Found during a family hike along an unnamed road, this was my first sighting of salal berries. Oddly, on this day in late October, we found blossoms, too. I did not know what they were at the time (and Google doesn’t work in the wilderness), so I left them there, but later, my friend Juliet identified them for me and confirmed that they are, indeed, edible, with the flavor being described as somewhere between a blueberry and a grape.
The amount of pleasure I get out of discovering a new-to-me plant and learning about it is deep, especially when it’s as interesting as this one turned out to be. Did you know that salal berries have a long history as an important staple food of the Pacific coastal native Americans? Did you know that berries like these that stain your fingers purple when you pick them are high in phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals, aka compounds that fight against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases? Did you know salal berries have three times the antioxidants of their much more widely touted “superfood” cousin blueberries? Did you know that salal leaves are astringent and anti-inflammatory, and poultices or teas of it can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments like wounds, coughs and stomach/digestive issues? Did you know the young leaves of this plant can be used as an appetite suppressant?
But for all this, the salal shrub classified as “Gaultheria shallon” is most widely known today merely for it’s beautiful evergreen leaves, prized in the florist industry!
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
Well, they just sent you around the world, didn’t they?” the airport employee commented as she scanned my travel itinerary. Ketchikan, Seattle, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Houston, Seattle, Ketchikan. I didn’t tell her that there would also be a 3 hour ferry ride to an island before I was actually on home ground again. One big giant coast-to-coast oblong sort of circle over the United States. It’s what you do when you’re trying to use your airline miles to a particular destination within a certain time frame, and it was a wonderful adventure.
I enjoyed experiencing new food. Shopping an ultra-gourmet convenience store at 1 AM in the morning and walking out with pot de creme and pita with tzaziki. A build-your-own doughnut shop. Visiting a patisserie for bites of the most wonderful mont blanc (see the first photo below if you, like me, had never heard of that before) with a real maple syrup and cinnamon latte. North Carolina roadside stand delicacies like apple cider slushies and apple pie ice cream sandwiched between slightly warm snickerdoodle cookies. A birthday dinner on a patio one lovely fall evening, featuring a Mediterranean quinoa bowl with grilled chicken, olive tapanede and crispy chickpeas, and a surprisingly good green smoothie. An almond croissant. An excellent bowl of seafood chowder, properly heavy on the seafood. Cute little bags of airplane pretzels on repeat (okay, so that was sarcastic).
I enjoyed experiencing new places. Spending a 7-hour overnight layover riding the airport metro the full length of the Houston airport and exploring every terminal thoroughly. Trying my hand at the Seattle bus system (stressful, to be honest, but certainly a cultural experience!). The fabulous views of so many beautiful things from the air, like autumn aspens carpeting the Colorado Rockies in gold, the moon rising in a pastel pink sky over Mount Rainier, or the glimmering turquoise of high glacial British Columbia mountain lakes surrounded in snow.
I enjoyed meeting new people. The young man exuberantly enthusiastic for his big plans to solo kayak the Inside Passage for a week. A woman who spoke Norwegian, on her way to Norway. A man who has a youth ministry in Belize and invited me to bring my husband there and “come see what God is doing”. The tiny red-headed girl who wanted to share her Cabbage Patch doll with me, and ended up half sprawled on me for a nap during a 4-hour flight. The lovely older lady who offered me strawberry starts when we both returned to our shared island home. The kind man God mercifully sent to help me carry my over-ambitious shopping tote from the bus to the airport. The lady buying honey bee souvenirs to cheer up a friend undergoing cancer treatments.
One cannot extol the virtues of travel while glossing over the reality of trying to sleep in an airport with loudspeakers going off every ten minutes, lugging the one-too-many bags you wish you hadn’t chosen to carry on, and desperately wishing for a shower after 20+ hours within the airline system. Yet these were minor trials, entirely worth surmounting, in my opinion, for the richness of experience. The world is fallen, cursed; yet the world is still full of beauty, echoes of what once was and what is to come, created things reflecting, unconsciously or consciously, their Creator. It is a gift to see, smell, taste, touch, and listen, catching glimpses of the glory that is to come.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-23)
“But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:15)
I now interrupt regular Alaska reporting to bring you this special news bulletin from the opposite side of the country…North Carolina!
This month, I had the privilege of taking a rare solo trip cross-country to meet my first little niece and visit my sister Havala and her husband Andrew for the first time since they got married and she moved out east. I am so grateful that my husband who was willing to hold down the fort with four kids, taking over my responsibilities while also keeping up with his own job for a week and a half, so I could go. I’m also thankful for our church family here who pitched in to help him with babysitting and meals in my absence—what a blessing they are to us!
The time that it worked out for me to go also happened to be peak color time where they live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. What a happy coincidence! It was a riot of glorious autumn color, and I shamelessly joined all the other “peepers” (yep, the locals have a specific nickname for the fall leaf tourists) to gawk at the beauty.
We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic and a hike, where I took the majority of these photos. Honestly, though, I spent more time taking pictures of the cutest little niece you ever did see, and making a fool of myself talking baby talk because it would make her smile and coo. I’ll leave most of those pictures for her mama and papa to share as they wish, but I’ll just drop this one here. You get the idea.
I learned how to grade eggs for their egg business while I was there, and enjoyed experiencing a bit of Southern culture, like sweet tea, chicken and biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches and being called “honey darlin'” by perfect strangers. I even got to sit in a brick church with a 200-year history and listen to an entire sermon preached in Southern drawl. Our long conversations, often late into the night, about God and babies and marriage and the state of the world and life in general, were my favorite, though. These times with family are all the sweeter now that they are so rare, and all the richer for our common bond in Christ. The whole visit was a gift of true rest and refreshment for me—and I’m so grateful!
“We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psalm 55:14)
John 13-17 contains the most detailed and beautiful account of Jesus’ last supper before His death. Best of all, it includes His last charge to His disciples and by extension, us. I treasured those words as I read them this week, each one perfectly expressed, sheer gold—not one word wasted.
“Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.
Truly, truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (13:12-17)
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (13:34-35)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.” (14:1-3)
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (14:15-17)
“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.
I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples.” (15:4-8)
“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
This is My command to you: Love one another.” (15:14-17)
“If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (15:18-19)
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (16:33)
“I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one…
I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, so that they too may be sanctified by the truth.” (17:11, 15-19)
“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (17:20-21)
“Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, that they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (17:24)
What a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Lord!
(And didn’t He make the autumn forest a place of true beauty and delight?)
This week we took a little school field trip up to Luck Lake where we did some hiking and had a picnic. It was a lovely fall day for some nature study out in the wild. I found and identified highbush cranberries, the leaves were fluttering down from the alders, and the pushki (cow parsnip) were making stunning dried floral arrangements wherever we looked.
The winding road between there and Thorne Bay is nothing but wilderness, and crosses multiple salmon streams. We paused on each bridge to observe the water below us teeming with fish intent on spawning, marveling at the spectacle. The life cycle of the salmon has fascinated me since I watched “The Wonders of God’s Creation” as a child, but what a gift it is to be able to observe part of that cycle in person.
Did you know salmon are anadromous? That means they hatch in freshwater, migrate to salt water, then return to the same fresh water they hatched from to spawn. It was a cool big word to teach my students this week.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1)
This week, even as we’ve enjoyed sunshine and a summer season that is lingering, I felt the chill in the mornings, and noted the shortening of the days. I found myself looking for fall.
Unlike the yard full of maple trees I grew up in, though, our island forest is not a showy place in the fall at first glance. This is mostly for sheer lack of deciduous trees. We do have alders sprinkled throughout the conifers, but when their leaves fall, they are green and brown, and only a little yellow.
Yet, there are lovely changes and autumnal colors to find; one has only to pay a little closer attention.
I found these little yellow leaves dotting the boulders of a beach this last week, falling like confetti from shrubs along the shore.
I also found these bales of seaweed washed up that were lovely shades of rust and mahogany. I think these are actually their color regardless of the season, but since I found them in September, I’m claiming them as fall colors.
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him.
He changes the times and seasons; He removes kings and establishes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals the deep and hidden things;
He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)
I am no stranger to fishing as a native of Minnesota’s northern lake country, and my grandpa made sure I knew how to bait my own hook and tie a good fish line knot before I was ten. If you had asked, I would have told you I grew up in a place where fishing was a big deal.
Alaska, however, has opened up a whole new world of fishing for me. I realize now that fishing was, for all its popularity, still considered by myself and many of my Minnesota friends to be merely a recreational hobby that fostered a great tourism industry, a way to relax on weekends, and a lot of meaning in life for retirees. Here, it’s all those things, but also much more than that. For many people in Alaska, it’s literally a way of life. They take their fishing seriously because it’s legitimately how they fill their freezers and pantry shelves, and feed their family for the year. The best part, of course, is that it actually IS as fun as it is rewarding—and so I present a few tales of discovering that for myself.
Tale #1: Someone told us the salmon were running along an easily accessible beach on their way to the river. Climb down the bank, cast out and you can catch salmon right from the shore, they said. I had never fished in the ocean. I had never fished by myself. But, I’d been dying to catch more fish, and I knew I’d be driving right by that very beach on the way to a dentist appointment. The way it was described to me, it seemed easy enough. I decided to try it.
Let it be noted that this was a very last minute idea and literally all I did was throw a pole in the back of the car before I left in a hurry for my appointment. I definitely didn’t dress for fishing (something I noted wryly as I clambered awkwardly down the steep bank), and I brought no net, pliers, or fishing tackle. I stopped in town to pick up an extra lure, just for good measure, dubiously guessing which one might be appropriate based on it’s popularity (the one that was nearly sold out ought to be a good one, right?).
But what I lack in planning ahead, (waders would have been nice) I assure you I make up for in determination. I nearly lost two lures to the rocks, but saved them by wading out across the sharp barnacles in my stocking feet.
I could see the fish jumping a few yards out, but I was struggling to cast out far enough and having lost one lure and gotten wet over my knees rescuing the two others, my enthusiasm was dwindling. I’ll give it ten more minutes, I decided. A few minutes later, I had a fish on the beach.
There was no one there to witness my success but God and the seagulls. It was not very big, too small to keep. But it was my first of it’s kind, and I had caught it all by myself. I snapped a quick picture, then slipped it gently back in to the salty waves to go back and grow bigger.
Tale #1 will stand in somewhat interesting contrast to Tale #2.
A few days later, I went fishing again. This time I had waders, but more crucially, this time I had a pair of fishing guides, some dear friends who had been regaling us all year with tales of fishing the Klawock River during the salmon run. When word came that the fish had arrived, Zach insisted on staying home with the kids so I could go.
My first clue of what was to come was when we had to work to find a parking place amidst a long row of vehicles, a rather unusual problem for here. From there, we grabbed our gear and took the short hike down through the forest to the river bank. The first thing I noted in amazement as we came out into the open was that the flowing water was literally boiling with fish. The second was that the banks were lined with fishermen, nearly shoulder to shoulder. There were large, beautiful coho salmon being landed at a constant rate, people graciously moving aside as needed in an unspoken code of fishing etiquette. Everyone was intently focused and in high spirits.
This was not so much a place as it was an event. I was excited and intimidated all at once. I was timid to cast out, afraid that I, in my inexperience, was going to hook some hapless fellow human in the eye. And so, of course, being timid, I caught nothing at first.
Now, I’m just going to say right here that it’s fantastic and tremendously character building to learn by trial and error and teach yourself.
However, it’s infinitely better if you just have a Glen and Rose.
They were the best teachers, tirelessly demonstrating the techniques to me as they proceeded to smoothly land a limit each in short order, kindly critiquing and patiently coaching my faltering rooky efforts. Glen taught me how to tie their home-cured fish egg bait on my hook in such a way as to survive a vigorous cast, and then Rose showed me how to cast it out there like I meant it. When I finally got a fish on my line, they coached that beautiful big fighting silver all the way up out of the river and into my delighted possession, rejoicing with me in the prize. And, as a sign of true friendship, they waited for me to catch my entire limit myself when they could have probably caught it themselves in half the amount of time.
I am still smiling at the memory of this day, even now as I write this. And here we are, in all our water soaked, fish slimed and scaled glory.
Tale #3: One sunny Saturday morning, Tim and Rita invited me to go out in their boat for my very first chance to try ocean fishing. Susanna came along, which is a good thing, since she was the only Ender in the boat to catch anything. I got not even so much as a bite, which, I assure you, is no reflection on my fishing guides’ expertise. But, as my grandpa used to say, a true fisherman must learn to enjoy the trying as much as the catching. And I was truly grateful for the chance to try.
It was a bit choppier than we expected, so we couldn’t get out to Tim’s favorite halibut spot, and I had to work intentionally to ward off seasickness. But I loved getting to see the mouth of the bay for the first time. Thorne Bay is long and narrow, and curves around before it opens up into Clarence Strait, so even though I’ve been out on it in a kayak or a friend’s skiff a few times, I had never been quite far enough to see the big water around the corner. It was beautiful to see how the mountains met the sea out there, and the way the waves crashed on the rocks. I learned how to bait a double hook with herring for halibut, an entirely different technique from the egg bait I’d learned to tie on for salmon earlier in the week. We cheered when someone landed a flounder and laughed when our lines got tangled in the flurry of pulling it in. I thought I caught a mega halibut, only to discover with great disappointment that I’d merely caught “the whole world” (aka, the very much immovable bottom of the sea). Back at the docks, I recovered from a light case of sea legs, then took Susanna’s cod home to become fish tacos for supper.
Tale #4: “Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.” (John 21:5-13)
(Just in case you needed proof that the love of a good fishing tale is entirely Biblical.)
I am so grateful to all the various friends here who have generously given of their time to teach us how and where to fish the waters of our island home—and I’m looking forward to many more fishing tales (and fish) ahead next year!
As you can see, we enjoyed some epic sunsets out in front of our house this week!
One of my daughters adopted three(!) fuzzy caterpillars, named them, and faithfully fed them fresh leaves for several days before they escaped one too many times in the house and it was decided to return them to the wild. Pictured above is Fuzzy, living his dream life eating thimbleberry salad for lunch.
“From the rising of the sun to its going down The LORD’s name is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)
We set up the tent in the dark by flashlight, because that’s how you should always set up a brand new tent you’ve never set up before.
We swam in the salt water. We got woodsmoke in our hair and eyes. We savored sludgy campfire coffee with fresh hot doughnuts. Someone’s drying shirt caught a spark and burnt to a crisp. We got sun burnt, ate s’mores and told our best childhood fishing stories to the kids before bed. Beneath the shining arch of the Milky Way, we walked the beach in the dark and spotted shooting stars. Somewhere, out in the dark on the water, whales were blowing. Something snarled and splashed—perhaps a seal catching a fish?
Finally, on this clear night in August, we crawled into our tent. Other campfires along the beach burned low, and slowly the distant voices of late night conversation faded off. One by one, wiggling, giggling children suddenly went silent, breathing turning steady with rest. Relieved, their parents soon followed suit. For once, the new camp mats were living up to their good reviews on Amazon.
But in the middle of the night, the dogs at every campsite began to bark. The kids didn’t even stir, but I awoke, groggily half annoyed, half worried. Was a bear coming in to check out our food cooler?
I strained to listen, and then I heard the sound. It was not a large animal shuffling through the forest or rummaging through our camp, but something in the air, a high-pitched, lilting sound. It almost sounded liquid, almost sounded sonic. It was musical, but it was not a bird, and it did not seem human-made. Then suddenly, I realized what it was and I caught my breath in wonder.
The whales were singing.
“All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” (Psalm 66:4)
Sea creatures pictured: leather starfish, red sea urchin, still working on my crab identification (feel free to comment if you know what varieties these are!)
Here in southeast Alaska, I’m told the Haida call the full moon of August the “Salmon Moon”, and the Tlingit call it “Berries-Ripe-On-Mountain Moon” (Incidentally, the Haida July moon is “Ripe Berry Moon” and the Tlingit July moon is “Salmon Moon”!). Both names certainly make sense! This week, we were blessed with night after night of clear skies to watch the moon rise. The thimbleberries were at their peak of ripeness, and my fingers were bright red by the time I’d picked enough for a batch of jam.
The streams were full of spawning pinks, and with my Alaska fishing license hot off the press (yep, I was cheap and waited until I could pay $5 to fish in Alaska instead of $100!), I landed my very first one. It was a male humpy, past the stage of good eating, and we released him, but it was still a thrill to land my first salmon! Lord willing, it will be the first of many.
We drove down some new forest roads, and hiked down some new trails. Though many of the wilderness places pictured here are without official name, the very last picture is of Hatchery Falls, where we got to see salmon jumping up the falls. It was amazing to see their determination and strength!
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)