Twelve-Mile Arm

The weather was so beautiful during the last week of October, we decided at the very last minute to take the kids on a little overnight “cabining” adventure. The Tongass National Forest is home to several remote rustic cabins that you can rent, and we’ve been eager to check some of them out. We chose this one on a sea estuary called Twelve Mile Arm because it’s one that you can hike into, versus the many that can only be reached by boat or floatplane, and it was just right for us!

Accomplishment #1: We found the place, which was about an hour and half away drive from Thorne Bay, without getting lost.

Accomplishment #2: No one twisted an ankle packing all our gear down the trail in the dark, with no small thanks to the loan of Joel’s wheelbarrow and Jason’s flashlights.

We roasted the classic hotdogs and s’mores, read bedtime stories by flashlight, and the kids slept like logs on those hard bunks in their sleeping bags (don’t ask about dad and mom!). The little wood stove kept the place cozy and someone had left a nice pile of firewood for us to use. The next morning, we did simple things like sit on the porch while sipping hot coffee and poke around along the shoreline for treasures (including the remains of someone’s hunt, as pictured below!). The inlet was like glass, which made for some fabulous kayaking. I saw a jellyfish, and we all saw a pine marten. South-bound geese were flocking up and calling loudly across the water, and it was incredibly peaceful.

We were so grateful for the chance to slow down and spend some time together while experiencing this place for a short but sweet 24 hours!

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

Autumn Hike at Balls Lake

On a gorgeous day in October, we took an autumn hike as a family around Balls Lake, which is about twenty miles west of us on the island.

“It’s only a mile or so around the lake,” someone had estimated to us.

Haha.

Lesson learned: don’t trust estimates. It was more like 2.5 miles, a slight discrepancy that didn’t bother the adults as much as the short-legged two-year-old in the family. He was a real trooper though, and walked a good two-thirds of the distance before he had to be carried!

We found lingonberries along the trail, spotted sockeye salmon in a creek, and played with the most beautiful echoes. The sun played hide and seek with us, so the jackets came on and off. We came out muddy and famished after our longer-than-expected hike, ready to inhale a very belated picnic lunch.

It’s interesting to observe the differences and similarities of the changing seasons here on Prince of Wales Island as compared to where we came from in northern Minnesota. Fall is more subtle here with most of the trees being conifers, yet the season is still distinctly evident in the frosty mornings, falling alder leaves, roadside and shoreline grasses turning from green to beautiful pale gold, and the turning of the leaves closer to the forest floor like the bunchberries, devil’s club and ferns you see pictured here. This hike finally gave us the opportunity to get up close and immerse ourselves in the autumnal forest, and I’m happy to report that it was beautiful.

“The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love…” (Psalm 119:64)

Welcome to Thorne Bay, Alaska

For those of you who have expressed the desire to see where we live, here are few snapshots of our immediate surroundings in our new town! And while I’m at it, I’m including some fun facts and answers to frequently asked questions:

Thorne Bay holds the record as the largest logging camp in the world in its day. It’s a young town, incorporated in only 1982, with a current population around 500. Average temperature is 45 degrees; average rainfall is 101 inches. It’s also home to the world’s largest log grapple, which is now enjoying its repurposed life as the town welcome sign.

We are less isolated here than we have ever been in our lives, but also the most isolated we’ve ever been in our lives. After years of living out in the country, we now live right in town. We are within walking distance of a grocery store, post office and hardware store. We see and talk to people on a daily basis. However, this is an island. While Prince of Wales actually has one of the best rural road systems in Alaska, on which we can drive freely between the multiple towns and communities on the island, you still can only get to the island by boat or by air. Our mail comes in on a floatplane, which means when its stormy, we don’t get mail (note the sign in the photo below). If we want to order in something large, it comes in on the once-a-week barge.

In the background in the photo below, you can see the lit-up barge that brought us our truck, trailer and earthly belongings, coming into harbor safe and sound!

This is a glimpse of our house and yard…

…and the view from our windows and front steps.

And last, but certainly not least: the people that meet in this building are the reason we came here!

Something I love about this town is how “un-town-like” it is. Other than the occasional roar of the float planes coming and going, it is very quiet here. The ocean is practically at our doorstep, and the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest is just outside of our small community. The black-tailed Sitka deer are just as prone to eating flower gardens here as the whitetails were in Minnesota, but are just smaller and cuter. We regularly spot seals, otters, sea lions, eagles, herons, kingfishers, jumping salmon and loons and other waterfowl from our windows, and someday we hope to sight a whale.

This picture, taken within the city limits, gives you an idea of the beauty at our doorstep, just waiting to be explored.

Any other questions about where we live? Feel free to ask away in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!

“…the LORD your God is bringing you [has brought us!] into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills…” (Deuteronomy 8:7)

North-West to Alaska: By Air and By Sea

When I got up early on the morning of July 15th to catch our shuttle to the airport, it was hard to fathom that by nightfall, we’d be in our new home. The end of the journey was in sight, and it hardly seemed real. But as we entered the airport and joined the throngs of people carrying luggage and streaming towards the roped lanes, reality very much began to sink in. We were about to climb on an airplane, three of us for the first time in our lives, and when we got off that plane, we’d be in ALASKA!

One child had a pound of coins in her backpack that set off the alarms, and I mindlessly nodded my head when an employee asked if my umbrella was a sword, but other than these minorly eyebrow-raising incidents, we made it through TSA just fine. On the other side, having gotten fewer than five hours of sleep the night before, I contemplated standing in the mile-long line snaking away from the Starbucks counter, but thought better of it and settled for some ordinary coffee at the less popular but cheaper shop next door.

Soon we were boarding our flight, taxiing down the runway and rising through the clouds, headed north. I gave the girls, who had never flown before, the window seat. They peered out the window in wonderment to watch the ground drop away from us, and looked at me with sparkling eyes. Everything was new and exciting through their eyes, and the packages of Biscoff cookies and plastic cups of ginger ale the flight attendants served to us felt especially celebratory.

We landed in Ketchikan an hour and a half later. Alaska, at last! This was only our first step into the state, however. From there, we took a short ferry ride across the harbor, then walked our luggage a few blocks down the road to the Inter-Island Ferry terminal where we soon boarded the Stikine for a three hour boat ride to Prince of Wales Island.

It was a misty, rainy day, and our first view of the island was that of dark pine-covered mountains, the extent of their height hidden by a heavy blanket of fog.

It was a strange feeling, walking up the ramp after the ferry docked, realizing that we weren’t just here on vacation. We were here to STAY. It felt very surreal—but also incredible. There was so much relief at the realization that months of packing and days of driving were done, and the move was over. (Ya’ll, moving is A LOT OF WORK.)

But for me, the best thing was the immediate feeling of having arrived “home”. Everything and everyone was completely new and unfamiliar, yet there was the oddest overarching feeling of comfort and familiarity. And I’m not saying that because I believe that where we are now is so much better than where we were before. I have come to believe that this sense of “home” has much less to do with the physical location than it does with just being in the place God wants you to be at the time He wants you to be. The peace I felt upon arriving here was truly a gift from Him, just one more sweet confirmation of His leading.

The behind-the-scenes heart journey that stretched over the last two years and ultimately brought us to Thorne Bay, Alaska is not one I’ve shared much about here. That’s not because it was terribly dramatic or some great secret, but simply because it was a long, slow, drawn out process of soul-searching and refining, with a lot of frankly awkward floundering about as we tried to understand the will of God. There was no verse in the Bible that told us to move to Alaska in the summer of 2021. Instead, there was a lot of praying, and seeking wise counsel, and learning and growing as we waited for the way to be made clear. Even now at the culmination of this journey, I am only just getting to the point where I can look back, put the pieces together and see the big picture of the work God was doing in our hearts. Someday, perhaps, I will write more about that experience. But I will say this for now: it was simultaneously one of the hardest and best journeys I’ve been on in a long time, beautiful and painful all at once. And I have experienced and can attest to the truth of this promise:

“Faithful is He who has called you; He will also bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

And I am confident of this very thing, that “He who has begun a good work in us will continue to perform it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)—and so, as we end a season of transition, we step with faith into a new chapter of the story He is writing of our lives. I can’t wait to take you along with and introduce you to the beautiful new corner of our Father’s world!

From Little Hills to Big Hills

Once upon a time, I named my blog Rejoicing Hills. This was not so much because where I live is extremely hilly, but for the picture it painted in my mind of earth itself, with all its contours, curves, valleys and peaks, giving voice to praising its Creator. Psalm 37:12 that I based this title on (which you can read up there at the top of the side bar!) spoke of “little hills”, and that did not feel out of place for the gentle landforms of northern Minnesota.

But today I have some news for you. Many of you already know this, but I thought I’d better make an official blog announcement for those of you don’t! In about two months, Rejoicing Hills is going to graduate from little hills to some very, very big hills. That mountain you see up there? It’s going to soon be a daily view. We are moving to Alaska!

While the familiar beauty of my childhood home state will always hold a uniquely special place in my heart, I am truly looking forward to experiencing the wonders and beauty of this new place—and taking you all along on this next leg of our journey! I don’t know how much time I’ll have for writing and posting in the next few weeks since I’ll be very busy getting ready for the move—but I do plan to post more frequently again once we’re settled!

“The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)