Far-aField Notes

Kodiak Snowfall, SKYFALL+ the "Hobby of Resurrection"

Beauty!  A lovely snowfall this week. Snow-attack would be closer, though, since a 40+ mph wind was behind it.  The sea smashed and raged below my house, the cliff-facing windows were smothered in white.  I was happy. I’ve been off-island, strangely missing the dark and temper of this season.  My son, in California, is wistful for blizzards and violent skies. I understand. Once you live under such drama, even the sunny places our bodies crave bore us after awhile. 

While “Outside,” I got to see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall.  I’m not a huge 007 fan, for so many reasons, but I have watched most of the recent ones, and even a few of the older ones, which I immediately regretted. I seldom finished them.  

The Bond franchise with its string of oily tuxedo-ed martini-ed protagonists, wanton beddings and shootings; its portraits of women-as-bikini-clad know-and-do-nothings, fully deserved to die out. 

But, the franchise rises again, decidedly smarter and better. This one may be the best of the bunch. One of my favorite moments in the movie is this brief exchange:

(Bond: “Everyone needs a hobby."

Smarmy Enemy: "What’s yours?

Bond: "Resurrection")

And so it is. Bond is shot from atop a moving train, falls hundreds of feet from the sky into a waterfall.  He survives, but we’ve no idea how. We know surviving three falls---a bullet, a skyfall and a waterfall is impossible, which is why he utters the word “resurrection.”  He once was dead, and he lives again.  He is weakened, wounded, his body not what it once was. He still bears the scar of a bullet in his shoulder. But he has lives to save, and one particular evil life to end. As long as his heart beats, he cannot keep from his mission.

              I just found out this week that snow is alive. That its nucleus is often a living microbe around which the snowflake is formed. When researchers took snow samples from 19 locations around the world, they discovered that as much as 85% of the nucleus of snow in the warmer temperatures is living bacteria. 

The snowflake, each one, though frozen into immobility, yet is alive.     


              My life is full of resurrections. This week alone,  I was gone, and now I am home. I am sick now, almost immobilized, but I will soon be well.  My husband and I are married 35 years now---the cycles of dying and reviving beyond counting.  The snow falls and we hibernate in the dark, knowing  the long lit days will return.  I glimpse my own selfish heart, and die with a thousand lashings---and I remember forgiveness and get up again. A friend cannot smile or walk, and a visit makes her laugh.  

 How do we rise up? The snowflake is intricately structured around a living speck, invisible to the eye. And us. We too are built around a life invisible to the eye, but more fully alive than anything we can see.  Because of that life, and because of that first rising-from-death, resurrection becomes our habit.  Even in the most inhospitable places, places where we stumble and fall---blizzards, sickness, selfishness, pain---life remains. 

It is God’s hobby to bring life out of death, and if we ask for it, he can do the same for us. His hobby will become the pattern of our lives.   

May I pray for you this week, that you would rise up with new life? I would be honored to lift your name to the God of Hope and Life. 

Beyonce's Lipsync, Armstrong's Doping+ My Showtime: Why Did We All Cheat?

SHOWTIME! I bounded up on stage like I had just won the lottery on a game show. 3500 pairs of eyes looking at me, but not 5'2" me----a blown-up 25 foot me, my every cowlick now magnified X 100.  What could I do but cheat? 

Three days later, in the Dayton airport, I watched Beyonce belt out an impressive version of our national anthem. I marveled at her voice and her impassioned virtuoso performance transformed me, for those moments, into a chest-swelling patriot. ("The rockets' red glare, and the flag was still there . .... The next day we find out she was not really singing. At the last minute, a pre-recorded version was played instead. Why did she cheat? 
 A few days earlier we watched a wolf-faced Lance Armstrong admit to Oprah that his stunning Tour de France performances, and all his vituperative protestations against the numerous doping charges were all “one big lie.”  He confessed that he did it out of "ruthless desire to win."

  "[I was] the guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and control every outcome," he said, with a touch of defiance still in his voice and body. (Should we forgive him? Not yet.)

I've had two weeks of Showtime! by now--which is why you haven't heard from me. I’ve been shuttling from Kodiak to California to Ohio to Victoria B.C. speaking along the way in living rooms, classrooms and a gorgeous university chapel nearly as big as a stadium. I cheated too. I had notes. Eight pages of them. (Unlike some speakers with supernatural memory and confidence!)  And I had backup too---I had called in the Invisible Special Forces: the Holy Spirit. And had asked others to pray for me. Though I have spoken to many large audiences, I knew I needed help. 

 “A gift of any kind is a considerable responsibility," wrote Flannery O'Connor. All of us reading this-----carry both. All of us here have been given gifts and abilities. O'Connor calls this endowment "a mystery."  And something else: we don't deserve them. They come to us as something "gratuitous and wholly undeserved," O'Connor writes.  And those gifts carry a weight of responsibility.  

I don't really care that Beyonce lip-synced at the inaugeration, It may not even have been her decision. It was her voice, and her gift and she reminded us all why we love our country.

I care enormously that Armstrong cheated. I care enormously that he stole the Tour de France seven times. He mistook his gift. His gift was not winning---his gift was cycling.  But he didn't know the difference. 

Nor does he know that the gifts we are given are mostly for others---not for ourselves. That's what makes them "gifts."  In the  New Testament, Peter speaks directly to this, "God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another."  

I "cheated" gladly that day and all the days I stand before audiences huge and tiny with notes inked on my hand, on my sleeve, anything I can get away with. I have to do it. I trust God but I don't trust myself. I want to say something true. I want to help others ask hard questions. I want to help others find faith and cling to it, as I am trying to do.  

It's risky business, all of this, using our gifts. Once, I stood in a spotlight in a blackened auditorium in front of 1500 people and suddenly fell apart, melting into helpless sobs. (Speaking about a hard place in my life.) I almost did it again last week, reading an essay about a friend who had taken her own life. I don't like to melt into snot and tears while on stage----but I'll take it. It's part of the risk of using our gifts. 

We don't have to win. We just have to try. And we have to ask for help. It's not cheating to ask for help-----it's not for us, after all. 

This is how we carry our gifts. They are heavy sometimes, a responsibility that feels too much for us, but in giving them away, we are lightened with joy,
 and we bring light and joy to others. 

The Grounding of the Kullik (video)+Is it Stupid to Hope in a New Year?

 On New Year's Eve, when guests were still arriving at my house to game and toast and cheer their way from one year into the next, a 400 million dollar oil drilling platform, the "Kullik" washed ashore near Kodiak Island. The national news reports described the weather as "severe," the seas as "savage."  600 people were employed trying to gain control of the rig, to no avail. The massive lines kept snapping in the monstrous seas of the "violent storm." We are praying, all of us, that the platform does not smash on the rocks and leach poison on our beaches yet again.

The weather has been particularly severe the last two months. Our house has shuddered under howling winds and slicing snow and rain for weeks, swelling the seas to waves no one can tame or even ride. 

The news hasn't been a whole lot better.

In our little daily Kodiak paper, the headlines this new week in this new year sound so much like the headlines from other years.

On Christmas Day, a 20 year old man fell to his death while ice climbing on a mountain near town.

Friends lost their house and all their possessions to a fire that gutted their home.

A young man was washed overboard from a fishing boat and lost.

The news from others places is just as bad. No, worse. 

And still we gather in warm lit houses and eat spanokopita and nut mixes and put on funny hats and blow honkers and confetti and blow up rockets and firebombs in our driveways and act as if our silliness and our noise will turn the tide and dislodge the platform, calm the weather and make the world a better place this time around. Or that somehow these rites will make us better, stronger, happier and smarter. We do this every year, though nothing seems to change.

Are we just naive-----or stupid? Can the world really get better? Can we believe that people will somehow grow less violent, more loving? Can we really tear off the calendar taped to our fridges and think the new white boxes around days yet to come will be worth waking up to and worth walking through, hour by hour, workday by workday, meal by meal? Can oranges still taste sweet, can the ocean lullabye, can our jobs fulfill, can we treat the earth with righteous, tender care, can we lay in our beds at night knowing at least one of the day's promises has been kept? 

Almost exactly a year ago I started Far a-Field Notes, carving out this space with these words:

To everything there is a season, and 

a time to every purpose under heaven: 

A time to be born, and a time to die; 
A time to kill, and a time to heal; 
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

A time to get, and a time to lose; 
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time for war and a time for peace.

I think back over the year and remember---yes, there was a time for silence. There was a time for death, and casting away. And I have spoken, too, here in this place, and in others. There have been births and healing and keeping. The oranges did taste sweet--some days. Promises were kept. I ate enough---and often I ate well. I saw something about war----and I made a few small peaces. 

I don't know what your new year will bring---nor mine. But I am deciding to trust all the years and times behind me, and trust the "purposes under heaven."  And hope that you can as well. 

It was not in naivete but in faith that I lifted my glass to my neighbors gathered in a circle as the fireworks exploded in the cold winter wind overhead, even as the Kullik hit the rocks and lodged yet deeper under savage seas . . . we clinked our glasses, looked at each other and looked to heaven and asked that this year be a time and a season for faith and hope and love in increasing measure. We often cannot change the times, but we can ourselves be changed.

I ask the same for you: For this Time, this Season, this Year: For Faith, Hope and Love in increasing measure. Overflowing. 

My dear friend Jeanne Murray Walker---overflowing.

Blizzard Surfing + How We Carry On

It’s been blowing wild horses most of this week. I almost flew away today while hiking out to a point, where the icy waves lifted to mist, and the sun shot reds and greens through the spray. The wind chill was zero or less, all this the tailings of a blizzard that swept in yesterday.  

 No matter the weather, we've all come through a blizzard this week. We’re all still fighting for breath, still feeling frigid waves crashing upon us, wondering about goodness, about God, asking all the questions we ask when evil shows up to slaughter innocents. We've heard so many words about this already, lost so many tears, groaned so many prayers . … there may be nothing left.  

But the day after the blizzard here, when most of us were curdling our hot chocolate with our hot breath, cold hands and withering questions, three people walked casually into frostbite winds to ride the frigid crushing waves. How is it that when some of us are trying to stay rooted and safe others are riding the highest coldest waves they can find? 

And how is it, after catastrophe, some know all the questions without a single answer? Some know all the answers without a single question? And others know nothing, and insist that all claim ignorance as well?     

Enough has been said this week. I offer only this, and I hope it is enough:

The worst we can do is stop doing what we should be doing this week. 

For me, I will still walk, despite the wind and cold. 

I will still count the hours of light instead of the hours of darkness.

On Christmas Eve, I will still light a candle with 100 others in a darkened sanctuary singing "Silent Night, Holy Night." 

On Christmas Day, I will still ornament tables with gold ribbon, poinsettias and homemade food and feed twenty people I love.

And every day I will pray thanks to the God who chose to born among dirt, hay and stones, who never turned from our dirt and our death until he offered us His own.

Because of this, every day, here, sorrow and joy meet. I will feel both-----and carry on.

Thank you for sharing this place with me, and walking into the days and nights together. With much gratitude and prayers for your good,
and wishing you the merriest of Christmases,   


Can the Stable Still Astonish? And 6 Christmas Giveaways!

How many Christmases have you survived? It's a heavy weight to carry----the expectations of tiny snowy villages on mantels, wreaths on every door, anxiety that your chosen gifts will not please,   the travail of beginning a family tradition---which then must be kept, until yes, we have a special meal and activity for nearly every day .  . .  It's astonishing that we do this to ourselves every year. And every year we vow to be simpler next year, to buy one gift, to relish the presence of one another most, to attend every worship service, to create the space we need to find wonder again . . ..  and we don't. 

But I believe it's still there-----Astonishment. I send this poem out to you in hopes it will revive what may be exhausted. I wrote it many years ago, and it has turned up around the world in the most surprising places. Its words redeemed a particularly difficult Christmas, and I send it to you now hoping it will do the same for you:

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:

Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: "Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place." ?

Who but the same God

Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, "Yes, let the God 
of Heaven and Earth 
be born here ----

         in this place."

                              -----Leslie Leyland Fields

Little else is needed but this presence, but do forgive me for selfishly wanting to give a little more. I would like to send off a book (of your choice from any I have written) to three people who request one, and to give a subscription to the best magazine on faith and culture that I know of, Christianity Today, to 3 others. I just want to thank you for your own presence with  me this first year of Far aField Notes.

 And I join you in asking, praying, seeking, imploring, searching, watching----for All that is Astonishing in the world that is, that relentlessly breaks upon us from the world to come.   



An Invitation to Harvester Island+Why We Can Still Love Life+Country

 The news is out, the electoral college has spoken, and we have a new president. More than half of you receiving this will not be celebrating. I suspect some will be tempted to start packing . . .  But I am glad and grateful for yesterday. Here's why:  Six years ago I was in Guatemala with my family for the winter. We were there during the last months of an upcoming election. The body count at that point: 50. Fifty candidates running for office, including members of their family, had been assassinated. That's how some people in Guatemala voted---with a bullet. 

The scene yesterday at my neighborhood ballot office was like a party. Friends, neighbors, on both sides of the political fence, visited, laughed, marked their ballots, 

 proudly slapped their "I Voted Today" stickers on their chest and went home to watch the results with their families. As for me, I did not pack my bags after hearing the results. I baked an American Flag cake and served it with ice cream to my sons. 
The election of either man to office does not change who I am to be, who any of us are to be: people draped with the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  NOW is just the time to be who we are called to be. 

Other news comes today, happy news from Far aField Notes, news that makes me want to shake off the apple of "self-control" and just dance:  I am opening my fishcamp island to ten writers for  my first annual Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. /www.leslieleylandfields.com/slieleylandfields.com/p/harvester-island.html

It's a big step. I'm taking it in faith, wanting to share the incredible resources of this place----but I take it in fear as well. The terrible beauty and fishing life on this island has stricken and scarred me----and it has healed me as well.  I know it has done the same for others.

 I offer this experience in all its fullness to ten fiction and creative nonfiction writers. It will be unlike any other writer's workshop I know of. Morning workshops will be followed by afternoons whale and wildlife watching

  (you can almost touch the whales and sea lions), beach and mountain hiking, boat touring . ... and every evening we'll all prepare our own fresh seafood dinner pulled from our own front yard waters. It will be an extraordinary time.   More information here, along with a slide show of some of what you can expect. 


Thank you for journeying with me----in these pages, to my islands, to the places and people we hope to become. 
It's a good life, here in this country
and on the islands I make my home upon. 
We're not where we need to be yet, 
 any of us. 
But longing for the good, the right, 
the pure, the beautiful,
the kind, the faithful---
the taste of that wistfulness and hope
      and even our imperfect efforts
                 to embody these goods, 
is often as sweet as receiving them.
Along the way, our longing, our efforts
may spread kindness and hope
to those as wanting

as me,
as you.

Marauding Bears All Over Town+The Wisdom of Garbage

“But when nothing is valued for what it is, everything is destined to be wasted.”    ---Wendell Berry

More than a dozen bears are ambling and gobbling their way out of the hearts of Kodiak residents. There’s a couple in my neighborhood too. One was shot and killed while raiding a chicken coop not far from my house.   

Removal of the bear shot while raiding a chicken coop.

We live on an island of more than 4000 Kodiak bears, the highest density of bears in the world. Most of the island is a federal bear refuge (everything in green on the map).


Our high school sports teams are, of course, “The Bears.”  Part of our fishcamp is on Bear Island. We teach our kids what to do when they see a bear (photo) .  We’re on the alert out there for bears swimming over to our fishcamp island. We have guns loaded on gun racks ready for a marauding bear. When we hike we fasten a canister of bear spray to our belts.  

But we’ve not had so many frontyard bears before. The reason? A new garbage system.  Central dumpsters have been replaced, inexplicably, with garbage cans (“rollcarts”)  placed out on the streets, creating an irresistible temptation  
to the bruin population.

Blame is being slung as fast and harsh as hash and hard tack. No one is blaming the bears.  Everyone is blaming the garbage; more specifically the ones who voted the new garbage system in.

Into this mess of blame and hash, I feel no need to defend the bear. The bear is himself an overwhelming fact of nature who can defend himself better than most (though not against guns).  Nor can I defend the planners who passed this plan despite vociferous and prophetic objections. 

I offer instead a few words  in the defense of garbage, which cannot defend itself. 

We hate it, of course.  We despise even our own garbage. We lily-wrap it in scented bags (I predict floral garbage bags will be next) that lock, snap and tie like a noose to choke out any possible leakage.  We whip it out our doors, out of sight and smell, as if it carried the bubonic plague. 

But garbage tells the truth about us. It has wisdom to impart. It reminds us that are not independent, self-sustaining creatures.  We must eat, drink, wear clothes, and clean up to stay alive and well.  Our lives, our breath and our body costs other beings, requires other lives and resources.  We cannot not create waste.  Even without wrappers or fast food, the cleanest foods, even water will turn to waste in our bodies. There is always something left over.  Only the dead produce nothing.

But we are wasteful in our waste. We tire of our clothes sooner than they wear out. We chuck our clunky-heeled shoes, no longer in style. We stuff the can with the turquoise coat too gauche for our taste this year. We serve ourselves too much food and throw away the rest. We throw too much away because we buy too much. We buy too much because we don’t know the difference between want and need. 
And even what we throw away other creatures want and need.   

I am not much different than most people.  I’d like to consume less---less of everything, especially plastic (but maybe not shoes and clothes—which I buy a lot of, but mostly used--Phew!)    

Two thousand years ago, when Jesus turned a boy’s sack lunch into a feast for 5,000, despite his ability to produce infinite resources, he threw nothing away. When all had eaten and marveled, he told the disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments. Let nothing be wasted.”  

Those words, both their spiritual and their literal application, are enough for me. “Let nothing be wasted.” Don’t waste pain, or fear or time or strength or resources or any of the gifts you’ve been given. Don’t even waste your waste. 

Reduce it if you can. Don’t refuse so much of your refuse. At the least, let it remind you of the cost of life, what costly creatures we are. 

Knowing this, don’t spend more: value everything you hold for all it’s worth. 

And sometimes, don’t let go.

Breaking the Sound Barrier, Twilight Zone+Why You're More Daring Than You Think

On the day I am jetting back from Georgia, hurtling 30,000 feet above the earth in a blessedly horizontal position, Felix B. hurtled vertical like a human bomb 26,000 feet from sky to earth, breaking the sound barrier. He said he didn’t feel anything.

We used to fear speed. What happens if you go too fast? Just 51 years ago, the Twilight Zone posed that question. “The Odyssey of Flight 33” which ran in 1961, (which I watched again yesterday, . Rod Serling’s gravely voice interspersed with creepy theme music, gives us the set-up: 

“You’re riding in an airliner from London to new York. 35,000 feet. What you’ve seen occur inside the cockpit of this plane is no reflection on the aircraft or the crew.  It’s a safe, perfectly designed machine.  The problem is that the plane is simply going too fast, and there is nothing within either the realm of knowledge or logic to explain it, moving them into unchartered regions well off the beaten track of commercial travelers.

What happens next? The plane inexplicably speeds up to 2000 mph, then 3000. There’s a sudden jolt, the lights flash,  and not long after, as the cockpit crew peers out the window through the clouds, they see a brontosaurus calmly munching on the treetops of Manhattan. They’ve broken not the sound barrier, but the time barrier.  They can’t get back. We imagine the plane, full of passengers, flying forever, a truly non-stop flight . . . 

We seem to have lost our fear of the elements. We chase tornadoes with a truck and a camera. Just this year, a 62 year old woman, Diana Nyad, attempted to be the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Nick Wallenda tightropes across the Niagra Falls.  Felix Baumgarten steps into space. We feel such mastery of earth and sky!

 But I do not call out “Hubris!” Or, “Pride goeth before the fall!” which sounds like a special reference to Baumgarten.  I cheer them all on. Here’s one reason why. 

The last two months it has rained and fogged almost continually in Kodiak, following a summer of the same. I flew to Georgia to teach a class at Covenant College this last week with great anticipation of deliverance: the sun! the warmth! Instead---rain and fog every day there but one.
 I habitually look up at the sky mostly with resignation and endurance, which is its own kind of courage.  

But not everyone does. Some people string a line between their fear and their comfort and walk it. Some swim between continents, some dive into the deepest ocean trenches. It is astounding! As I watch these feats, I hear the Psalmist David’s words in my ears:

“ . …  what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
     You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.
     You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet:
     all the sheep and oxen,
as well as the animals in the wild,
    the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea
  that pass through the currents of the seas.

How marvelous! God, who is beyond Great, has yet turned his attention to spindly, little human us to crown us with glory and honor! We are remembered and looked after by the God of All Things. We are charged to take charge of the world, to tend and love it. Because of all this, women and men dare to leap and fly and swim and run and dive within all the elements and places of the world.

And what of the rest of us, pedestrian us, who live mostly with feet on the ground we are made from? We are daring too. We break barriers every day, we people of dirt, water, fog and air.  

Some days I break the dirt barrier---I sweep the floor. 

Some days I  break the water barrier----I go running in the sideways rain.

Some days I try to break the sleep barrier---I stay up half the night writing.  

Some days I break the aesthetic barrier---I wear my bunny  boots with my Leopard-spotted raincoat.

Some days I break the sound barrier----I turn off the radio and listen to the ocean.

Some days I break the ignorance barrier---and I read a book.

Some days I break the fog barrier---my plane, improbably, makes it in.      

Some days I break the distance barrier----and send words out to friends in disparate places.

And you! What barriers are you breaking today?

Truly, what a marvel we are! 

Blown Away Videos+Why We Live Longer in Kodiak

         It was gusting N.E. well over 50 mph today, my house on the cliff a direct hit. The windows bowed enough under the blasts to rattle the fancy glasses sitting on the sill. The water in the toilet surged all day. My 2 down-south guests are loving it for its relief from the Louisiana heat, and its drama. For me, it's not quite as exciting. It's been blowing most of September, and it will blow even harder this winter. The wind does stop, eventually, and the seas do calm, eventually, and we even have days when the sun appears---momentarily. 

This did not happen for Homecoming last week,  which was a dual celebration. 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 whole town was excited. But it rained and blew up another gale that day, which made the Homecoming games and celebrations more of a test of endurance.

Kodiakans pretty much carry on no matter the weather, and we try to be happy, but it can be a Herculean task to muster a smile after days and weeks of rain and wind.  

              This last Sunday, as the branches of a mountain ash the windows in the wind, the sun suddenly broke through. We tried not to stare. The sermon was from the book of James, "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?

              Strangely, it does. 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 what life is really about. 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, playing golf and worrying about sunburn. We can't do any of these things. Instead we gather in coffee shops and each other's houses. We cook for one another.

 We run together in gale force winds. We go to church and hang around for hours. We shovel each others' driveways.  We stand at track meets wrapped in sleeping bags and talk with one another, whether we know each other or not. It doesn't matter. The weather clots us together like clouds under the winds. We're all neighbors, all 14,000 of us.

 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 think I know.   


Island to Island, Denali Bear Killing+Why We Cant Get Out of the Way

This week, we packed up our stuff and returned  to Kodiak, flying from one small island, population 8, to Kodiak Island, population 15,000. Our luggage is cardboard boxes lined with garbage bags (for rain and ocean spray) and cooler chests---the elite Alaskan bush luggage. 

We traveled from house to beach to skiff to beach to van to airstrip to plane to van to home---our fancy luggage handled  and hauled every step of the way, all 800 pounds of it. (It's weighed because the plane, an Islander, carries 1500 pounds. We weigh everything that goes aboard, including ourselves!)  

What was all that stuff? Books, cameras, research materials, clothes, sneakers, frozen meat, stuffed animals,  fresh made jams,  smoked salmon, halibut.  My own carriage of freight was made more difficult and perilous by the camera hanging off my neck and the video camera in my side pocket. 

By the time we finished the haul from one island to another, I wondered: how much of this did we really need?  

This last week,  a man lost his life in Denali National Park to a bear.  Most chilling of all, the footage on his camera that revealed he was just 150 feet away. The last frames  show the bear looking directly at him, approaching aggressively.  I am deeply sorry and sympathetic for this tragedy.  I have no words of condemnation or judgment. It could have been any of us. 

I know what happens when I hold a big-lens camera to my eyes---how transported I am.  I’ve stood 100 feet from Kodiak bears catching salmon in a river.  The camera works dangerous miracles.  Distance, time, space----all is altered.  The sharp wizardry of the camera and my 300x lens masters distance with a twist of my wrist. I am fooled.  The camera brings me so close to bears, to eaglets, to a reef laden with sea lions, I forget I don’t belong.  I am brought so near, I lose my place, my footing, my judgment. I forget that in simply observing the wild, I am intruding upon the wild. 

My camera  makes me feel safe. Behind its body, I feel  shielded, removed.  Looking through the viewfinder, I imagine seeing these images later in my living room, curled up on the couch with my family. In snapping the shutter in the moment,  I am capturing images that I can manipulate a dozen ways, and that I can save  for decades. Whom or what shall I fear?   

What do I say then?  I know what many say,  that we needn’t travel through life with so many boxes, so much  luggage, with a backpack full of cameras and high powered lenses. Travel light. Need little.  Look with your eyes only.  But I will argue for the camera still. Even the zoom lenses.  Even with this recent death. 

We all need ways to get out of our own way. Especially when traveling. This is one of our primary human tasks:  to de-center ourselves, to lose ourselves, to remove ourselves from the oppressive “I” of the universe—the source of so much of our blindness.   

There are a multitude of ways to do this. The camera, for me, is one. (Books are another.) Here then are my hopes for us all: 

 I hope that any future deaths that come with camera-in- hand are metaphorical, not actual-physical. 

 I hope that with lens to our eyes, we will not be fooled into believing we belong with the bear, the eaglets, the sea lions.

 I hope we will remember we are not safe, ever.  

I hope that divesting ourselves of ourselves, truly seeing the other---animal or human---WILL threaten us.  

I hope we will continue to travel as heavily as we need 

to truly see. 

For then we are found.

A Russian Steambath Tour+Are You Clean Enough for God?

Our banya, which sits about 100 feet from the house.

Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water a day. We use maybe 3 gallons apiece. We’re just not that thirsty---or that clean. (One of my sons has worn the same sweatshirt the entire summer. Just 1 washing. And I just went 6 days without washing my hair. I’m lucky like that . ..)   

Our water does not gush from our 2 faucets in the house: it ambles, urged along simply by gravity-flow from a tank above our house filled with water from our hand-dug well. Getting clean and staying clean take time and energy. We don’t have an indoor shower or a tub; we bathe in a banya, a word and a custom brought over by the Russians 300 years ago when they colonized this part of Alaska.  

The banya is a wood-fired steam sauna in a building separate from the house. We build a huge wood fire in the barrel stove,

fill the inside tank (over part of the barrel stove) with water for our hot water.  

We keep the fire stoked until the water inside is hot and the air temperature is about 200 degrees. It takes 3 - 4 hours---we have to plan ahead. Then we take turns filing out to the banya, towels over our shoulders. We steam and sweat, washing in basins, emerging  red-faced, happy and clean. 

We use very little water, but we use a lot of wood, all of it driftwood found on beaches, dragged to shore in a flotilla, stacked until we saw it up and burn it.

I’ve been dragging my body into that banya for 35 years now. Naked I sit, in my grime and sweat and the worries of the day, sucking in air almost too hot for my lungs.  But I’m not really here to get clean. I'm here to get pure. 

The banya, like a native American sweatlodge, is often a house of prayer for me. Two thousand years ago, on a grassy hillside, maybe a bit like the one where we built our banya, a promise and a blessing was given: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “

 Am I pure enough yet to see the living God? 

In a book of prayers from the Presbyterian church published in 1940’s  I find this prayer: 

 “Grant that we may think clean, generous, humble                                                                  thoughts and harbor none that  stains the mind or dims our vision of Thee. So cleanse our hearts that we may ever behold thee face to face . .”

What I have seen of God so far is this: 

He strips us,   he scalds us,    he sears our lungs,   he opens 

our pores,   we melt,      our bodies weep . . . 

And when we return again to the world, 
we wear clean clothes, our skin shines, 
people are kinder,  
and the world itself is  brighter than we left it.

How many of us are “pure in heart”?  
Not me. But we shall be, one day. Even as we lean toward that day,


this day,


we have been made 

clean    enough.

The Eaglets Fly, Curiosity Lands, and Why We're Still Looking for Home

The day that Curiosity landed on Mars was the day I saw the eaglets fly the nest. I was deeply moved by both.

He is perched about 80 feet from his nest. 

The eaglet flies to join his parents on their favorite fishing reef

I know why the eaglets left their perfect circle of a nest---searching for food, the enterprise that will consume them all the days of their hopefully 30 year long life. (Amazingly, in 12 weeks they have grown from hatchling to a majestic, airborne predator). 

 Why did Curiosity, NASA's rover, leave earth? The project director, Dr. Jon Grotzinger wrote this in a New York Times editorial:

“Proust reminds us that the real voyage of discovery consists of not just seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. The extraordinary perspective that Curiosity will provide may some day allow us to understand  . .. something about ourselves and where our deepest roots may lie.” 

Where are our deepest roots? Where do we find new eyes? Will we find them on Mars?  Or perhaps it is better to look here, at our own labors on the ground we're planted in. 

Here are some of my labors these past two weeks at fishcamp:

Chopping wood, making chips for the smoker.

(Glazing the red salmon strips before they go into the smoker.)

Fishing with my (visiting) daughter, Naphtali

Retrieving a toilet seat that washed up on the beach, complete with all parts duct-taped to it! (Sorry to whoever lost this essential item . . .)

(Filleting a 50 pound halibut for dinner, and the freezer)

Yet, for all this cheer and activity, it’s been a hard 2 weeks as well, with mostly rainy days, with a bout of sickness, sadness and the claustrophobia that comes from months on an island with little movement away. (None of this photographs well.)

Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings, a master of faraway places, has written, "We all long for (Eden), and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’."  

He is right. We are all "soaked" with the "sense of exile." For me, even when living deeply in place, rooted in the God-made earth and sea, it's not a paradise here—or anywhere else. It’s just home. Even that isn't enough.

So we venture into space, to other planets, looking . ..  I am wildly excited to see the data that will soon begin beaming back to earth from  Curiosity. (This first photo took my breath away. This is not the Mojave desert: this is Mars!) 

Was there once water on Mars? Did life once exist on the Red Planet? What happened to make it so inhospitable? 

While I am breathlessly follow the posts and photos over the next two years, One thing I know. Whatever data comes back will not answer the questions we most want and need to know:  Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here?

We have to ask these questions. It’s essential to keep searching. It is our exile, our restlessness, the brevity of our joys, the endurance of our pains that teach us more is coming, wholeness is coming. We will be healed, earth will be healed, Eden will return. It is the waiting and the longing that prepares us for that day.

Until then, every interplanetary photo, every flight of an eaglet, every breathless scientific breakthrough thrills me,  giving me new eyes, enlarging my view of God---and reminding me who I am, who made me, where my true home lies:

Not here. Not yet. But soon. 
And it will be more, 
more, more 
more than anyone, 
even Science, 
can imagine. 

 Almost Home.

Among Fin Whales, Olympian Perfection+ Does God Love Your Body?

This morning I sat in a skiff among whales, fin whales, the second largest whales in the world, as long as 90 feet, weighing as much as 75 tons, second only to the blue whale. They're not photogenic. They don't spyhop or breach or enter the air with any sort of drama, just a slow serpantine arc from water to air, then the blast of the spout and the suck of oxygen, then the curving dive below, like ships sinking into the deep. 

I love their overwhelming elephantine bodies, the very size and shape of awe itself.      

This week the news magazine delivered all the way out to our island brought me glimpses of some of the Olympic  hopefuls, their bodies  sleek, their forms perfected to the performance of their sport. Much of the world will watch them  swim and run and dive and leap with eyes as rapt upon their bodies as ours this morning on the whales.  We will all be astonished, nearly in love.

But tonight when I wash my face in the basin and peer into the mirror, I will not be awed by my face or body.  Not its size, not its shape, not its performance.  In the Olympic season, and on an island where every iris, vole and eagle is beautifully formed exactly and perfectly for its place, and made without the capacity for dissatisfaction, I feel the odd creature out, an imperfect spectator to a theatre I cannot participate in.

 I am wondering, amid all this perfection, Does God love our bodies, our out-of-shape, aging, so-much-less-than-they-could-be bodies? The Olympics remind us painfully every other year of our potential: If we all just worked out four hours a day, think what our bodies could look like! Aren’t we just colossal disappointments to our Creator, who does, after all, love beauty? 

Here is what I have come to this week. God loves the whale, the leviathan. And he clearly loves the eagle, the vole, all the creatures that surround me with their perfect forms and bodies.

But us, he loves us, our bodies enough to inhabit them, if we so choose. He loves us enough to join us here in and through our bodies, however muscled or weak they are. In every breath that lifts our lungs, every bite we swallow,  every landscape and face and sunrise we see, every mile we walk, every thought we wonder, we can know something of Him.  Our bodies are His, given out of love, for our joy, that we may know Him. 

As you watch the Olympics, don’t hate your body, as I am tempted to do. Yes, we will always wrestle with our shape, our age, our vast imperfections, which feel as though they sink us like whales. But we will keep rising, 

to breathe again, 

as they do, for in Him we live 

and move and breathe and 

have our being, our bodies.  

And we are loved.    

The Fishcamp Glory Particle and The End of Wonder?

Do you know those moments when the air shreds into a thousand gulls, 

When the clouds are on fire,

 when the mountains launch a ghosting moon, 

and the ocean lays poems of kelp on your beach?

What do we say in those moments? What do we see?  

When “the missing cornerstone of particle physics” was finally discovered this last week, scientists cheered  and thanked “nature.”  Others praised God for yet another window on his presence in the world. Others applauded the proof that God is no longer necessary to explain the universe.   Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona University,  is one of the exultant ones, who is sure the Higgs particle will erase the need for God.  “The Higgs particle is now arguable more relevant than God,” he writes.  His explanation for the universe, beyond the scientific particulars, is now this:  “Everything we see could have emerged as a purposeless quantum burp in space. “

I will not argue with Krauss, who is clearly investing his scientific career in making God disappear, but I will present my own evidence gathered just this week in favor of the God of the particle, or the Glory particle, evidence I did not have to wait 500 trillion collisions to collect.  I needed only open eyes and a camera. The rest was provided----for nothing.   I share it with you here:

 Near midnight, the sun blazing before it sets.

We frighten each other with the wildness of our presence . . 

Calm seas, and a SW wind that sails the clouds to the horizons

The parent eagles devote all their waking hours to their young . . .

Whose glory is it?  It’s not mine—or yours.  We don’t own it, we can’t buy it or schedule it. We are lucky if we can witness just pieces and moments of it, and the luckiest ones of all are those who know whose it is, who absorb all the beauty and astonishment, and give it all back, as they can.  As I am trying to do now. 

The scientists are far from done. Indeed, they are just beginning. "The dream is to find an ultimate theory that explains everything. We are far from that," says Fabiola Gionatti, the head of the ATLAS team of scientists.

I won’t be waiting for them to find an “ultimate theory.” I’ll cheer them on, but I’ll simply look out my window, eyes and  soul  open to the One who Made it All, the God of Everything, who somehow filled us as well with particles of glory.  I see them in you. I feel them in me. Maybe our witness and our wonder, in some small way, helps to bind  the world together as well.  

I'll do my part. And you?    

(Out)House Beautiful + the 12 Best Outhouse Magazines

Since we’ve enjoyed five months together here on Far aField  Notes, I feel as though it’s time you visited our outhouse—the true mark of hospitality and friendship. We’re proud of our outhouse. It’s not simply a functional and decorative double-seater, but of course, like all the best outdoor salles des bains, it functions as a reading room, really, a cultural gathering place.     

Outhouses have always been places of inspiration. I myself, during many visits, consider topics like  beauty, humanness, mortality. “All flesh is grass and its beauty like the flowers of the field,” I think, as I stroll through flowers on the way to its door. “Of dust we are made, and to dust we will return,” I ponder as I leave. I will doubtless need to devote another post to this building, but here, now, I am after something practical, answering a question posed for generations: what is the best reading material for the outhouse? 

We subscribe to many publications, too many, but we find multiple uses for the 30+ magazines we subscribe to out here, among them fire-starting, package-stuffing, fish-wrapping and of course, outhouse reading and enrichment.

Jose Ortega y Gasset has famously written, “Tell me the landscape in which you live and I’ll tell you who you are.”  My present version of this quote reads, “Tell me what you read in the outhouse, and I’ll tell you who you are.”   I know I’m taking a chance with Too Much Disclosure here, divulging the contents of our toilette, but  in the interests of reading, the ongoing health of magazines, and the hope that all outhouses will continue to double as reading rooms,  I present the winners in each category, and invite you to consider subscribing to these fine publications:    

Most Ironic Outhouse Magazine:  Wired.  This geeky publication reporting on the futuristic-now makes us glad to keep at least one part of our bodies solidly in the past. 

Most Likely to Create a Wait Line: The New Yorker. (Excellent in-depth articles, but for outhouse placement, we stress the value of the cartoons. Quick, punchy, in-and-out---Next in  line!) 

Most Literary:  Image Journal: Art, Mystery Faith.  
(Keeps us elevated to the Beautiful and Mysterious 
 on days when the outhouse has too many flies.) 

Most Urban Mag: The New Yorker wins again!  (It’s 
especially fun to read The “About Town” section and marvel at how New Yorkers feel like they’re the center of the world.) 

Most Inspirational: Martha Stewart’s Living. (I’m waiting for her Outhouse issue. It will likely be called “Re-fashioning the toilette al fresco”)

Most Erudite: Books and Culture. (After reading the scholarly reviews, you leave the outhouse feeling lighter in body, but gravid in mind.)   

Most Redundant: Alaska Magazine
 (One of my husband’s favorites. 
Excellent writing and photographs
 but---does a 5-windowed outhouse 
need another window?)

People’s Choice Award:  The Utne Reader. (The articles in this lively alternative digest not only report on the hopeful counter-culture, but they’re the perfect length for outhouse functions.)


Most Theological: Christianity Today.  (With the new emphasis on a physical, embodied faith, this one fits right in, reminding us at just the right moment that our bodies are God-made and good---all the time.)  

Most Likely to Be Used as Toilet Paper: Men’s Health (Too much fake beefcake on the covers. Do these guys know how to lift a hammer, run a skiff, build an outhouse? Yep, thought so!)

Most Likely to Incite Anorexia and Sex-Obsession: Cosmopolitan. But---whew! Our outhouse  doesn’t subscribe.

I hope you’ll be inspired to subscribe to more magazines, AND to carry on an important tradition. Should you be one of the less fortunate, who doesn’t get to walk through flowers and grass on the way to the bathroom, even your inside room can become an educational gathering place. 

So, what cultural offerings are on your bathroom shelves? What prizes have they won?  

The 22 Hour Day, Women CAN Have it All, and 1st Giveaway!

It’s already gone----the longest day: 22 hours of daylight, 2 hours of dark-ish-ness . …. What did you do on that day?  Did you do it All? And was it enough?

This same week, the cover story for the Atlantic went viral: “Why Women STILL Can’t Have it All!” a deliberately provocative title that actually delivers the opposite message: women CAN have families and achieve leadership positions if we make reasonable changes in the workplace, Ann-Marie Slaughter writes. If we break down the rigid wall between work and family, we create better environments in both places. The article is brilliant and brave, and she is right. 

( Of course, there may be another solution. If we all had 22 hours of daylight with its attendant adrenaline and insomnia, we could all get everything done!) Despite this, something essential is missing from her article.

She details a life where she is cut in a thousand pieces. Most women understand this. How do we do it all? How do we care for our families and succeed at work and fulfill all our other responsibilities and desires? Can we REALLY have it all?

I am listening to the words that I wrote last week, “But ask the birds of the air .. . the fish of the sea .. “  I do not have to ask them how they order their lives and what they know: I watch them. I see their lives in detail every day. 

And this is what I learn from them. The eagles and salmon right now have a singular focus. The eagles spend every calorie in flight and retrieval of food for their eaglets. (Do you believe how big they are already?)They think of little else. For the salmon, their one impulse which must be obeyed is to  return to the streambed, to lay their eggs and die. They give their lives for their young. They have no work/life balance. All work and life is for the other.  

In her much-anthologized essay “Living Like Weasels” Annie Dillard takes us to the same place. I was in that place this very night. I ran into a weasel under the house. We locked eyes for an intense second--or was it ten? Weasels, too, embody an instinctive mindlessness, all energies pointed toward their “one necessity”----survival.

I hope to learn from creation, which  means here that I hope to do more and better than this. To do whatever I do not out of mindlessness and instinct, but out of heart, out of, dare I say it?---out of love.
Love for my children

                                                      For my sisters and colleagues. 

Love for my husband.

For my mother. 

For my readers. 

For the passions I’ve been given. 

For the neighbor.

For the stranger.  

Yes, for all of these. 

But how will I not be torn in a thousand pieces, then?

 How will I not lead a fractured, frantic life where even 

22 hours of daylight is not enough?

There is an answer. A single love binds them together:

Love for the Creator God who is the giver and maker of ALL of these things.

I am finding that if I love rightly, and love the One who Made Us first, above all, all these loves of the longest day will find their place. I can multi-task forever—this is my specialty---but still be single-minded and single-hearted. And-----joyous.

Love not only covers a multitude of sins, but it binds all other loves together into a single-hearted life.

Can we have it ALL, then?

Yes, this is the ALL. We can have it if we desire it. Do you?


GIVEAWAY!  Having it all means giving some of it away! I would love to send a copy of my memoir Surviving the Island of Grace to the first two people who ask for it. (Or, should I ask you to spread these blog seeds to your friends first, to widen our circle?) AND, along with the book, I'll send a jar of whatever Harvester Island jam I am making at the moment. (If I get around to canning my smoked salmon, I’ll offer that as well another time!)


Wallenda's Prayer Walk, Another Eaglet! and Rough Water Fishing (video)

This week I did something hard, something that pushed me to my limits. I did not walk from one country to another over a tightrope, but it did involve roiling water, and an intense struggle to keep my balance. I went (commercial) fishing in a storm, with my husband and two youngest sons. 

It was miserable. The seas were sloppy, rough. The web of the net got caught in the prop of the outboard twice; the nets were full of bull kelp, which necessitated a constant wrestling and cutting and dumping of them overboard as we struggled to keep our balance in a pitching skiff, with slimy, mucilaginous kelp underfoot. Micah, 9, was seasick most of the time. (Of course, my camera can only tape the calmer  moments). Abraham (11) and I floundered in the heaving seas and strained  to lift the sway buoys over the bow of the skiff. Duncan was fiercely alert to the weather and waves, urging us to get the job done. We almost couldn't. I marvel at my husband and older sons who do this every day, all day. I cannot. 

The next day, gratefully on shore, I went on another hike. I found another eagle’s nest halfway down the island, on the back side. This one, too, below me, so I could closely watch the eaglet nested there.

Ugly-lovely, yes, like the two in the other nest. But I got an even greater treat. It was still windy, as rough as the night before. In that wind, the parents performed stunning acrobatics overhead, swooping and gyring on the currents then diving to the nest to feed their young one.  I sat, face to the sky, eye to my lens, rapt. What does the eaglet see? In a few weeks, he will try his own wings.

Wallenda dreamed of walking across the Niagra since childhood. In the midst of fulfilling it, he prayed with every step taken. (I think I was praying, too, even watching the Youtube of it 2 days later.)What leads someone to do such a thing---to string a wire between two countries, to walk suspended in mist, between air and river? 

Why does Abraham dream of running his own skiff someday, even after the storms? The eaglets, now three of them, if they dream, it is surely of flying. They won’t fly for weeks yet, but something will urge them to the edge. And it will be dangerous. Not all eaglets survive their first flight.  

Our dreams are often beyond our limits. We are so small, our limitations—and our dreams---can kill us. So we ask for help.  We take a step. We pray. One step. Wallenda, Lord, give me balance. Me, in the skiff trying to lift the sway over the bow. Please Lord give me strength. Abraham driving the skiff to the tender,  Lord, help me do it right.  The eaglets, waiting to grow and fly. Lord, give me feathers and skill. 

These are the moments when we are our truest selves, when we’re on the line. Who are you, then? When suspended, weak, falling, on the way to the other side, Who are you praying to? Who are you asking for help? Who are you thanking? Is your God the God who can do all things?

"But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you .. . or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?"

Tusnami Trash, Introducing The Ugliest Eaglets, and Gathering Home

Yesterday, the first of the Japanese Tsunami trash came to our island.  My son Noah found a large black plastic buoy adrift behind Bear Island, thousands of miles from home. Debris has found landfall along the Aleutian Chain, in Southeast, on the Washington and Oregon coasts. Scientists are worried about invasive species hitching a ride, intruding upon the ecosystem and settling down, making a home within the local ecosystems.

I couldn’t help but think of myself and all the rest of us who washed ashore here in Alaska. Uprooted by storms, we left our first home and drifted, looking for a place to settle and call home again.  

I’ve found it here. But it has come hard and taken decades.

This week, on a hike on Harvester Island this week, I spied a bald eagle’s nest atop a bluff just 100 feet from the trail.  

There are at least three nesting pair on our island, and countless pairs in the bay. We watch them tirelessly. But this nest was special---it was below me, so I could clearly see the two eaglets sprawled out within it. Like all the eaglets I’ve seen on this island, they are stupendously ugly, with no hint of what they’ll soon become. (I'll be posting a visual diary of their growth and progress through the summer. Stay tuned!)

But it’s their nest that interests me now.  “Nest” suggests comfort, warmth, security, home. For the eagle, their nest is more of a platform.   

Made of twigs and branches gathered from the beaches and fields, some weighing as much as 2000 pounds, there is nothing yielding or comfortable about them. But it is secure, from foxes, weasels, from island residents like me.  

There are similar “nests” in Larsen Bay, at the cannery where we skiff in to get our mail, and where our salmon are delivered and processed. A supervisor there named Dexter prowls the beaches on his off hours. He gathers whatever can be found and creates singular chairs, benches, couches out of driftwood and found objects---trash washed off other shores, fallen from ships, the machinery of canneries gone extinct and fallen to the tides.  

Like the eagle’s nests, the chairs are not soft and comfy---they’re solid, unyielding. You cannot sleepily drift off and imagine you are anywhere else warmer and less buggy---you will remain seated in place, knowing exactly and precisely where you are.

I think this what we must do. We all leave our first home one way or another. We set out again to make a place for ourselves in the world out of whatever is given to us. Sometimes all we have is what no one else wants, what drifts ashore, the leftovers. We built our island house on pilings washed up on the beach.  Wherever we are, there is goodness and building materials around us. We can gather all that is good and make a home. It won’t be perfect. It may not even be entirely comfortable. But if we cannot find a way to make a home here in this given world, how will we find home in the next? The two are not so very far apart.  We practice finding heaven here and now.

I remember this as I perch on the edge of my island, watching the eaglets in all their ugly glory, at rest, at home.

 How have you “gathered home” in the place you live  now?
(Disclaimer: For those who are worrying, I'm using a 300 zoom to photograph the eaglets, so that they're not even aware of my skulking presence.) 

Fishcamp: Closer to the Wilder World and the Economy of Cannabalism

My first week at fishcamp. Three glorious sunny days, now cloudy, cold and rainy again. But these days deliver all the happy firsts of the season: first hike up the mountain. First banya. First walk on the beach. First feeding of the crew. But all of these reminded me of  the horrific headlines just as I was leaving for fishcamp.  

The two cannabalism stories haunted me---and all of us. The events were thousands of miles away, but even here, on this island, immersed in the natural world, I see its reality. I am struck by the consuming nature of the wild and of the world.  I walk the beach and find the delicate vertebrae of deer and the 
thatch of hide and fur---winterkill. 

 On the tideline, a common murre's broken wings and feathers left behind from an eagle's meal. Cattle skulls litter and ornament the island, all that's left of our once strong herd---all eventually consumed by Kodiak bears.

 The 100 year old headstone of an unknown man or woman that lies beside the banya---buried here.   

And are we exempt? Here is our consuming nature on display in just two days. We haul our bags of burnable garbage down to the beach--all our packages, our detritus, what's left from our own needs and usage---food packaging, old magazines, worn out shoes.   

I feed a gang of 18 men barbequed beans, caribou and cornbread, who eat until every crumb is gone.  

I build a banya for all of us (Russian steambath), so we can bathe, feeding the fire with driftwood gathered from our beach.  

The generator, that keeps us lit and powered, sucks up fuel from 55 gallon drums that we hauled from the cannery eight water miles away in a boat. 

Living closer to the wilder world reminds us how much it costs to live. How much it costs us in time, energy and resources: everything is harder and takes longer out here. And how much other resources it costs: animals, wood, fuel.  

Most of all, though, I am reminded that winter kills, that flesh eats flesh, that there is little mercy for the small and weak, and even the large and horned. There is an extravagance to nature--and a chilling economy. Who will we be in response? Are we animal, divine or both? The gruesome internet photos of the man's half-gone face remind us what we could be---and remind us what we are not. Whatever mix of human, animal and divine we are, I know this: that we are here to do much more than nature can. We are here to live out another economy, an economy of mercy. The Hebrew Scriptures say it this way. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God."  

Join me in loving mercy this week. In extending grace to any who need it. We have been given more than we need---for exactly this. 

Video Journey to Fishcamp, Ann Voskamps “dangerous” Book+the End of Cynicism

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.”  --T.S. Eliot

I arrived at our fishcamp island yesterday, an island  off the west coast of Kodiak Island.  While tearing around local stores gathering supplies for the summer,  I ran into several people who chirped, “Oh, you must be so excited you’re going out to fishcamp!”  I tilted my head, considered their excitement, but said it anyway, “It’s my 35th season.”  “Oh,” each person said, disappointed.

Which made me feel guilty. Why wasn’t I excited to leave Kodiak and spend the whole summer on a gorgeous wilderness, albeit cold and rainy island surrounded by mammals and fish most people only see in documentaries? It’s a good life. But I've seen so much. I know it deeply, intimately. It takes a lot to surprise me out here.

This week a firestorm flared over Tim Challies' review of Ann Voskamp's stunning bestselling book, A Thousand Gifts, a book I had the privilege of reading in its early stages. (Disclosure, Ann and I are friends). He called the book “dangerous” because of elements of possible “pantheism” and “mysticism.”  When Ann spoke at a recent festival I also attended,  some people, particularly the 20-somethings, rolled their eyes in cynicism. Could anyone be this pure, this earnest, this authentic?  Could anyone truly see the world through such wide, grateful  eyes?

Here's my response. If we’re lucky, we live on this earth seven or eight decades. How is it that the youngest adults among us are often the most cynical? The old have more reason to grow tired and bitter. They've seen so  much. They know life deeply, intimately. They‘re not up for any more surprises. I understand this.

I fly out into the rain under heavy skies, ride a cold open skiff pounding in frigid seas to an island where I have lived—and died---a thousand times over. Where my husband and I have dug out a well, built a house, dug water lines,  hunted deer, raised children, picked millions of salmon . ..  A place of many injuries; a place I have wandered in despair; a place where I have worshiped. After all these years, is it possible to still see anew? Is it possible to see this island as God sees it?

 "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." (G.K. Chesterton)

Today is my first day here--literally. I'm starting to get excited. Reminded by Ann, by Eliot, Chesterton, I am ready to explore and know this place again for the first time. And I’m excited to bring you with  me these next months in the recovery of wonder. Mine-------and maybe yours?