Beautiful and Terrible

Journey to Fishcamp: Don't Be Afraid

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”  Frederick Buechner

I arrived at our fishcamp island less than twelve hours ago. It’s a mile long island off the west side of Kodiak Island. I am already awake, though it is  5:30 a.m. and I have slept only five hours. In good weather, the weather we were given yesterday, the trip is not long: a bush plane flight, a bumpy frigid skiff ride and we are here. I am not astonished, exactly, by either the getting here or the being here. I have migrated yearly to this island for thirty-six summers and two winters. 

                                                                            Harvester Island

But I did not try to sleep on either the flight or the skiff ride  as I have done other years, years when the task of packing up a house and six children for the summer, of simply readying four small children to ride in a cold skiff, in thirty-five degree weather and loading forty-five boxes from our house to a van to a plane to the boat left me exhausted.  Nor did I try to read or write, as I often do. I was awake the whole way, hoping to see again, hoping for astonishment, hoping for some new beauty in this world that I have missed before. 

It is a world both beautiful and terrible. A world of mountains still snowed on top and brown below this May 28, with little sign yet of summer green. Where there are yet no flowers, but mosquitos have already begun. Where even winter coats are not enough to stay warm in the skiff right now. Where the getting of fish costs strength, bodies, sleep and sometimes it steals kindness, even love.  

I stayed awake because of my two sons behind me, 10 and 12, who know this flight well but who squirm with joy and hope for their summer life to come. They know what will come, a summer of hard and sometimes scary work fishing on the ocean, but a summer of hikes, of learning to run a boat themselves, of playing on the driftwood on the beach, of our family gathered around the nets and around the table.

I stayed awake with my camera, thinking of all of you, knowing I was taking you with me. What would you want to see? Because you have been writing back, I know some of you. I watched with your eyes.

Last night, an hour after we landed and loaded and unloaded our boxes and food, we watched a pod of fin whales feeding out by the reef. They were not doing their simple behemoth dive that curls their backs above water, sinking them like heavy ships into the deep. We know about these dives. We know their sound, the blast of the saltwater through their cavernous blowholes. We watch them all summer long, nearly every summer. 

But  not now. They were doing something different. They were feeding on their side, skimming and feeding on schools of herring, their usually invisible flippers flapping and slapping the water. They were lunge feeding. My sons and I watched excitedly with binoculars as they rose and rolled, flushing the waters with their spinning and lunging, mixing water and whale and air into a wondrous froth. 

 We did not believe they were fins at first. Fin whales are sober whales. They don’t cavort or frolic like humpbacks. They’re massive, second only to the blue whale, and they haul their heft with great solemnity about the oceans. They know what life is about. They migrate to this bay  again and again. They’ve seen it all.  But now. There are fresh herring darting into the bay. Now it is nearly summer.  Now food has come and the waters will soon be warmer and why merely sink and dive when they can spin and skim the lovely surface and net whole schools of tasty fish? And maybe someone somewhere sees their joy, their perfect feast, and laughs at them, and who knows what else is possible in this  watery world? Who knows what else might happen this summer in this very place?

G. K. Chesterton reminds us what is possible:

"It is possible that God says every morning to the sun, ‘Do it again,’ and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all  daisies alike. It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we are.”  


Nor does he make every whale alike, or every island, or every summer. 

Can we believe this, that though we have all been this way before---wherever that way is---however far or close, however silent or loud,  however sweaty or cold, safe or dangerous, however beautiful or plain----God is still enthralled with it all? And still enthralled with you?

It is true.  

Beautiful and yes, maybe good-terrible things will happen this summer. They are for us. 

Stay awake.

Don’t miss any of it.

Don’t be afraid.