Kodiak

Surviving Kodiak's Heat Wave: And "I Want It All"

GOPR0693.JPG

Who can account for a week in a life? What is the story of this week on Harvester Island? Eleven of us live, eating around the table, standing at fishing nets mending for days and days . .. An unprecedented heat wave—-in the mid-70’s here on Harvester for 10 days. (Over 90 in Anchorage. A first.) It’s a little scary to us . . .

(And I know all of you suffering with temps in the 90’s and over 100 can laugh at us wimps. We are wimps indeed . ..)

And me, what am I doing among all of this? I am rejoicing. THE BOOK (my 12th) is OFF to the publisher. I met the deadline, though sickness came to call just before and it seemed the whole tiny universe around me was conspiring to keep me from words. This is what it looks like to hit the “Send” button on a manuscript that was forged in the midst of sickness, personal heartache, and a busy fishcamp life.

Leslie----smiling with mss. in studio.jpg

And here is my studio, awash still in paper, words, sentences . …. .

book--spread+all+over+studio+table.jpg

Every book finished is some kind of miracle. At the nearly-finished line, I’m sure I am not the only one relieved and breathing easier (though my breath is held in reservation until I hear back from my editor . .).

I think God is probably relieved as well: No more daily whimpering from Leslie!


How do you rejoice and celebrate on Harvester Island? You go climb trees with your son. Oh good day——this was one of the happiest moments in my week. (I spent half my childhood up in trees.)

Leslie + Micah in alders.jpeg

And——You cut up fish! Here, a 40 pound king salmon my daughter brought in.

Naphtali+holding+huge+king+in+raingear.jpg

I don’t need words now. Just hands. Just knives. Just eyes.



Leslie cutting up king--2019.jpeg
Leslie%252Bwith%252Bgiant%252Bking%252Bfillet.jpg
king salmon meat---pattern.jpeg


king+salmon+tail--closeup.jpg




But play is over. The Spirit of Food workshop begins next week with so many friends coming! And we have a new classroom and bedrooms to finish., menus to plan, and a thousand other things.

I am greedy, I know. I am greedy. I am tired. But I cannot stop. As Rilke writes in the poem below, “Maybe I want it all.”

You see, I want a lot.

Maybe I want it all:

The darkness of each endless fall,

The shimmering light of each ascent.

 

So many are alive who don’t seem to care.

Casual, easy, they move in the world

As though untouched.

 

But you take pleasure in the faces

Of those who know they thirst.

You cherish those

Who grip you for survival.

 

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late

To open your depths by plunging into them

And drink in the life

That reveals itself quietly there.

 

---Rainer Maria Rilke


DSC_0942.JPG
DSC_0798-002.JPG
sparrow.jpeg
DSC_1058.jpg


fishermen leaving in skiffs-2019.jpeg

Will you keep gripping God for survival?

We are not dead yet.

Let us keep thirsting together.

So gratefully,

Leslie

bloodstar+in+hand.jpg

Georgette the Otter & Why I Am So Small

DSC_1410.jpg

Last week an otter tried to climb onto my kayak. Sea otters look like ocean-going koala bears so I wasn’t afraid. but I did fear for my water bottle.

Here’s a glimpse of Georgette, the friendly Kodiak koala. (This IS a wild sea otter but I have never seen one so fearless.)

In a few days I fly out to fish camp for the summer. One of the signs of the seasonal migration is always this: (whacking off my hair.)


Leslie---short hair + good smile.jpg

In some ways it’s hard to leave. I’ve only been home (Kodiak) about 10 days from my last trip and a whirlwind winter that took me to Texas, Spokane, Mongolia, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Mexico, California, British Columbia, the Yukon, and points in between. And now one more move? (Yes.)

I’ll be sharing my summer at fishcamp with you. Some of you travel with me every year and I love your company! Some of you may be coming for the first time.

I don’t love everything at fishcamp, this remote island in the wilderness of Alaska. Just many things. Here are some reasons I’m still excited to go——even after 41 years:


IMG_1328.jpg
Otter blog--Oystercatchers.jpg



DSC_0773 2.jpg
DSC_0891.JPG
DSC_1609.jpg
immature bald eagle over water.jpg
Kodiak+scene--snow%2C+mountains%2C+puffins.jpg
Birds-puffin--mine.jpeg
DSC_0159-001.JPG

I love it here because I remember who I am. I am a creature among creatures, as needy and hungry, as on-the-prowl as they are. I wake up every morning looking for food. I watch the skies, watch the water. I pray for fish, watch my husband and sons go out upon the waters for fish, to feed us, to feed others.

We run about in boats; the same ocean that lifts and sinks the puffins lifts us.

We fly in bush planes; the same winds that buffet and sail the eagles sail us.

I am not important. Just one hungry soul among so many hungry bodies, subject to the same forces that rise and swirl and storm around us.

And still we are fed, all of us. The Creator’s hand opens and we eat, just enough for the day.

Are they glad? Do they know deep in their creaturely heart that it is God himself who feeds them?

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time,” the psalmist wrote. “When you give it to them, they gather it up . . . they are satisfied with good things.”

They are satisfied indeed. I eat my own food, and I feast on their feeding, more than satisfied.

For the next four months at fish camp, I will remember my true place in the universe: Small. Mostly unseen. But quietly gathering my food, feeding others, and growing in gratitude.

I hope you’ll come with me. I promise to send it on to you, that you too may be fed and filled.

seal--looking around rock-mine.jpeg
DSC_1089.jpg
DSC_0597.jpg
IMG_1100.JPG

Where will you be feasting and gathering this summer?

How to Go Home--and Survive! (And 10 Book Winners)

Todd%2C+Jan+and+Leslie--selfie+on+Pillar.jpg

"You Can't Go Home Again" was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe. We say this sometimes, don't we? We mean it can be hard to go home once you've been out in the world a long time. It's often not the same place we remember. (In the novel, the protagonist George Webber writes a book about his hometown. The book is a best seller but the town people so dislike his portrait they send him death threats. Sweet [and familiar] yes?)

But I've come home twice in the last week. I am finally back in Kodiak and it is MORE beautiful than when I left. And this week my sister and brother are here with me. (We're half of the six siblings.)

Todd%25252Band%25252BLeslie%25252Bon%25252BPillar---GOOD.jpg
Surfers%2Bbeach%2Bwith%2Bclouds.jpg
Kodiak%2Blandscape---burton%2527s%2Branch.jpg

Remember? we say to one another. Remember the long bus rides? Remember the mile long climb up the hill every day with books in our arms, no matter the weather?

Yes. I remember.

Remember all the houses, scything the hay field, cutting down the bamboo all day with machetes, the goats, the belt across our legs, the fish bake, the times we ran into the woods and stayed all day? Remember that school we hated, the mountain hikes, all the ways we ran away?

Yes. We remember.

5 leyland kids--grainy bad pic.jpg

 

farmhouse abandoned.jpg

I met a new friend last month whose childhood and early adulthood  no one would believe, full of such isolation, violence and suffering. She said to me, "I'm not going to let the enemy have those years. I want to write about all that happened to bring light from that darkness. I want it used for God and for good."

She is right. We must remember. We must remember all of it: the beautiful, the heartbreaking, the sad, the infuriating, the wondrous.

 Without remembering, we won't know who we are.

Man (Todd) standing alone before ocean.jpeg

There are so many places God calls us to remember. When the Hebrews were about to enter the land God had promised them---a new life and land where milk and honey flowed from every ravine! So much anticipation! BUT even after wandering and longing and salivating for their new home for forty years, they're not ready to cross the threshold yet. They're not to cross over without these words:

 “However, be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.”

 In many places God tells them specifically what they're to remember: “Tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson what signs I have done among the Egyptians, that you may know that I am Yahweh.” (Ex. 10:2)

         They're to remember their own story: who they are and where they've come from and how they've gotten there. And their story is completely wrapped around God's story: who He is and all he's done with them, for them. Without this remembrance, they are lost.

 

DSC_0086-002.JPG

         And so they were! The whole history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament is the story of the rise and fall of kings who did evil because they forgot God, and then occasionally a righteous man will emerge who "remembered" God.

 

          I know I'm going all preachy here, forgive me, but this is monumental. (Yes, this is the book I’m writing now . … due in 6 weeks!) The past is not done. It lives on in us, no matter how cleverly we disguise ourselves, no matter how fast we try to run from it. When we don't turn and look behind we lose our way. Even our very selves. Renowned psychologist Dan Allender writes,

 

         "Rather than living a life of freedom and creativity that finds meaning even in the meaningless places in our past, we purpose to forget. . . . Forgetting is a wager we all make on a daily basis, and it exacts a    terrible price. The price of forgetting is a life of repetition, an insincere way of relating, a loss of self. "

        

But know this: we remember and write and speak of our memories not to be the heroes of our own story. Not just to offer up to the world our own gutteral howl and yelp to the moon. We’re after more than “our truth,” aren’t we? 

We're after growth, yes? We're after a better understanding of this crazy human existence. We "remember" that we may find ourselves in God's story and He in ours. We remember the past to find our way into the future.

 

Boys+on+pillar.jpg

 

Friends, don't lose your way. You CAN go home again (I hope). Call a brother or your father. Go visit your sister. Have coffee with a childhood friend. Remember together. Listen to one another. Laugh. Don't be afraid of tears.

 

In recovering the past, no matter how dark, you get to live it again. But this time you are awake, alive, whole. This time you can remember with hope, with gratitude, with the brilliant presence of God, who can redeem anything.

Who already has.

Outhouse with dramatic sky .jpg
DSC_0353-001.JPG
Family shot--minus Noah--at fishcamp.jpg
Todds+60+Bday+trip--jan%2BLeslie+in+kayak+gear.jpg

What has God redeemed in Your Family and past?

BOOK WINNERS! (Books are on their way!)

Janet Kirk
Briana Almengor
Shelly Brown
Sophia DeLonghi
Sheri Reeve
Tracy Moore
Jenny McHenry
Brenda Veinotte

Susie King

Report from 40 Below (and some kind of miracle)

day seven--kluane mountains.jpg

We’re in Tok, Alaska tonight. It’s -35. But our car temp hit an even lower number this morning. (see below) The radio station in Whitehorse, where we stopped last night, kept issuing Extreme Cold Warnings. Yes, we are driving the Alaska Highway in the coldest week of the winter. (That was not part of the plan. Do you know how long you can walk briskly at -36 before you go numb, even with double and triple layers? Ten minutes.)

temperature----forty below.jpg

The sun did not rise until 10:30 and it set by 3:00. Yet such beauty in those few hours! It is magical country, this, and I am glad to see it in the winter. I have been as breathless as the air is still. And such silence. We have been nearly alone in it. All day today we passed maybe 10 cars.

day seven--low trees and mountains behind.jpg
day seven---windy road much snow mountain.jpg
day seven---truck on road with high mountains.jpg
day seven---misty road.jpg


But we are worn out from these miles and so is our car. We have two divots in our windshield. It’s stressful driving on snowy, icy roads, yet still needing to make time because the daylight hours are short and we MUST make our next destination. We are trying not to think about breaking down or sliding off the road. The margins are thin. We are leaning toward home—-hoping to walk through our front door in 3 days. (And I am praying, “Please, Lord, calm the waters for that infamous 12 hour ferry ride to Kodiak??)

But we have not been alone. I must tell you about a little miracle that happened along the way.

day five-icy roads near stone mountain.jpg
 

I was driving. We were passing through Fort Nelson and we needed gas. I pulled into a Husky station but then saw it was “full service.” Thinking the gas would be more expensive, I was just about to pull away when Duncan said, “Oh never mind. Let’s just get gas here.”

Duncan got out and began to fill the tank. A young man approached, ‘Hey, how are you?” Duncan tried to wave him off, but he persisted. A minute later I hear, “What’s this in your tire?”

Duncan and I come over and stand beside him, peering. I could hardly see it, but there was indeed something red, jammed between the tire and the rim. What on earth?

day 4--tire with pen.jpeg


We gaped for a moment, puzzled, then he said, “I’d get that checked if I were you. There’s a tire shop right over there” and he pointed.

What if the tire shop wasn’t open? What if we had to wait for hours? It would be dark soon and we’d miss covering all those miles. We had to try. The shop was open. And——-they had room for us just at that moment. They gestured us on through the sliding door into their warm bay.

day 4--changing tire.jpeg
day%2B4--tire%2Bshop.jpg

The young man popped our tire off effortlessly and came back with a sideways smile holding out something in his hand.

day 4--pen-tire-rama.jpeg

A pen. And it was no mystery where it came from. The guy at the Tire-Rama in Spokane who mounted our new tires wasn’t paying attention. A pen fell from his pocket while working. That pen lay in the bead of our front tire for 1200 miles, 1200 frozen miles over bumps, ice, sharp corners, from Spokane, Washington to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.

I know what could have happened. What maybe should have happened with a pen in our tire. The tire should have leaked. It might have blown out anywhere along those miles. Two days ago we passed a car beside the highway. On it’s side, half-crushed with the roof off. They had to cut off the roof to extricate the people.

Every day as we have been driving, we are reading to one another. We’re both doing the One Year Bible this year, so we’re reading in Genesis, in Matthew, in the Psalms. About the God who uttered the world into beautiful molecular existence and sighed, “Very Good” when it was done.. About the God who saves and protects. About the God who dared to enter this fractured world as an infant, come to rescue us. And while we are reading, our tires whirling on ice and snow in the frigid wilderness, somehow the compromised tire holds. Somehow the bead holds. Improbably the tire holds. Then I pull into a full service station—a place I would never have chosen—-where an attendant saw what we never would have seen.

day 4--tire with pen.jpeg

I have been rescued and delivered so many times in this lifetime, over tens of thousands of miles of travel around the world, in a tiny boat alone at sea in a winter storm, at gun point in Guatemala and everywhere in between. And so have you, no matter where you live or where you’ve traveled. And we have no idea how many more times we’ve been saved from disaster without even knowing it.

Dear friend and reader, Do not doubt that your life has purpose. Do not doubt that you are alive because God desires it so. He has good work still for you to do. And He has so much of his own goodness and wonder to delight you with even on this side of heaven.

Are you watching? Are you seeing?

What a Very Good year lies ahead of us! Yes our cars are overloaded. Yes the roads are sometimes lonely and long. Yes, we are driving through tumultuous political times. Yes, we are all riding on compromised tires! But we’re all headed home.

And we SHALL arrive.

day seven---magical mountains in Kluane.jpg

(But maybe calm the seas just a little on the ferry?)

(Yes, this is our ferry arriving in Kodiak a few years ago.)

Ferry in huge waves.jpg



After the Tsunami, Guarding Our Treasure

OR---A god No One Could Make Up

meteora.jpg

We are in Meteora, Greece. Today, we were ready to go out and explore these holy monoliths and monasteries when we got word of the 7.9 earthquake off Kodiak, Alaska (our home sweet home). The Tsunami sirens went off all around town, waking people from their beds. All of the town in low-lying areas evacuated to higher ground.

I wanted to be there. Our house sits on a cliff over the ocean. Last week a window blew out in 100 mph winds. This week, a major quake a full minute long shook and rattled our home. What about our treasures? The only thing I care about is the dozens of albums of babies smeared with spaghetti and the journals and scrapbooks filled with decades of memories. What would happen to my treasures?

 

 

I am learning a lot about riches and treasure here in Greece. I had forgotten that the most famous structure in the world was built to house one particular treasure. 

 

 

(The advantage of traveling Greece in the winter: there's hardly anyone else here!)

(The advantage of traveling Greece in the winter: there's hardly anyone else here!)

parthenon with boys.JPG
temple of zeus.JPG

 This marvel of human engineering that has withstood more than two millennia was constructed to house the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, of military victory and the patron deity of Athens. At one end of the colossal interior stood a 36 foot statue of Athena set atop a 12 foot pedestal. The statue was fashioned from a core of wood then covered in ivory and gold. Anyone who stood before her size and splendor would have felt as small and insignificant as a gnat.

 

goddess athena.jpg

She was their treasure! But no one was allowed inside this monumental structure to see her. Only the priest was allowed to enter the sanctuary of the Parthenon to offer sacrifices, and then only once a year.

The Parthenon was built not only to inspire devotion from Athenians, but as a warning to potential enemies: “Don’t mess with us. We’re guarded by the goddess of war and victory!”

athena--goddess of war.jpg

The gods that man imagined and fashioned were gilt, remote, violent, inapproachable, selfish, demanding sacrifices and constant obeisance, inspiring fear.

Four hundred years later, the Apostle Paul stood in the mighty shadow of the Parthenon, on Mars Hill, speaking of another kind of God, a god

who does not dwell in temples made with hands;  nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things."

 

Who is THIS God? He is a God no one could dream up, who came as the most vulnerable creature possible----an infant, birthed through the body of an obscure teenage girl in a barn among beasts of burden. A baby who mewled, puked, cried, and soiled himself.  The Greeks nor the Romans could not have conceived of such an entrance for any god, let alone the God of All Things.

manger.jpg

 

And this God came not to be served or feared. He did not ask people to bow down to him. He did not require a pedestal, the highest hill in the city, a throne. He did not ask that people come to him. He went to them. He went where the people lived and worked.

And showed he was God not by his power in war or his ability to intimidate, but by his ability to love, a love so powerful it brought freedom from sickness, hunger, disease, loneliness, guilt, ignorance, even death.  

But there is more. Something that almost couldn’t be believed.

This God not only dared to come as a baby, and dared to serve rather than to be served; he chose to come yet nearer: he chose in live not inside massive unapproachable monuments of marble, but inside     

us.

 

Perhaps Paul was thinking of the thousands of shrines and temples that housed the Greeks gilt gods when he wrote,

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay  . .. "

 

That's us, ordinary jars of clay, the most common of household articles: disposable, susceptible to cracking and shattering  

 

broken jar.jpg

 yet, we carry within us a treasure that can't be weighed or measured: "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 

 

Broken clay pot with tree growing out of it.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"We have this treasure in jars of clay . ... the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  St. Paul, 2 Cor. 4

 

 

I have more ancient cities to tour this week: Thessaloniki and Phillippi. But I will remember as I survey the temples and ruins,

This is the kind of God we serve: one who has chosen US as His temple.

He is our treasure.

And---we are His. 

 

Abraham---meterora with arms up.JPG
Athens--group ohoto.jpg

Of Thieves, Chocolate-in-the-Lingerie & Spectacular Northern Lights

It’s been an exciting week. Fresh snow on the mountains yesterday.

 

A gigantic storm is on its way. I saw it coming last night. It'll be gusting over 100 mph in the Aleutians today. Some of that will hit our shores (stay tuned). 

 

 

 

And, excitement on the domestic side, too: a break-in. Someone invaded my secret stash of expensive chocolate in my underwear drawer. It wasn’t hard to spot---- bits of foil and half-nibbled pieces of chocolate lay pooled in my bras. What a pathetic pilferage! Not even hiding the evidence! Like the good mother that I am, I immediately accused my youngest of the theft. When he vehemently denied it, I knew I had failed as a parent (To have raised such a falsifying child!) But----Truth always wins out. It was a mouse. A live mouse, as I discovered when it leapt from my dresser to floor to who-knows-where, (mouth likely full of my cocoa confections.) I wished him indigestion first, then outright death after. Yes, nothing less than death-by-chocolate. And to all his kind! (Especially to the one who started a home in my pajama drawer!)

 

Above us, the Northern Lights were gloriously alive this week in Kodiak. I never catch them here, though everyone else does. It’s some kind of curse. I’ve chased them everywhere. I’ve even hauled my sons out of bed on a school night to pilgrimage to the top of a mountain upon the mere whiff of the word “lights!”  But there’s a rule in play: the harder I try to see them here, the more invisible they will be. Except for this week.

 

We had just finished Godspell rehearsal. The disciples (us) had just eaten the bread and passed the cup of his blood. Then Christ died, pinned to a rock wall. I cried. We rose to sing a dirge, lost in mourning. But in this Godspell, Jesus doesn’t stay dead. He appears at the end, in a balcony, spotlight on, arms out. Our mourning turns to dancing, literally. Rehearsal over, a friend peeks in and says, “The Northern Lights are out!” 

 

Though it was late and we were all bushed, Micah, Allie and I jumped in our car and switchbacked to the top of Pillar Mountain. We opened our doors against the frigid night wind and there---two fireballs dropping from the sky! Two seconds of blazing glory! We stepped out, eyes wide and fixed on the sky, ready for whatever else might come. Screams next, and three more cast members ran from the dark to join us, huddling together in laughter and shivers against the wind. Overhead, six turbines, with arms outspread, whirled the winds and stars around us. . .

 

And there, finally, yes. The Lights. Not as brilliant and dramatic as further north, but a night sky as alive and breathing and shimmering as the God who made it all.

 

(Pam Foreman)

(Pam Foreman)

 

(Pam Foreman)

(Pam Foreman)

(And Here, if you'd like to see more, the glories of the Lights we’ve seen further north.)

 

 

How can this happen? In ten minutes, from mourning below a hanging Christ on a gym stage to the top of a mountain, jaw-dropped, blown away, lit by green rays and falling stars . .  .  How can the world hold such moments? How can our hearts contain this:

 

the God of the cosmos hung on a tree out of jealousy and hate;

the God of the cosmos pinned to a tree for his love for the despised;

Then, the God of the cosmos spinning his night sky, holding the planets in their orbits, the moons in their spheres, watering and lavishing us all with life and sun and warmth and rain. Loving us still. Loving even we who haul Jesus to our own crosses, killing him over and over.

 

woman holding cross.jpg

And so we must keep hanging him there. Because he keeps rising. He keeps coming back to life, blazing across our lives with a shooting ray of love, with an arm of kindness, with a flash of conscience, with the dazzle of forgiveness that lights our own nights with a shimmer that lays us low, that lifts us mountain-high.

 

How can he still care for us murderers? How can he fill our black-night hearts still with such light?

 

I don’t know. I cannot fathom a God this good----but I know He is true. His love is real.

 

Would you do this, too? Go, stand outside tonight. Dare to stare high, to consider the stars, the moon, the galaxies. Bask in their brilliant light. Do you see?

 

(Mikko Lagerstadt)

(Mikko Lagerstadt)

 

God is lighting those candles every night,

for you 

to find your way

back Home.

 

Tree under stars.jpg

Are you there yet?

Of thieves, chocolate, northern lights pinterest 1.png

Kodiak---The Toilet Bowl? And, What is Your Life?

            



 I'm writing right now but what I really want to do is curl up in bed, sucking on a bar of chocolate. Any kind, really. Even M+M's will do. I'm going through chocolate and sugar withdrawal. It's been 12 hours since my last hit. And it's not helping that it's raining again all week. Like most of the last two months. (But okay, I WAS in California last week. So, I cheated: I snuck in a week of sun.) Add "sun-withdrawal" to the chocolate and sugar DT's. (And they're real!) 






     Right now my husband is out at our fish camp with our crew mending nets in the 42 degree rain, wind and fog. I'll be there in about 10 days, likely doing the same. The planes aren't making it on time these days, or at all on some days . … The trails are a morass of mud, the streets like rivers. 





                 The hardest thing about living on Kodiak Island is not isolation, not the cost of living, not the absence of roads and easy mobility, not the fact that we often get stuck for days either unable to fly in or fly out of Kodiak, and not the cost of good chocolate ….. Not these, though at times these make me want to ________.  It is this: One spring, it rained for most of 55 days, without even a glimpse of the sun. When the sun appeared one morning, it made the newspaper headlines. We average, in a typical year, one or two (partially) sunny days a week. One storm blows in with 60 mph winds, to be replaced by another from the NE, this one only gusting to 50, then a half day of sun, and here comes three days of rain. A few people who worked at a weather station here called this island, "the toilet bowl." When one storm moved out and another moved in, she'd say "Looks like God flushed the toilet!"














       So, what do we do besides trimming the webbing between our fingers? Here's a glimpse. At Homecoming a few years ago, we were inaugerating a new artificial turf field which would enable the playing of football on a green carpet rather than in a vale of mud. The town was excited. We were too. (My son almost drowned playing football one year. The entire field was under 2 - 3 inches of rain, and he ended up at the bottom of a dog pile, his face underwater.) But it rained and blew up another gale that day, which made the Homecoming games and celebrations more of a test of endurance. But of course we carried on, smiling between shivers.










                One Sunday, sitting in church, the sun suddenly broke through the swaying branches of an ash tree to cast a swath of light across the pews. We all stared with longing. I tried to restrain myself lying prone in its glow, face to the rays. The sermon that morning was  "What is Your Life?" from the question James asks in an existential moment. The answer is not terribly comforting: "for you are a mist that appears for a short while and then vanishes."  The text could just as easily have said, "For you are like the sun in Kodiak, that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  







          



 Who wants to hear how fleeting our lives are? Who does not know this? How does this help us cope with a northern geography and a lousy climate? 
               (And, even more, how does this empower me (and any other  else out there in Kodiak like me!) past this choco-sugar addiction? [What? It's going to rain and blow all next week too? I've got five words for that: carpe diem, Ghiradelli, and double-chocolate chip cookies.])  




              

            But strangely, it does help. When winter settles in for 8 - 9 months, when the most we can hope for is one or two pleasant days a week-----we dig in deep. We try to figure out this thing out----What life is for. Why we're here, alive. And why we're here in this particular place. Because this is a hard place to get to. And a hard place to stay. And a hard place to leave. We conclude it's more than wearing cute strappy sandals on the way to the beach, sipping cosmopolitans poolside, having tailgate parties at Homecoming games, going to concerts-on-the-grass, barbecuing in shirtsleeves. We conclude that life is more than shopping in malls, eating in new restaurants, exploring the city next door. We can't do any of these things. 









          Instead we gather in coffee shops and each other's houses. We cook together. We go on hikes.  


We run together in gale force winds. We go to church and hang around for hours. We sing together.  We shovel each other's driveways. We stand at track meets wrapped in sleeping bags and talk and laugh with whoever is next to us, whether we know each other or not. 




 It doesn't matter. The weather clots us together like clouds under the winds. The rain sends us all under the same tarp. We adopt each other as our mothers, brothers and sisters. We're all neighbors, all 14,000 of us. We mourn when anyone leaves. We welcome all who arrive as new friends. 










        The long long winters make our lives feel long as well, longer than a mist in the sun. We're not frittering away our days. We're working hard. To keep company with one another. To love the place we've landed. To find as much good as can be found. To do the good we should. 















         That's why we'll live longer here. Maybe not in length of days, but in fullness of days. In fullness of intent and purpose. 

"What is your life?"


I'm blessed to live in a place that forces me to ask. And that teaches me my answer. (Even if I remain a hopeless sugar addict!)


What is your answer?   















If the Superbowl Had Been Played in Kodiak






this weekend, there would have been riots. It would have been an even worse shut-out.  Angry people would have demanded their money back. We have a sparkling new football field, yes, astro-turf on this island in the Gulf of Alaska, because this town loves football, but alas, we’re missing something crucial to the game. (Besides a stadium.)






Tonight, for example. My husband and youngest son excitedly ran out of the house , skipping dinner, to go the high school basketball games. Home game! We don’t get too many of those. A team had flown in from Anchorage that afternoon.  (Kodiak has to fly in all their competition---or fly out themselves).  Duncan and son got to the parking lot----empty. They walked into the gym-----the Kodiak boys were playing against themselves to an empty gym. Of course. The plane didn’t make it in.



Of course. Fog. Fog rolled back into town like a bandit this afternoon, stealing the little light we had, wisping and smothering the mountains, the ocean, the hands in front of our faces. The same fog that anchored us to Anchorage when we tried to fly home last Sunday. The same fog that kept us from landing after circling Kodiak for thirty minutes, looking for a hole in the clouds---that then sent us looping all the way back to Anchorage for 2 more days. The same fog plaguing all of southeast Alaska, stranding us and hundreds others for days. After the fog left, then we were stranded because of high winds.

No plane. No team. No game. And to add to the list: No mail in. No mail out. No moving. No leaving.     



We’re          just             here.

The Superbowl in Kodiak? Maybe not.

You know, of course, about Valdez, that road-spoiled city once linked to Anchorage by a five hour drive.  A series of avalanches have dumped 5o feet of snow on the tarmac, leaving them like us---dependent on the skies and water alone for all their earthly goods and food.














A few years ago, while traveling home to Kodiak from somewhere far away, I limped up to the airline counter at the Anchorage airport. Almost home. One leg remaining. I was tired. I handed my commuter coupon to the woman behind the counter. There was a problem. She studied my coupon, read my itinerary aloud to herself, “Okay, let’s see, Anchorage to Yuck, Yuck to Anchorage”.


I looked at her through night-flight eyes, blinked slowly, incredulously, then asked. “What did you say? Did you just call Kodiak, Yuck??”

She laughed unselfconsciously. “Oh yeah. We all call it that. It’s the worse place we fly. That and Dutch Harbor. It’s always causing problems—wind, rain, fog, so hard to get in and out of. What a pain.”

She did not consider the fact that I might live there.

I have five trips to make Outside these next few months. I try to show up on stage at conferences, colleges and radio stations as though whisked in by my own Lear jet. As though I did not miss my other connections because I couldn’t get out of Kodiak, as though I had not flown all night and the next day to get there. I try to forget that some people call this gorgeous, though trying place, “Yuck.”



I’m not always successful. I don’t want to play the martyr---or the fool. Kodiak Island is not a stage, but I’m acting out what is most of all, true in this world--- we only imagine that we direct our lives.



No matter where we live, our comings and goings, our entrances and exits are fragile, our intentions and desires controlled by winds and clouds and waters whose own travels are measured and announced, but largely unknown, except to the God who wields them. I yield to this, in my own stubborn way, relieved to know the out-there world and the Out-there God is so beyond my one self. I am glad to be here at all, to have any part to play in this stunning, wind-and fog wrought theatre.







I say that in my best moments. In my deepest heart, I want my planes to take off and land by my own perfect script. I want to return home quickly and safely. I want“Yuck” to be renamed “Yum.”  I want our weather to be so good the Superbowl could play here. I want the Valdez road cleared and opened. I want all of you to come out of your cold snow-bound houses to come and go from home with perfect safety and freedom.



But this doesn’t always happen. When we’re  stuck---house-bound, winter-bound, snow-bound---we are still not helpless.
We can trust. We can believe. We can rehearse these lines:



 “O Lord, You have searched me and known me,
You know when I sit down and when I rise,
You are familiar with all my ways.
You hem me in behind and before,
Sometimes with fog, sometimes with snow and wind.
You lay your hand upon me.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your Presence?
If I board a plane go up to the heavens,
You are there.
If I am stuck below in the depth of fog and snow,
You are there.

If I settle on the far north sea,
or the southern coast, 
or the middle Mid-West,
Even there, your hand will guide me.

Search me, God, and know my heart.
Test me, and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,

And whether I make it home today or not,

whether I love the place I live or not,

whether I hate the winter season or not, 

lead me in the way everlasting.

Always, lead me in the way everlasting.




























 


Eating Worms and Going Blind in Kodiak


“It is not miserable to be blind; it is miserable to be incapable of enduring blindness.” -John Milton



I ate a worm this week. Actually two (crunchy), and two crickets (ranch flavored), and a chocolate covered grasshopper (sweet and crunchy). I downed them in the name of science.  A red-haired cuter-than-a-mini-muffin boy in my son’s class did a science project on edible insects---of course I’ll try them! (But—caution: take off the cricket’s wings before you chomp. They get stuck in your throat.)


Another newsworthy event—the sun shone for a good part of three days this week. To celebrate, I hiked up a snowy mountain in an icy, breath-charging wind, loving every step. The sun was so blinding I squinted through my sunglasses, agape at the colors of this winter world, too often cloaked in gray, rain and squall. 

We had all been feeling the layered weight of five months of winter---knowing at least two more remains. By some measures, three. A friend writes on facebook, “I’m so tired of the dark and cold!” 





My favorite winter story is about one of my sons, Isaac, who was then 2 ½. We were at the airport, taking my husband to his flight. We got out of the car, I lifted Isaac up to my hip to walk through the slush to the terminal. He kept looking upward, fussing, pointing and covering his eyes. Finally I said, “Isaac, what’s wrong?” 

“Wh—wh—what is that yellow thing up in the sky?” he asked, distressed, eyes batting.  

I stopped, stunned. Then, “That’s the sun, Isaac. The sun. It won’t hurt you,” I sighed as I tilted my face to its wan glow.


The weather and the dark can blind us. And it often does. But so can the sun. John Milton slowly went blind, beginning to lose his sight in his early thirties. By the time he wrote Paradise Lost, one of the most magisterial works in the English language, he was completely blind.  



In his “Sonnet on his Blindness,” Milton laments the tension he lives within: God has given him “that one talent, which is death to hide”---his extraordinary facility with language and poetry. And God has brought as well the loss of his sight. He asks a question that has rung through the centuries, “Does God exact day-labour, light denied?”  (How can God expect me to labor for Him, when he takes away what is needed to perform it?)   

We ask this question too, in our own way, within the lines of our own lives:

Why did God create us to need sun and warmth, and then send most of us into winter half the year?

Why was I given a child, whom I have always loved, who yet does not love me? 

How can God give me such a passion for music---with no money for lessons or help?


Why did God plant the longing for eternity in bodies that will soon wither and die?

The questions blind us. I can't figure them out. But Milton’s poem ends, as all sonnets must. And it ends with this resolution. Though God does not need our labor at all, still, "thousands at his bidding, speed and post o'er land and ocean without rest" to do His will.  But there are others of us who cannot move or even see. What of us? "They also serve who only stand and wait."             









We are all of us blind in some way. Yet we are not done. God sees us stumbling, He sees us waiting in the dark. We can serve Him by simply waiting in the dark. And yet---listen! Here is the great irony of the poem.  

Milton has done far more than simply "stand and wait." Even in his blindness, he has written a breath-stealing sonnet. A sonnet, mind you! The most rigid poetic form possible.  And a sonnet that is considered one of the finest poems ever written. 


What does this have to do with you and me? Even in your present darkness, you are still standing. And, likely, you are still serving. Still picking up kids, still fixing dinner, still balancing a budget, still looking for God in the calm and in the riot. (And maybe trying a cricket or a worm here and there.)  There's enough light, still, in the midst of the questions to do good  work.  


I’ve seen some of your labor: the writing, the platters of lemon bars, the children, the photographs, the poems, the dresses, the prayers  . .  .   And we do this half-blind! 

There is yet enough light to serve Him.  


Don’t stop.  

And listen---more light is coming. 

Very Soon.