Book review: “Of Bears and Ballots” by Heather Lende

In Book Review, Trip Report by scott

Photo by LCGS Russ, courtesy CC0 1.0 Universal license.

If you ever want an inside look at life in  small-town Alaska, pick up a book by Heather Lende.

Her first books were, in her words, “love letters to Haines.” Lende and her husband, Chip, have lived in Haines for decades. Along the way, she’s kept her finger on the pulse of the community. She coached the cross-country team at the high school. She writes the obituaries for the local paper, the Chilkat Valley News. She’s involved with the local hospice organization, with the library—even the borough’s planning commission. Chip runs the family business, Lutak Lumber and Supply.

Heather Lende shows off Haines on a recent visit, including Letnikov Cannery, in the background.

Heather’s latest book, “Of Bears and Ballots” chronicles her decision to run for the borough assembly and all of the shenanigans during her term. The Haines Borough includes the City of Haines and quite a bit of land on both side of Lynn Canal, reaching all the way up to the Canadian border—but there just about 2,500 year-round residents. 

Taken just upstream from Haines on the way to the Canadian border.

Because she’s been an active community member for more than 30 years, “Assemblywoman Lende” understood that a vocal political opponent may be at your home for a pot luck the next week. There are plenty of “both sides meet in the middle” moments, which is one of the charms of small town life. But Lende has to reach deep to stay calm during some particularly vicious political exchanges. In the book, she details a recall campaign against her and two other assembly members.

October sunset, overlooking the Chilkat River.

Throughout the book, there are colorful descriptions of Lende’s home by the Chilkat River and of her children and grandchildren. Her writing also shows the love and respect Lende has for the community and its natural beauty, the native Alaskans who first inhabited the land and the inclusive process of representative government.

 “Of Bears and Ballots” offers a rare look under the hood of this community. In the midst of political turmoil, the business of Haines goes on: the lights, the harbor, the school and the fire department.

The Mountain Market in Haines, Alaska.

Having visited Haines several times, I can vouch for the beautiful setting and the friendly people. Once, Heather took us around to the Mountain Market, to the newspaper, the library and to a beautiful vista overlooking the Chilkat River. It’s easy to picture a life here, where the mountains meet the sea.

“Of Bears and Ballots” is available from your local bookseller, or from Amazon. Get an autographed copy of the book from Haines’ local bookseller, “The Bookstore.”

The Hammer Museum in downtown Haines.

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