30 Whales Die, New Fin Whale Videos & Practicing Resurrection

   A few days ago I went to pick up my daughter for her second visit to the island this summer. We skimmed across the bay on this gorgeous bright day. I did not know what awaited me. We never do. 

I saw spouts ahead. Of course, fin whales. They hang out here for the summer, feeding and lounging and being their own spectacular selves. For these creatures, the second largest whales in the world, their very existence speaks of a lavish, extravagant God.

And here, they came yet closer . .. .


And here, when my heart stopped . . .



This has been an extraordinary summer of whales----from humpbacks throwing their impossible weight from water to sky, over and over, sending the ocean itself skyward into foam. Orcas filling the bay, their fins slicing water. And a Sei whale sighting, my first. But not all the whale news has been good. 

NOAA reports that 30 whales have washed up dead around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska. Even closer to home, right here on Kodiak Island, 9 fin whales, have been found floating or beached, one just a few miles away. NOAA is calling it "an unusual mortality event." It's almost three times the usual rate of beachings and die-offs. 

(Photo from NOAA. Bears feeding on fin whale carcass near Larsen Bay, 7 miles from us)

Everyone loves a mystery, but not this kind. Marine mammal specialists are baffled. Extensive studies are underway, but the best guess hazarded so far is a toxic algae bloom flourishing in "the Blob," the massive swath of warm water infecting and affecting the entire West coast, from Mexico to Alaska. Massive bird die-offs, sickened seals and sea lions have all been blamed on both the Blob and the "Godzilla El Nino."

(map of the "blob")

I am shaken. These leviathans suddenly appear fragile, vulnerable. I count on their presence every summer to expand our vocabulary of wonder, to remind us of our insignificance, to hint at the grandness of God. 

I do believe in global warming, because I see its effects and realities close-up here in Alaska. And I believe in a sovereign God who loves His creation and desires us to love it as well. But I can't fix this. I feel helpless. I only know to pay attention, to care for the ground and water at my feet, to love those around me. I turn to Wendell Berry in these times:

“So, friends, every day do something that won't compute .

... Ask 

the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two 

inches of humus that will build under the trees every 

thousand years ... Laugh. Be joyful though you have 

considered all the facts ... Practice resurrection.”

                                  ― The Country of Marriage

 I pick up my daughter. I rejoice in my sons' happiness at seeing their sister. 


I prepare for the arrival of 18 in a few days, for the 3rd Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. We'll sit together over words of truth and hope. I'll tell them about the whales. We'll look about this beautiful world with fierce, observant eyes. We  will consider all the facts of living this life, and then  . . .

Then we will laugh,

because together we are practicing


Do Women Need an Anti-Viagra Drug,? & What the Church Gets Wrong about Sex

Warning: To all my faithful readers, I’m talking about sex today. You can ditch this post and tune in next time--But--you might be interested  . . .   I am certainly interested in YOUR thoughts on this!

By now you've heard the earth-shaking news: the female equivalent of Viagra has finally been approved by the FDA:—Addyi, created by Sprout Pharmaceuticals. Let there be dancing in the streets! Then, the bedroom. Or, maybe not. 

I'm not so sure this is a victory for women. This is a victory for Sprout Pharmaceuticals and precisely no one else.

What’s the problem? Not that 5-6 million women between the ages of 20 and 49 suffer from low sexual libido and accompanying distress. The problem, rather, is that a few pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars on Viagra and Cialis and the rest are not. 

The race has been on for female Viagra, the economic "holy grail” since the 90’s, when the male drug was released. I’m sure two or three scientists on the many research teams believe they are helping women. 

I’m sure many believe that the absence of a woman’s Viagra is yet further evidence of the “War on Women” going on in this country. Fueled by the National Organization for Women, sixty thousand women signed an online petition to the FDA stating, "Women deserve equal treatment when it comes to sex.”  The name of this petition drive? “Even the Score.” If men get a pill to enhance their sexual abilities, then women should too! 

Rather than question assumptions (should a pill be used to overcome the usual effects of age on a man’s body? Is this right? Is this good? Is this safe?) women seem to be locked into an almost child-like “he gets more!” tug of war with their brothers. 

Never mind that the same drug was rejected twice before by the FDA, in 2010 and 2013 because it causes nausea, drowsiness, dizziness and even fainting. Never mind that the drug must be taken daily, and no effects are likely to be seen for a few months. And, never mind that it costs $30 - $75 a month (if you have insurance coverage for this). 

What can women expect from this wonder drug? Hold onto your underwear: One extra "sexually satisfying event" per month. And one more measure: The test subjects scored higher on questionnaires measuring desire. What is the source of this overwhelming data? Sprout Pharmaceuticals’ own company trials. (A placebo is likely to post better results than these.)

I’ve got three points to make (and a tiny rant about the "Church") and then I’m done.

*Who’s the drug really for? The drug will benefit Sprout and maybe a few men and very few women. It is often men—husbands, boyfriends---who complain about women’s sexual desire. Some men expect, even demand that their sexual partner desire sex as often as they do. When they don’t, it’s the woman’s problem rather than a shared issue for both to address together. Men often see their own sexuality (and in some cases hyper-sexuality) as the norm rather than as part of the problem. The stats on how often men think about sex every day (any where from every 7 seconds to 19 times a day, depending on the study) become a point of male pride and assurance of normalcy, rather than evidence of a need for restraint and compromise. Perhaps women really need men to take an anti-viagra drug?

* Why do we assume that a lower libido is evidence of a medical condition requiring medication? We have reduced the sexual experience and the full complexity of our humanness to a bodily sensation and appetite, fixed by a pill, rather than recognizing that we are whole persons, body, soul, spirit, mind, and heart. Problems with our sex lives are often rooted in other issues, particularly relationship issues. It’s na├»ve and dangerous to think a pill can fix these deeper matters.

*Why do women (and men) assume that they must feel sexual desire in order to have sex and a meaningful experience? Our culture is so feeling-based, we fail to recognize that sex, just like “love,” need not be confined to feelings, but is also a decision, a choice, to act and to will toward the good of the other. We have to ignore our cultural obsession with Harlequin Romance bodice-ripping passion that we believe must preclude every tryst. It’s just not going to happen every time. Nor is it needed.

One more thing. And this is to the Church. For too long the Church has laid the responsibility for a happy marriage on women. It’s the wife’s responsibility to keep the men “happy at home,” so they won’t stray elsewhere. Wives have been urged to please their husbands in the bedroom no matter how long, how often, how much, assuming that their sexual appetites deserve to be fully sated, no matter the cost. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Addyi being sold at some select Christian Marriage Conferences in the lobby, beside the doughnuts.) 

I’d like to hear a different message. A more balanced, biblical message, which would mean that women say yes to their spouses a lot of the time, regardless of their feelings----and they say no some of the time. And men do the same. 

The NOW women aren’t all wrong. Husbands and wives both need to share in the construction and exercise of true love and fair desires. It’s time for the Church to say so. It’s time to stop giving men free rein and giving women little rein at all. A pill is not going to fix anything. Sex is a good gift from a great God when two people work toward sharing it.  


SO much more could be said here, but I’ll stop--except for this. We've gotten so much wrong about marriage (that it's a breakable contract to maximize MY happiness, etc.) and about sex . . .  The best and most exciting book I know on marriage (and sex) is Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

((Friends, if this topic resonates with you, would you consider sharing? Because the topic involves sex and this pill, Facebook is not allowing me to boost this post. ))

Bless you, good people! Those who are married, may God bless your marriage with honor, joy and self-giving love. Those who aren't, may you know that you are complete and perfect in Christ, who loves you as His bride.

Sometimes You Need a Storm

               No one asks for a storm, especially in the fishing season when everyone is already tired, but storms come anyway.  The wind, gusting to 50 mph much of the day, is forecast to continue through the rest of the week. 

I am glad, at least for this:

The wail of wind has peeled the skein of rain

and fog that greyed our every day this week.

We learn so much.

Boats teach us to seek shelter.

The grass and trees teach us how to stand:

No, for this, bend low, love the ground. 

The ground is enough to hold us.

My son and daughter and their crew come in

from the nets soaked and exhausted

from bending low, with no ground to catch them,

only water.

I hope to be with them tonight, 

out on the water in the storm 

because I am afraid not of danger

but of too much safety, too much comfort.

I am afraid of forgetting how precious it is

to fight back and bear the storm, 

to measure again just how small we are against 

the ocean and force of gale  . . . 

We bend, we nearly break. 

We are shrunken from the fight,

but we know how good it is to live,

to come into a warm house and table.

But there is more yet to do in a storm.

My two youngest stayed in

this morning, but who can waste that wind?  

Out on the spit, they began a new art, 

Wind Sculpture,

And they lured the Wind Wraith from his cave as well.

So many uses for this glorious storm!

But in the hands of God there are more. The winds come with purpose:

" . . . pursue them with Your tempest
and terrify them with Your storm.
 Cover their faces with shame

so that they will seek Your name Yahweh."

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and He brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a murmur,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
They rejoiced when the waves grew quiet.
Then He guided them to the harbor they longed for.

"It is good for me that I have been afflicted,

That I may learn Your statutes."

Dear Friend, 
I pray you strength and peace 
for whatever storms you face this week. 
Do not refuse them. 
God is at work. 
Ride the ones you can with
a sail and with joy. 
Wait and wail, lie low and listen
in the ones that terrify.
He will meet you there.
He means to make us choose:
Death or life.

Do you hear Him?

What will you choose?

Saved By a Fish: A True Story

 I am out in my writing room over the ocean. I am tired. Last night I made 24 jars of various jellies, ten loaves of bread and stripped out a king salmon for smoking, working until midnight. It's a normal schedule.We’re all up until at least midnight every night, since it’s still light.


    I am beginning the next chapter in my new book (Crossing the Waters: From Alaska to Galilee, Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas). This one on the multiplication of the fish and the loaves. I am halfway through my morning writing time when I hear the ATV roar up to the door. Someone clunks to my door. It’s Micah, in his raingear, excited.

“Mom! We caught a huge halibut, Isaac and me! It’s over 100 pounds! Come and see!” He runs back down the stairs.
 I run behind him. He steps onto the ATV, I climb on behind him, letting him drive. We bump and twist over the grassy lumps then hit the beach, where everyone is standing around the tractor and the prize hanging from it: a halibut that’s at least six feet long. The crew are grinning, Isaac is telling the story again, how he went halibut fishing with Micah that morning, that it must have gotten hooked on their line  but then gotten free. There it was swimming dizzily dazedly near the surface, which meant it was nearly done for.


            He and Micah reached out and grabbed the tail put a line and a hook around it. They knew they couldn’t lift it in by themselves, so they just held the line and waited for help. Twenty minutes later a  skiff came and my other son and a crewman jumped in to help. It took four of them to slide the giant fish, now dead, into the skiff.

         “I think it’s about 120 pounds. What do you think Dad? Isaac asks. Duncan’s on the tractor, lifting the halibut so its nose hangs just inches from the ground.

         “Yeah, I”d say somewhere along there.”

        With everyone standing in their orange raingear, red bandanas, hats, the beach is alive with color and bodies and smiling. I am snapping photos. Everyone wants to stand next to the behemoth and claim it as their own. Isaac lifts Micah up to hang from the forklift next to the halibut. Snap, I shoot it. Then my daughter and all the boys gather around the fish with giant grins. 

     We are all happy that the morning and the ocean delivered something good to our hands. Fishing has been so slim, the nets so empty of salmon, we are discouraged. Every day I ask the boys when the come in, peeling off their sweatshirts, “How was it?” and their answer, “Not much. Just a few.” We are worried. We all have bills to pay. We all need fish. 

And now we have one fish. Just one. But a fish that can feed all of us for many meals, all through the summer.  We are wrong about its size, though. We measure it. It’s 6’2”. We look it up. A halibut that size weighs on average 210 pounds.

Duncan revs the tractor, the party moves from the beach up to the house where we will fillet it. The knives come out and now it’s a fish cutting party, with my daughter and I carving the  meat off the bones in huge chunks, the white flesh four inches thick on just the one side, and four inches thick on the other. 

      Halibut is a bottom fish, meaning it's a flat fish that feeds on the bottom, and swims flat in the water, like a stingray, moving like a wave.  I know the etymology of the word. It was one of my favorite etymologies to share with my students: haly (Middle English for "holy") and butt (bottom fish). “Holy bottom fish.” It was revered for its size, and saved for the most holy of Church feasts, Christmas and Easter.

For the next three hours, we are wrist deep in fish flesh, filleting the meat from the bones, then dropping the massive chunks into a bin, then into the kitchen where the meat is cut from the skin into inch sized chunks, then into bags and vacuum packed, with two bowls kept out. One for lunch. I will make deep-friend halibut for the ten of us today, and for tomorrow, halibut enchiladas.

Over lunch, our table is full with green salad with feta cheese and cucumber, a broccoli rice pilaf and two heaps of batter-fried halibut. 

          We sit before the table, salivating, grab hands, ten of us,. Duncan prays for us: “Thank you Lord for your provision every day, but especially today for this halibut. Be with us the rest of this day. Help us to do our work well.” And we’re off.  Three forks head for the platter of fish, The boys are stuffing their mouths, barbeque sauce is passing, cocktail sauce and everyone is filling their plate again and again while the ice tea melts and brownies bake in the oven for dessert and we talk of other fish, the biggest one we ever caught, a 350 pounder, and food and we know we are feasting.

I know this is not heaven, but it feels close----a miraculous multiplication that fed a hunger we didn't know we had. The massive fish awakened us from the stupor that falls when we have worked for weeks in the same place, doing the same thing with little relief or change. Our eyes glaze and we forget to look, to wonder, to say thank you to remember how miraculous our daily bread, no matter its shape and form. 


Leftovers were carried off the lunch table for another day.
And my new book, the chapter on the miraculous feeding on that Galilee hillside is fed as well, the fish appearing the very morning I begin to write it. 

This page was filled and served to this table, to all of you, my friends.

Look how many hands and eyes upon this one given fish, multiplied over and over ! 

Lord, pry our narrow eyes wide. 

Let us see you in every loss, in every wild bounty.

As we eat, let this sweetness, 

this goodness

these crazy undeserved feasts 

fill us with You

and make us hungry

 for You.