Category Archives: Life in a small town

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.


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.

Sexism at the Museum

Drink Hammers

IMG_0089 Drink Hammers and Glass Hammers

Thirteen years ago, when the Hammer Museum was getting its start, Carol, who is Dave’s wife, wanted to attract women and children into the museum. So she started up her own collection of hammers. While Dave focused mostly on workhorse hammers, like our 36 pound claw hammer, the maritime hammers, or the railroad hammers, Carol focused on novelty hammers. There’s a large collection of drink hammers in the museum (used at nightclubs to call for applause for the band) as well as a display of glass hammers. There’s also a couple of hammers that were used to break the clay shell off of Beggar’s Chicken (a recipe that calls for baking chicken in 11 pounds of clay).


Her idea worked–while a fair number of visitors are elderly men who previously worked as carpenters, blacksmiths and other hammer-wielding professions, a number of women and children make positive comments about the range of the collection. Everyone makes a connection with at least one hammer.

I have to say though, the fact that we have novelty hammers in order to appeal to women bothers me. I wanted to work at this museum because I like hammers–and not in the theoretical sense–I actually like using them! Aside from that, I would never want a curator of any museum to tell me, “Well, here’s the part of our collection that we think women will like…” It’s a similar reaction when I see floral-patterned hammers at the hardware store, or pink bicycling gear, for that matter.

But I suppose it’s the job of any museum professional to make sure that their institution can appeal to folks of all ages, genders, races, orientations, etc., and to present history in an honest but compelling way.

And sometimes, visitors unwittingly remind me why it’s so important for museums to do this. Yesterday, Emily and I (who are, I would like to point out, the only paid staff at the museum, and we’re two females) were sitting behind the counter when an older woman from Southern Virginia walked up to us and said, sotto voce, in a not un-judgmental tone, “This really seems like more of a man’s thing to me.” Rather than laugh and agree with her so I didn’t have to make further conversation and justify my life decisions to a stranger, I walked her to the front room and talked to her for 10 minutes about all of the hammers that apply to women.

For example! Our Hammer of the Week this week was put out by a company that made “Ball-Bearing Bicycle” shoes, so they manufactured a hammer made of ball bearings to advertise their shoes. The shoes for women were especially uncomfortable-looking, and it was recommended that women wear these shoes while hiking the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail (which they had to do over 40 times in order to bring all of their stuff North for the Gold Rush). Which is just a reminder that women in that era got to hike in heels and dresses–pretty cool, right?

I don’t think I changed this woman’s mind about anything, because she mostly just nodded and then made some disparaging comment about how unimpressive this museum was going to look on my resume (“Well at least you have a job…”). But I felt better.

Two-handled hammers

Not just for women!

We also have a two-handled hammer in our collection, and Emily overheard some man comment that it was a hammer designed for a woman to hammer straighter. And then the other day, a kid (about 10 years old) asked me and Emily where our boss was. She said, “Well what makes you think we couldn’t be the bosses?” The kid got really quiet for a second, and his dad said, “Jimmy, are you being a chauvinist?” To which Jimmy responded, “What’s that?” But yes, Jimmy was implying that he wasn’t expecting a Hammer Museum to be staffed by two women.

It’s true that I might be a little overly sensitive to this sort of thing. What I view as blatant sexism is often (maybe) more innocently intended, and I do need to bear this mind before I jump down people’s throats. Especially when those people are museum visitors.

Of course, a majority of our visitors understand what we’re trying to do here, and I have met some truly awesome individuals. In fact, one woman from Fairbanks was telling me how her mother taught her how to use a hammer as a concealed weapon.

But the occasional sexist comment is a nice, though sometimes annoying, reminder of why I choose to work in this profession. While I don’t expect people to leave a hammer museum with their entire worldview changed, it’s fun to challenge assumptions and persuade people to consider another perspective. And this current runs both ways–I learn quite a bit from visitors, too!

A Day in the Life at the Hammer Museum: A photo essay

So many tourists on Wednesdays...

So many tourists on Wednesdays…our way of tracking visitors. Very accurate.

Laugh it up.

Laugh it up. (Donations nearly doubled after we put these signs up.)

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Fruit and nut bun from Rusty's Compass!

Fruit and nut bun from The Rusty Compass, the coffee shop next door.

Too much receipt tape

Too much receipt tape

Too much museum

Too much museum

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Another "high tech" hammer display

Another new “high tech” hammer display

Emily has fun with the camera

Emily has fun with the camera

We opened the blinds to see this outside.

We opened the blinds to see this outside. Alaska, man.

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Stage 1

Stage 1–Many different ways to spell “peen.”

Stage 2

Stage 2


Stage 3

Stage 3


For My Dad

All of my readers get a twofer post today! My dad, the very inquisitive engineer, had a list of questions for me. I have endeavored to answer them.  Feel free to chime in with additional questions in the comments.  If you’re an Alaskan and you’re reading this and I have said something erroneous or horribly offensive, please feel free to correct me.

1.    What is the demographic makeup of the town?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2013, there were an estimated 2,592 residents. 83.2% of the population is white, Alaska natives (primarily Tlingit here) make up 9.5%, 5.8% identify as two or more races, Hispanic or Latino make up 2.2%, .9% of the population is Asian, and .5% of the population is black.

2.    Are most residents transplants and from where?

In my estimation, yes. A lot of folks moved here from somewhere else, whether on vacation or in search of the outdoors, and they decided to stay.

3.    Why the hell are they there?

Because it’s the most beautiful place in the world.  Aside from that, Haines is a very friendly town for artists, do-it-yourselfers, and black sheep from all over America.  You can live as on or off the grid as you choose, but living on the grid will be costly. Growing and catching your own food, building your own house, and living a more subsistence lifestyle is less expensive–and, I’m beginning to believe, more satisfying for a lot of people.

I have also been told by a fisherman that if you’re a fisherman, there is something inherently wrong with you.

And perhaps it’s anecdotal, but this place seems to attract a lot of New Englanders.

4.    What occurs during the winter months?

Well, the library puts on free events a lot. People play music. There’s an indoor community pool and gym. Folks seem to enjoy snowshoeing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, skijoring (like dogsledding but on skis), and pretty much anything involving snow because they get a lot of it.  It’s not as cold here as places further inland, but because it’s on the coast, they get more annual average snowfall than a lot of places–over 10 feet per year.  That being said, I’ve talked to a few people who have lived here for many winters, and they say it gets old. In fact, a lot of people (I’ve heard as much as half the population) leaves for the winter.

5.    Because the climate is temperate, does life change that much even though it is dark?

It snows a lot here, so, yes.

6.    Is seasonal distress order real and do the residents get it?

I am guessing so.  Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to get to everyone in the winter even at home in DC.

7.    If so, what do they do?

They drink. There are sun lamps. St. John’s Wort and vitamin d are pretty helpful in cheering people up.  They also have potlucks, jam sessions, read a lot, make art, and also, they drink.

8.    Is fishing the only main industry in town?

Tourism is another major industry. The cruise ships that dock in Skagway send over visitors, and Haines gets about 1,200-1,500 visitors per week on cruise ship day (Wednesday).   But fishing is the largest private employer in Alaska.

9.    Has the region experienced a natural disaster in recent history?

The area sits on a major fault line (possibly more), so little earthquakes happen often. Landslides are common–just a few weeks ago, a rock the size of a car landed in the middle of the Haines highway, and earlier in the year, the road was blocked by landslides in both directions. Since the way was blocked to both the ferry terminal and the airport (which are the only options for getting to Juneau, the nearest major city), residents were stuck until they could clear the roads.

There is also a mountain near Klukwan, the nearby Tlingit village, that started eroding rather rapidly. According to our tour guide from the boat tour, Klukwan used to be located right at the base of this mountain, but a chief had a dream that the mountain fell, so he moved the village.  It was after that that the mountain started to erode.

10.    Is there a town alert system for whatever disaster it may be?

The local radio station is the primary form of communication here, and there is a siren that always sounds at noon that sounds a lot like a tornado warning. Maybe it’s used for natural disasters?

11.    Do residents qualify for oil subsidies and how much do they get?

Yes, and anywhere from $100 to $1500 a year.

12.    If one is going to live there, do they pretty much need to know how to do everything?

Yes. It’s not a culture of “let’s go get the oil changed,” it’s a culture of, “let’s go change the oil.”

13.    How many auto mechanics are in town?

See above. That being said, there is a gas station and car wash that probably has a mechanic. I’ve met a few folks, including Dave (the museum’s founder) who have dabbled in auto repair. There are also a few bike mechanics because there are two bike shops–and that’s almost as important because the town is so small that lots of people bike (and just leave their bikes unlocked outside).  And if all else fails, you can probably ask a neighbor to help. Folks are big on volunteering here.

14.    What is the one staple that, if not available, would be a big problem?

I’m going to guess fish.

15.    What is the town’s water source?

There are two small glacial springs nearby where locals get drinking water, but tap water is supplied from Lily Lake. According to one of my new friends, the tap water here often tastes weirdly like lettuce. I can’t explain that (neither can he), but its better than tasting like sulfur and chlorine, which is what I’m used to at home.

16.    Does it have a sewer plant?

Probably. A lot residents have septic tanks, though. I’m not sure what the breakdown is.

17.    Where does power come from?

Hydroelectric power.

18. What are the things that, if taken for granted, would cause you to die?

“Nature is unforgiving here,” according to one guide. Death seems to be a very big part of life (how’s that for paradoxical) here.  There are fishing accidents, swimming accidents, heli-skiing accidents (both pilots and customers), and if something that the clinic can’t handle happens, you need to be airlifted to Juneau. They won’t deliver babies in Haines anymore.


Cars and Kayaks

Fair warning for the faint of heart: There is a picture of a headless sea lion carcass further down in this post. I kept it small. Sorry, but that’s Alaska for you. It’s the circle of life, guys.

My apologies for the long delay in updating. Still hard to find time to sit in front of my computer with Internet long enough to update. I know that I have overly romantic tendencies and fall in love with places too easily, which means that I fit in pretty well in Haines. For example–befriending a fisherman and a forager means that dinners have consisted of fresh halibut or salmon and salads made from foraged greens lately, and our conversations largely consist of how awesome this place is. And sometimes we watch whales and porpoises while eating delicious food. And then we play music. We have in fact formed a trio and named ourselves the Goddamn Band, but we have yet to make our public debut. I’ll let you all know when that happens.

Salmon dinner

King salmon dinner at the Dalton City Fairgrounds

Salmon dinner 2

Sockeye salmon, Coho salmon, and foraged greens with hooligan fish

A slightly blurry but very accurate portrayal of Jon the banjo-pickin' fisherman.

A slightly blurry but very accurate portrayal of Jon the banjo-pickin’ fisherman.

Things that are not as awesome about Haines? Horseflies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and a tendency to see folks driving around with beers in hand….

That being said, there are some of us who aren’t talented at driving even when we’re stone-cold sober.  Just yesterday, I was going to borrow my host’s car to go pick up my friend Kristen, who is visiting from Washington, DC. After spending 3 seconds in the car, I managed to back it into a ditch that I discovered (the hard way) was right behind the driveway. TO BE FAIR, I have logged like 100 hours driving an extra large cargo van, I’m very good at driving in the city, and I DO have a license. I just have really rotten luck.

Car in ditch


Waking up your host at 2:30 AM with a panicked knock and an “Eric…um….Eric? You know that ditch near your driveway? Yeah, your car’s in it…” it a surefire way to get someone a little panicked, but fortunately, he thought the whole thing was pretty funny.  Which is good for me, otherwise I’d be out a place to stay for the rest of the summer. Also his car wasn’t broken, which probably worked out in my favor.  We eventually got it out with the help of a very generous friend and a man who was driving home from the bar (there’s some irony there).

I had told Kristen in the meantime to try and hitch a ride from the ferry terminal into town, but a friend was kind enough to go get her (with me in tow). So she’s here in Alaska, safe and sound (so far), and we’re driving up to Whitehorse to go camping this weekend. I’m hoping that my obvious lack of driving skills will excuse me from having to get behind the wheel, but it’s a 5-hour drive one way, so I probably won’t be so lucky.

Kristen got to see a bunch of eagles that were feeding off of this washed up sea lion carcass. Jed looks on cautiously.

Kristen got to see a bunch of eagles that were feeding off of this washed up sea lion carcass. Jed looks on cautiously.


A happy (but tired) selfie at Battery Point

The forager friend also has access to several kayaks, so I took the day off yesterday and paddled around with them.

It was a beautiful day, but the horseflies were in full force. Kristen is under that PFD.

It was a beautiful day, but the horseflies were in full force. Kristen is under that PFD.

We all stayed surprisingly dry.

We all stayed surprisingly dry.

Kristen kayaks.

The scenery was just terrible the whole time.

I will leave you with this photo of Emily posing outside the museum.

Emily poses with an ice cream bowl.

Emily poses with an ice cream bowl.

I swear, we do work 35 hours a week. It’s just that it’s not as much fun to write about those things.


Photo bragging

In which I eat food, attempt to identify flowers, dance badly, look for wildlife, hike, and ride a bicycle. Enjoy.


An amazing package arrived from my amazing boyfriend

We made guacamole from the avocados he sent. Thanks, Tyler!

Enchiladas from Mosey's Cantina in town. We felt like splurging. It was worth it.

Enchiladas from Mosey’s Cantina in town. We felt like splurging. It was worth it.

Bread, both plain and cinnamon raisin

Bread, both plain and cinnamon raisin

Emily makes bread for the first time

Emily makes bread for the first time

An almond croissant from the Rusty Compass Coffeehouse--purchased for us by our boss.

An almond croissant from the Rusty Compass Coffeehouse–purchased for us by our boss.

Lots of twirling and bluegrass at the square dance

A wild beast we spotted on a hike

A wild beast we spotted on a hike

The wild beast shaking off some water

The wild beast shaking off some water

A caterpillar of sorts

A caterpillar of sorts

I'm very glad that I got a camera with a better zoom for this trip.

I’m very glad that I got a camera with a better zoom for this trip.

Just missed it sitting in the tree, but I got a shot of it taking off...a bit dark, but hey.

Just missed it sitting in the tree, but I got a shot of it taking off…a bit dark, but hey.

Chocolate lilies

Chocolate lilies

Lupines (Nootka. I think.)

Lupines (Nootka. I think.)

Wild geranium

Wild geranium

Dwarf dogwood

Dwarf dogwood



Yarrow flowers

Yarrow flowers



Rock sculptures near Chilkoot Lake...balanced very carefully.

Rock sculptures near Chilkoot Lake…balanced very carefully.

On the Battery Point Trail

On the Battery Point Trail

22-Reflections23-Tide a-comin'

A giant driftwood tree

A giant driftwood tree

Climbing out on some rocks en route to Chilkoot Lake

Climbing out on some rocks en route to Chilkoot Lake

Salmon weir

Salmon weir

29-View from bridge near Chilkoot Lake

Very worth the sore legs.

Very worth the sore legs.

The best combination.

The best combination.