Good Times & a Bucket of Slugs: July 4 in Small-Town Alaska

Golf Cart on Parade

“Give me your tired, your poor, your hallibut masses…”

Having lived for years in Philadelphia — a city that makes the most of its powdered wig-era history — I associate the Fourth of July with vast crowds contained by police barricades and televised spectacles involving pop stars and politicians.

As you might imagine, Tenakee Springs celebrates Independence Day a bit differently.  Here the Fourth is a DIY community fun-fest.  People look forward to it for weeks, and many residents pitch in to help make it an enjoyable holiday for all.  Of course, fireworks, burgers, and American flags feature prominently.  But there is also grilled halibut fresh from the ocean.  A slug-slinging contest.  And the Alaskan weather is just chilly enough to demand a coat and hat. 

A cloudy day on Tenakee Inlet.

As per tradition, the holiday kicked off with a five-minute parade including kids on star-spangled bikes and local musicians playing banjo and accordion.

Banjo and Accordion Players

Excellent music!

Following a hearty potluck feast, the games began!  Residents and visitors of all ages competed in races including the giant undie race and the slow bike race.  (My husband and I joined in the egg toss and the men vs. women tug-of-war, which the men won just barely.)

Like a three-legged race, but with a giant pair of underwear!

All ages can participate!

And then there was the Slug-Slinging Contest.

European black slugs — an invasive species here — are the most reviled animal in Tenakee due to their habit of destroying peoples’ gardens.   Residents have devised all manner of ways to kill them.  Some people collect the slugs and drop them into a salty slug-slurry.  Others have built miniature electric fences around their gardens intended to fry the slugs.  Mostly people stomp them on sight, but because the slugs are cannibalistic, their corpses only draw more slugs into town.

Black Slug

The Invasive Species.

I have not killed any yet, being something of a conscientious objector in the war on slugs.  At first they did seem like vile creatures, and I raised my shoe over the first one that crossed my path.  But when I looked more closely, I noticed the slug’s little eye-stalks waving around as it explored the world.   Instead of a garden-wrecking cannibal made out of mucus, the slug seemed like a lost wanderer.  I imagined it as a slow and weary exile from its European homeland, and after that I could not very well bring myself to stomp it.

So while I was tempted to enter the Fourth of July slug-slinging contest, I remained a neutral observer on the sidelines.  Contestants took turns impaling the hapless gastropods on a stick and competing to see who could hurl them the furthest down the dock.

Slug-Slinging Contest

Slug-slinging!

Every slug cost $1 to sling; the winner kept half the pot with the other half going to fund a restoration of the old hot springs bathhouse here in town.  With the slug-slinging plus a raffle and other donations collected over the course of the day, the bathhouse fund earned more than $3,000!

To me the Fourth of July in Tenakee is a reminder that you don’t need anything fancy or expensive to put on a successful, participatory event. Tasty food, banjo music, giant underwear, and a bucketful of slugs… I will keep this lesson in mind if and when I am ever involved in coordinating museum events!

PS. For those readers interested in history, I found two images taken on the Fourth of July in Tenakee 90 years ago!  The fashions may have changed, but town still looks almost exactly the same.

Edit [July 10, 2012]: Today while processing a paper collection, I came across even more historical photos of July 4 in Tenakee!  These are from 1964.

The egg toss!

The three-legged-race and a game that involved holding string in one’s teeth (?).

1 Comment

Filed under Alaska Museum

One response to “Good Times & a Bucket of Slugs: July 4 in Small-Town Alaska

  1. Alaina Mabaso

    Love it all. Undies race particularly charming. I dream of a Fourth of July that’s cool enough to demand a hat…

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