Stuck inside Tenakee with those Juneau blues again

Posted: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Before I begin ...To the year-round population of Tenakee Springs, Alaska: Don't worry. I packed my garbage out. I have absolutely no intention of buying a weekend home, and I soaped up and rinsed off really well before I took a bath, even in my ... well, let's just call it "where the sun don't shine." You know, all around that whole Southeast Alaska region.

What was I doing in Tenakee, nearly three weeks into September? Don't think I wasn't asked that by every person I passed on the street, er, path -or is it a trail? Whatever you call that one main artery there, even the dogs were eyeing me suspiciously.

Officially, I was researching a pair of articles I've been trying to write since May. Of course, these two pieces may well be destined to become my own personal Chinese Democracy, which, both because and despite Axl Rose taking 15 years to produce, is perhaps the greatest affront to the human ear since the four-stage car alarm. And maybe Fran Drescher as "The Nanny." Maybe.

Still, I'm not one to turn down a free weekend, especially one I can write off on my taxes. The problem is there really aren't many places to spend your money in Tenakee; the guy who took me caving and humpback fluke ID'ing barely let me pay for gas.

Though I was barely in Tenakee 60 hours - 24 unplanned due to weather - I also learned several valuable lessons, including, in no particular order: patience, humility and the importance of taking extra batteries for your headlamp, especially if you've got a several-mile walk back through the woods after multiple glasses of homemade wine.

Of course, that humility lesson is one I endure constantly up here. When my caving guru insinuated over e-mail that I might not have the right gear, I felt a bit incensed. I've got a float coat. I've got dry bags. I've got Hellys. I've got external genitalia.

What it turned out I did not have, however, was the intestinal fortitude to go exploring for myself when he left me explicitly to do so. It may have had something to do with the fact that, clawing my awkward, citified way out of the cave, I'd just planted my right hand in a pile of bear scat. Not a solid handhold.

As an ex-New Yorker, born and raised (well, suburbs, but suburbanites are even more pushy, as anyone who's ever shopped at a Long Island IKEA knows), patience does not come naturally. In fact, the first thing the first Alaskan ever said to me was, "you need to slow down."

As far as getting weathered in, this was cake: dry cabin, stove, electricity, a next-day ferry, a cheeseburger and fries. There were even blueberry oatmeal cookies my little daughter and I baked to leave as a gift. The fact that I only ate one ranks as my greatest exercise of will power since I quit Tetris, cold turkey.

So I had no choice but to sit it out and relax, watching whales until the sun went down, and then availing myself of the wireless Internet that seems to beam from everywhere.

Seriously, for a town whose water you can't drink without first boiling then evaporating overnight, TKE sure does have unbelievable Internet access. While phone calls to Juneau cost 14 cents a minute, I literally video-conferenced with anyone I could find online, for free. And then I hit Facebook for four hours straight, during which time I did things like e-stalk this one girl I used to make mix-tapes for in seventh grade (a lot of Metallica; needless to say, she was not my first kiss) and signed up for interest groups such as "I played in Commack North Little League and Commack South Little League Sucks," even though I was sort of traumatized by my youth baseball experience, mostly thanks to the other members of that particular interest group.

The headlamp/berry wine lesson, well, that one's kind of self-explanatory. Next time I go, I'll bring my bike, that way, even though I'll still be drunk in the dark, at least I'll be going fast.

Oh, and before I forget...

To that very nice woman with the very nice garden who was concerned about me landing Tenakee Springs back in the New York Times again: I'm flattered that you think the Times would have anything to do with me. Especially after Maureen Dowd took out that restraining order. Of course, I maintain that once you put your garbage out on the curb, it becomes public property.

• Geoff Kirsch lives in Juneau. His column appeares every other Wednesday.



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