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.

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.   


(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?