Homesteading Keene Island the Williams’ Story

“I loved the woods, the fragrance of the trees, the mossy ground, the sun streaming through the trees, the sounds and the quietness.  I didn’t need to see the house. “

by Arlene Williams

In 2015 my husband, Gary, and I moved from Keene Island, Alaska to Southbrook Mobile Home Court. Salem, Oregon.  I am quite social, so after being isolated on our own island for 29 years, I took notice of South Salem Senior Center just a 1/2 mile away from our new home.

Display at South Salem Senior Center with samples of media available through My Beautiful Life Story. CD, Plexi photo transfer and canvas framed 3x3 photos
My Beautiful Life Story display at South Salem Senior Center

While at the Senior Center I met a gal named Zoe, who preserved old pictures. Before long I also recognized her at the swimming pool in our mobile home park. ( I’m not a swimmer, but I went there for social reasons and to get acquainted with other homeowners.)

When Zoe came to my house, I brought out the scrapbooks.  I showed Zoe my stacks of scrapbooks that documented our time at Keene Island.  We bought the island in 1991.  The island was 68 acres, but we owned just 2 acres of it.  The rest was Alaska Park Land and no one could live on it.  It had a house, built in the 1920’s, and a shed.  Originally, it was a fox farm and there were even some of the fox cages still there.  There had been several owners before us and it’s history is quite fascinating.  After we bought it, I realized that this was going to be a major adventure for us and I documented every building project, who came to visit us, the fish that were caught, etc. 

At this point in history, we used film in our cameras.  At the end of August we would return to Metlakatla to begin another year of teaching.  I would mail the film in to be developed and divide them into the various sections for the scrapbooks.  In May we would go back to Keene Island and my first project was to put the pictures in the correct scrapbook.  I ALWAYS did this. We had sold Keene Island and I wanted to create a book for the new owner that showed the history of the island before his purchase.  Zoe showed me how to mark the pages with sticky tabs and ABC to mark the pictures that I wanted included.  ( My grandkids are really cute, but I decided the new owner wouldn’t care about them!)

As I tried to recall all of the steps involved, I realized that it isn’t necessary.  That is what Zoe does.  With every step, I’d do what she’d tell me to do.  Sometimes I completed the task in a short amount of time and other times it took awhile.  Zoe was always very patient and made herself available when I was ready.  Then there was the problem of me changing my mind about what to include.  This was not a problem.  All of this was part of the project.

Arlene Williams displays a print copy of the Keene Island journal she made for new owners of Keene Island

Another phase of Zoe’s work was to make decisions about the appearance of the book.  What size, what shape, linen, hard or soft cover, picture on the front or just printing, dedication or not, which font and size?  So many decisions.

The final decision was the number of books to order. I made my list and then ordered a few extra.  When all was said and done, I had one unclaimed book.

That was soon claimed by our grandson Keene.  He was born shortly after our purchase and has always said that “this is MY island” and someday he’ll own it.  He loves showing his book about HIS island to his friends.

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