Category Archives: Life in a small town

Earthquakes and Rainbows


You can just barely see the top rainbow.

In the last week, Haines has really opened itself up…both literally and figuratively. Last Wednesday, I woke up to a jolt from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that set the ground rumbling for a startlingly long amount of time. A quote in the local newspaper put it at 40 seconds. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but it’s hard to gauge when you’ve snapped from a REM cycle to being tossed around in your bed (I exaggerate—it wasn’t quite that powerful).  The San Andreas Fault runs all the way up here, so there are pretty regular small earthquakes, but it’s somewhat rare for them to get above a magnitude of 4.  Later that day, there was a sunshower and a double rainbow formed right over the boat harbor. It ended in front of the cruise ship–a great marketing shot if I’ve ever seen one.

Rainbow on cruise ship

Cruise ship = pot of gold?

Homemade rhubarb pie, courtesy of Emily and me

Homemade rhubarb pie, courtesy of Emily and me

In terms of figurative “opening up,” we’ve been busy almost every night. There have been multiple jam sessions, sporting events, open-mic nights, a letter-writing party at the library, bonfires, trips up to Chilkoot Lake (9 miles out of town), and pie-making parties.  Hence the infrequent updates—because it stays light so late here, it’s pretty easy to stay out until midnight or 1 AM.  And there’s a barn dance this Saturday. In spite of my confusion of left and right, and general inability to dance, I’m really excited.

Emily and fire

Emily drags some tinder like the awesome woman she is.

Anyway, the day of the earthquake turned into a sunny, 62 degree day, plus it was cruise ship day, so the museum was packed with 179 visitors over the course of 9 hours. Hate on tourists all you want, but I rather like them. If you think of people like books, everyone has their own unique setting, plot and story, and I almost always enjoy learning what those stories are. And since the cruise ship folks are primarily older, they’ve had more chapters written—they also come from all over the place, so that keeps it interesting, too. You might also be surprised at what a display of 2,000 hammers draws out of people. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone delightfully exclaim that their dad had this or that hammer in his toolbox, and that prompts other stories about where and when they grew up, other museums they’ve seen with interesting collections, and so on.


Daisy and Jason and their bikes

We’ve also met a bunch of non-cruise tourist folks that have passed through, and they’re just chock-full of interesting stories.  After we came back from a jet boat ride on Friday (more on that later), we had the pleasure of meeting Jason and Daisy, who are on their way from Anchorage to Argentina…by bicycle. They had left their Long Haul Truckers parked next to the giant hammer, and Jason caught me gawking at them. When he came over to ask if he should move them, we wound up chatting with them for about an hour. They were both quite gracious in allowing us to interrupt their lunch with dozens of questions.  They have a year and a half of time to kill, and Daisy is also writing her dissertation in statistics as she pedals her way down the continents. What a pair. Check out their website and/or their Crazy Guy on a Bike journal.

Speaking of capturing stories–yesterday, the Haines library held a day-long workshop (free for folks from non-profits in town) about creating small documentaries. It was taught by Travis Gilmour of Indie Alaska, and I highly recommend that you check out his work.  He threw around the phrase “democratization of media” a couple of times, so Emily and I are excited to try our own small project (with a Canon PowerShot and an iPhone…we’ll see) about Dave and Carol and the Hammer Museum.

Most of the people attending the workshop were a part of the Haines community, and I was once again struck by how tight-knit this town really is.  People are so supportive of each other, whether they’re from here or moved here just a couple of years ago (in Eastern Canada, the term for that is “come-from-away,” and there’s a lot of folks like that here).  The radio station got a special dispensation from the FCC to broadcast “Listener Personals,” which are sort of fun to listen to. I mentioned that there was an ad about a lost necklace last week—someone found the necklace. Also, someone named Dan had a package at the airport for four days, and he eventually picked it up.

Some collaborative art on Main Street

Some collaborative art on Main Street

Of course, on the flip side, I get the sense that everyone is in everyone else’s business in a town this small, which can be both good and bad. The police blotter in the Chilkat Valley News is hilarious because they have to write down every call they get. My personal favorite was something along the lines of, “A caller reported a missing box containing a stuffed penguin. Police responded and the box was found down the road, still containing the penguin.” Another reported a “juvenile” plugging in a device outside the library. When police responded, the juvenile could not be located.  My host, Eric, is on the local EMS crew, and they got a call from someone about a cruise ship passing by with its lights off.  People leave their cars open and their bicycles strewn everywhere because it would be really, really difficult to get out of town if you stole one. You’d either have to go through Canada or get on the ferry, and someone would be likely to catch you before you managed to do either.

Wooden bike rack = super secure. They should definitely adopt these in DC.

Wooden bike rack = super secure. They should definitely adopt these in DC.



Gus, the dog of the baker at the Rusty Compass. He tries to charm tourists out of their food.

I also can’t talk about living here without mentioning the dogs. Along with knowing each other, everyone knows everyone else’s dog. People tend to leave their dogs in their truck beds or their cars, and they park these cars outside the bars, so especially on Friday or Saturday nights and weekend mornings, I’ll see dogs roaming up and down the streets. They’re not strays; they have collars, so I suspect that they get tired of waiting and venture out on their own. No one seems too concerned, so I’m guessing that these pups usually find their way home.

Contrary to popular misconceptions about moose roaming free on the streets here, dogs are the most frequent wildlife we’ve seen. We were given free spots on a jet boat tour on Friday, and although we spent 2 hours looking for moose calves, we didn’t see a single one. The scenery was beautiful, though, and we did manage to see some trumpeter swans (they’re huge). Once the tour was over, they had scopes set up so we could see some mountain goats on a nearby mountain, so that’s something. And up at Chilkoot Lake the other day, we saw an eagle sitting in the river patiently awaiting dinner, while another one devoured its kill on the shore nearby.  We’ve also seen two active eagles’ nests, and on a run the other day, I saw eagles burst out of the trees just above my head. It appeared that they were chasing a hawk. Though once the salmon start running, there will be bears aplenty along the river, and people keep promising me that if I spend enough time out of town, I’ll see a moose (I don’t know how I feel about that). Plus, there are 260 species of birds here. So despite the lack of megafauna, it hasn’t been disappointing.



Trumpeter swan

A trumpeter swan taking off

This dog outside the Fogcutter Bar has had a long day.

This dog outside the Fogcutter Bar has had a long day.

3 dogs

3 pups in a car.

We were both woken up by a loud, "YOU NEED TO GET DOWN TO THE DOCK NOW!" in order to get on this tour. Totally worth it.

We were both woken up by a loud, “YOU NEED TO GET DOWN TO THE DOCK NOW!” in order to get on this tour. Totally worth it.




FIRSTLY, thanks to Rootchopper for shipping 2 Frisbee-sized apple fritters across the country. There is not enough gratitude in the world.  Rootchopper seems to be in favor of cheering people up with sugar-loaded pastries, and as a fellow junk food lover, I am deeply appreciative.  He is also an inspiration to those of us who might sometimes have a hard time prying ourselves off the couch in order to bike a mile to the store–in spite of his back problems, he bikes. A lot. And he loves every minute of it.  And I always get the impression that he’s a super cool dad to his two kids (Rootchopper, if you need anyone to talk your daughter out of majoring in anthropology, let me know). So thanks, Rootchopper, for being an all-around swell human and for reminding me why I love and miss the folks of #bikedc so much.


I’m not sure how the internet companies are getting away with murder up here, but they are. The data plans for in-home usage (we’re not even talking cell phones) cost a lot, and you get very little out of them—mostly, slow connection speeds, unreliable connection, and incredibly low data limits. Just something else to toss on the pile of things in Alaska that cost a lot.

And as cranky as I’ve been about the general lack of connection, mostly because it means less contact with my friends and family, I can’t say it hasn’t improved my quality of life somewhat. When holing up and watching Game of Thrones for hours on end because you’re tired and homesick isn’t an option, you have to go find something else to do. And in spite of my last post (I hope you all got that that was a joke), there is a fair amount to do here. You just have to know where to look and who to talk to, and people will talk to you because almost no one has a smart phone here, at least not that they regularly use in public.  Information about local traffic, weather, and local businesses’ open hours is all on the radio station. If you’ve watched Northern Exposure (“And for the traffic report….Maggie O’Connell just drove too fast down Main Street”), yes, it’s a lot like that.


On my first day off, I found the Mt. Ripinsky Trail. It’s so steep and muddy that they built stairs along the first mile. It was fun!

Why, just yesterday evening, we were invited to a gallery opening at the Sheldon Museum. We stayed for a couple of hours because the art was nice, the food was plentiful (people make a VERY BIG DEAL about events with free pizza here in town, probably because it costs $25 a pie), but mostly, the people were so darn interesting. I’m starting to see a lot of the same faces around town, and I’ve met many of them (it’s a town of 2500, so it’s not that hard), and just to give you an idea of the folks in attendance…

The gallery featured the art of local photographer John Hagen who doubles as a tour guide in the on-season. His black-and-white prints of nearby landscapes were on display, and they were beautiful. Many were of snowy landscapes, as you can imagine.

The London-educated Sheldon Museum conservator is among the smartest people I’ve met, and her husband and kids are fun, funny, and interested in all sorts of things, from trumpet music to dragon books.

An older gentleman asked us if we had spiked the punch, adding that it would be better with the addition of some local gin (there’s a new distillery in town).

I met another woman, originally from North Dakota, who teaches piano and voice, plays the ukulele, and knits, but she has also worked part-time as a museum assistant at the Sheldon for 19 years. She explained the museum’s halon gas system to me.

Michael, who is on the board of the Sheldon and the Hammer Museum, used to draw Bert and Ernie for Sesame Street. He greets each cruise ship that docks (while wearing a Hammer Museum t-shirt), rides an electric bicycle around town, and has genuine, contagious, exuberant enthusiasm about everything. His wife is the majorette for the local marching band (not affiliated with the high school, mind you), and her beaming face is on the front cover of the Haines Visitors’ Guide.

I also met a woman who invited Emily and me to bring our fiddles to a weekly gathering of musicians at the local assisted living center, and through the Hammer Museum board president, we’ve gotten involved in an ongoing restoration of the Anway cabin, which is just a couple of miles up the Haines Highway. Last Sunday, we helped weed a strawberry patch and planted some of Charles Anway’s heirloom berry plants.


These strawberries grow to the size of chicken eggs.

The local historical society is restoring a cabin from the early 1900s.

The local historical society is restoring a cabin from the early 1900s.

I’ve also taken to drawing, reading, cooking, and writing. And playing Bananagrams with Emily at the Fogcutter Bar, like all the cool kids. Honestly, I might just lose my data plan on my phone when I get back.

Homemade pizza on homemade bread. Take that, $25 pies.

Homemade pizza on homemade bread. Take that, $25 pies.


So there is no shortage of stuff to do here, and I’m grateful, because when we get off work at 5 PM, there’s still about 6 hours of daylight left. Which reminds me—if you want a Hammer Museum or Haines postcard, and haven’t already, send me your address and I’ll send one along (I wrote six this week, I just need to stamp ‘em). I’ve got time.