A view from the ferry during my final ride out of Tenakee.
Today I write not from Alaska but from Montreal, where my summer of chaos draws to a close. To recap: I finished my masters degree in American history, got married, then moved to Tenakee Springs, Alaska for a two-month museum job. Once back in Philly, my husband and I had a few days to vacate our apartment and drive a jam-packed rental car up to Quebec. We will reside here in Montreal this academic year as I work on my Fulbright project.
At this point I’m ready for life to settle into a routine involving local history and top-shelf fromage. But before I begin blogging about Montreal, I must conclude the story of Tenakee Springs — a place I started missing the moment I boarded the ferry out. Continue reading
Future museum: left side, bright red building in front of the bright blue building.
Last week a journalist from Sitka came and interviewed me about my summer job here in Tenakee. I talked for a bit about my work preparing for the opening of the new history museum, showing her the attic of musty objects and papers. I explained what “cataloging” and “rehousing” meant and described how organizing the collection would make it easier to work with and preserve.
After my spiel she offered a paraphrase: “So your job is to sort through boxes of old stuff?”
Yes. Yes, that exactly!
As you might imagine, I’ve come across some pretty interesting local artifacts over the course of the summer.
Here are just a few of my favorites, starting with… Continue reading
A structure I pass on my way to work.
To get from my cabin to my museum collection workspace, I take a 15-minute stroll along the only road in Tenakee Springs: a gravel trail that runs right through the heart of town along the inlet. Though I’ve now walked the trail many times, I still find something new to appreciate about it every day.
So now: imagine a soundscape of crows cawing, rumbling handcarts, and waves lapping against the shore… and we will begin your virtual tour of Tenakee, as experienced on my walks to and from work! Continue reading
Recently I inventoried a collection of objects and papers that belonged to a Tenakee old-timer named Gladys Seeds. For me the process of cataloging her collection raised all kinds of questions about the possibilities and limitations of archives.
Gladys in Tenakee on July 4, 1961.
Gladys was born in 1906 (or 1904, the records don’t all agree) and raised in the Seattle area. After high school she led an adventurous life, working in drug stores to finance summer prospecting trips in Alaska. She wrote poetry, painted landscapes, married a bush pilot, and moved between Alaskan towns before settling in Tenakee. She passed away in 2004.
When I first opened the boxes of Gladys’ things, the contents were more or less a heap of undifferentiated clutter. I cataloged, cleaned, and rehoused most of these objects, transforming the stuff of her life into artifacts that will be preserved. As I did so, I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was shaping the evidence available to other historians and researchers: filtering the material itself, organizing it according to themes I perceived, and writing biographical information. All of these actions may influence how Gladys’ life is understood in the future, and I felt a heavy responsibility as I went about the work. Continue reading
“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. Continue reading
Tenakee in autumn. Photo by Flickr user sandrasalaskaphotographs, used under Creative Commons license.
I write today from my new residence: a log cabin. The rain is pouring, the heat stove is on, and I have a view of misty mountains and the waters where my neighbors trap crab.
Yes, I made it to Tenakee Springs, Alaska! As mentioned previously, I have a summer job here helping to establish a new local history museum.
Since I have lived almost my entire life in cities of the East Coast, Tenakee represents quite a change for me. It is a tiny community, off the road system, on an island where bears outnumber people. My “commute” is a 15-minute walk down a gravel path, the only street. There is no police force and no garbage collection. Most households seem to be more or less off-the-grid. (The cabin where I am staying, for example, gets water from a well and power from a fuel tank out back.) People here bathe communally in the natural hot springs at the center of town.
Home sweet home!
I will write more about Tenakee and its history over the course of the summer. (I’ve been here for less than a week, so I’m still in the process of absorbing it all!)
As for my job, here’s what it is: Continue reading