Riding the (Spectacular!) Bore Tide Wave

I thought at first I was seeing things. After all, I hadn't had chocolate or any sweets for about three days by then. Coming down off of sugar can do that. 

It was enough just to drink in the sun--which was delirious, even at 7 pm.  Then the mountains and the sea . . .  Though I've driven Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage 100 times, I don't remember it being this stunning.  I didn't bring my camera----just my phone because it wasn't a sightseeing trip. It was an oral surgery trip, a getting-three-titanium-screws-in-my-jaw trip. But look what we landed in! 

 My surgery wasn't until the next day, so we hopped a rental car and drove south.

Then, to add to this evening in Anchorage, it was a bore tide that night. We were there just as it started sweeping down the Arm. Do you know what a bore tide is?
It's a rush of seawater returning to a shallow and narrowing inlet from a broad bay, creating a dramatic wave.  There are only 60 bore tides that occur around the world. This one, in Knik Arm, just outside Anchorage, can create a wave 6 – 10 feet tall, reaching speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour. It's the most northerly, and the only one bordered by mountains, making it the most scenic and dramatic bore tide in the world. 

And you know what? In the 1000 times I've been to Anchorage, and the 100 times I've driven that road, I've never seen it before. Until last week. 

Here's a moment of it, captured on my phone:


But then, what was that? I saw maybe a person out there? No, two, three? More? Like this:



I soon discovered that people
come from all over the world to surf, paddle board, and kayak this phenomenon. I only had my phone for a camera. This is the best I could do. But here it is up close-up, from a real camera:

 There was yet one more surprise this evening. After these surfers finished their 20 minute tidal run, they beached their boards and came ashore in the evening sun, glistening with glacier water.

 I asked one of them, a short, squat man peeling off his drysuit, "How many times have you done this?"  He looked at me sharply. "This is my first time." He spoke with an English accent, and then went on to say something rude, gibing and sarcastic. I was so surprised, I didn't even register his words. Seeing my confusion, he kept at it, adding injury to insult with a sardonic grin and tight lips. I smiled back while trying to understand his words. Surely I was misunderstanding him?

I so admired him while he was riding that wave, I wanted to BE him! But, no longer.

After surfer-man loaded his board and left, another man who had heard this exchange came up to me. "I just want to apologize for him. I can't believe how rude he was to you. There's no excuse for that." He shook his head angrily looking in the direction of the departing van. 

"It's okay. I didn't take offense."

"Well, I just . . . you didn't deserve that. Sorry," he said again, looking into my eyes. Then he walked away.

What just happened? I had just watched, admired and envied an adventuring athlete for 20 minutes. I had given him, if not love, at least attention. 

And the next man----what he did!! He covered the first man's sins. He really did. Entirely. Sweetly. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers."

I hadn't planned to go all metaphorical and spiritual, but this lovely evening could have been spoiled. But it wasn't.
If I could do this more than this once, if we all could do this: When we're broadsided by strangers, family and even friends who climb up out of their own wild ride or their own disaster to dish out sudden sharp words, names----can we refuse the offense? Yes. We can look at their fatigue, their exertion, understand the power of stress, cortisol and adrenaline, and we can choose to let the gibe go; Love can do this. Peace can refuse the insult.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

And when we see this happen to others, we can do as the second man did: cover the deed with our own attention. Name what we saw. Be kind to the one who is hurt. Let our love and attention cover that sin. 

 "Love covers a multitude of sins."

If we can live like this, dear friends, we will bring peace to the ones thirsting for it. 

And Peace like a river, like a rushing river of tidal waters, will bear us aloft and along through the channel, beside the white mountains, washing away insults and hurts, gushing with such strength and beauty ------- 

All who see will be cleansed, refreshed,

and we will be who we are called to be:

the brave, joyful, peaceable children of God. 


Ride on!!

When There's Nothing New Under the Sun

I got on a bush plane yesterday afternoon with my husband and two school officials and flew over Kodiak Island, through fog and thick swaths of clouds, over snowed mountains, a pod of orcas, the whirlpools of Whale Pass . … to a village, a very small village of maybe 50 people surrounded by wilderness and ocean. You cannot get here by road, only by bush plane or boat. It was graduation day. 

Here are the graduates. 

          This morning I get up with a backache that leaves me hobbling around the house while I get ready for a trip to Anchorage for oral surgery tomorrow. After that I make my yearly migration to fish camp, to Harvester Island, when the fog and clouds abate. 

           I am soon to sign a contract for my next book and am writing an article on gender identity, and tomorrow is the last day of school in Kodiak, when I'll go and eat hamburgers and play games with the kids, and I'm gathering all the boxes of things I need for the summer at fish camp, and it all feels ordinary, routine, as though I have done each thing more than a thousand times, though some of these I have done only once. Just once. Others more. 

            Do you know this too, how some nights and weeks our sleep is stolen,  how the mind goes numb sometimes, how the eyes stop seeing, how the body aches when we rise, how nothing can surprise us anymore, how we are surrounded by goodness and we cannot feel it . . . ?? Do you know this condition? Do you know this sickness?


               It is not the disease called Life, or the condition of Aging. Though I have seen many elderly with the lights gone out and the joy fled far, I have seen it also in the young and middle-aged. And I see it sometimes in the mirror. I saw it this morning. I can even quote a Scripture verse to normalize it: "There is nothing new under the sun."


             But I will not let this death have me. Dylan Thomas pleads with us in his famous villanelle, "Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light." He is writing about his father in his last days, but this can be us as well. 

                 I am raging right now, sitting here on a double-cushioned stool to ease my back. I am raging right now writing this, and I raged this morning when I opened my Bible and drank in those words, and I rage every time I pick up my camera. We must find ways to find God in our days, for He is the Maker of every one, the Spinner of every hour, the one who ticks the second hand of the clock, delivering Life to us every  moment, even when we do not see or hear it. 

      And how will we wake up so we don't miss it? We are not left alone, unarmed. Through all these weapons for Life, I find Him again this very day:


And here, in my prayer journal,

In my daily bread, 

    Your eyes? How are they this week? If you have been blind like me, don't stay there. We are not helpless. We can choose to get new eyes. There are so many ways,

          And if we cannot find God in our own lives even then, if we are that exhausted, that ill (and sometimes we are), then look for Him in others' lives, in other places. Here is where I looked today:

This interview with a Christian Iraqi girl, asking for forgiveness of ISIS.

        In Ann Voskamp's call to help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and the 1 - 9 year old girls sold as slaves to the highest bidder. 

In Christianity Today, the story of Jeanne Bishop, who helps her clients make amends for their crimes, who is now helping her sister's murderer make amends for his. 

And if you still are half-lidded, watch the wonder (and tender-heartedness) of children:

And taste the best medicine I know:  laughter. Even if you already are well.

    Nothing else has changed today----except me. My eyes are open. I am beginning to see again . …  And I pray you as well, dear friends . ...

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?