Here are the seven keys to happiness in the rain forest

Southeast Tides

Posted: Sunday, August 01, 2004

It used to be that education was the key to personal fulfillment, the good life, and success. Nowadays, judging by the prominence of the self-improvement sections in bookstores, the secret to happiness is to lose weight, work smart, organize your finances, invest like the pros, rewire your brain, translate your mate's moods, cook like a chef, or whatever the next hot self-help book says.

But who has time to read all that stuff? And besides, happiness and health are more local; subject to the influences of the people and places we find close to home. So, since there isn't a self-help guide specifically for Juneau, I've taken the liberty of summarizing the seven keys to happiness in the rain forest.

• Drink the water, and I mean the tap water, not the stuff they bottle down south or in the south of France. There's plenty of evidence that Juneau water is more pure than the fancy bottles you're treating yourself to at the market, and at least as good as the Sitka tap water that's being bottled and sold all over the world as "high-quality alpine water."

Hint: Buy a bottle of expensive H2O and when you're done take it home and fill it with tap water. When done, repeat as needed. Average savings in one year = $1,200, all of which can be invested in gasoline, dog food, or more rain gear.

• Do not stop for tourists when they cross the street anywhere they please. You're just encouraging them. Downtown Seattle has 530,000 more people than Juneau and almost all of them stop at crosswalks. The way it works is, when a car comes within a hair of creaming your hip, you tend to learn to wait until the white stick man lights up. Hint: I said don't stop for them, but I didn't say to hit them. Insurance companies and police frown on such "accidents."

• Learn to think of flightseeing helicopters as noisy birds that will eventually fly south for the winter. I mean, really, when the crows fly around the Dumpsters or the seagulls make their way from the landfill to the hatchery, they can be every bit as obnoxiously noisy as the airborne machines. But, because they are living creatures and don't fly around on a regular schedule, we cut them a break.

Hint: They don't call them "whirlybirds" for nothing. Note: The choppers don't bomb your car with guano. Observation: The more irritating the feathered friend, the more likely they are not to be among the variety that fly south for the winter.

• Slow down and smell the roses. And I don't mean the ones along Egan Drive, since those are actually dandelions and fireweed. I mean the metaphorical roses that grow pleasantly along the edges of your subconscious when you realize you live in Juneau and you have no real reason to rush anywhere. Take time to park at the wetlands observation point and eat lunch. Stop by the Brotherhood Bridge trailhead and enjoy the deep blue of the glacier and the pure joy of the dogs as they hop out the back of countless tailgates. In-between, cruise on the right, pass on the left, and clean up your dog's poop. Everyone will get along better. Note: Think of your own favorite places and mentally insert above.

• Don't freak out if a dog is off-leash occasionally. Ninety-nine percent of owners are responsible and would not let Spot run loose if he was a danger to others. Unlike you, dogs spend most of their time sitting around doing nothing but dreaming of the few minutes a day or week they can run in the woods. And since they only live one-seventh as long as us, the least we can do is let them romp once in awhile. Note: Dogs don't have to slow down and smell the roses. Footnote: Fertilization is optional. Observation: Don't worry about those irresponsible owners. They hardly ever walk their dogs anyway.

• Take advantage of Juneau's artistic, aesthetic, and athletic economies of scale. Huh? I mean don't take for granted the fact that, per capita, you have great local music, theater, cultural arts, natural beauty, and options to actually play sports as well as conveniently watch those who play. In most other places in this country people pay a lot more money to do these things, and since they're sitting a mile away, or it takes them hours to get to the venue, the experience isn't all it's cracked up to be. Rule: Economies of scale don't apply to the following: mountains, glaciers, whales, bears, halibut, salmon, and the appetite of the average Southeast Alaskan.

• For crying out loud, do yourselves a favor and build the Valley high school! Relieving the overcrowding that will arise at Juneau-Douglas High School when the drop out rate drops under 10 percent; well, that's one reason. But that will improve the lives of kids, and this is about self-improvement. So here's the real reason: Having two sports teams will mean that Juneau will lose more often, which will build humility and strength of character in all Bear fans. You will also feel good because you are building self-esteem and pride among citizens of the communities whose teams will beat the Bears. It's a win-win all around!

Well, there ya go. All you need to do to improve your outlook this summer and beyond is to exercise some common sense, take control of your streets, relax, enjoy the advantages of the capital city, and help yourself by helping others. Oh, and if you're a trail walker without a canine companion, take along a treat. They don't call these the dog days of summer for nothing.

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