Harvester Island WIlderness Workshop

Naming the Wild and Hungry World w/ Philip Yancey & Friends


*Loaves and Fishes---a Poem

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

               -----David Whyte


21 people parachuted down onto this faraway Alaskan island last week (including Philip and Janet Yancey.) What kind of world would we create? In boots with backpacks men and women from everywhere clomped tremulously down the pontoon into the water onto the beach, through the open garden gate. Each one came freighted with apprehension, with the weight of their families’ worries, their own burden of words.

What would we make of this island this week?



 We gathered around words every morning. Not so much to fix them. More, to listen. Sprung from our closets, where we write, all of us, utterly alone, here, now, every class, every meal is a feast of presence.

We were FOR each other, not against. We were not competing with one another but collaborating. We never went hungry. We could hardly stop.


Do not say “Of course! Of course!”  This is not the usual world. I have been in classrooms, universities, workshops with dire shortages of food and water. In these deserts, honor and kindness were bargained or stolen, yanked from the uncertain, the humble, the seeker, the meek. Just one or two were the lucky ones, the smart ones. The desert got only one queen.


But not here. Nor anywhere people gather whose hearts are not theirs but their Makers. When the bread and fish kept breaking and breaking, and thousands lugged home their bursting stomachs---this was us too. Abundance, excess, overflow, love.


What is this open-gated place? Where do we find it? What do we name it?


This is the body of Christ.  This is the economy of heaven. These are the metrics of the “Kingdom Come” life . Here. Now.

(But how did you do it, God? Did you really turn it all over to us, your just-made red-dirt beings fresh-hatched from your hands? How did you turn your Very-Good world over to them, to us, to know-nothing Us? How did they dare to begin?)

Your love made them brave, those two: first man and woman of the new earth who set about settling, naming and harvesting with vigor and joy.


Your love makes US brave too, brave enough to leap out of floatplanes, to sail rainy seas, to inhabit a wilderness island, to see fully into another’s dark closets of pain, to harvest true words. To make of a desert, a wild and profuse ocean-garden of love . . . .




And it was all very very good.

HIWW 2017-group photo.jpg


    Friends, we will be gathering again next September with Ann Voskamp. (More info and application here ) How I wish I could fly you all up here to join us!! Sadly, I can accommodate only 21! (But that's part of the joy of it---this intimate family that's formed.)   

But you have been called to the same work no matter where you live-----naming this wild world, and taming it with love. I pray you seek and speak sweet true words all this week!!



*Special thanks to Carol Lee, poetry-spotter extraordinaire

Wild Women in Boots! Luci Shaw & Jeanne Walker in Alaska

What are the chances? What are the chances of a visitation by two beautiful muses, icons both who have inspired thousands of writers in many places? What are the chances that these women will fly thousands of miles, then pull on rubber boots and climb into a fishing skiff in Alaskan waters, zooming to an island they have never seen? More impossible than you can even guess. 


The story starts here:


Decades ago, a young woman just out of college lived on a tiny island on the edge of another island way up north. She lived in the loft of an old warehouse on a rocky beach, withher husband, a commercial salmon fisherman. She fished too, and mended net, and cooked and did whatever else was needed, working the livelong day and the long-lit nights, as everyone did. The deep stormy ocean, the wooden skiffs, the crows that danced on the aluminum roof over her head every night, the silver fish that flashed in her aching arms every day----this world was bright, unending and exhausting, fuller than any life she had known. But something was missing. Words. Poetry. Metaphor. Language that did more than tie skiffs to lines and pull fish from the sea. Words that did more than call her to the nets and shout her around the reefs. She could hardly speak.


But she did not come alone to this island of men, fish and work. She brought her favorite poets, Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker. Her sister-in-law, also an English major, loved poetry as well. Both of these women wrote furiously in the night, before breakfast, while mending net, when the men weren’t looking, in whatever small spaces were given. They shared their poetry with one another. And their words slowly, improbably, began to go out into the world, into journals and magazines.


These women, one week, wrote a letter to Luci Shaw. It was a ridiculous dream, to write, to ask about her poetry. To ask how they might some day publish a book. They knew nothing would come of it. But one mail day a long handwritten letter came to the island and into their incredulous hands. A kind letter, leading them in what to do next.



More than two decades later, this woman from Alaska taught grad classes with Jeanne Murray Walker. Shared stages with Luci and Jeanne.


And then, last week, these two women came booted and hatted, careening off into this wild Alaskan world, both of them crazy with wisdom and metaphor and love. And all the other writers who gathered for the workshop drank it in. But no one more than the woman who asked them there.

This could not have happened. There is more to this story that cannot be told---but it’s impossible, all of it. But so is the world we inhabit.

A world where a Word thundered into black and conjured up light

Where syllables sprouted irises, snapdragons and spruce trees

where bodiless hands shaped human hands from the dirt.

A world where water spouts from a rock

Where the enslaved walked free through a parted sea.

A world where a Savior entered in diapers

          then was killed as an imposter.

A world where love kills death

Where losing means gaining

Where the blind count fish and

       the crippled win at hopscotch.

Where the silent find their tongue

and pens spout poems in the dark . . .  


Of course the beautiful muses came!  Of course this island of fish and nets is now a place of words and grace!  All of this---a long long wish that God made flesh.


And you this week?


Dear Friends, dear Dan, Heidi, Jan, Michele, Cathy, Lizzie, Bill, and so many others, Is there a dream you wish God would enflesh? Don’t give up. If you dream of beauty and kindness, of peace and wisdom, of teaching and learning, of growing and grace, of community and love-----it isn’t far away.

With God, nothing good is impossible.

For God, you can do all things.






30 Whales Die, New Fin Whale Videos & Practicing Resurrection

   A few days ago I went to pick up my daughter for her second visit to the island this summer. We skimmed across the bay on this gorgeous bright day. I did not know what awaited me. We never do. 

I saw spouts ahead. Of course, fin whales. They hang out here for the summer, feeding and lounging and being their own spectacular selves. For these creatures, the second largest whales in the world, their very existence speaks of a lavish, extravagant God.

And here, they came yet closer . .. .

And here, when my heart stopped . . .

This has been an extraordinary summer of whales----from humpbacks throwing their impossible weight from water to sky, over and over, sending the ocean itself skyward into foam. Orcas filling the bay, their fins slicing water. And a Sei whale sighting, my first. But not all the whale news has been good. 

NOAA reports that 30 whales have washed up dead around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska. Even closer to home, right here on Kodiak Island, 9 fin whales, have been found floating or beached, one just a few miles away. NOAA is calling it "an unusual mortality event." It's almost three times t

he usual rate of beachings and die-offs. 

(Photo from NOAA. Bears feeding on fin whale carcass near Larsen Bay, 7 miles from us)

Everyone loves a mystery, but not this kind. Marine mammal specialists are baffled. Extensive studies are underway, but the best guess hazarded so far is a toxic algae bloom flourishing in "the Blob," the massive swath of warm water infecting and affecting the entire West coast, from Mexico to Alaska. Massive bird die-offs, sickened seals and sea lions have all been blamed on both the Blob and the "Godzilla El Nino."


map of the "blob")

I am shaken. These leviathans suddenly appear fragile, vulnerable. I count on their presence every summer to expand our vocabulary of wonder, to remind us of our insignificance, to hint at the grandness of God. 

I do believe in global warming, because I see its effects and realities close-up here in Alaska. And I believe in a sovereign God who loves His creation and desires us to love it as well. But I can't fix this. I feel helpless. I only know to pay attention, to care for the ground and water at my feet, to love those around me. I turn to Wendell Berry in these times:

“So, friends, every day do something that won't compute .

... Ask 

the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two 

inches of humus that will build under the trees every 

thousand years ... Laugh. Be joyful though you have 

considered all the facts ... Practice resurrection.”


The Country of Marriage

 I pick up my daughter. I rejoice in my sons' happiness at seeing their sister. 

I prepare for the arrival of 18 in a few days, for the 3rd Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. We'll sit together over words of truth and hope. I'll tell them about the whales. We'll look about this beautiful world with fierce, observant eyes. We  will consider all the facts of living this life, and then  . . .

Then we will laugh,

because together we are practicing


The Day of a Million Eyes+ New Wilderness Workshop!

This was a day of a thousand ears and a million eyes---the most I have ever seen out in the water. I thought we were alone.

Do you know about being alone? Aloneness is everywhere
 (O unhappy paradox!) The island I live and fish on each summer has been a place of great community---and aloneness. Alone in a house of boys and men. Or alone with small children at our feet, spilled oatmeal on the floor, a baby who won't be comforted, a meal to fix and there is no end of everyone's needs, and no end of our own. (Remember this?) Alone because our mother has died, our husband is gone, our children are grown, the house is empty.


And I know some of you are in retirement centers and care facilities . .. . Do you feel alone?

But may I tell you about this day on my island, this day of a thousand ears and a million eyes? I smile just to remember it. There were fourteen of us this day---fourteen! A veritable mob out on one of the remote beaches past our island. Fourteen on an empty beach patroled by deer, bear, fox, eagles, gulls and shags, but few people. 

We were all strangers who had become friends now at our first Wilderness Workshop last fall. Strangers who came from all corners of the country to share a week of writing in the Alaskan wilderness together. This day we were hiking down a long beach. We were more than halfway when we glanced out into the water and someone called, "Look there!"  It was a seal. We all stopped and turned, and saw a few dark specks in the water, some distance off. Before anyone could lift their camera, there were two, no, five, 

no, ten .... and then we couldn't count. So many gathering, popping up and down out of the water and all turned toward us. And coming closer.

I was astonished. I am accustomed to seeing sea lions, seals, sea otters in our daily waters, but this was the biggest pod I had seen for many years.  All fourteen of us began to cluster together, drifting toward one another, camera to our faces. We watched the seals, now thirty or forty of them and still more coming. Spellbound.They gathered to watch us, smooth heads and wide eyes popping from the water, spellbound. We moved closer, edging to the lip of the water. They moved closer to the shore. We whispered to one another, "Look how many! Do you think they're all a family?"  We could hear them too, gurgling wetly to one another, "Look at how many there are? Do you think they're all a family?"

We began baby-stepping down the beach, wondering if they would follow. They swam baby-steps after us. Like this, we watched each other for many minutes, first with our cameras, and then our cameras down, face to face, eyes to eyes.


We think we're alone in the wilderness, and a million eyes are watching us.

Were these our “clouds of witnesses” that week?  Yes, they were. And we were each others.

This island, in its isolation, has sometimes been a place of great loneliness over the last 36 seasons. But for this week, I can fling the door open, shatter aloneness, gather strangers who become friends as we write together, eat, laugh, wash dishes, hike in the rain, pray, feed each other communion, listen to one another’s deepest words. As we gather to truly hear and see each other.

We’re doing it again this September, another Harvester Island Wilderness Writing Workshop. Can you come? (More Here.)

But even if you can’t---listen. 

You’re not alone. Even if your bed is empty beside you and there no children in your rooms—or there are too many children in your rooms-----You are known and watched with the great tender eyes of our Father, more than a million kind eyes.  He thinks you’re wondrous. He’s spellbound. He follows your every step. 

And are you watching Him? You can do that alone, and it will be more than enough to watch God alone. But better---Fling your own doors open, call your sister, ask a friend over. sip coffee and spill stories. Be together. Shatter loneliness. Make this the year of a thousand eyes, watching each other, watching God. Together.

We are not alone. God is with us.