Tag Archives: Q & A

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.