Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Melanie Gould was found alive on Saturday, June 11, 10 days after her disappearance from Talkeetna consumed friends, family, and, it turns out strangers all over Alaska and beyond. Here's an interview with her very positive, warm brother Glenn.

Some might use this saying: "All's well that ends well." Maybe. We are, I am, of course, overjoyed that Mel emerged seemingly unscathed from whatever she experienced in the wilderness. There was never a doubt in my mind that Melanie was, is and will continue to be a strong, vibrant, smart and skilled person capable of much more than some might give her credit for, including herself. Yes, all's well. She survived!

However, there is no "ends well" here. Maybe some or all of us will hear her story one day, maybe not. But this is certainly not the end. Neither is it the beginning. Melanie's life continues. My work and the sweat and tears and joy and fullness of every minute here at the Squirrel continue. The journey does not end. It is always moving forward, moving on.

I wonder if that's what it's like to mush dogs....

Here's wishing everyone, especially my friend Melanie, peace, rest and many more adventures to come.

Photo: Melanie & my son Oliver at Birch Creek Ranch, March 2011

Continue reading »

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Melanie on My Mind

Sunday, June 5 was my birthday. I spent the morning crying, trying to get through my 6th day of work without Mel’s 40 hours she would have worked last week, getting hugs from friends, family, staff and customers.

I spent the second half of the day at Birch Creek Ranch, my in-laws' farm where Melanie transplanted nemesia flowers a couple of weeks ago and where my husband, Brian is planting veggies for this year’s Talkeetna Grown CSA. It was a relief to get my hands in the dirt, be outside in the open space, smell the freshness of grass growing after a good hard rain. I agree with everything Sharla posted on the Facebook site for Melanie's search this morning. Go outside. DO something. That’s what Mel would want. Most certainly she would be dumbfounded and mortified at all this attention on her.

Meanwhile, I have so many thoughts in my head about all this and keep seeing images of Mel as an Iditarod musher which is, in itself amazing and inspiring since the Iditarod is such a male dominated sport. What Mel has always answered when asked why she ran the race: "I just love being out there." To us folks who have called Mel a friend, she is so MUCH more than a musher...

Melanie Gould was one of the first friends I made when I came to Talkeetna about 11 years ago. I may know her about as well as anyone. She is missed and loved and whatever the outcome of this crazy time, I will continue to throw love into the air in hopes it reaches her wherever she is. I don’t have specific stories about Mel. I have a wide, broad picture of a beautiful person, a wonderful smile, incredibly blond hair and fair skin, strong hands and a thoughtful heart. I have a picture of a “doer” who deeply respects other doers – folks, like her, living an Alaska life, striving for independence, self sufficiency, simpler living, connection to nature, and the determination that gets you through every hard day’s work.

Mel and I have been tied to a tree at the edge of the Copper River dip-netting for salmon together. We have cleaned clams in Ninilchik around a campfire until our fingers were numb. She has been my landlord, my massage therapist, my waitress, my co-worker and my friend. I skinny-dipped in the sphagnum pond once with Mel on a hot summer day. She jumped right in, dogs and all, and I had a hard time with the weird spongy uncertainty before the freezing shock of water. Mel held a “wedding sauna” (I’m not a shower kind of a girl) for me at her place. And she sat among my Talkeetna friends and family on a sunny September Sunday when Brian and I exchanged wedding vows in the middle of a grassy field at Brian’s parents’ farm.

I went to every Iditarod Restart that Mel participated in. Except in 2006 when I went to the Official Start in Anchorage. That year, I was 9 months pregnant. One of my first questions after 24 hours of labor with my son laying across my exhausted body on March 15 at about 6:20pm was, “Did Mel cross the finish line yet?” Yes, she had. About 10 minutes ago – her best Iditarod finish. It was as though we were both struggling to get to the finish line while the moon was still full on that Ides of March. Kind of amazingly, Mel was mushing to work at the greenhouses at Birch Creek Ranch this spring and in all the springtime melting mayhem, she managed to give my now 5 year old son Oliver a spin with the team on the hayfields.

Most recently, Mel has been working for me during the tough first years of a new restaurant business. Flying Squirrel Bakery Café just outside of Talkeetna town is the realization of a long time dream for me. Mel has always encouraged me, as a friend and as a lover of delicious, healthful food - to go for it. She was a front counter server for about a year. And for the last few months, she has been a baker-in-training, traipsing to work at 5 in the morning from her cabin up on the hill sometimes by bicycle just for the exercise.

As I have been thinking and thinking about her almost non-stop this week, it has struck me how incredibly good she is at everything she does. Set your mind to it, and you can learn just about anything. And once you learn it, you can always improve. From 64th place in 2000 to 18th in 2006. From front-of-the-house waitress to learning in 2 months how to bake artisan breads in a wood fired oven. Practicing guitar when no one was looking then surprising us all with a strong and unique singing voice one winter at the bar. Remembering so many different flower names at the greenhouse. Always looking for the tightest muscles that need the most work. All while caring for dogs, chopping wood, hauling water, scaring off the bears, and somehow always making it to work even in 20 below. One tough chick that still manages to have a way better hippy-skirt wardrobe than me.

On Sunday, May 29, just before she disappeared, Mel worked at the Squirrel from 5am until noon. She seemed fairly pleased with how her scones, cookies, sandwich breads and bagels came out that day. After work, she walked down the driveway to our house to help Brian put up the rest of the road kill moose we had gotten a week before. She was taking the scraps home for her dogs and just trying to help us out wherever she could. She likes to say she just wants to help me because I work too hard. She left around 4pm tired from a long day. I don’t remember if I said good-bye or thank you. Dang girl, I hope you are ok. I want you to come back so I can tell you to your face that I love you and I thank you for all YOUR hard work.

Continue reading »