At the Hammer Museum, one of the exhibits that my boss is working on will showcase the darker and lighter side of hammers. Included in the darker side are objects such as the Sudanese war hammer, the African blood letting hammer (it was a dubious purchase off of eBay, but hey, it’s interesting), the cattle stunner, the pig killer, and the autopsy hammer. The lighter side of hammers includes things like drink hammers (to tap on the glass for a refill), glass hammers, household hammers, hammers shaped like high heels, and hammers for breaking up toffee and candy. You get the point.
This concept can also be applied to spending 3 summer months in Southeast Alaska as a city slicker. There are more ups than downs, but the downs can really get to you if you dwell on them for too long. Unfortunately, a frustrating day at the museum has left me feeling like writing about such things. So here we go. We’ll start with the lighter side.
The Lighter Side:
1) You could spend forever outside here and continue to discover new things. It’s unbelievably beautiful and nature is bountiful.
2) The people are very friendly and warm. You will make new friends quickly.
3) The sunshine is endless. I was biking home from a kayak trip at 1:30 AM and the sun was still visible.
4) The wildlife is plentiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Otters, moose (supposedly), bears, eagles, ravens, mountain goats, coyotes (at least in the Yukon), etc.
5) Fresh. Seafood. Like you wouldn’t even believe. We went to a bonfire the other night and someone said, “Hey, does anyone want these crab legs? I caught them on Sunday and just have too many.” He then produced a grocery bag full of dungeoness crab legs and apologized for them not being terribly fresh (he had caught them on Sunday, and it was Tuesday).
6) Quirky small town life is just plain fun. There was a small marching band in the Fourth of July parade that was assembled by a town group, and there’s been a Listener Personal ad on the radio that says, “Someone is looking for as many curly blond wigs as they can find in the next few weeks. Please call xxx-xxxx if you have one that you can lend out.”
7) Tourists are fun. I like them. And they’re generally only in Haines in droves once per week, so it’s more manageable than working in tourism in DC.
8) There are so many people with fantastic stories, and because people are generally less guarded, you’re more likely to hear them.
The Darker Side:
1) Hate to say it, but the rumors about the men have a lot of truth to them. I’ve met quite a few very nice men, but for a town of 2,500, this place has its fair share of creeps. I don’t know if it’s the dearth of women or what, but some seem like they’re just lonely, and others just seem sinister. And perhaps I’m overly sensitive to men talking down to me, but I seem to encounter that a lot (I got asked if I was going to make some pretty earrings at the blacksmithing demonstration and I almost blew my stack). THAT BEING SAID, street harassment is virtually non-existent here. I have not heard, “HEY BABY, I WISH I WAS THAT BICYCLE SEAT” once since I’ve been here.
2) I realize this happens everywhere, but people bicker about the weirdest stuff. Small town life, while quirky, means that the bureaucracy of the local governance is generally magnified and met with disgruntled annoyance, and everyone’s opinions MUST BE HEARD. The local newspaper has headlines that both crack me up and make me shake my head. Though honestly, DC’s not that much better.
3) Everyone knows your business. After I was spotted dancing on the Fourth of July, the barista next door said, “So I hear YOU had a good time last night…”
4) Nature is pretty brutal. While it is beautiful, it seems like if you’re caught off guard, the worst-case scenario is that you die. Just yesterday, on a hike up Mount Ripinsky, the guide was telling us about a man who was snowshoeing up it in white-out conditions, went down the wrong slope, and spent the night tied to a pine tree on the edge of a cliff with his backpack straps (he lived but it took 2 days to rescue him with a helicopter).
5) I have mentioned this a few times, but it’s expensive, especially if you’re seeking comfort or conveniences at all. Not just with the groceries, but getting to and from here is tough because it’s so remote. I’m going to meet my boyfriend on Thursday in Juneau, and I dropped almost $200 on ferry tickets and a place to stay for the night (I figured he probably wouldn’t want to camp after spending 20 hours on planes).
6) Drunk driving. It happens here pretty regularly. Sure, the speed limit in town is something like 20 mph, but it worries me when I start to bike (or walk) on the few roads in and out of town where cars start to go a little faster.
Overall, I really do love it here. It’s grown on me quite a bit since I first arrived, and generally speaking, I don’t miss being in a city. But having no means of escape is a little frustrating, and I could see how spending a long time here could make you feel like you’re in a bubble.