Photo: Wooden Wheel Cove.
We were standing on Osprey
's deck, looking out at Wooden Wheel Cove and preparing to go ashore to the small grocery store in the Port Protection Trading Post. We had run out of eggs and could use some apples.
"I hope the store's still open," I told Steve. "It looks pretty quiet in there. Where are the skiffs going back and forth to the store?"
"You're right," said Steve. "And I wonder about the fish buying plant. I haven't seen any fishboats unloading at the dock."
I've always considered Wooden Wheel Cove to be the quintessential Southeast Alaskan town. It has quaint wooden houses, blueberries for picking, friendly residents, a fish buying plant, a store and "local color," in the form of fishermen sitting on the docks next to their boats and shooting the breeze. This morning the "local color" was also missing. The docks, usually full of salmon trollers, were almost empty.
I picked up the binoculars to read a new sign on the side of the plant. "Port Protection Lodge" it read, "lodging, store." Nothing about a fish buying plant.
Ashore, we found a sign for store hours on the door to the building. "Thursday Closed," it read. It was Thursday.
The door to the building was unlocked. We opened it and walked down an empty hallway, past an office, the laundry, showers and a bookcase with paperbacks for trading. We were reading the titles on the books when a man walked out of the office.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"We were hoping to buy a few things in the store," we told him.
"I can help you with that," the man said, reaching into his pocket for keys.
Inside, we found the store unchanged with a chiller for items like milk and eggs and shelves of canned and dry goods. We bought what we needed and brought them to the man who was now behind the counter.
"Is the fish buying plant closed?" I asked him.
"I just couldn't make it work anymore," he told us. "I couldn't get a fish packer to come in to buy the fish and it cost me more to deliver them myself than I earned from selling them. But I remodeled the upstairs into a fishing lodge with rooms for rent."
He showed us the lodge which was clean and pleasant looking but I was saddened. Wooden Wheel Cove was no longer the quintessential Alaskan town. Tourism always seemed to be the answer to the loss of fish and lumber but doing tourism isn't always easy. (The commercial fishermen were still catching fish, they were just selling them elsewhere, to a fish packing boat or at another fishing town.)
At least the blueberries should still be there. And after two days of rain, they should be nice and plump. We returned to Osprey
, put our purchases away and grabbed plastic bags for blueberries. We then took the dinghy across the cove to the dock that led to a boardwalk with blueberries and huckleberries growing on either side.
While Steve stayed near the beginning of the boardwalk, I moved on, looking for bushes that I could reach easily with my shorter arms. I had just found a bush next to the boardwalk and loaded with beautiful light blue berries when I heard Steve talking to someone.
"I'll loan you my blueberry rakes," I heard a stranger say. "You'll get a lot more with them."
A minute later, Steve came around the corner accompanied by a burly man in a T-shirt and jeans. He repeated his offer to me to loan us his blueberry rakes. Intrigued by being able to pick more berries in less time, I said yes. "Let's get them," he said.
He introduced himself as Hans and led us up the boardwalk to the top of a hill. "This is my house," he said, pointing to a small wooden house. "I've been working on fixing it up and planting a garden. I've got a greenhouse too. I grow everything organic. I hope to rent it out in the summer to someone who wants the experience of living organically."
Photo: A house on the boardwalk.
His house was surrounded by forest. He pointed to a nearby tree that had lost most of its needles. "All my hemlocks are dying. Beetles are getting them. I lost a cedar too. But the Spruce are healthy. It's the warming. And there's nothing we can do about it. We have to adapt." I suddenly remembered seeing swaths of brown trees in Cleveland Passage and wondering if they were dying.
Hans disappeared into his house and came back with two small red boxes with teeth.
We left with a bag full of beet greens, the rakes, and instructions to just put them on the porch when we were done. It didn't take long to pick two almost full bags of blueberries and huckleberries. As we returned to Osprey,
I thought sadly how the Cove was changing economically and physically. But it still had two important things: friendly people and blueberries.
Photo: Steve picking blueberries with a blueberry rake.
To see where Wooden Wheel Cove is, search for Port Protection in Google Maps