The Strong Alaskan Woman + How NOT to Hate the "Virtuous Woman"


       I’m just back from leading a retreat in my own beautiful state. I love speaking to Strong Alaskan Women! (And I met some truly amazing women. Beyond words. Shout-Out to Baxter Road Ladies!) We can endure the rigors of the wilderness, but I admit, when it comes to the duties of the house, I'm done for. After just 4 days away, laundry is piled everywhere. The dirty dishes I accidentally left in the dishwasher grew a gruesome mold. The counters are lost in stacks of mail. And there's other work to do. By Friday, I have to bake 15 dozen cookies, read and endorse a book, design a label and write three articles, as starters. 
          This is my everyday life, and likely yours as well. (I'm not mentioning husband and children, not because they're not important. I just didn't want to list them as a "task.")  But doesn't our exhaustion make us virtuous, biblical? You know, a Proverbs 31 woman? I hear some of you choking. Does anyone like this over-lauded woman who never sleeps, who is forever doing crafty earthy things like sewing clothes, planting a vineyard, spinning wool by lamplight? Didn't she ever go for long walks  in the desert, looking for beauty, writing poetry? Why don't we hear about that?
        We love to hate her---and still we laud her. Women on both sides of the Mommy Wars (which still exist, though I would downgrade it to "The Mommy Skirmishes") claim her because look! She does it all! She's a domestic diva and she sells her own merchandise and deals in real estate. 
            But I resist and resent her, especially when I look around me. Too many women are goaded into a frantic busyness thanks to an overemphasis on this one chapter of the Scriptures. I say this as not as an urban woman who disdains the earthy home arts. I wrote part of this out at my fish camp in Alaska where I cook massive meals for 8 – 12 people, make all our own bread, smoke salmon, work out on the fishing nets with my family when I can, write essays and books,  mother my two younger sons and four young adult children.  The writer of Proverbs would be proud of my schedule.  
                                                 And I’m tired. So are many other women I know. Even Strong Alaskan Women. And honestly I  don’t think we should be called godly or virtuous because of it. Most women I know who do everything---including homeschool their children---are sure they are still not doing enough. I remember the words of a woman who ran her house, homeschooled her many children and who one day guiltily lamented that God was calling her to give up her one respite in the day, her thirty minute nap. (Really? Yes.)
              Surely a man conjured this woman up. Who else would turn the gospel of grace into a gospel of domestic works-righteousness? Ummmmm, another woman, actually: King Lemuel's mother. Before we hunt her down and stone her (or, as an Alaskan woman, shoot her)------ she’s not real.  She’s not even meant to be real. Hear this!
Dear Women Who Are Trying to Do It All: (me. And you?):   The noble woman is not intended to whip us into domestic goddess works-righteousness. She’s an ideal. We don’t have to spin wool and stay up to midnight making matching denim jumpers for our daughters to impress God with our love for our family. Or for Him.               Look what we've done. We have focused so much on her activities, failing to see that her activities are illustrations of her love and values. The heart of the message is who she is, her character, not what she does, her performance. All that she does springs from a bountiful, wise heart that “fears God”—the whole theme of Proverbs.

            There is no single way for women to “fear God”---thank goodness! And loving and fearing God does not require relentless performance and exhaustion. (If you see that raccoon-eyed woman giving up her nap, tell her “Don’t do it! God wants you to take a nap!”)                        So. I have laid down most of my sarcasm toward that woman , and sometimes even the bread board and the keyboard to remember that what God wants from me, from us, most of all: our hearts, our love, our attention. 
              And what do we get back from all of that good living? Surely someone as holy as King Lemuel’s mother would say nothing about reward.  Isn’t a wise life its own reward? Ah, but this woman (and her son recording these words) knows what we need! “Praise her!” she says. “Honor her!”  “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate!”                How can you hate this? Pay attention! Tired, Noble Women who Love God, take a break! Go outside. Take your camera, your notepad or nothing but your eyes. Find beauty, love God.   Even in your own house, if you rest a moment, you'll see it.  (This right here in my living room. The only flowers blooming---and I didn't even know it. Until now.) 
Allow others to praise you—and help you! Don’t be afraid of being honored. You deserve it.  You really do. God—and this not-so-Strong Alaskan Woman, and that very wise woman in Proverbs---says so.   

Drinking with the Crows+ Death Be Not Proud

On Sunday, sitting in church, I knew it was fall. During the sermon a raucous chorus began outside the window----ahhh yes,  there they were: the crows squabbling over the mountain ash berries. Soon they would be drunk.  I go to church for worship and joyful company. The crows flock to our church for the alcoholic berries.  We both emerge tipsy and happy, (but my Spirits last longer than theirs!)

     I watch for signs of fall every day, and I watch far differently than I watch for signs of spring. I feel like a child when watching for spring, ready to gambol and run. In Fall, I am practicing death. Soon, the drop of all leaves, the steady loss of light, the hunker beneath winds of howl and ice. We know what this is like.

This year, I am ready. I am not cringing. I am not examining my survival plan for the season. I am not dreading the coming dark.

As I look about me, I am remembering that dying, that winter's lapse into long sleep can bring furious beauty out of some. For these, the shorter days slow and halt the cholorphyll, and the leaves bloom out their truest colors: yellow's (xanthophylls),  oranges (carotinoids) and reds (anthycyanins) emerge. The loss of light ignites the trees, the bushes, even the lichen.

The same is true for us: when the sun goes down, when the light shrinks back, this is when our true colors emerge.

         And you know about the red salmon. How they stop eating as they leave the ocean, returning to the river of their birth, pointing all their strength now against the current to spill their eggs or their milt, and how, in all of this, while dying, they bleed into scarlet, brilliant, dying yet so alive . . .

But not all is beauty. Sometimes death is just dying without beauty or notice. Some salmon turn hideous as they struggle toward their spawning bed, just wraiths, leprous.

The banks of the salmon-blooming rivers are paced by bears, who smash the grass and gobble the salmon, leaving only ghastly pieces behind. 

The mountainsides hold death as well. We drive by, awake to the falling colors, and we do not see it at first. Just beauty, fading . …

and then we see and remember-----

the four who died in the plane crash on that mountain some falls ago . ..   

           It is written into the grain of the universe, this dying, this descent into dark, into cold, the yearly launch of the earth far, farther from the sun. And it is written in our cells as well since the time we all turned away from our Maker, launched off into a wild, cold place, far from the light. But we need not despair. Even in the midst of it, even when we descend into insomnia, depression and immobility, all this is covered, known, provided for-----from the very foundation of the world. From before the very creation of the world, it was done: the wheat kernel would die before shooting to new life, the old would give life to the young, a lamb would die for his people, and death only lights the trees on fire.

Because of this, for all of us, when we die little deaths along the way----a child turns his back and is silent for a decade, a father and a mother cannot love their children, a good friend dies, a father abandons his son, a beloved sister dies, your best friend betrays you . . .. We cry and we die a little, for short or long------but we do not die. We do not die. 

I am reminded of John Donne's famous sonnet, 
Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Two and three months ago I thought I was dead.  I go this weekend to lead a retreat. I go alive, full of joy, to speak about forgiveness, about light, about all the ways we're given to live, again.

We will live, all of us. The coming dark will ignite our truest colors. Death is swallowed up and we are all aflame.


Go, burn bright. Do not let death be proud.

Anna Wintour + Alaska Fishcamp Fashion: It's What's in Vogue!

      I can hardly bear to hear the news these days. We must pray for the afflicted and persecuted---and there are many. And we carry on by loving those around us. And still finding ways to smile. This is one of the main purposes of fashion, I believe, especially certain magazines----absurdity, irrelevance and distraction. May I distract you for a few minutes (and maybe make you smile?)

      If you didn't get your copy of Vogue or GQ this month, no worries. I've got it covered. Here are a few images you might have missed:  

   Shortly after this shoot, realizing something was missing, they finally did it-----Vogue and GQ came to their senses and journeyed out to fish camp to discover real fashion. 

The shoot began under their direction. We started off as they directed us. You know: bored, miserable, no-reason-to-live-except-to-glower-at-the-camera . . .

      But, we couldn't sustain this for long. We're models with a difference. For one thing, we wear clothes. Quite a lot of them. In the Alaskan bush, we believe fashion is defined more by what you're wearing than what you're not wearing. 

Because our clothes are more than ornamental. We actually do stuff. Like-------mend fishing net.

And we do this because this is not a set---we're actually working! 

         And, shoot us (with just a camera please), but occasionally we're happy, even when we're working!

Even sometimes in a storm.

                                    (Take that, GQ!)

And even when wearing dirty, strange, worn-out clothes

                                  (25 year old jeans)

and odd, useful hats.

And don't  forget the (reptilian) hip boots or knee boots. Always the boots!


       Of course, there are some things more important than style, though I know Anna Wintour wouldn't believe this---unless she came to our fish camp.


I think she'd fit right in---as soon as we got over an issue or two: Yes, Anna, you MUST wear a lifejacket!

 It will indeed make you look fat, but fat, floating and alive is so much more fashionable than, well, you know . .. 

          And we may not boast a vast, varied or individualized palette, but we find this hue particularly lovely, and visible on the water in storms:


      Of course, beauty is in the eye of the wearer and beholder. When I asked my two youngest sons and their two buddies from a nearby fish camp to dress like GQ, this is what we got:

Well, who doesn't need a makeover now and then?


          The fashion on your island, fish camp or neighborhood may look a little different than  mine, and I'm glad. As Quentin Crisp said, 

"Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are."

     Here is my final fashion advice, stolen from Iris Apfel:

 "I would advise you to be happy rather than well-dressed. It’s better to be happy.”

Yes, when we wear "happy," we're always in Vogue. 

Thanks for walking the fishcamp runway with me! What is your philosophy of fashion?