New reporter hops from Homer to Haines
July 15, 2021
By Max Graham
Before arriving in Haines on Sunday to start my new job as a reporter for the Chilkat Valley News, I had never been here. But I had heard a few things about the town.
"It's stunningly beautiful." (It is!)
"If you like skiing, there's no better place to be." (Exciting.)
"So you'll get to meet Heather Lende!" (How many towns of 2,500 have a celebrity author?)
"It's pretty much Canada." (Where's the poutine?)
"It's small, isolated, and politically divided."
I have spent most of my life in places that are not small, isolated, or politically divided. I was raised in Bethesda, Maryland, a fairly homogeneous suburb of Washington, D.C., and I studied English literature at Yale, where many students have similar upbringings, believe similar things and end up in similar places.
For about as long as I lived in those places, I wanted to explore beyond them, and journalism appealed to me as a way to do that - by meeting new people, asking questions and challenging my own biases.
In an increasingly siloed world, I admire journalism for its commitment to listening carefully and withholding judgment and its presumption that what you hear is not always, if ever, the whole story.
A few summers ago, I reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and this past year I contributed a few stories to High Country News and Preservation magazine. Now that I'm in Haines, I'm excited to question all that I've heard from afar and to watch my preconceived notions dissolve.
Growing up in the crowded and humid D.C. area, I was attracted to the idea of Alaska as a faraway land with glaciated mountains, pristine coastline and abundant wildlife.
I first came to the state in the summer of 2019, with a grand and embarrassingly naïve vision to write about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Traveling in the Interior and on the North Slope, I quickly realized that an East Coast college student with no prior experience in Alaska, let alone rural Alaska, was probably the wrong person to write about ANWR.
But that summer I learned more than I could have imagined about Alaskan history, geography, and politics. And I was amazed as much by the people I never knew I would meet as the mountains I had always dreamed of seeing.
Inspired by my travels that summer, I returned to Alaska last year after graduating college. I moved to Homer, where I worked as a fellow with the National Park Service's Shared Beringian Heritage Program, which coordinates research projects with Russian scientists and organizations across the Bering Strait. I also worked part-time as a freelance writer and as a bookseller at the Homer Bookstore.
And now, at 23, I'm in Haines to replace reporter Ceri Godinez, who is moving to California for grad school in screenwriting.
Someone in Homer described Haines to me as "Homer Lite." I think he meant that Haines is culturally similar, just smaller and more isolated. I grew to love Homer, but I prefer Bud Light to Budweiser. I also love hiking, paddling, and skiing. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to be here.