I live and write on Lingít Aaní, and gratefully acknowledge the past, present and future caretakers of this beautiful place, the Jilkaat Kwaan and Jilkoot Kwaan.

“Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things.” –Naomi Nye, from her poem, “Kindness”.

Dec. 2, 2:30 pm at Picture Point, visiting the memorial to Janae and David, overlooking the Dec. 2, 2020 landslide that killed them and changed our town forever. North wind, high clouds, 20 degrees.

I have been thinking about the anniversary of the Haines landslide all day. I think it’s good to remember the two young people who died, David and Jenae. Jenae grew up here, and was the kindergarten teacher, it was her dream job. She was also the third member of her high school class to die young, suddenly and tragically– out of the blue– along with Zane and Matthew who lost their lives in a snow avalanche up in the pass.

The memorial has a table and benches inscribed in memory of the victims, chosen by their families. Jenae’s adds her friends and her dog Red that was lost in the slide too– ( It gives me comfort that he is with her– And especially that he is a golden retriever angel.)

David was a transplant here, a young Fulbright Scholar who spoke many languages and was fun, capable and a big Haines booster–He was  like so many of us that fell in love with Haines (and a girl here) and bought a home and liked it more than any place in the world. (And he’d seen more of it than most of us.)

It’s interesting that neither of the benches face the slide. For about a year I looked away, too.

So, as I sat there, on Jenae’s bench, looking at the Lynn Canal,  I said a few words of gratitude for them, and for the way our town responded to the slide with love, compassion and lot of food, money and volunteer labor. I will always be grateful for then Mayor Olerud for saying, “It’s okay not to be okay,” on the radio that day, and often, as the days after the initial tragedy unfolded with many micro and macro griefs.  A dear friend’s husband, an EMT who was involved in the initial search and rescue that was so hard on the hearts of so many–  died, when his big heart stopped the night after they concluded there would be no happy ending, that the two people we loved, that they had been hoping to find, were gone.

But here’s the thing: There is a little park here now, with some benches and a table and a panoramic view to look at when you eat lunch, and to remember some good people who changed our community for the better—- there is that– and soon, this summer, we will build a new playground at the school in Jenae’s memory. A big donation came in today that will complete it.

And, while I was sitting there, trying not to look at the scar from the slide,  the sky grew brighter, and my attention was pulled toward town, toward the sudden patch of blue sky and sunshine.

I think that’s important to note.

In the truck radio on the way home, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was playing.  When the singer came to the part about through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow, I started to cry. I know what that means. I’m sure you do, too—

And then I thought of my friend Naomi’s poem– the one called “Kindness”, and how we need to know loss before we really understand kindness, but also how she makes a shift in perception from sorrow to peace– — she finds grace in what she calls the  “tender gravity” of kindness.

The recent mud slide in Wrangell brought all of this back–  But there, too– everyone has rallied, and will continue to. May they, we, you– all of us, feel the strong pull of that “tender gravity of kindness” and treat each other gently, kindly, well.