Heather Lende

HAINES — How do you sum up the life of John Schnabel? After he died March 18 at 96, the Chilkat Valley News of Haines called John “a towering figure in the history of the town in the second half of the 20th century” and People magazine noted his passing with a special tribute, because John was also a TV star in his “Grandpa John” role on the Discovery channel’s “Gold Rush.” There were about as many Johns, it seems, as days of the week. He grew sweet cherries, swam at the pool, played bridge and sang country songs, but foremost, John was a champion of the Alaska timber industry for more than four decades and an aggressive business leader. He built sawmills in Haines at Jones Point, in the woods, and his largest and final mill, Schnabel Lumber Co. , on Lutak Inlet in 1967. Including...Heather Lende
HAINES -- I told my author friend Ernestine Hayes of Juneau that I’m thinking of writing a book called “Walking with Friends,” which would really be about talking with friends. Which is what we had been doing all day. We were snowbound in my living room on a Thursday afternoon, staying close to the phone in the unlikely event that a sudden break in the storm would last long enough for her to fly home to Juneau. Ernestine had arrived Wednesday, and there was not a ferry until Monday. She had already missed her Skagway event because she couldn’t get there, even though it is only 14 miles up Lynn Canal as the small plane flies, because they were grounded. The drive from Haines to Skagway, up the Haines Highway and around via Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and down the Klondike Highway is about...Heather Lende
Saturday night's Holly Jolly Follies in Haines, the now annual Christmas variety show (or at least annual as long as Suzy and Tod organize, direct and stage it) was perfect, if I do say so myself. I got to be in three of the acts and have spent a busy week rehearsing, and that was as much as fun as the show -- I'm still not sure how all the Fishpickers, and the banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, electric piano, bongo drums and backup singers squeezed into the small front room of Dave's 100-year-old house between the woodstove and the sofa and table, but we did. Good thing his neighbors were on the tech crew and didn't mind. The theater was filled a little beyond capacity, although the children were hard to count as they kept running in and out. There were about 20 pint-sized angel ballerinas...Heather Lende
HAINES — Father Blaney used to say, “When God taps you on the shoulder, you pay attention.” Or something like that. Father has been dead a few years now, and the exact phrasing escapes me. I wish he were still at the Sacred Heart Rectory so I could tell him this story. I’m not Catholic, but I say rosary prayers while swimming my morning laps. It’s a comfort. Talking to Mary calms my fears, especially in emergencies. Like the one a few weeks ago when Becky Nash called and said our friend Linnus, the art teacher, had been hit by a car while riding her bike home from school and was in the ambulance on the way to the clinic. “Should I go or you?” Becky said. “I’ll meet you there,” I said. My hand shook fitting the key in the ignition. The big story of my life is that 10 years ago I survived...Heather Lende
HAINES -- It bothers me that most hunting pictures only show the whole moose, or a big head with a smiling hunter and never the meat. Fine, healthy, wild meat -- it seems to me -- is what hunting really is, so I decided to take photographs while my husband and I cut a whole moose into pieces with two knives and a saw before carrying it home. But then I looked at them and knew they shouldn’t be printed in the paper. Cleaning a moose is a little like childbirth that way. The close-ups are better in memory than digitally recorded. So instead, I will tell you how we did it. Chip cut out the anus and such. Then there was the long stern-to-stem cut to gut it. Imagine fish cleaning times 1,000. Chip pulled out armloads of steaming, bloody innards, while I reached in with my knife and sliced any...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

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