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?