Heather Lende

HAINES -- When my editor at the Chilkat Valley News, winner of the Alaska Press Club’s best small newspaper in Alaska award, called to see how I was doing with the last of three recent obituaries, I said I was waiting on some information from the family and may not have it for that week’s paper. Then Tom grumbled and asked if he should “lean on them” to help me write it on time. This is not always the best approach with tender subjects like a death of a loved one. But I gave Tom a pass on his brusqueness. He gives all he has to keeping our town’s leaders honest and citizens well informed, and in return earns a lot of grief. He’s not becoming any richer, either. Then Tom asked if the subject of the obituary was generous. I said I didn’t know. “If she didn’t give anything to anyone except...Heather Lende
HAINES -- My daughter wanted to get married on a boat. It was a sure way to guarantee that in this small town only family and close friends would attend. It was either that or, as her four siblings were lobbying for, a destination wedding someplace warm in January. This being Haines, and since JJ grew up here and worked at our lumberyard through school before becoming a Juneau teacher, we put an ad in the paper inviting everyone to the potluck at the cannery beach afterward. It was kind of funny when the wedding party, in all our dress-up clothes, greeted the Alaska-geared tourists coming off the boat from Skagway. Wedding guests carried bottles of prosecco for the toast, a couple of vases of flowers, cups and napkins, smoked salmon and crackers. My friend Teresa even had a bag with white...Heather Lende
When Nelle called and asked me to make a potato salad for the annual Haines Volunteer Fire Department’s Fourth of July barbecue I said, you bet. Chuck, who is the chief, had already called to ask me to write the proclamation in honor of Fireman Al’s retirement. Al Badgely is our town’s only paid firefighter. He’s also the training officer and an EMT. He has taken care of us all for over 25 years. Al is from Texas and so the annual barbecue is Texas-style. Al is so organized that I promptly received 10 pounds of potatoes, onion, celery, eggs, and premeasured amounts of the mayo and seasonings as well as the tub to mix and serve it all in. Al loves quality control. I love Al. And it is safe to say so does everyone in town. (I’m an obituary writer and I have never written, “He was loved by...Heather Lende
HAINES -- I spent May traveling, so June has been a catch-up month for cycling, walking the dog, gardening, family -- and lots of meetings. (I’m on the planning commission and the library, hospice and radio boards.) At the moment, there are four toddling little girls 20 months to 5 years old, running in the back door with cups, filling them with water in the bathroom, and running out the front the door and pouring them in the yard. My kind houseguests, who arrived from Juneau a few hours ago and already have filled the holes in the end of the driveway, just asked what else they could do to help. “Do you have a lawn mower?” I started to say I have been a little busy, but does it count when I choose my chaos? Instead I heard myself saying, “You could weed the strawberries.” “Busy” is...Heather Lende
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Haines author Heather Lende's new book, "Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-town Obituary Writer," published by Algonquin Books. The Good News Recently, I was asked to write a short essay describing one piece of wisdom to live by. I thought about it but did not have a brief, easy answer. I have made enough mistakes in my life to fill a whole bookshelf of dos and don’ts. My friend John works as an investigator in the public defender’s office but is a poet. That is probably why he managed to distill all his fatherly hopes and dreams into two rules for his only child: “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.” His son turned out kind, clear-eyed, and he graduated from a good college. I didn’t have such pithy haiku wisdom at the...Heather Lende
HAINES -- I almost dyed my hair red a few weeks ago, to go with my new Irish accent. But in the way that family stories morph over time, it’s possible that even though I’m not Irish at all except by marriage (my husband’s grandmother was a Fitzpatrick), someday my grandchildren may recall that their “Mimi” spoke “Irish.” I have spent two months rehearsing and performing Brian Friel’s play “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Which means I have been mostly living in Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland back in the summer of 1936 with my four sisters (I played Kate Mundy, the eldest and a very proper school teacher); Gerry Evans, who is the wayward father of one sister’s son Michael, a 7-year-old “love child”; and our older brother Father Jack, a priest recently returned from 25 years in Uganda who is...Heather Lende
HAINES -- Lifelong Alaskan Rosemary McGuire, 38, who grew up in a home here without electricity or running water, has commercially fished out of Cordova, paddled miles of wild Alaskan rivers (many of them with her dad, Tom), and now -- to no one’s surprise -- published a book of Alaska short stories. “Creatures at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea” comes out this month from the University of Alaska Press. “Everything I’ve ever written has been about Alaska in some way or another. It’s the place I know,” McGuire says. McGuire, who looks like she could play Peter Pan on Broadway, is shy when it comes to talking about herself. Friends describe her as curious, stubborn, capable, strong, smart and a bit of a dreamer. Her book may be surprisingly dark for some readers, but she thinks sad is a...Heather Lende
HAINES -- I’ve been looking at the storefront windows displaying local artwork on Main Street, and thinking about how well they reflect the spirit of this town, in a way that reminds me of something some wise person once wrote about the eyes being windows to the soul. Actually, it was Shakespeare. I didn’t have that ready reference in my soggy brain (it has been raining here for weeks) so I Googled it. Before the Internet, I would have run to the library to look that up. Also, thanks to my laptop and free shipping, I can buy dog food and laundry soap without going to the grocery store. But I don’t and I won’t, ever, because I believe in small towns in general and this one in particular. They have Main Streets with real stores owned by real people whose birthdays and weddings and funerals...Heather Lende
HAINES -- I try to see the bright side of things, so it may be no surprise that my year in review from Haines, this fishing and tourist town of about 2,500 people, is a (sort of) top 10 of 2014. 1) Dugout canoe journey: Local Tlingits paddled a 28-foot traditional dugout canoe that tribal youths built with guidance from artist Wayne Price 100 miles down Lynn Canal to Juneau for Celebration, the regional gathering of clans. The dugout held six paddlers who switched in and out from a larger scow and fishing boat traveling with them, plus Wayne, who steered the whole way from the stern. "There are few times when you know for certain you did something right, and this time I knew I had done that. My mission in life is to pass on what it means to make a dugout. When I hear the songs of my...Heather Lende
The power went out at night earlier this week and I woke up when the low hum of the fridge stopped and the computer beeped, thinking I need to get it together for Thanksgiving and started making mental lists: Brine the turkey (at least it is thawed). Make that new wild rice and quinoa dish that cooks inside its own green pumpkin-like squash that I want to try because my friend Beth said it is really good, and I can make it a day ahead. Wash the napkins. Make sure there is a comfortable rocker for Eliza and baby James. (Yes, my daughter and her 1-month-old are coming from Juneau, so there will five children under four. Maybe I should just put a roll of paper towels on the table?) It is still rainy and mild, which is weird, so I haven't filled the window boxes with greens yet like I usually...Heather Lende