I'm on a reminiscing jag lately. Another post about Alaska is just before this one. More to come. I was there 25 years and had lots of adventures.
My ex husband and I left Seattle after he graduated from college and took the Alaska Marine Line to Alaska. We were given a send off at the docks and enjoyed the three day ride. We landed in Juneau and we were to meet our friend at the Red Dog Saloon. We hauled our backpacks thru the town and found the little place.
As I write this I realize how much time has passed. The ferry to Alaska does not leave from downtown Seattle anymore. It goes on fridays from Bellingham and is still an absolutely gorgeous trip theu fjords with whales and glaciers dotting the way. The Red Dog Saloon moved down the street and is more touristy now. Still a fun place to go with sawdust on the floor and great beer. In those days it was dark and old. The perfect place to begin our Alaskan adventure.
We took a small plane to the little village where we would be staying. It was about an hour ride and there weren't many settlements to see along the way. Miles and miles of green, natural coastline. We taxied on the water in front of your little village and Gladys met us. Her husband Cyril was with her but he was having a hard time breathing with Emphezema. We were there to help them.
They gave us a little cabin to live in right over the water. The toilet emptied thru a hole on the beach and the tides did the flushing. Everyone burned their trash on the beach so the bottles and cans were still floating on the waves that came under the house and they made a jingling sound at high tide. It was stinky at low tide.
Being in the Alaskan wilderness was breathtaking. You feel like a speck in the big picture. This little town had about fifty houses on stilts along the coast and there was a General Store where we all got the news. There was one phone and it was in the store. You had to wait in line to use it and some of the loggers from across the bay came in to call home.
Over the years Tenakee got phone lines to every cabin. The gossip in that little town increased a hundred fold. Everyone knew everything about everyone in that place and phones made it all faster and more intense. Our friend Gladys had lived there since the pioneer days. Her father had sold moonshine there and his little cabin was preserved as a prospectors hideaway. The history in that little place was full of rock samples and the simple items for living in one room thru many Alaskan winters.
We did not spend the winter in Tenakee. Our summer there was full of change as Glady's husband died and we helped her move into her big house. He had been one of the first bush pilots in northern Alaska and he also loved his booze. Glady's first husband had been a prospector going around Southeast Alaska in a comfy boat. Gladys herself had worked in a pharmacy in Nome. She also still had her mother's house in Seattle and that is how we knew her as it was next door to my husband's family home.
Gladys loved Tenakee and was considered a character. She hated to have her photo taken and once put a paper bag on her head and walked away from someone with a camera. There were so many characters in that little town. Rosie ran the Blue Moon Cafe and you had to be very careful to order any large dinner the day before. If she liked you she cooked for you and if she didn't she had a rifle under the counter and wasn't afraid to use it.
The Blue Moon Cafe was next to the Hot Springs. The springs were 105 degrees and had been encased in a cement pool that was about 8x10. A little bath house had been built over the pool and there were definite men and women's hours. Our friends there went in as a couple late at night once and got caught by one of the village elders. lol That man didn't really do anything. Dermit O'Toole was one of the most amazing people and not one to pass judgement. He owned the store and yet would disappear every once in a while for a big bender somewhere. His son and wife had perished in a small float plane accident. They had waited ten days for the weather to clear and then took a chance. We all missed them. They were buried on the little trail outside town.
That little trail went both ways from the town center and there were no other roads. It was big enough for a golf cart to go by. Most people used bicycles. A man brought a motorcycle in to town once but someone threw it off the dock late one nite. Tenakee was a peaceful place. It is famous for its shrimp. Our friend Bob Wagner fished shrimp out in the waters in front of town. He and his wife lived in a little cabin in town and their freezer was always full of shrimp form the Giant jumbos to the little tiny ones. He had grown up in India with missionary parents and he felt right at home in that little town.
We did too. Tenakee still has a powerful pull for us all. The oil money in Alaska built a beautiful five million dollar school on the hill behind the town. The place is too big and too hard to get to. Heating it in the winter is expensive. The views from up there were not honored. There was one teacher for about five students most of the time when I was there. Alaska had a saying back then..."Give us another Oil rush and we promise not to piss the money away again."
We were all so young in those days. My friends Diane and Dale had their babies out there in Tenakee. Another friend had a baby out on the beach outside town and a third friend had one in her little cabin ten miles from town. What wilderness women! So brave and unafraid in the vastness. The kids came out fine and are having sturdy, natural lives of their own now.
Diane and Dale got divorced and he had to pay her off for the land they bought outside town. He went up to help clean the oil off the beaches after the Exxon accident and paid her off. He was such a hunk of a guy. He rowed his little skiff everywhere and could wield a mean chain saw. He gave great strong hugs but he rarely talked. He hooked up with someone eles's wife who was quite a bit younger than he was and they were together many years. His wife moved South and is into acupuncture and natural healing.
Robin had a little art store in town. She just had a little box where you could put the money if you wanted to buy something. She spends half her time in Belize and Mexico. She played incredible music on the guitar and banjo with Dale and they even had a band that shifted with the times. We spent many wonderful nites in the town community center which was an old house on stilts by the store. We would line up the babies in the back room as they went to sleep and we would all dance the night away. I remember a logger named Vince who danced with a full leg cast after an accident. He married a stripper from Sitka and they had lots of kids and a happy life there in Alaska.
Tenakee was a booming town during the gold rush. People came from up North as a get away from the madness there. There were four hundred permanent residents then. They loved the hot springs. It is still a good stop off for the fishermen and we loved when the fleet was in town and all those smelly guys played hard at the bar. Tenakee fights progress fiercely and would never allow big cruise ships to come in there. I was there when they built the Alaska Marine dock and Gladys was so mad at all the tourists who walked thru town on the hour layover. She said if they stepped one foot on her property she was going to shoot them.
Here are some Tenakee photos from this other blog since I have none on a computer. http://www.sederquist.com/alaskasoutheast2006/tenakeesprings.html