AVALANCHE UPDATE: Editor’s rant: Safe at home again, but the drama is far from over


Thanks to everyone for their kind words these past few days. For those interested in “the rest of the story,” this is a “family and friends” e-mail I sent on Christmas Eve:

Hei alle (tell me I haven’t ignored any of you long enough that you think I misspelled my greeting)…

Those of you who read my fishwrapper may know I’m back home again, although it’s anyone’s guess for how long. I’ve already written about most of what I went through early this week, so this e-mail is mostly to fill in the gaps.

What follows is a typical insane end-of-day rant I try to send to one of a few people to 1) let them know I’m alive since they’re my legal heirs and 2) keep some kind of diary of my daily thoughts, which is rather important right now since I’ve been asked to write a book about this place from my warped perspective (titled “Mucking Cold”). Obviously I am massively restructuring the latter due to the storm and the coal mining crisis here that was maybe the biggest tragedy to ever hit this town before the avalanche, so for once I’m glad I didn’t have as much written as I’d hoped by now. Original plan was to turn in the draft by November, now I’m aiming for summer and it’s not exactly hard explaining why to the publisher.

Anyhow, getting back to the first sentence of that graph, you’ve been warned. I tend to be rather rantish and random in these messages, as you’ve just seen. And typos sneak in because of the iPad’s absurd keyboard. Oddly, however, most of my book is written on it (followed by careful editing on my laptop) simply because the battery lasts forever and I can write with it almost anywhere. One of these days I’ll get one of those keyboard/cover thingys and look even more geekish in the pubs and other places I work at night.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I have no doubt it will be the most surreal of my life, surpassing – in order – 1) my first in Juneau where Kristan and I had started dating about half an hour before and 2) the time I was in Kyrgyzstan noshing on canned horse and having former KGB hitmen hover evilly over me in the country’s only jazz club (other than that it wasn’t a bad gig).

If I had to pick two words to describe the local holiday mood, they’d be sorrow and resolve. During the past couple of days I’ve mostly been talking (as a person, not a journalist) with people of the “we’re going to pull together and get through all the awfulness we’re facing in the coming months” mindset (in part, as I note in my column, because I’m avoiding those still in tears out of respect…I know many of them and figure when they’re ready to talk to me they will). I’d been telling people before this tragedy I’m here for life unless they literally exile me because I’m broke (that’s an actual rule here and it happens to cherished locals and clueless tourists alike). But now this is A Whole New Thing. I’ve kept people who aren’t coworkers or relatives at a professional arm’s length during all of my newspaper years, but that’s literally no longer true here as of last Saturday. I’ve hugged more people in the past four days than at any point since the four days surrounding when Kristan and I were married.

And speaking of improper media relations, my already incestuous relationship with Svalbardposten (the official local paper, who I translate articles for – along with writing a few – which would be unheard of for an alternative newspaper guy elsewhere in the world) has also seen the traditional boundaries obliterated. All of us are obviously working insane hours in what has become almost a cooperative effort. Since they have three journalists and can get to things I can’t, I’m heavily poaching and attributing their stuff in my articles. And they’re letting folks know I’m covering stuff – in English – they aren’t. The editor also sent me a generous gift certificate to the supermarket/general store today. Not sure how I’ll use it, but it won’t be on booze and Lesbian Action Hero comic books (exactly one person on this e-mail list understands that last reference, but the point should be obvious).

But the immediate crisis is going to pass and then everyone here will be facing the “bigger questions.” The question of what kind of economic base the town will have after it loses its main industry and more than a quarter of its residents this spring is, obviously, overwhelming in itself. Then there’s the new question about whether a sizable percentage of homes here, including mine, are unsafe to live in. They may need to figure that out before spring when warmer temps makes all that snow above us a huge risk again. The crazy element will be if the city has to move residents out quickly – those in employer-provided homes would be moved and people like me who own my home would be compensated…I’m thinking maybe I’d buy a simple rustic cabin on the outskirts of town, since it’d be about what I could afford and I’d have internet access (the coverage area here is unreal), which is all I care about, water and other luxuries be damned.

Meanwhile, I’m packing a few items of top-tier personal worth (a.k.a. sentimental stuff, including a museum-quality handmade penguins vs. polar bears chess set a few folks here know about) and stashing them well away from the danger zones, just in case.

So…having as usual written far more words than intended in these rants, I’ll sign off by wishing everyone a happy holidays in the ultimate non-PC sense. Those getting these messages daily know I’m starting to avoid mentioning news in the “real world” because it drives me nuts, but this year in particular “Merry Christmas” seems to be more of a taunt than an expression of goodwill among many saying it. Not that I’m not saying “god jul” to everyone here, but considering my sympathy for and donations to muslims being utterly villified as they try to fight and escape horriffic situations, it’s not hard to see people labeling me as another MSM liberal who loves terrorists.

OK…, um, that goodwill theme kinda went off the rails in the last graph. Let’s try again: no matter what else happens tomorrow and Christmas Day, there will never be enough words to say how thankful I am to be spending it with the people here. Besides, for the first time ever I plan to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Norwegian subtitles when I get home tomorrow night.