If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name
by Heather Lende
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs
by Heather Lende
Find the Good
by Heather Lende
I recently bought a laminated map of the US, and when it came I realized I didn’t have a wall that could hold it so I came up with the idea to put it in a corner of the laundry room.
While I was reading Heather Lende’s three books, I would every day look at Haines, Alaska on that map.
Whitehorse, Canada is about 260 miles away which you may drive to, unless the winter snow has closed the road. To get to Juneau, which has no road going in or out, and is 90 miles away, you must take a ferry or an airplane, neither of which can be relied upon if the weather is bad. In good weather, the ferry takes 4 1/2 hours. When Heather Lende was injured badly in a bicycle accident (Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs), she had to be flown to Seattle, almost 1000 miles away. In the first book If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, the author says that babies are no longer delivered in Haines. There aren't facilities to cope with any problems that could arise. The doctor who delivered her oldest child, says that particular birth was “the 'perfect example' of why he’d quit obstetrics. 'If things hadn’t gone right …’ he began. 'Healthy women who are well prepared can and do have catastrophes. It really isn’t safe. I loved delivering babies, Those were wonderful, almost home births (in a clinic), but I hated being so apprehensive, doing acrobatics without a net.’“
So, you get the picture. This little town of a couple thousand people is, as they say, off the beaten path. I feel that it takes a certain kind of person to live there. People who come from Chicago or New York City, may think that I live in a rural, isolated place, but there are hospitals in all the nearby towns, and a major hospital (where Hazel Nina was born) about 2 hours away by car. I love country life, but I could not live in Haines. Nor could I live on an island. I wouldn’t want to be dependent on a boat or a plane in an emergency, or even just to take class trips. As a vegetarian I would have a hard time with the deeply ingrained fishing and hunting. I know it goes on around me, but it isn’t quite so much a part of the culture as it is there.
That said, Heather Lende presents Haines as a wonderful place to live. A place where there are conflicting political and religious views, but a place so small and isolated that the residents work at getting along no matter what. You may intensely disagree with someone, but you still sing next to them in a choir. In the first book, we learn about the town, through Heather’s obituaries. She is the obituary writer for the local paper, and when someone dies, she goes to their home and sits and talks (mostly listens) to the family as they tell her the facts and the stories about that person’s life. These obituaries are works of poetry. She also works for the Hospice program, and has cared for some of the people as they depart this life.
It seems to me that lots of people are able to live their lives without thinking much about death. Heather isn’t one of them, as she couldn’t be, doing the work she does. In some ways, it probably gives her a deeper appreciation of life. But it isn’t always easy for those of us who are pretty aware all the time that ‘in the midst of life we are in death.’ Those words come from The Book Of Common Prayer, which is used in the Episcopal Church in which I grew up. Heather Lende is also an Episcopalian, belonging to a little tiny church where there are sometimes a dozen at a service. Although I don’t attend church now, the Episcopal Church is part of me. I loved how the author incorporates the words in the prayer book and hymns into her writing. If you aren’t Episcopalian, you won’t be offended by her writing. She isn’t ‘preachy.’
I think that in any fishing community there is an acute awareness of death. Drownings are common, and they are so very sad. We learn in the first book that one of six children was drowned. In the second book, we see his brother getting married, and the man who does the service is the man who saved him that day his brother died.
But, though there is a bit of an elegiac feeling (and how could there not be?), the books themselves show the deep, deep joys of life; the kindness of people, the neighborliness in a small town, the fun they have, the love of family. Every book uplifted me. I first heard of Heather Lende three years ago in a blog posting written by Les. Please do read it here. I knew then that I wanted to read everything the author has written, and will write. Her writing is conversational, earnest, kindly. She writes a blog which you may visit here. And she is on Facebook. I ‘liked’ her so I get to have little visits to Haines very often.
The three books are all five years apart so that we see her children grow up and grandchildren come into the world. I read them one after the other, and was in a bit of reading heaven for the time I was within their pages. The first book tells of the townspeople through (mainly) the obituaries. The second one is about the kindness of the people of Haines when the author has her terrible accident. And the title of the third Find the Good says it all - about the books and the author. I am so fond of Heather Lende and her writing that I could almost, almost live in Haines.
You may see some gorgeous photographs of Haines here. It is unbelievably beautiful there.