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By Elise Giordano

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Three years ago, I wrote a column much like this one.

I had found Skagway a few months prior and after a summer internship was in love with the valley, the surrounding mountains, an exciting new relationship and a community of giving hearts.

Coming to terms with leaving was a tough pill to swallow. In front of The Station, I buried my head in my boyfriend’s shoulder and cried for the town I would miss.

I returned to Florida to finish my education, but I couldn’t stay away. One day after receiving my diploma, I was on my way back, and I’ve been here ever since.

The windy place with white caps on the water blows people in and out; some for hours, others for five months and a select few stay forever.

My time in Skagway has not been extraordinary in length. Three years is a drop in the bucket. But what I’ve lacked in time, I’ve made up for with memories.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Skagway brings hearts together. People you would have never met, friendships you would have never created and partners you would have never loved. Maybe it’s something in the water that makes it so magical.

Whether it’s in the water or in the mountains, it’s something tangible. I don’t think it’s ever as strong as it is during your first summer.

I remember walking down Broadway in the evenings as the blue hour set in, looking toward Harding Glacier and feeling so lucky to be in such an enchanting place. There was forever pep in my step.

I would head toward my apartment in the newsroom, a glorified closet with a very lumpy futon, and bathe with a large yogurt cup because the showerhead was broken.

During the weeks that darkness set in, fear would too. Was that creaking outside my door from the wind? Or was it from the ghost child I’d heard so many stories about?

Stories. That’s what has and continues to make Skagway, Skagway. I feel lucky to have been able to tell a few of those stories as factually as possible.

But before returning to the paper, I told stories of a different sort- in back alleys and dusty brothels. I was a madam for The Red Onion- Madam Essie Ex.

There’s something to be said about wearing a costume and heavy red lipstick every day. I commend the ladies who do it year after year. It is a lesson in public speaking, keeping a smile on your face and answering questions like, “What really goes on upstairs?”

But after a season of stuffing dollar bills down my bra, the wind blew me back to the newsroom.

Returning to the paper threw me a wicked learning curve. Jeff Brady left on a three-month road trip; Katie Devereaux moved away with her new husband Jim; leaving Katie Kollasch and myself to run the whole show.

The learning curve hasn’t subsided, but it has gotten a bit easier. Writing, laying out, editing and delivering every issue will do that to a person.

But it will also teach lessons in multi-tasking, note taking, deadlines and procrastination. I’d like to think I’ve become pretty skilled in all four areas.

As in all things, there is always room for growth. Now, I am seeking to grow in my photography, where my true passion lies. And so the wind blows me in a different direction.

This is my final issue with The Skagway News. I have accepted a position with Outdoor Research (OR) as their photo/video coordinator in Seattle. I’ll be building a studio, photographing gear and exploring in the Cascade Mountain Range. In a word, it’s a dream.

I have found that my happiness is directly linked to following those dreams.

Skagway was my dream in 2013. I had a yearning to be in Alaska, and I found myself here. In 2014, I needed to come back, and I was once again fulfilled. Now my dreams are taking me to the other end of the Inside Passage, and while I’m excited for the journey, it doesn’t make going any easier.

Change is hard, as is the growth that goes along with it. Everyone deals with it differently. Some friends are excited, while others remain silent. I recently had someone ask upon learning of my departure, “But who is going to take photos of our events?” The answer is I’m not sure. But when one door closes, another opens.

My replacement will be making the journey from Eagle River. Suzanne Ashe is an accomplished writer and having lived in Petersburg, is accustomed to the Southeast life. But she is new to Skagway.

So when she comes to town and finds herself sitting in the front row of borough assembly meetings or face-to-face with citizens begging for a pool, remember that she too is going through growth and change. Go easy on her. Trust that she will also become accustomed to the learning curve. And someone with a new eye and different vision will be here to photograph the beauty that is Skagway. In truth, that part makes me a bit blue.

I have loved photographing your children and your families. I have loved watching Santa light up the tree on Fifth. I have loved the races, the marathons, the rec center sales and the Dedman Stage shows. I have loved the river and the mountains, the beaches, and the seas. There is no place like Skagway, anywhere at all.

I take solace in the fact that Skagway will forever be here, tucked deep inside the valley with its spruce tips and alpine glow. The distance can’t keep me away for long. But when the 1,600 miles feels too far, I’ll turn to my memories for comfort.

I’ll think of gallivanting with my best friend up and down Broadway, annoying passersby with our laughter. I’ll think of hiking over the Chilkoot in rain, fog and sun. I’ll remember catching trout in the Yukon with the best fisherman the north has to offer. I’ll remember fireweed kisses next to Lower Reid Falls, romantic midnight tours complete with a nighttime snack, and dreamy Yukon camping trips looking out over lakes and train tracks. Skagway has given me these moments and so much more. I am the woman I am today because of this community. And despite the difficulty and pain, I am excited to continue growing and changing.

Writing the paper has given me an inside look into the workings of this small Southeast town. In some ways, it has cracked away at that magic I so loved my first summer.

Many call Skagway home, but don’t really know what goes on at City Hall or down at the Ore Terminal. Skagway is magical, but it is also a real place with real issues. And more of the community needs to be involved.

To the municipality, I say clean up the Ore Basin. Get rid of the contaminants. Ensure the health and safety of your community and your children. Don’t wait until 2023.

To the citizens, I say be involved. Go to your town hall meetings. Listen to what your elected officials have to say.  Speak to your assembly, write letters. Don’t hide behind a computer and rant on social media. Make a difference. Be informed.

And still, find the magic.

After many a late night meeting, I have found myself walking home in the falling snow, underneath the northern lights or below a hovering midnight sun. When I stop to soak it all in, the stress rolls away, and I am overcome with the beauty that is Alaska- that is Skagway.

Thank you for helping me grow and for sticking by me as I’ve become a better writer and a better person. The journey is far from over, but I am glad to have spent three years of it here.