Wear a Personal Flotation Device

Small town obituary writer Heather Lende shares unique perspectives gleaned from peering retrospectively into so many lives.

| June 2015

  • Fishing Boat
    In stormy times like these, we have to make our own good weather.
    Photo by fotolia/hans_chr
  • Find the Good
    In "Find the Good," an Alaskan small town is immortalized by the kind and observant words of obituary writer Heather Lende.
    Cover courtesy Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

  • Fishing Boat
  • Find the Good

As the obituary writer in tiny Haines, Alaska, Heather Lende knows something about last words and lives well lived. Now, she’s distilled what she’s learned about living a more exhilarating and meaningful life into three words: find the good. It’s that simple – and that hard. Lende’s short chapters resonate, reminding us that it’s worth looking at our relationships, our obligations, our priorities, our community, and our world from a fresh, positive perspective. A gift to share with friends and family, Find the Good (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2015) offers a way out of the negativity and cynicism that can overwhelm our daily routines.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

When fisherman Richard Boyce first arrived in Alaska he was tenting on the side of a road and was told to leave: There was no camping allowed. He was stunned. He thought that of all places in the world Alaska should welcome campers. Today, the sandwich board across from his driveway reads: FREE CAMPING.  RATES DOUBLE IN JUNE. SENIOR DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE.

Chip and I often saw Richard on our morning bike ride as he was driving to town for coffee. The last time we saw Richard, he pulled his pickup alongside us and even announced our speed, “Twenty miles per hour, twenty-two, back to nineteen,” before waving with a smile from behind his red beard, touching the bill of his cap, and calling out, “Have a good day,” as he zoomed off.

Richard slipped on his salmon gillnetter and fell overboard at about five in the morning on the Fourth of July. The youngest of his three grown-but-still-young daughters — all just a few years out of college — tossed him a life ring and radioed for help. Fellow fishermen pulled their nets and came to the Boyces’ aid. Many arrived in minutes, but Richard wore heavy rain gear and boots, and a strong tidal current pulled him away from the boat and under the water too fast. His body was never recovered. Richard, who had gone to MIT, built that boat, the thirty-nine-foot Eleanor S., named for his oldest daughter, at his cabin on the ridge above his little “campground.”

The day Richard died I was helping out at the hot dog table at the Haines July Fourth picnic. I learned that my neighbor J.R. had handed his helm over to a deckhand and then climbed on board the Eleanor S. with Richard’s daughter for the six-hour trip home. The next woman who reached for a paper plate and bun told me that she felt better knowing J.R. was there. Everyone did. She named a half-dozen fishermen who also turned their boats back and left the lucrative fishing grounds to escort the Eleanor S. home. Once the flotilla was spotted near Battery Point, many in the holiday crowd walked across the park to the harbor and, from behind the bulkhead railing, silently watched as the tall red-haired

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