We Alaskans

Even shrieks and tears can't hide how lucky we are

This is the season when visitors and residents alike fall in love with Haines and sometimes each other. At least there's a feeling in the air that's a bit like the one that prompts renewing of wedding vows after, say, surviving another Alaska winter.

Sockeye salmon are running, slowly but surely, and the fleet's nets stretch from the drums on the back of little boats in the bay to orange buoy balls. Tall snow-capped mountains rise up from the beaches, and flowers bloom wild in gardens and window boxes.

Cruise ship passengers from the weekly visit of a Holland America Line ship wander in the middle of the road, even though the crosswalks have been painted with schools of silver-sided salmon and busty mermaids to entice users.

The annual Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay has come and gone with sunny skies and light headwinds. My husband and I finished in the ribbons, but more importantly, given our pelvic-breaking cycling-accident history, slept in our own bed that night rather than an emergency room in Seattle.

Seasonal ritual

Why do I still ride? Because I love feeling strong, and I don't think there is a better way to begin the day than a long bike ride with my husband. We have maintained this seasonal ritual for so long, it's part of who we are.

We recently marked our 34th wedding anniversary. Mark Twain wrote, "No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century." There's a truth to that, and the same thing can be said about a place. From my backyard to the trails I walk and even the very rooms I gather with friends and family and community, these places have a tighter hold on my heart the more familiar they become. The people I share them with? Even more so. There's goodness in time passing.

Still, finding one's place in the world is not all about quantity, is it? It's about the quality of that time, and also about understanding, as the poet Jane Kenyon wrote, that this day is better because it could be otherwise.

A friend with serious cancer (that's currently in remission) says her illness has taught her to measure life by its breadth rather than length. She spreads her arms like wings and smiles when she tells me this. She says that without facing death she might not have expanded her soul so very wide.

"It sounds strange," she says. "But I'm really grateful."

Still, who wouldn't rather remain a tad more unenlightened if it bought you another summer, or even a winter? Then again, why is it that we often need to be thrown off balance to find the still point of grace?

Tears and shrieks

The other night I was baby-sitting my granddaughters. We'd picked the lettuce and strawberries, and it was time to come inside and prepare the salmon for the grill when the normally mild mannered 4-year-old pitched a fit. She screamed as if I'd amputated a limb, howled and fell to the ground kicking and sobbing. She wanted her mother, who was teaching a zumba class.

The 2-year-old, seeing her sister so distraught, let out a blood-curdling shriek and ran away, tearing off her clothes as she fled. I caught her, and carried them both like cord wood, one under each arm, as they wailed and flailed, up to the house. For the next hour the girls screamed until they were hoarse. I did my best to soothe them. Graham crackers, singing, a glass of cold water, a story, silence. "Let's pretend we are sleeping."

Nothing worked. Finally, after all hope was nearly lost, and we were all on the floor crying, I said, "Would you like some ice cream?"

When my husband pulled in the gravel drive at 6 p.m., two happy little girls ran to greet him. In that evening light, at that distance, he could have been 30 again, and they could have been our children, not grandchildren. As he walked toward me between the beach roses and spruce trees, carrying one and holding the other's hand, saying how nice it was to come home to happy children and a pretty wife (Honestly? I did not look my best), and how he wished he could have spent the afternoon here with us instead of at the lumberyard, I knew we'd been in this scene many times before.

Which is why I didn't say, "It wasn't all peaches, buddy boy."

I mean, aren't we so lucky?

There was a time when I wished I could be the one who left the house to work, rather than write around the naps and meals at a messy desk on the stair landing right in the thick of it. Right now, I don't believe I'd have changed a thing — except maybe serve ice cream before dinner more often.

Haines author Heather Lende's third book is "Find the Good." Check her blog or Facebook page.

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