|"Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs" by Heather Lende (Algonquin Books, 2010)|
Heather Lende’s first book, "If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name," introduced readers to small-town life in Alaska. The town of Haines, on the southeast coast, has 2,400 residents, and as a newspaper columnist, longtime resident, and obituary writer, Lende pretty much knows everyone. Family, friendships, and faith are the linchpins of this, her second book, and along with the daily manifestations of joy, the potential black holes of life are portrayed.
Reading Lende’s descriptions of people and events is like listening to a wry, witty, and entertaining friend, with her faith evident throughout. Always visible is the beauty of Alaska: its mountains, glaciers, beaches, rain forests, vistas of trees and water, bald eagles feeding, and salmon spawning.
You could get hit by a truck, she observes, and indeed, just as her first book was coming out, that’s what happened to her. The driver just didn’t see her on her bicycle as he started through the intersection. The accident cracked her pelvis in six places. Some readers might wish for less detail about her accident, surgery and recuperation, but anyone who has had a major traumatic injury will identify.
Emergency help is not readily available in small Alaskan towns, so she was flown to Seattle for trauma care and then spent three weeks in what she calls the “Sleepless in Seattle Nursing Home” before she could return home. Ten weeks in bed or a wheelchair followed before she could start to walk on her own.
Lende’s sense of humor doesn’t desert her through this ordeal. She credits her faith and those in her small community who brought meals, ran errands, encouraged her, and helped out in countless other ways to get her back on her feet. Despite predictions of permanent incapacity, in a year from her accident, she was walking and eventually biking and running again. Life and death themes continue, as the author describes her mother’s death from leukemia the following year. The book’s title is from her mother’s last words when Linde’s father asked if there was anything she wanted her family to know. “Take good care of the garden and the dogs,” was the reply.
The book has many descriptions of the people of the local natives, the Tklingits, and their traditional ways of doing everything from building totem poles to hosting amazing tribal get-togethers.