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.

The book is done. My assembly term is over. Fall is here. Everything that kept me busy for months and months, from bicycling to writing and all those meetings — the daily schedule beginning with two hours in the saddle, watering the garden, re-habbing the dog with all those little walks, hours at my desk with one brain, than switching over to the Borough issued iPad to use another brain, has halted, rather suddenly. I do have time to type haikus, read all those magazines that came over the summer and sit around in my jammies until… whenever.

I tried it for one late-ish morning (til about 8:30)  but then gave up and went out for a walk which got me thinking about why I have been avoiding my desk, and the blog in particular, but I still couldn’t say why. Then last Saturday a Haines artist put together a talk and reading at the museum as part of her exhibit of paintings dedicated to Alaskan women writers and I was so honored to be both one of those writers, and at this event with two more, Ernestine Hayes and Krista Christensen. Before we read and talked we gathered for an early dinner at my house and I listened to their sincere and wise words about love and loss and receding glaciers and thought about how lucky we all are to have these people on the planet. The  artist who organized the evening and created the beautiful exhibit (there is still time to see it at the museum) is Katie Craney, and she weeps when she speaks about climate change, she feels things so deeply, which is not unusual for artists, but she also manages to keep those emotions right up front and at the same time transforms her fears and sorrows, and yes, joy for the northern landscapes and creatures and weather– this place, Alaska– into art that is lovely, thought provoking and enduring.

I realized that I been shying away from the breezy chit chat of these pages because I felt kind of depressed about the state of the world, on just about every front, except the home front. My family is all well. The woodshed full. There are flannel sheets on the bed, the dogs don’t have fleas, and Pearl’s legs are healed. There are two new grandchildren on the way, and I’m about to hire someone to paint the living room, and so it seems bad form to be so comfortable when there is so much to be miserable about.  (Also, in my defense, I did take three weeks off to travel back east and see my dad for his 86th birthday and a few health issues, and my sister, and mother-in-law, and sister-in-law in Virginia and so that was all good. The corn was higher than an elephant’s eye, and I shipped home apples that I am still eating from my dad’s Hudson Valley orchard.)

Anyway, then yesterday a reader from the Poconos sent a poem that is making the rounds on the internet, as a little nudge to get me back here. That a poem is being shared by so many is great good news, but reading it gave me more hope, because it is true.

Small Kindnesses

by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

Danusha Laméris is the writer laureate of Santa Cruz County. Her first book of poems is The Moons of August and her second book is coming out soon.

Perhaps it was the reading and Katie’s art, and the poem. Maybe it’s Dad’s apples. As he said when we priority mailed them ‘that’s 14.95 down the drain’ he was sure they’d be applesauce by the time they arrived in Alaska. But I marked the box fragile, noted they were apples, and they arrived without a bruise because the people handling them for 5,000 miles and who knows how many bins in trucks, trains, planes and boats, were gentle. It could also be a few good night’s sleeps, the change in the weather and fresh snow on the mountains, or the yoke of the assembly being lifted, or maybe simply timing, but I’m back where I ought to be, down in the gratitude aisle picking up lemons. Only with a new appreciation for the spills, because I realize not everyone else is, and that it’s hard sometimes to be brave enough to be publicly nice.

All  those small kindnesses and encouragements that we both will try harder to make sure we do, matter a lot.  When you get discouraged remember that. The immediate crisis will be forgotten, but the stuff you aren’t even thinking about – what you do with your instinctive goodness and decency, will remain.  Danusha is exactly right. The meaning of life is not in this news cycle or the ravings on FB.  It is “please” and “thank you”,  picking up a wrapper you didn’t drop– and making sure a stranger’s box of apples arrives safely.