From the Panhandle

by Elin Johnson

I sat in the back seat of the The Bug strapped into a booster seat contraption that rivaled the set up of a fighter pilot. I watched the rain drops slide down the windows, racing each other. Mom pointed at the green beast growing up out of the side of the road.

“Mt. Juneau. See that?”
I nodded my head stoically.
“And you see those, where the snow over hangs?”

Again, I nodded.

“That’s a cornice.”
I decided to break my silence with a solemn interrogation into its importance, since it clearly wasn’t a vegetable frequently paired with peas.

“Well, you see, they’re dangerous.”

Still unclear of the answer, I persisted with my line of questioning. Anything so far away couldn’t possibly cause anyone harm. She explained how the siren just over the edge had called many of her ski-bum buddies to their doom.

“At least they were happy when they left,” I chipped in, not realizing the severity of mortality at my young age.

“No. Once you cultivate relationships and dependencies you aren’t allowed to just risk your life like that.”

Although I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, I had the feeling it was a messed up thing to tell a kid.


It was one of the rare sunny days that made living in the capital city worth it. Living in an empty house and sleeping on an inflatable mattress had confused me.The white hallways had begun echoing unnerving whispers back to me. These walls that had once been a shelter, had now appeared foreboding. To combat this I escaped to the safety of the neighbors yard. Their seemingly endless supply of children had resulted in an eclectic collection of plastic toys scattered across their yard. I moved through the toy graveyard until I stumbled upon the pigtailed offspring closest to my height. We spent the day on the swing set, pretending to be pirates of the sky. When the car pulled up, backseat filled to bursting with boxes of fragile items and keepsakes, I ripped my shoes off and threw them into the woods. We wouldn’t make the ferry if  I was barefoot. I was no baseball protege, and within no time mom had collected the denim clogs from where they crash landed amongst the pine needles Screaming goodbye to everything that was familiar, I was buckled in the passenger seat of the car – a rare treat I took note of and enjoyed.


The grownups decided that throwing a scavenger hunt for a tiny human would be hilarious and so it came to be. Magnetic letters spelling out my name were scattered about the neighborhood within designated “safe” zones. Seven little girls dressed up like princesses drank grape juice out of plastic tea cups and discussed strategies. They devoured each basic clue and found themselves in the back yard at the base of the hill that served as a make-shift property line. It loomed up like Everest, each tree seeming to stretch towards the sky like a threat. They began to clamber up the mossy bank, dolls momentarily shoved under armpits to keep their hands free. The fires of competition roared in their bellies, a new feeling they were curious to explore. Six girls pushed ahead, the last having slipped in toy heels, scrapping a knee.

“Wait,” I called.“Wait for the birthday girl.”


She let me pick the radio station as we drove away. I was still reeling from the realization that there was more to the world of faceless voices than just NPR. The surprise appearance of the sun seemed to make everything glow. I almost liked the claustrophobic feel of the car ride. We twisted towards the dock and I began to try to consider what life might become. Who was I going to have play dates with? Would I get a new babysitter? I was starting to feel squeamish. What if no one liked my fanny pack? I began to think that I didn’t want to help take care of my grandparents. It was their fault they were old and sick. Why didn’t they just stay young forever? That’s what I was going to do. I pulled my bunny rabbit closer and rubbed his ears. Mom gave him/her to me to distract me from the realization  that they were pulling up our roots. We weren’t going to live in a house that had a climbing wall instead of stairs. Some other little girl was going to have my room. I decided it really wasn’t that fair. I wasn’t done playing pirates. Beside me my mother began to cry. Her entire body shook and she let out low wails. I averted my gaze to the road. I didn’t want to crash.

bio pic idea 1Elin is a lifelong Alaskan with a passion for storytelling and everything outdoors. When she isn’t traveling or at the dance studio, you will most likely spot her between the pages of a book confused as to why she has become so tiny, or forcing her dog to watch the cinematic masterpieces of the 80s and 90s. Elin is always ready for an adventure, especially if there is a chance of karaoke, so don’t be afraid to pick her brain about favorite books or her true feelings about breakfast foods.


  • Ryan Terry

    Your writing always really impresses me, and especially in this piece, it show a lot of sophistication. There is a lot of subtext going on here that was implemented really well, and accurately portrays what it going on. You also do a really good job of keeping the writing in the perspective of a child. Great essay!

  • Karissa

    Elin, my hero. I appreciate you, and I appreciate your concern for your fanny pack. Thank you for sharing your writing, as always.

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