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.


27 comments:

  1. beautiful, what a wonderful friend you are.

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  2. What a beautiful, candid and loving portrait of your friendship with Melanie. Thank you so much for putting your heartfelt feelings into words, so those of us who don't know Melanie can begin to understand what a wonderful person she is... I, too, hope that you get to tell Mel how much you love her very soon...

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  3. This is a set of beautiful thoughts, beautifully written. I think that is one of the reasons I feel so, so, so badly about this whole situation - it's not JUST a musher who is missing, not JUST a missing person. It is a person who has family, who has close friends, who has left dogs behind who must miss her dreadfully as well. I just think about all the people who love and miss her, and their pain, the pain of not knowing on top of the pain of missing her. It's just so unbelievably sad, and I just wish so much it hadn't happened, wish that there was something I could DO.

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  4. This is a beautiful tribute, heartbreakingly beautiful. I hope she is OK. Sending love and strength.

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  5. That is so Mel! Even if we had lost touch over the last couple years and don't really "hang out" anymore I'd never quit thinking of her as a friend and all around outstanding person in all aspects of life. She is a person you feel comfortable with at any time. I wish I was 1/2 as tough, kind and giving as Melanie. She is the woman on the hill, the woman who spent 3 winters in a tee-pee, the woman who loves dogs like they are people and I too hope to hug her again soon, come home Mel we miss you!

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  6. Waiting like the friend in the last picture, for the door to open and the knowing that home is where the heart is. True written words to describe a friendship that is eternal.

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  7. Yep now the tears are flowing.

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  8. Beautiful tribute Anita! Hoping she is found soon.

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  9. Beautifully written. Come home Mel. It's so easy to see that all of your friends--including the furry ones--miss you.

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  10. Bless you, Anita, for saying what we all feel, but can't put into words. Come home, Melani. We need you back here. GLP

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  11. This is beautiful. Choked me up too. I do hope they find her safely soon.

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  12. Very vivid and beautiful picture from the heart, Anita. Inspirational, as well. Having just arrived on my work shift in Southeast right before this sadness unfolded, I have been hanging on every post, every news article to the point I had to just pull away so I could meet my responsibilities here. Although my heart aches for Melanie, everyone so close to her, and for her dogs, I am inspired by this to get home and get to know the beauty of each and every Talkeetna neighbor that I haven't yet met as well as reaffirm my appreciation of the beauty within the ones I already know and love. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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  13. Somehow it helps to read your thoughtfully written words, Anita, to see the photos of a happy smiling Melanie - and then that last photo of the white dog waiting expectantly... That hits hard. I've been feeling a lot like that dog this last week, just waiting, waiting...

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  14. Love shines through...very nice

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  15. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I hope her family saw that and realizes how loved Melanie is by her family and friends.

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  16. Thank you for sharing from your heart about Melanie, Anita. I think of her everyday in hopes she returns home to Talkeenta soon. It helps to have these beautiful images of her to keep her safe return foremost in my mind.

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  17. Your comments are full of love, Anita, and show the high regard people have for Melanie. I was shocked when I arrived in Talkeetna last Friday and saw Melanie's photo on the flyer with details about her disappearance. And then I was saddened because I realized that although I had interacted with her several times at the Flying Squirrel, I didn't know her name. To me, she is "the best soy chai maker anywhere." Obviously, she is so much more...a beautiful person who is loved dearly by so many.

    I do hope the answers are found soon...

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  18. Your post had/has me in tears. So beautifully written, honest - an illustration of true friendship and dedication. My heart goes out to you, and to Melanie who is such an amazing, tenacious spirit. Hope springs eternal. We must not give up hope. Namaste.
    Shannon

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  19. A wonderful tribute! Thank you for giving us, who do not know Melanie, the opportunity to see
    what a loving person she is.

    And maybe huskies are not good trackers as a rule but it would be worth a try at taking one of her dogs out where the truck was found.
    Maybe her leader or favorite in the group?

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  20. My heart goes out to you...so much you say and so much yet to ponder. I will print this off for her Dad and Noelle,(Mom2). I never met Mel. They say-"You'd like her...you two have much in common." "She could do anything, she loves life- everything. Tastes it in big gulps while the rest of us nibble..." Regardless of the outcome, Melanie Gould is and always is- amazing. I try to comfort her family here, you have helped me a great deal...It is hope and not despair that carries us as far as we need to go. There is every reason still to hope, it is with great risk that we do- how vulnerable a feeling it is to go on faith, and yet what faith it must have taken to start out on a 1200 mile trek with no real assurances. Everyone that loves Mel, everyone that has come to love Mel through those that do- gentle strength to you. Carry on and take care.

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  21. ....just wish that she comes home....

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  22. Thank you for a beautiful post on Melanie. I last talked with her at your "Flying Squirrel Bakery". As always, very sweet & helpfull. Praying for her safe return soon.

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  23. Heartfelt, and simple. Beautifully written.

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  24. Your words have given eternal life to one of our sisters, whether we have ever met her or not. You have made me admire her for her accomplishments. She has been living her life well and that's all we can ask for in this world. She is a contributor. Thank you Melanie!

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  25. Melanie will come home. I truly believe that.

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  26. you are a great friend and with that I hope Melanie is found God bless you for writing your friendship story

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  27. Margaret Black, Ontario, CanadaJune 12, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    So glad Melanie was found safe! Positive energies to you and the rest of her friends and family, as you help her to heal and return to normal life, following what will likely be an emotional recovery from this episode in her life.

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