Monthly Archives: August 2014

Farewell…for now

Emily and I are taking off to Juneau this evening, and our flight leaves on Monday morning at 6:05 AM. It feels like we’ve been here for forever and for not much time at all–but summers always feel like that.

I’ve been warned by several people that the reverse culture shock that kicks in once you hit the Lower 48 (I’ve given up on being worried about sounding like a poser and have just adopted some of the local lingo) can be rough. The owner of the coffee shop next door, who has lived in Haines for 22 years, said that being here is like living in suspended animation. I believe it. I feel like I’m in the process of stepping out of the slow motion part of a movie.

While I’m looking forward to being back in DC–chiefly for friends and familiarity–it’s sad to leave the beautiful scenery here, the slower pace of life, the openness, the fresh air, and the wonderful/quirky people I’ve met. I don’t especially look forward to living off North Capitol Street again and hearing sirens go by several times each night, or having to deal with actual rush hour, or not being able to see a mountain every which way I turn. There are no traffic lights in Haines. Not only is it a small town, it’s remote. The Haines Borough extends all the way up to the Canadian border, and beyond that, there’s nothing for 150 miles. There’s a road through town, but you have to circle around and go through Canada, unless you get on a ferry or fly up from Juneau.

I’m glad I took the leap and tried something different this summer. This was my fourth and first successful attempt to come to Alaska, and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last one.

As for the Hammer Museum? They just found out that there will be two to three large cruise ships per week docking here next year, which will double to triple the attendance at the museum. This means they can afford to actually hire someone, and they don’t have to rely on interns to run the place. Dave and Carol have put in 13 years of volunteer work, and they’re tired. I can’t blame them, and I admire everything they’ve accomplished here. It’s not many people who can say they’ve opened a museum for their own collections, and all in all, it’s a pretty neat success story. While yes, there are major frustrations involved with working on a $20,000 budget and having zero paid staff, they’ve pulled off something extraordinary.

The biggest testament to the museum’s success are, of course, the visitors. The comments from the guest books speak for themselves.

“Brings back memories.”

“From Wisconsin–home of the Mustard Museum. We enjoyed the Hammer Museum immensely. What a collection!”

“Truly amazing. Wonderful history!”

“Very interesting museum. I really had no idea how many different uses there are or have been in the past, for the humble HAMMER! A most useful tool for mans tasks.”


“Great. Not just a ‘boys and their toys’ museum. Great to see the medical hammers plus so much more.”

“Loved it. Top ten museum of all time! Hammer time.”

“Amazing and unique!”

“Fascinating! Thank you for preserving these pieces of history.”

In addition to the written comments, we’ve talked to almost all 3,600 visitors who’ve wandered through here this summer, and they’re genuinely impressed/delighted/befuddled. They want to share stories with us, and because we’ve spent a lot of time researching the collections, we share stories with them. Call me a hopeless romantic, but to me, this is what museums are all about. Surprising people, engaging with them, teaching them something new, making them laugh, making them think, and bringing up old memories. So while I received some questioning comments from the GW internship coordinator about coming here, I’m glad I came here.



A quirky older couple from outside San Francisco are talking to us about what they would name the moose as part of our museum’s fundraiser.

Husband: “I don’t know what I would name the moose. I have a very scattegorical sense of humor…so I think I’d call it Poop-Nose or something. Something scattegorical like that.”

Wife: “…He means scatalogical.”

He proceeded to fill out a form suggesting the name, “Poop Nose Poop Moose.”

Poop Nose Poop Moose

Unleashing Our Inner Fair

It’s really hard to believe that it’s winding down to my last two weeks here in Haines! The Southeast Alaska State Fair (theme: Unleash Your Inner Fair, hence this post’s title) was this weekend, and it’s been a wonderful, beautiful, and crazy ending to these three months. My friends from the Midwest have always talked incessantly about the Minnesota State Fair, and I never quite understood why it was such a big deal to them. Now I get it. Obviously the one here is quite a bit smaller, but it’s still a trip. The amount of human ingenuity and creativity that goes on display at a state fair is kind of mind-blowing. Haines (and all of Southeast Alaska, apparently) is full of artists, and they came out in droves for this event.

Quilt close-up

Quilt detail

One of the most impressive parts of the fair was the quilting competition. I’ve never thought much about quilts, honestly. I know my mom likes them, and they’re pretty, but holy cow. Walking through the display of the winners–and all the contestants, really–changed my perspective. A ridiculous amount of detail goes into those things, and I’ve never appreciated how much creativity is required to make a good quilt. IMG_0127 IMG_0134

The sewing in general was all amazing. My favorite piece was this needlework moose…the pattern was created by the artist.

Needlework mooseMiniature flower arrangementMy grandmother used to be a professional floral arranger, so some of the pieces made me think of her (Hi, Grandma!). I snapped a photo of this tiny one with a pansy for her. My hands will never have that much patience.

The main stage had all sorts of crazy acts, from wearable art (pictured below) to amazing bands. Elephant Revival and The Whiskeydicks (great name) were two of the headliners–the dancing was ridiculously fun, and it went on until 11 then continued at the bars. In case I haven’t already made this clear, the folks up here know how to party.

More wearable art

Something about the artist surrounding herself with healing powers. I didn’t quite get it, but it was beautiful.

A contestant in the wearable art competition, who was also the lead in the puppet show.

A contestant in the wearable art competition, who was also the lead in the puppet show.

Wearable art--hand-dyed coffee filters

Her dress was made from hand-dyed coffee filters.


The lead singer of the Whiskeydicks


A performer with the Skagway Aerial Company

The winner of the fiddle competition (the fiddle play for the Foghorn String Band) and his accompanist.

The winner of the fiddle competition playing on the Main Stage

I decided to enter the fiddling competition on one of the side stages. I wasn’t expecting to win, but I have awful stage fright and figured this would be a good way to work on it. The winner turned out to be the fiddle player from the Foghorn String Band, and the second place winner was our Swedish/Norwegian friend who’s going to school for music up there. It was delightful hearing them play, and a pleasure to have my ass kicked by both of them! They are also both nice people, and very humble about their abilities.


Me on fiddle and my friend Jedediah on drum

It’s funny–I’ve played classical music almost since I started playing the violin, and I switched to primarily viola when I was 15. But I’ve always loved fiddle music, and I’m not sure why I haven’t pursued it as a hobby until recently. Haines is so welcoming of new musicians, though, regardless of their ability, that I’ve had endless opportunities to play with other people and learn from them. It’s been a nice change from playing quietly in my room. Not that I haven’t had opportunities at home–I’ve just been shy about trying to find people to play with.

Another major highlight of the fair was the puppet show put on by Geppetto’s Junkyard, the local puppeteering troupe. They make all of their puppets, write their own plays and music, and do it all on a volunteer basis. My photos mostly came out dark and blurry, but this one almost does it justice…

A shot from the puppet show. The local troupe is called Gepetto's Junkyard.IMG_0109Technically, Emily and I were there to run the High Striker (the giant thing that you hit with a mallet to try and ring the bell), but our boss was nice and gave us a lot of time to run around the fair. Of course, in my down time at the High Striker, I kept trying to ring the bell myself. I didn’t get anywhere near it, but after watching about 200 people do it at Beer Fest in May, my form has improved quite a bit…

We also got to ride the Ferris Wheel. Normally I hate them because I’m terrified of heights, but this one was small enough to handle. After an initial go-around of “Wow, this is higher than I thought” and “Gee, don’t these pieces of metal look rusty…” we got used to it and enjoyed the ride. Look, we’re waving!


Oh, and did I mention that the weather has been AMAZING? After the rainiest July on records, the clouds broke and we’ve had 3 days of straight, pure sunlight. In fact, it was so clear on Friday night that we saw the Northern Lights! We walked out from the fair to see bands of green dancing on the horizon, and they continued on and off until 2 AM. Because it’s still summer, they were on the faint side, but it’s rare to see them at all this time of year, and I felt very lucky.