Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop

When God Keeps Surprising

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I am back in Kodiak now. Summer is gone. The writing workshop is over. And just when I think nothing new could happen in this yearly cycle—from one Alaskan island to another, that has now spun me around for 42 years——God does it again. Astonishment. Surprise. Goodness hailing down like rain from a cloudless sky. Maybe I am a hopeless slow learner, but I am still dropped low, left gaping at these moments when we lived, moved and felt our being joined to God and one another.

But—-this is too many words.Here is what this last week looked, sounded, and tasted like:




 

And here are Marilyn’s words for this week. (The brilliant Marilyn Chandler MacEntyre was my guest writer for the week)

Harvester Island Writers’ Workshop, 2019

with many thanks to Leslie and Duncan

 

I had no idea, when I said yes,

how wide open the door would swing,

how many would come bearing gifts—

local lore, woolen socks, timely reminders

of ways to use a Q, new uses for quinoa,

large cameras for crowds, a sharp eye

for whale fins, long-legged rain gear

and chocolate covered almonds.

 

I had no idea what pleasure a banya

might provide on a chilly afternoon

or what chilly might mean in this

northwest outback.  In Sacramento

it’s 102 today.  70 is sweater weather.

 

I thought I knew what I might offer;

I’ve done this many times before, I thought.

I had handouts, and plenty of prompts.

 

But one sure and certain sign of the Spirit

is surprise.  Conversation re-creates and all

our preparations are reconfigured.  We leave

our devices at the door, our shoes, our hygienic

excesses, and walk into a bright circle of grace.

 

We learn again, from one another, how a word

can take root in the body and grow into story

or song.  We have seen salmon dying now,

and puffins making their flapping way

up the steep hill of wind, and curious gulls,

and watched quizzical otters from a deck full

of well-wrapped watchers, balanced between

words and silence, awed and unsettled and expectant,

already imagining how to keep these moments alive

long enough to transplant them into poems.

 

I had some idea of what could happen

when two or three were gathered, permitted to laugh,

invited to play.  God’s own breath moves among us,

diffuse and subtle, filling hospitable silences,

preparing us each, in ways we barely suspect,

for what comes next.

——-Marilyn Chandler MacEntyre

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How to Get MORE of Everything that Counts (Including Squid)

Finally, I am finding words. What happened in this most intense week of my life? Come and see.

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Here’s what didn’t happen. We didn’t see whales this time—the first Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop workshop ever without whales. Nor did we see Kodiak bears, though we tried.  But we saw a squid. Small, nearly translucent, with neon eyes and a weird affinity for us. He played around our boots for 15 minutes. We held him in the cradle of our hands.

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 I never know what’s going to happen this week when 22 writers from everywhere gather on our fish camp island in Alaska. We first met on Saturday, sitting in a circle, telling 2 minutes of our story. We did not know each other. I asked, “Why have you come so far? What are you looking for?” Before we even began, there were tears and raw hearts. I wondered, what will God do here?

 

It wasn’t a simple or easy week. One of our beloved crewmen was injured by a chainsaw (Incredibly, a float plane was nearby so he could be whisked to the hospital. He is well and healed now.) A film crew was there filming the classes—-which stressed me out. One day we shot three sessions consecutively, ending with headaches, exhausted. We had some crises in the kitchen so everyone had to cook. We ran out of veggies. Did I sleep that week?

And the aftermath? The 28 sets of sheets, the 15 rooms to be cleaned and closed up for the winter . . .

 

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But it was an extravagant week.

 

 

I know so many of you who want to come. But it’s far. And it costs. But I want you to know,

You don’t have to fly to a far north island in Alaska to live this way. You don’t have to fly in a float plane, walk in wilderness, ride in skiffs, to know this same joy.     

  Two thousand years ago a man said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

The man who promised this was mostly homeless, born into an oppressed minority, despised by the religious authorities, distrusted by his family, misunderstood by even his closest friends, marked for death by his many enemies. And yet---he lived extravagantly, generously, sacrificially, joyfully, abundantly.

 Have you heard this?

 “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

What IS this abundant life?

 It IS a life of more. Not Joel-Osteen “more.” Not bigger houses, fancier cars, better job, more expensive clothes “more.” “More” meaning a life beyond our lonely single selves. Meaning a life bound up, twined into the lives of others. “More” includes, yes, exhaustion, Yes, risk. Yes, wounding and betrayal. Yes, grief. Yes, failure. All of it. But it means, more than anything, MORE of one another. And MORE of God. And with this “more,” in the company of friends and God, a little squid playing in our hands is as wondrous as a whale.

 This is the fullest life I know. We can live like this wherever we are, every single day.

 Will you try—-and tell me about it?

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(Who’s coming for the next HIWW? Here:)