First Fish, First Kiss, First Bear (How to Keep Living)

The sun was shining Sunday morning when I read the news from Orlando. While I stopped breathing for those seconds, the ocean kept breathing at my feet. The oystercatchers plowed the air with happy screeches,  the sea otters kept knocking their clams in their paws to open them.  Do I dare to believe God is still here, still present in all the minute details of even his small creatures lives even while far away people are dying? How can life and death coexist this way?

 I cannot answer this terrible mystery. I only know we must make decisions about guns. I know we must do all we can to end this public violence. Beyond that, The living must live & if we are even a little wise we must promise to stay more awake than ever to all that is good. (Click to tweet) We promise to SEE what is good. And we promise to cultivate what is Good.

So we live. So here on our island, it begins, what we're here for: the nets go out for our first salmon opening. We wait all year for this. A dozen people work weeks for this-----to play out our nets from boats into water. Is anyone there?

I gave my kids and crew one task: bring me fish for dinner. They do.

It is not pretty, this part. The dying. And even in the death of that—there is life. Because we will eat this fish and be nourished. And then there’s the kiss. The first fish of the season caught must be kissed---everyone knows it. Most everyone does it. Are we sorry we caught the fish? Are we blessing it? Are we thanking it? Are we asking it to send its kin to us as well? All of it. 

I think of this because this day of first fish, first kiss is also our first Sabbath out here. The cotton tablecloth comes out for our dinner-lunch. We sit, all 15 of us today. I pull out my Bible to the book of Job and read the words I always read for the first salmon feast: 

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
 Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
 In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.”


We hold hands around the table. We bow our heads and say these words. Then we eat. And eat.

This first week at fishcamp, everything we do is the “first.” And there is one more “first” we would have chosen “last” or “never.” It happened like this.

I was mending net along with everyone else on the beach. I needed something at the house. I hiked the long hill and was almost at the stairs when a huge brown head appeared around the corner of the house. A massive brown head. He was as startled to see me as I was him. “Bear! Bear!” I started shouting at the top of my voice and kept shouting until the bear ran into the bushes and the kids came running from the beach. 
    “Where’d he go?” Elisha reached me first, panting. 
    “I think he went on the other side of the house. Go get the shotgun. We’ll scare him!”
    Everyone gathered around excitedly. Elisha dashed in the house for the gun. “Everyone stay together! He won’t charge such a big group.”
    We all moved to the side of the house and peered up the hillside, into the bushes. 
    “I see him!” Elisha called. We huddled close and followed his finger. There, 150 feet away, through a tunnel of alders, sat the bear. Yes, he sat and looked directly at us through the long green tunnel. He looked at us. We looked at him.
    “Okay, shoot into the air, Elisha. Now especially while he’s looking so he associates us with danger.”
    “Cover your ears!” Elisha aims over the trees and pulls back. “BOOM!” 
    The bear got up, not terribly frightened, and began to move. We lost him for a few minutes, scanning the fields together, until someone saw him behind the outhouse. We ran together in a kind of clump. Elisha got off one more shot into the air, and we watched his massive rump amble up the hill and out of sight. 


(Not the same bear but he was this big.)

(Not the same bear but he was this big.)

I watched him with awe. He was a beautiful bear. Not many bears swim over to our island. Not since they ate all our cattle years ago. Just once in a while one will come. Maybe this was both the first and the last bear of the summer. But he was one well-fed gorgeous mass of God-made muscle, bone, teeth, and claws. 

Later, when I went back in the house, I saw the spider web by the window and the spider itself  threading it's God's eye in the corner. The voles are busy underground and the flies dizzy the air around our heads while the salmon start their watery journey home to their river. So much life. So much breathing. And yet 49 have died this week.

What do we do with this? The shooter, and all shooters like him, have followed the wrong god. They serve a terrible impotent god who makes enemies of strangers, who cannot act in this world without hate-filled men and their guns.  

We follow a different God, who loved his enemies all the way to his own death. (Click to tweet) Following the God who upholds the life and breath of every creature, who died even for them. Following the God who loves Life--and us---that much.

So turn off your screens. Put berry branches on your table. Feed the crows. Watch a spider. Help your neighbor.  Join the throng of life around you, without guilt. Without fear. (Click to tweet)

I will do the same. What other life will come? Who else will visit our island? What other creatures will swim into our nets, climb our cliffs and swoop over our beach this season? I can hardly wait to see. 


Friends, how are YOU living with joy and purpose this week?