When Ramon said we’d go “up to see the stars,” I was super excited!
“Stars? Fuck yeah, let’s go!” I beamed at him from the passenger seat, my pink and blue spirals blowing in the polluted California breeze. We drove up and up and up, curve after curve. I was intrigued by the potential to see stars on a bright “clear” day.
(Is a day in LA ever REALLY clear?)
It wasn’t until we’d already passed several people looking for parking and droves of tourists wandering aimlessly, that I realized my old friend might not quite be talking about the wondrous balls of gas burning billions of miles away.
We turned the corner and pulled up next to an elongated safari style jeep looking white vehicle covered in all types of advertising screaming in red and black letters, “WE KNOW THEIR SECRETS! WE KNOW WHICH HOUSE IS WHICH! TOUR WITH US!” It seemed absolutely appropriate, once I noticed the looming white letters in the distance.
I laughed audibly, “OOOOOH! THOSE kinds of stars! Too funny! I totally thought….” I trailed off in a quiet chuckle. He smiled gently at my ignorance.
We decided to go for a walk to take a signature Hurricane Rita picture with the sign in the background.
As we strolled on the arid path towards a better location to jump around like children, two deer bolted from the brush on the left.
“Ah! I brought the wildlife with me from AK! Who’d a thunk there’d be deer right here!” I mused. As if on cue, a coyote pranced energetically across the path in front of us, his shimmering silver back a beautiful contrast to the golden hillside. I took a few pictures and laughed with Ramon about how we were looking the completely wrong direction for being tourists in Hollywood. Who takes multiple pictures of the wildlife, but never takes a second glance at the multi-million dollar cages built for the resident “stars?”
A tour bus drove by announcing metallically that the particular oversized, over-guarded, over-elaborate structure to our right had once been Madonna’s…blah blah blah. I honestly didn’t care enough to listen past that point.
As I watched car after car drive up the road, its driver and passengers gawking and pointing wildly, I realized how similar yet utterly different my life is to that of the “stars” that live there.
You see, Haines is a tourist town, and our cabin is a tourist attraction.
On a wooden raft.
A raft, Huck Finn style, but slightly larger, and slightly more stable.
There once were twelve big old sitka spruce tree trunks linked together with logging chokers under the frame. Now there are only eight, as the other four have since floated away in the last four winters or so; the chokers no longer choking and all. The front quarter of the cabin dangles bravely off the edge of the eighth log, tempting the seas for a swim. It has nose-dived into the tide twice in history, and by the looks of it, the next plunge might be coming relatively shortly.
Over the last three years I’ve gotten used to driving around tourists to park in my parking spot. I’ve been interrupted meditating, bear watching, and naked coffee making. Often times I’ve been hooted and hollered at from the road by entire tour groups on bikes, busses loaded with cruise ship passengers, and individuals running, driving, and walking. People pull over to take pictures of the house from every angle, often completely ignoring me when I step outside to greet them. I’ve even been asked in town if I’m the same girl they saw at that “beat up cabin by the bears.”
That brings up the next tourist point. The cabin is in a brown bear viewing hotspot. Last year a sow with two cubs (Speedy) and another sow with three cubs (BMJ AKA Big Mama Jamma) frequented my front yard almost daily at low tide. This year the sows are feeling frisky, horny, and free, having kicked the cubs to the curb, so there have been five adolescents “figuring it out” in the area. One was shot by an individual (who I’m desperately trying not to judge) illegally from a boat early in the spring. Another got into too much trouble, and was put down a few weeks back.
On a side note, John and I actually witnessed a man trying to bait one of the sows with a dolly varden at the lake two days ago!
NEWSFLASH TOURISTS!!!!!! A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR! STOP GETTING OUR PETS KILLED!!!!
Small town living can be similar to the life of a Hollywood celebrity, sans the gaudy fakeness. They joke that you never need to use your turn signal because everyone already knows where you are going. If you do anything stupid or Universe forbid, get into a fight or bad breakup, everyone will know before you’ve gotten home to lick your wounds. The first thing I was told in town was not to do anything stupid because nobody would EVER forget.
My personal sense of anonymity in town disappeared when I was in the Chilkat Valley News; the subject of a front page piece entitled: Wounded Vet Runs to Shake Trauma of Afghanistan, Iraq (I would post a link but the Chilkat Valley News has made it impossible to visit news archives online without paying a subscription fee nowadays). It was the simple product of a conversation I had at a potluck at Jen Reid’s house amidst breaking up a fight between Corky Badass and Okum, a sweet tempered local puppy. Tom Morphet was interested in how I’d gotten to Haines. Little did I know he was the future owner and current editor of the local newspaper. The next week I found myself sitting in the news office trying to make sure they didn’t print anything too outrageous. A few days later, I was looking at my face peeking out of a newspaper tucked into a stranger’s back pocket.
(Strangers are simply friends we haven’t met yet, even when your printed face is smashed against their bottom parts).
The transition was lightning quick. It was SE AK State Fair time, and tons of out of town folks were in Haines for the music and entertainment promised. Suddenly, looks of recognition, skepticism, and approval were thrown at me from every direction. It took me by surprise. People knew who I was, knew my story, and had never met me. Some were too shy to do anything more than take furtive glances from across the market. I playfully imagined they were sizing me up.
Is she really as crazy as they say? She doesn’t LOOK that tough…Girls don’t ACTUALLY go to WAR do they?
Others, like Sylvia Heinz, were more bold, approaching me while I was having a quiet lunch over a book at the Mountain Market, and asking me forthright, almost challenging, “So what did you really think would happen? You know everyone comes back fucked up from war…”
I was told by John Svenson, “Wow, Rita, I had no clue! And all this time I thought you were just a normal person!”
I had to laugh. I AM a normal person! I’m the only me I know!
In a small town, everyone’s a celebrity. If you live in bear territory, your cabin is as frequented as Madonna’s mansion, and your privacy may be invaded. I didn’t spend millions to keep out the masses. My face isn’t plastered on billboards, nor have I been featured on “Cribs.” I’m just a vagabond river guide who hasn’t paid an electric, water, cable, or internet bill in three years, who simply lives for her personal happiness, not the public opinion, and who, for a moment in Hollywood, felt the distant, distant, distant connection to the “stars,” shrink just a little in the hazy desert heat.