The slope is irregular, of course, and covered in trees, stumps and rock outcroppings.  We have a few lengths of rope tied strategically to help pull or let our selves move about the slope but neither Sally nor I need them.  We can climb the slope pretty well but I have taken to using the ropes as an assist more and more. 

Eight boards are stacked and wrapped in slings.  Then the block and tackle (b&t) is lowered down the high-line on the pull-line from the winch.  Sally hooks up the b&t, pulls the load into the air as far as she can (to clear the obstacles) and, on her signal, I run the winch until the load is at the top.  Then I disengage it and the rig and send it back down to Sal for the next load.  In the meantime, I move the lifted wood out of the way.  It is basically the same process we use to bring logs up from the beach for firewood but lumber is usually 12 feet or 16 feet long and I usually cut the logs into more manageable lengths.  Logs are easier to lift than lumber which tends to want to slip out of the slings. 

This high-line augments the funicular on the other side.  We live on the highest point on a narrow peninsula about 300 or so yards long and 50 or 60 yards wide.  We are at the 80/90 foot elevation mark and so you can visualize the slope of our back and front yard.  Actually the back yard is longer and higher because the house is on one side of the peninsula.  It is lovely but a schlepp getting things up to the house/work/garden area.  Thus the two mechanical assists – the funicular and the high-line.

It is strange to me but no one else has these things.  A few funiculars have been mentioned on the coast but, in our neighbourhood, most people rely on docks, ramps and, if they are then located further inland, additionally ATVs and old pic-up trucks.  And the only high-line I have ever seen was at an old abandoned logging camp.  Since I am still in the process of building my funicular, I will suspend judgment until it is done and working well but clearly I think I prefer the high-line/funicular way.  We’ll see.   

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