FISHCAMP VIDEOS: Where the Rocks Cry Out+The Seals Jump In

Would you come with me to an incredible place? Let me take you down into my summer neighborhood on the west side of Kodiak Island.

You won't need boots or a lifejacket today. I'm wearing them for you. I want you to see this, to see who lives here in this bay, who shares these salt waters with us. 

Here, maybe just as in your neighborhood, the rocks DO cry out already, stacked with ledges and condos of chicks and mamas, all cooing and singing their gull-y songs of flying and happy being . .. .

And of course, not them alone, but fox and deer, otters and puffins, and always the eagles.

I have been here a very long time, but still, I wonder, and maybe you do as well:

Are they here for us? Are they here to enliven and ornament and animate our quiet black rocks and silent grey beaches?

Or, is this their given task---to entertain us, so we can ogle and photo and show them off, to our own glory?

Or, are they here as signposts to our great and glorious God, their own maker, to point us beyond ourselves?

 Yes on this one, but more even than this. They live beyond us, in their own salty gardens and rich noisy families and rocky condos and ocean cities. They live their full lives without us, not needing us or wanting us.

We, however, need them.  Desperately.  We often can't remember who we are, or whose we are, or where our food and our very breath come from. 

But they do not forget. They don't need us to glory in their Maker. They already know in their little gull heart, in their seal spirit, their eaglet mind that God is their creator, the one who loves them and feeds them.

                                                         ( fish for dinner)

But we forget. Until we look around. Then, if we are truly seeing, we can say with the Psalmist, 

What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations!
Oh look! The deep, wide sea, brimming with fish
past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. 
All the creatures look expectantly to you
  to give them their meals on time.
You come and they gather around;
you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back, they'd die in a minute---
Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud;
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life--
    the whole countryside in bloom and blossom!

Let God enjoy His creation!

O, Let me sing to God all my life long!     

                                                  ----Ps. 104 (The Message)

Do you see, they are here, all of them, for God first?
He made them first, the creatures of sea and land, before any of us. He named them all "very good," before any of us. He delighted in them and blessed them saying, "Be fruitful and multiply" before any of us came to be. 

They are His. Not ours. Because He delights in them---and He invites us to the same. 

Let God enjoy His creation!

Let us delight in God and His creation! 

Let us sing to God all our lives long!


A Dying Sealion + How Angry is God?

While on a walk on Harvester Island this week, I saw a splash and heard a blast by one of our fishing nets. I knew what it was even before I saw it---a sea lion. Sure enough, there he was, fishing our net. Too lazy to go out and fish the ocean he swam in, the element he owned, he caught our fish instead of his own. There he was, rising from beneath with a fish in his mouth and a playful toss of his head. 


A single sea lion can eat thirty fish from our net in a day. We had none to spare today----the nets are catching mostly water and kelp.  I was ready to resent him----moocher, lion of the sea, feeding from our pastures instead of his own limitless waters. And then through my camera lens I saw and caught my breath

---he was wounded. Maybe even mortally wounded. His face on one side nearly ripped off. His entire back a gaping wound.

The orcas. A pod had come through last week . 

I did not watch the sea lion alone. A dear friend from college was there with me, visiting for the week. We could hardly stop talking, the two of us, still filling in the 30 years we lost track of each other. We both had had large families, years of grad school, teaching careers, writing, so much the same though a continent apart and no words in between. And in the midst of all the richness of our lives, we discovered we shared as well great woundings, departures, ruptures, and scars we bore then and some still. 

We remembered the decades we believed in long sermons, instant obedience, unquestioning sacrifice, submission, and  “leadership” that refused accountability. We lamented our acceptance of rules over relationships, skirts instead of pants, long hair instead of short, obedience instead of love, fear instead of courage.  We repented of the years we wasted following man-made laws instead of God-given grace, pursuing acceptance through feckless  perfectionism rather than living the gospel through reckless forgiveness.

And we rejoiced, because somehow, we survived.  Somehow we escaped the orcas, the predators who rule by might and speed and strength, who cow and devour with another gospel. Another gospel entirely.

And we rejoiced because it was God himself who rescued us.

Who is this God we serve? What kind of God is he?  What does God look like? Is he an angry, toothed, rule-grinding deity, predator of the deep, ready to lash and devour the weak, the sinful, the ones who can’t measure up or keep on?  Is he a sin-counter, an angry executioner of the recalcitrant, the long-haired, the imperfect, the tattooed, the late-to-church, the wine sippers, the storytellers, the drum-beaters, the movie-watchers, the not-good-enoughers?

I do not make light of His justice or His righteousness, even his righteous anger, which is part of his perfection. But look. Look around you and see who God is toward you, see who has tended my wounds and yours. Who is this God? How large is He? How loving? How far beyond us is He?  How near is He? That night, that very night of the sea lion, here is an answer written in the sky:

Here are answers in the ones around me.  

(Five Fields + crewmen-friends Peter and Josh)

And here, just one of a million answers and words given to us, these from the book of Hosea where God sings this love song to his disobedient children, Israel:

 When Israel was a child,
I loved him,
and I called
    my son out of Egypt. . . 
I took Israel by the arm
    and taught them to walk . . .
I led them with kindness
and with love,
    not with ropes.
I held them close to me;
    I bent down to feed them.

And even when Israel rebels, God sings this:

Israel, I can’t let you go.
    I can’t give you up.
My feelings for you
    are much too strong.
I am the Holy God—
not merely some human,
    and I won’t stay angry.
 . . . my children will return,
from the west.
They will come back,
fluttering like birds from Egypt . ..
Then I will settle them
back in their homes.

Yes, He is righteous, but does His righteousness make him a rule-slinging, angry unforgiving God?

Never. Here's what you must know and do:

Don’t let the orcas devour you with a gospel that says you must be perfect and obedient, meaning you must follow the laws and rules of their own power-hungry devising. Don’t confuse such people and such preaching with the God who risked everything to rescue a wandering lamb, who wrapped a towel around him and knelt to wash his friends’ dirty feet, who submitted to the worst kind of death to redeem your life, to empower you to fall on your knees to do the same for others as wandering and dirty as you  . . .

I so hope that sea lion heals. I don’t even mind if he comes back to our net for more fish.  I would even feed him myself if I could. 

God is doing this for me. And for you.

This is the kind of God we love and serve.

Join me in spreading this good gospel news!

Boot Winners, a Dead Eaglet? + Why I Know Nothing

Duncan walked in the front door. “One of the eaglets is dead,” he announced dramatically.

“What? Are you sure?" I looked up from the table.  "You were out there just now?” 

“Yeah, I was there by the trail and one of them’s outside the nest lying there dead.”

I examined his face, as if his expression would explain the loss, then sighed, thinking of all of you rooting for these eaglets, even if they are no long cute or fuzzy. 

“Well,” I shook my head, “ there it is: 'nature red in tooth and claw.'  I wonder if the other eaglet killed it competing for food . …”. 

I grabbed my camera, put on my hiking boots, all other plans dropped.  

My first glimpse of the nest, I gaped. I hadn't seen them for a week.

They were massive. Their black juvenile feathers had come in. They were in what I call the pterodactyl stage. But I knew almost immediately the second eaglet was not dead, though it was indeed collapsed in the posture of something expired. They always looked this way. When they were resting and digesting, they always looked like a bag of bones and fluff and quills crumpled and tossed to the cliff.  I just walked to another cliff for a better angle.

Ah! Maddie and Calvin, alive and thriving! But Duncan did not know. He had not been watching them from the opposite cliff all summer as I had. He did not know them as I did. 

But how much knowledge of this island can I claim? Earlier this week, I discovered again how little I know about this island, about myself, about names, about God.

 A botanist and her husband came to the island for a day. Not just any botanist, but the one who wrote the book, literally, on flora on Kodiak Island.

Stacy knows everything. I brought her to one of our many meadows thick with flowers and proudly gestured at its beauty. She gasped, “This is dreamy. There are very few places like this on Kodiak Island.” And it began there, hours of hiking in fields, hillsides, beaches, cliffs and meadows photographing, cataloging. 

Under her tutelage, I found out how little I knew.  I could  rattle off twenty flowers at my feet, but I had missed the best ones. Stacy showed me moonwarts, frog orchids, valerian, kinnikinnick. I discovered that all these years I had mistaken frog orchids for bog orchids.  I never saw the moonworts, which were startlingly dense, Stacy said, on this hillside. The chocolate lily, the old standby, did I  know why it stank like rotting meat? To attract its pollinators----flies, she said, not bees. 

 She could name every grass and sedge and blossom and knew the how and why and when of its life. Under her eyes and words, my island spoke new words back to me. 

That night, storm clouds blackened the sky as the setting midnight sun pried its last light through---and the flowers in the meadow, the ones whose names I had just learned, flamed like torches . ….

We are still doing Eden work, all of us, dressing and naming what lies in the After-Eden wilds and gardens we all inhabit. But even after so many years, how do we still get it wrong? I can still name and identify the most familiar things wrongly. It only starts with the flowers. I named myself “victim” for too long. I named myself “unworthy” and “invisible” for too long. And I have done the opposite: named myself "faithful" when I was not. Named myself "truth-teller" when I did not tell the whole truth. And I have identified others by the wrong names as well. Too many others.

We all live among such beauty and confusion. We think we know our own island. We think we know ourselves and each other. We think we know the flowers and the eagles. And then the botanist comes, the painter comes, the poet comes, the evening sun comes, a storm comes, God comes and suddenly all we thought we knew is shot to heaven and back. We stand, gaping. We are ashamed, but only for a moment. The recognition of our ignorance does its own cleansing: Look how much more there is! Look how vast the world beneath our feet! Look how wonderfully small we are! 

And then we praise.  

I praise the God of stinky chocolate lilies and moonworts.  I praise the God who names me yet, in all my ignorance and stink, “beloved;” who walks among the fields and lights us like torches with our true names: 















Yes, the flowers of the field shall all wither and pass, Isaiah tells us. I know, I see it in the mirror,  but the word of the Lord, and the names He has spoken over us will live forever. 


Do you hear your truest name? 



How do I choose among so many good people who want a taste of this island? One way: the wet-foot-in-boot way. And five names came up gasping for air out of my stinky boot. Here they are: Linda Chontos, (red shoes)Pat,  Paula Ibach, and Ingrid .  Would you ladies send me your mailing address and I’ll get some sweets and a book off to you, with pleasure!