I'm starting with the storm, this last one just a few days ago (another as I post this today)---because we remember storms, how they knock us down, steal our breath, but also, how they build courage and tenacity.
It's been 36 years since I stepped onto these islands in the Gulf of Alaska. Who am I now, after all these storms and years? What is this place, still? I am not the same. Nor are these islands. Here below, words and images from the Prologue of my guts-and-all memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace: A Life on the Wild Edge of America which is just now available as an e-book. It's available for .99 for two days only---Tuesday + Wednesday, Oct. 8+9. AND, if you buy a paperback on amazon, it's free. ((Oh dear, I confess, I'm feeling a little like a Ginsu knife seller on Christmas Eve right now. Please forgive the sales-talk! But so many have asked, I'm very pleased to finally have this available HERE.))
Come and listen to what these islands teach, and join me in the pages and years of a life that transformed me from a 20 year old east coast girl to----someone and something else. You might be changed too.
It starts here:
It is May 28. I crouch in a 10-seater Cessna Caravan and ready myself and six others for the flight across Kodiak Island, Alaska. I help buckle seatbelts, stow backpacks, pass out gum while everyone squirms with anticipation. This is our annual migration.
Every summer since 1978, I leave my winter island home on the east side of Kodiak for a small island off the west side, where my family and I commercial fish. We fly sixty miles over wilderness, mountains, glaciers and fjords to a mile-long island with a population of eight---our family alone. This place has no roads, cars, or electricity, except what we generate ourselves, and days will pass before I see another human being other than my family.
For these three to four months a year, we harness ourselves to one of the most abundant and astonishing natural resources in the world--the return of wild salmon.
The abundance of this wilderness is astounding. When I first arrived, I was struck speechless. I who had loved word and language all my life was suddenly silenced by my new home, which appeared a kind of paradise----at first. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons stir the winds. Sea lions, otters, seals and whales cruise by in their own currents. Volcanoes steam on the horizon. In my new adopted country I was either a dumbstruck spectator to the wild Edenic theatre---or a numbed fisherwoman submerged in gurry, fish, blood and kelp.
When I came, at twenty, what did I know about running fish-filled skiffs in the dark around island reefs? About hauling water in buckets, spending five hours every week washing 9 people’s clothes in an ancient wringer washer? About being pregnant---and fishing still, retching over the side of the skiff, spending winters out on the island in complete isolation, with virtually no contact with the outside world? Trying to stay married to one another when we were both married to the fish?k I would find out all these things---and more, more.
I did not write about these years and all that happened until much later. But keeping silent teaches us little. Frederick Beuchner, one of my favorite writers, whose words often point beneath and beyond the visible world, urged me through the forbidding door of language and memoir:
"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
But grace, while always good, is not always kind. There is a fierceness and a darkness to this island life that threatens us, even our very lives at times. This is the grace we hope to survive. Both kinds are in these pages.
I invite you to this place, then, to Surviving the Island of Grace to listen to stories I will not----and cannot---tell here. Perhaps there you will find strength and mercy and beauty where you did not expect it. Perhaps there you will find eyes to see the beauty and courage and astonishing grace in your own life . . .. This is my hope and prayer.
(Thank you to all of you who have been there with me already and who have written me about it. The greatest grace of all is our presence with one another . . .)
(And---forgive me for one more: Would you spread the word about the special 2-day price? Thank you friends, many of whom I know by name. I'm grateful to you all! I cannot do this every week without you.)