The Darker and Lighter Sides

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.

At least it's a pretty bubble.

At least it’s a pretty bubble.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I've ever been to.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I’ve ever been to.

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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

 

Bugs

Apparently this year is a bad year for bugs. Lucky me. And luckier me, they all seem to think that I am the tastiest human being on the planet–I’m pretty sure that bugs look at me and see a gourmet buffet. I learned today that they call black flies “white socks” here, and that these nasty little creatures are crawlers. Which means that on top of flying and landing on you, they CRAWL UNDER YOUR CLOTHES TO BITE YOU. I got hit by one on the back of my calf, and the racquetball-sized welt is testament to that.

Fortunately, when I’m playing outside at bonfires, my fiddle bow makes for a great insect repellant. If I wave it in the air enough it seems to ward them off for a bit (although this impedes my ability to play with it). And fortunately, many of the plants here seem like they were designed to ward off bugs. There’s a pretty ubiquitous plant called yarrow that you can crush up and rub all over your skin. Plantain helps with inflammation, and devil’s club also works as an anti-inflammatory. (People actually make salves out of it to help with everything from acne to arthritis to headaches).  I don’t seem to be allergic to any of these things…so far.

This is all provided that you’re an idiot and forget your bug spray when you’re going to an evening bonfire (like I did last night). I’m all for natural medicines and whatnot, but when it comes to mosquitoes, midges, black flies, and other annoying pests, I feel that the higher the DEET concentration, the better.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito. Also please note the giant shiny bite.

 

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

….oops.

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.

Selfie

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.

Package

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

Daisies

Daisies

Yarrow flowers

Yarrow flowers

Lilacs

Lilacs

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.

Earthquakes and Rainbows

Image

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.

Philtrons

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

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.

Eagle

Eagle.

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.