The Story Teller

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Our Alaskan small ship cruise anchored outside Hoonah, and my expectations weren’t very high. The buildings had been a large salmon cannery that closed, and were later purchased and developed into a place for the large cruise ships to stop. We were scheduled to see a play put on by Tlingits, a Native American tribe that archaeological evidence indicates has been present in this Northwest area of North America for at least 10,000 years.

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The Story Teller

I didn’t expect to learn so much about the traditions of this group of people – traditions they are working to keep as the world around them is changing. A very important tradition is the telling of stories, and dancing that reenacts ancestral relationships between humans and nature.

Tlingits divide themselves into Eagles and Ravens based on which tribe their mother belongs to. Balance and reciprocity between the Ravens and Eagles are required to ensure social and spiritual harmony. (

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I saw my first raven in Juneau and now understand the importance of the bird to native belief systems. Many stories are told about the Raven as trickster and sacred being. We heard one of how the Raven tricked the person who owned and horded all light into giving the moon, stars and sun to Raven who then shared it with everyone, so the darkness had light.

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They are working to maintain and share their traditions of oral story-telling, dancing, social relationships, and costuming.

The traditional value that is most in conflict with dominate traditional values is their belief that all of nature is sacred and the spirit of the deceased ancestors remain alive in nature. Consequently any assault on our environment is an assault on them.

Because I wasn’t raised within the Native American/First Nation community, this feeling of being one with nature is hard for me to get my mind around and hold onto. I was indoctrinated from a very early age with the values of commercialism and personal wealth and possession of things. That is our tradition.

I have been reading a number of novels by Native American authors and want to assimilate these values – I still don’t totally understand but I respect their traditions. They feel sound.

The problem seems to be that large numbers of people cannot be sustained within their environmental value system unless we are willing to give up a whole lot of things. It requires a life with minimal processions to meet basic needs. It seems like the more I think about all that I have, the more I realize how my traditions are contributing to the raping of our earth. Ouch.

You can think about your interpretation of traditional in a photography post linked to:

So Many Eagles

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Seeing a bald eagle isn’t an every-day experience for me so I was pretty impressed when I would see one on our cruise of the inside passage of Alaska. Then we passed this rock outcrop and behold there were 6 bald eagles and 4 other birds of prey that I don’t recognize.

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Here is a blow-up of the other birds. I am wondering if they are golden eagles. If you know what they are, please comment below.

Tenakee Springs Surprise

Before we boarded the skiff taking us from the ship to the Tenakee Springs dock, we were told that the yellow building to the right of the dock was the bakery and they had internet service. The Captain had called ahead so the bakery would be open for us on this Sunday morning.

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I hadn’t had any type of connection in many days so I took my computer with me. I guess I was experiencing that painful connection withdrawal.

Tenakee Springs isn’t lacking for modern-day amenities, like emergency services

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public phone service – not sure what Alaskan’s in a town of 100 people consider local calls,

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a library right in the middle of town,

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and next to the library a farmers market – during harvest season. I didn’t want to speculate on the meaning of the flying pigs.

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But the jewel of Tenakee Springs is the

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My plan was to get a cup of tea and connect with the outside world on my computer for a few minutes. I walked in and knew I had found Alaskan gold.

Tenakee Springs 255I perched myself on a stool,

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and ordered one of those cinnamon rolls, sitting on the counter, emitting a freshly baked aroma – and a cup of tea.

Tenakee Springs 260 I broke off a piece of the warm roll and placed it on my tongue. Oh my, I have been looking for this experience for well over 20 year; since I last made my own cinnamon rolls. As the tender bread and sugar and cinnamon melted in my mouth, my whole body responded with ecstasy. I am not exaggerating. I put another piece in my mouth and the same thing happened. Pure nirvana.

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I savored my tea and roll while I grinned at the signs above the coffee cups: Women who behave rarely make history; I’ll have cafe, mocha, vodka, Valium,  latte to go, please; and, We trade coffee for gossip.

The latest gossip was that the people on the other side of the island want to build a road to Tenakee Springs but locals are fighting it – they don’t want the traffic. They also don’t want the car ferry stopping there. The young man has a four year old daughter – I think I saw her and her mom walking down the lane to visit daddy. She was dancing along in her bare feet.

Tenakee Springs 269This seems to be the where-it-is-happening place. It is the town’s restaurant, with a changing menu on the board. There is a projector hanging from the ceiling and they have a screen they hang over the lunch counter that makes it the local movie theater. If you remember the sign, at least one person believes the Part-Time Bakery should be the Party-Time Bakery. By the size of the speakers on the top shelf above the coffee cups, I think some dancing has gone down in here.

Along the walls they had some merchandise by local artists.

Tenakee Springs 268I scanned them and found the perfect poster size print for my guest bedroom. On the other side they had some hand-knit hats – one of my fellow passengers bought a couple. How nice to find keepsakes that are locally made.

I never took my computer out, but that seemed just fine. I was functioning in Alaskan culture. Many of the houses had dishes so people who live there are well connected to take them through the long, dark winters but I couldn’t think of anything more interesting on my computer than the Part-Time Bakery in Tenakee Springs, Alaska.

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Put another pan of those cinnamon rolls in the oven, I’m on my way back.

Remote: Tenakee Springs Alaska

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I heard that the word in our ear this week is “remote” and that inspired me to post on Tenakee Springs in Southeast Alaska. This town of about 100 people is remote!

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It is on Chichagof Island, on the Tenakee Inlet. The only way to get here is by water or air.

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There are no roads coming in and it could be argued if the dirt road is maybe just a wide path. It is impossible to get lost because there aren’t any turns – only a bend in the path that follows the curve of the beach.

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Transportation is pretty simple. There are a couple of trucks in town, used for work. Getting a car into town would be expensive and then there isn’t anywhere to take it. Parking is also a problem.

I find the houses in places I visit interesting because they trigger my imagination about the people who live there and what their life is like. The inhabitants of Tenakee Springs are a mixture of full-time and summer inhabitants.

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It seems that this community was built around the hot springs that are in the middle of town. Men and women have different hours at the bath house, but we were asked not to go in to respect their privacy.

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We visited the community on a Sunday morning so it was very quiet, but I passed a couple of people who gave a warm hello. I could tell people are happy here because there were casual and whimsical decorations everywhere I looked.

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It seems that the people who call Tenakee Springs their home like it just the way it is. Some people in Hoonah, on the other side of the island, want to build a road to Tenakee Springs, but people here don’t want it. A car ferry also wants to stop here, but they are fighting that, too – because then they would have to build a parking lot down by the dock.

I fell in love with Tenakee Springs, but there is one last secret – and I am saving that for another post.

Go to the Pointy End of the Ship

We traveled through Fredrick Sound, a wide body of water that forms a portion of the inside passage of Southeast Alaska. This area is one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales. We would frequently hear “whale on port side” and see a whale breaching

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We would Ooooh and Aaaaah, and those of us with cameras would click, click, click. I wonder if people ever get tired of seeing these 40 to 50 foot water beasts do what nature calls them to do.

Then the captain announced, whales sited ahead – everyone to the pointy end of the boat. We watched as he proceeded ahead, and saw some whales surfacing, saw some sprays in the distance.

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And we saw them slapping the water with their large pectoral fins.

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Then the captain idled the engines and they were all around us, feeding on schools of small fish. I would be watching and photographing in one direction and someone would call my attention to whales in another direction.

The naturalist told us about bubble net feeding, where a group of whales work together by forming a circle under water, and blowing air bubbles as they spiral to the surface. This drives large numbers of small fish toward the surface. The whales are gulpers so they take in a huge amount of water and fish as they lunge to the surface. Their mouths are lined with about 330 pairs of baleen plates that strain out the fish. We saw some bubble-net feeding but I wasn’t able to catch the action.

I am still in awe of what I saw and thrilled with the images I did capture.

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I bet we tracked this pod for close to an hour – an hour of alternating adrenaline rush and a quiet intimacy with life itself.