Writing the Distance: Lynn Hallquist

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. Lynn Hallquist provides today’s reflection and photograph.


         In my windowsill a single stem of dried seaweed clings to a small rock. The grasping part is a holdfast, an anchor used by many marine plants so that they don’t float away.

These days, our holdfasts can be anything that provides safety, security, refuge. From sturdy hiking boots to health insurance to a warm bed to a job to a home that’s a haven. But what if home is not a haven, as it sometimes feels in these strange days when we’re urged to stay inside to avoid a virus that has changed life as we knew it? What if my holdfast is slipping? What will hold me to my moorings?

A note on my calendar reminds me that today the geese are due on the library lawn.

It’s a practice I started In the 1980s when our public radio station aired commentaries by a scratchy-voiced woman from Missoula, Montana. Each spring she described how to make a Checklist for Spring. The list would send her off to scout dandelion greens for a fresh salad and sorrel leaves for sorrel soup. To explore a cattail swamp. Identify a new bird. That’s what I needed, a reason to leave the confines of my house and observe the advance of this bursting season. Each March for years I’d posted a fresh checklist and begun my search. I learned to pay attention, to be an observer, to identify birds and plants, even fragrances in the air. Most of all, to appreciate.

I find a clean sheet of paper and write Checklist for Spring across the top, adding things I know will soon appear, like Canada geese on the library lawn. Pussy willows, sandhill cranes, purple squill and violets in bloom, rhubarb crowns, the first robin, a kite, a lawnmower’s buzz, retiring the snow shovel, biking past a ditch near the airport where the scent of onions fills the air. The list will grow with dates and places as I notice others. I hang it on the refrigerator door.

Then I drive through our silent town to the shuttered library, snow still covering the ground. Ducks swim in the ice-free pond and a hundred ducks lie on the pavement, seeking warmth, hardly flinching when a truck drives close. Nearby, a dozen geese nibble last summer’s grass. The geese, holding fast, are back.

Tomorrow I will cut cottonwood branches, bring them inside, and watch spring unfurl in the opening of their scented leaves.

Lynn Hallquist lives and writes in Anchorage.

2 thoughts on “Writing the Distance: Lynn Hallquist”

  1. Thank you, Lynn. “Holdfast” will stay with me forever. Thank you for the gift of a name for things that fill my life with meaning.

    1. I love it – your reminders of the importance of all those things that surround us nearby, and sweet spring in Anchorage, Alaska.
      Thank you.

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