Jupiter departs her anchorage with no plan to visit Tenakee Springs. Light winds, unusually sunny weather and the many compelling bays and coves in range seem to cloud decision making.
However, the curious settlement of Tenakee Springs on Chichagof Island ultimately draws Jupiter into her spherule.
Calls to the harbor office go unanswered, so we creep, uninvited, into the snug marina. Directed by an assistive freelance harbormaster holstering a powerful pistol on her hip, Jupiter is inserted into every bit of the available 60′ 1½” space for visitors.
The Dirty Dozen
The fetching waterfront invites a wander, and we spend hours investigating hyperlocal history, architecture, weather, and tapping tales of the famous mineral hot-springs and bathhouse. The springs, long known to native Tlingits, have attracted explorers and pioneers since there were explorers and pioneers.
Grubby whalers, miners, packers, hunters, lumberjacks, homesteaders, trappers, fishermen, canners, traders, prospectors and hangers-on came to wash up and winter up here rather than return south. All found Tenakee to be a soothing retreat from a hard life. By some accounts women were hired to stay for the winter months.
A culture of tolerance and cooperation developed amongst early arrivers and continues unabated within the community.
Clean and Serene
We encounter many approachable and chatty residents who number 100 in summer, 70 in winter, with half as many agreeable dogs bounding and sniffing freely.
Like many communities in southeastern Alaska, the village is a linear construct along an acclivitous shore, however here steep cross stair-streets access a lofty second tier of homes. The occupants of these have prized views and thighs abused.
“All the important folks here are named Dan: Dan the mayor, Dan the handyman, and Dan the harbormaster… who really doesn’t much.”~ A local outside the Post Office as part of our initial orientation.
Fifteen year residents Kevin and Carlene have established a community greenhouse supplying the village with lettuce throughout the diapause of winter, and other fresh produce during summer and fall. Heat is sourced from the natural hot spring and piped beneath the floor.
Kevin works deep to repair a leak in the geothermal heating system, Carlene is in her edible element, and a native carnivorous sundew plant digests trespassing gnats.
“Well, it’s a small town, and sometimes you get a rock in your shoe… if you know what I mean.”~ Enduring citizen on the challenges of village life.
Functional and fantastic architectural styles and materials are built into the charming homes.
“I’ve been here since the 1980’s and the place is different now. Stores and the school have closed and the community feels less connected.”~ Street historian on changes over the past half century.
The Mercantile, firehouse and library. The bakery and art gallery stand vacant awaiting a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Hot Springs Eternal
“The springs are on the north shore of Tenakee inlet, approximately half way by steamer route between Juneau and Sitka – 100 miles from either place by a rather tortuous course necessitated by several islands.”~ Mineral Springs of Alaska by Gerald A. Waring, 1917
Separate hours for men and women have been observed since the bathhouse was organized in the early twentieth century. The water seeps up from the spring at a pleasing 106º at 7 gallons per minute and overflows the surrounding concrete edge. Nude communal bathing is the rule.
One Way Street
Many things arrive in Tenakee Springs but nothing ever leaves. Items are re-purposed or are subsumed into the foliate land.