Tag 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.



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.