Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pelican I Remember

My Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian novels is set in Southeast Alaska, where I grew up in the fifties. As a child, I spent all of my summers visiting my grandparents, who pastored the only church in Pelican, a fishing village on Chichagof Island between Juneau and Sitka. I have fond memories of that town, and it is featured in my first book in this series, Till the Storm Passes By.

Pelican in 1953 ©AnnaLee Conti

The following is a piece I wrote years ago for a writing course. The assignment was to write a description. I wrote about Pelican as I remembered it.

"What a nasty southeaster!" grumbled the old fisherman as I passed him on the boardwalk.

"The worst we're had all summer," I agreed. The rain beat down on me, trickled down my neck, and ran off my nose. "An umbrella's useless in wind like this."

Pelican from the air
Activity had nearly ceased as I trudged down the main street of Pelican. By "main street" I mean a boardwalk that was about fifteen feet wide, built on creosoted, barnacled pilings over the waters of Lizianski Inlet. The houses and buildings also perched precariously on piling on either side of the boardwalk. The town stretched about a mile, curving with the rocky cliffs to which Pelican tenaciously clung. The tide ebbed and flowed under the town.

The red wagon in which my suitcase rested clattered and splattered as I pulled it over the rough, slippery boards toward the post office where the Alaska Coastal Airlines office was located. The rain continued to pound me mercilessly. Occasionally, lightning flashed. I counted the seconds to the thunder roll.

The fog was so thick I could not see the red light that flashed on the buoy at the entrance to the harbor. Seagulls swooped overhead like tiny white phantoms in the fog. The wind was tangy with salt water and fish slime. The odor of rotten eggs from low tide still pervaded the air.

A raven cawed frantically just above me. I jumped. As I glanced up to see what was the matter, my right foot skidded out from under me on the slippery walk and down I thudded. Icy water soaked through my clothing before I could scramble to my feet.

A few yards farther, I passed the two local bars. Raucous laughter rang out above the throb of the juke box. The weather-bound fishermen had nowhere else to spend their time and money. One old leather-faced fisherman in a black slicker tottered out of one tavern toward the other as I passed.

I slopped on through the rain toward the post office. Soon, the boat harbor became visible through the fog. The trollers and seiners rolled and twisted in their moorings as the choppy waves caught them, and the wind rattled their tall poles.

The tiny skiffs tied to the close end of the float were half filled with water. Except for several fishermen securing their boats, the float was vacant. Even the youngsters, who seldom left their favorite fishing spots except to eat and sleep, were missing.

Farther on, I passed the little firehouse, which sheltered the smallest fire engine I'd ever seen, and approached Pelican's only bakery. Even old Wobbly had closed up shop today, and I missed the familiar aroma of fresh bread.

Next to the bakery stood the little white schoolhouse, which would open in a few weeks. The empty swings in the playground twisted in the wind. Part of the chicken wire fence, which had broken away, grated back and forth as each gust of wind hit it.

The Standard Oil dock and the salmon cannery opposite the school were closed until they could get more fish. No cheery "hello" rang out from the Filipinos who drove the jitneys, carrying loads of canned salmon to storage until the next Alaska Steamship freighter came in. The cannery's cookhouse, Pelican's only restaurant, was also closed until the storm passed.

The docks around the fish house and cold storage plant just ahead were vacant. Yesterday's fish had been cleaned and stored in ice, and now only a faint fishy odor clung to the deserted building.

Pelican boat harbor today
To my right was the post office, located next to the small general store and the offices of the Pelican Cold Storage Company. I grabbed my suitcase and dashed inside. By this time, I was thoroughly soaked and chilled to the bone.

Before I could ask the agent when the Alaska Coastal Grumman "Goose" was due in, through the static on the radio a voice cackled, "Due to lack of visibility, Alaska Coastal flight 2 now turning back to Juneau. Over and out."

"When will Pelican ever get telephones?" I grumbled.

Pelican Church in the fifties
Today, Pelican has telephones and televisions, and the Grumman "Goose" no longer flies there. The church, where we lived in the attached living quarters, still sits atop the hill above the cold storage plant, but the little trees now tower above it blocking the wonderful view of the inlet we loved to enjoy. City hall now occupies the old school building and the school has moved to a modern building at the other end of the boardwalk. The cannery is closed. Sports fishing and tourism are the main industries now. It's still a great place to visit.

Check out my Alaskan Waters Trilogy on Amazon. Book 3, Beside Still Waters, available in e-book, coming soon in paperback.


  1. AnnaLee, thanks for such a wonderful description of Pelican. We've visited once in 1993 and it's a place still etched in our minds. I look forward to reading your third book soon!

  2. Thank you, Deb! The last time I was there was 2000. Parts of the town looked the same, but so much had changed too, especially around the church. It seemed odd to see all the TV antennae and dishes atop all the houses!
    I will be looking forward to reading your review of my new book.