Story last updated at 1/9/2013 - 2:21 pm
Winter is full upon us now but with our firewood stacked and our salmon and halibut sleeping in orderly rows in the freezer, we're tempted to feel just a bit smug. One of our hunter friends will stop by with a deer or two taken on our senior proxy and we'll be set. The ferry still comes twice a week, dependable as the season, but air service has already gotten a bit dicey. No matter that you've made your reservation, you know enough to start calling Mark or Terry the day before to make sure that a plane is actually likely to get over here. Our population dips to around 50 or so and the community sort of folds in on itself. The store goes to winter hours and the bakery opens only for pizza on Thursday nights when the ferry comes in. Wednesday night contra dancing and Friday night volleyball at the school gym have both started up. Every year it's the same; the adults limp and grimace around for a month or so while the older kids level the playing field.
In winter, bathhouse traffic during men's hours usually peaks at around five in the afternoon when the working guys are getting done for the day. Another small rush comes just after men's hours first start at 2 p.m. when a couple of guys will run in for a quick wash-down before getting on with something else. Around three you've usually got a good chance of being all alone. You can ease back into your own thoughts and pretty soon the mineral stains on the old concrete walls begin to reveal their pictures - while the condensation plops.
Don't count on it right now, though; this is the season when you never know. The brutal fact is that during hunting season it's tough to be just a local guy looking forward to his bath. Check the row of wooden pegs that circles the dressing room. If what's hanging on them when you walk in looks like a random assortment of rejects from a Free Box, well, you know right away it's just a couple locals already in there. On the other hand, if what's on the pegs is all fancy expensive outdoor gear, if it's all brand new, and if every bit of it, right down to the socks, is in camo pattern...if the dressing room wall looks like a page torn from the Cabela catalog, well, face it; it's deer season and the Cabela Boys are in town.
We have a fair number of city hunters who come out every year to get their deer. Several have cabins here just for that purpose. We know them pretty well. Nearly all of them are experienced outdoorsmen. Sure, they're here for that "male bonding" thing, too: hang out with other guys, maybe have a little nip of whisky in the evening and smoke a cigar that would be banned at home. Mostly, though, they're here to get their deer and take the venison home to their freezers. The Cabela Boys are here for all that, too, but they're also here for the adventure of it all. Sadly, a few are here more for the adventure than for the venison. It's not that they're bad guys or that they particularly misbehave, it's just that they come from a different place, like a different country, and the accents of that country, the flavors of it, aren't as easily hung up on a wooden peg as the camo-pattern pants.
At their worst, the Cabela Boys come swaggering into town looking for all the world like modern day versions of those good old boys who used to shoot buffalo from the windows of moving trains. They are not that, of course, but what sets them apart is all that adventure energy rattling and banging around them like...well...like a shooting spree on a prairie train. You'll take a quick bath and go on home.
Truth be told, though, sometimes they are good for light entertainment, like when they'll get the skiff stuck on the beach by the falling tide and then clog the VHF with adventure chatter for the rest of the night. Every once in a while, though, they'll unwittingly contribute a really good story to our little hoard of visitor tales. A bunch of them had gotten stuck here by bad weather once and were running out of clean clothes. One particularly clueless Cabela Boy joined his buddies at Rosie's late one afternoon, bringing a big sack of dirty laundry with him. After ordering his beer ("you want a glass with that?") he made the mistake of asking Rosie how much she charged to do laundry.
Now, this happened a few years ago and the story has been told and re-told enough times that complete accuracy has long since slipped away. One version has Rosie brandishing a big pistol but I'm inclined to think that's an exaggeration. More believable to me is the version that has Rosie come roaring around the end of the bar with the short ball bat she keeps there and running guy out into the street, slashing wildly at his backside with that bat, all the while pelting him with thick Filipino curses... then going back in and running his friends out too. Rosie does not do other people's laundry.
This is also the time of year when one of our kids will bag his or her first deer. This year it was Richard, only 11 years old but a third generation Tenakee kid and well taught about the outdoors by his dad and his granddad. He'd already been along with them on a bunch of hunting trips but, even so, by the time he had stalked that deer and set up for his shot, he was trembling with anticipation. He hit the deer OK but it staggered off out of sight. Both dad and granddad took a deep breath and reminded him that now they would have to track the deer until they found it- no matter how far. The deer had not gotten very far and Richard dispatched it. In his family it was certainly something to be proud of but there was no call to strut or to brag. He was a hunter now and he'd put food on the table.
Last year it was Barbara, a quiet kid, second to the youngest in a big family and flanked by standout brothers and sisters. Everyone knew that Barbara had gotten her first deer while out with her dad but she, too, didn't need to brag about it. In fact, her mom had put the word out that Barbara would really rather no one said anything about it at all. That fit perfectly with what we already knew about her and as I watched over the next few weeks it was clear that in her own quiet way she had just slipped up another notch in maturity.
So, yes, winter is a pretty quiet in a little bush community - but we're not exactly burrowed in and switched off like a bear with her cubs, either. There's always the Cabela Boys, and contra dancing, and volleyball. Two weeks ago a duo of classical musicians came out to give us a concert, and this week the Girl Scouts put on a well-attended fundraiser for their big trip. It was a marathon showing of the whole Lord of the Rings, with chili and cornbread, at the bakery.
Oh, and about Barbara not wanting the attention; not to worry, her name is not Barbara.
Brooke Elgie writes from Tenakee Springs. He can be reached at email@example.com.