Acre of Iron

A lament for Alaskan elders who still burn wood for heat, stock their freezers with caribou and silver salmon, and never throw anything out — in case a neighbor needs it.


Oh, how things have changed in Alaska——–

            Mr. Percival lives in what neighbors call the “junk yard.” His ramshackle workshop squats near an unpainted cabin. At night, after work, Mr. P padlocks his shop door tight to secure a machinist’s lathe, welding equipment and sundry hand tools. The names of many gadgets and tools are unknown to anyone except a World War II-era craftsman.

             It’s been backbreaking work, dragging his cast-iron culture into this plastic century. He stares back at deep furrows left in his wake: Health problems, deaths of old chums, and now, complaints from neighbors about his lathe purring in the late evenings.

            Neighbors hate Mr. P’s junk. His yard is like an unsightly wart upon their pedicured toes.

            At barbecues they discuss property values and plot how to demolish his untidy lifestyle by legal means. At his property line, a row of rusty Fords (scavenged for engines and carburetors) stand in a decrepit chorus line. Weeds grow lush and unkempt in Mr. P’s gravel lawn.

            Mr. P has arranged his piles of steel by length and thickness, and every stick is welded to his brain—alongside memories of hard climbs in the Chugach; bagging mountain sheep; casting for silver salmon with his children; fulfilling work as a machinist. And, the ever-lingering grief at losing Mrs. P.

All he has left are his Old Alaska ways and his acre of iron. All he wants is to be left alone…

Proverbs 3:29-30

​Do not devise evil against your neighbor, for he dwells by you for safety’s sake.

​​Do not strive with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm.


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