Project 52 #37: Looking for Fall

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)

Project 52 #36: A Tale of Four Fishing Trips

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!

Project 52 #35: Sunset Over the Marina

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)

At the Edge of the Ocean

The ocean is a whole new world for our family. It’s beautiful and mysterious, vast and wild, incredibly fascinating and a little terrifying. It actually boggles my mind to think about the depth and breadth of it, and the unknown quantities of hidden creatures it contains. I have taken the kayak out on a couple sheltered bays, but I think it will be a while before we’re brave enough to venture out into the big water on our own. The unpredictability of the wind and the waves and the hazards of fluctuating tides, rocks and shoals are daunting to say the least.

One thing we have wholeheartedly embraced, though, is the adventure of beach combing. It feels like a safe way to experience the ocean. We get to feel the spray, smell the saltwater, even get our feet wet—but without much risk. Because of the tide fluctuation the shoreline is a moody, ever changing, wonderfully unpredictable landscape and you never know what you will find. Every time we go, there is something new to discover.

An abalone shell.

A sea urchin.

Purple starfish.

A nudibranch.

Sea anemone waving their arms in shallow tidal pools.

Far out, an orca blowing.

Crabs scuttling along rocky bottoms.

A mink, fishing for his seafood breakfast.

We have seen and learned so many new things in the last few months, and I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to discover!

“O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.” (Psalm 104:24-25)

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)

Good and Faithful Servant

There are some people whose impact on your life is immeasurable. When I heard last week that my childhood pastor, Don Stolhammer, had gone home to be with the Lord, there were a flood of memories of a man who had great spiritual influence over some of the most formative years of my life.

I remember him telling the story to me, just earlier this year, of how he sat on a stump “out back” in Wisconsin and wrestled with God about going into the ministry. He chose to say, “I’m willing,”—and God went on to use him to richly bless my life and that of so many others.

One of the most invaluable gifts he gave was that of a solid foundation in sound Biblical doctrine. I was too busy soaking it all in when I was young to fully appreciate what I was getting, but looking back now I am deeply grateful for the depth, clarity and thoroughness of his teaching. I can literally still hear the way he explained certain verses and passages when I read my Bible, and how the marker would squeak on the white board as he scrawled it full of words, maps and diagrams on Sunday nights.

I remember him teaching us Greek words so we could understand our Bibles better. I was so fascinated by this, I asked him how I could learn more Biblical Greek for myself. He lent me a whole box full of his Greek study cassette tapes, books and notes from seminary, and also taught me how to utilize my Strong’s Concordance to quickly and easily look up the Greek meanings of words in my Bible. While I eventually decided that learning an entire new language was more than I could handle at the time, his lesson on the use of the Hebrew/Greek section of Strong’s stuck with me and is a tool I’ve utilized many, many times since.

I remember him quoting verse after verse of Scripture and encouraging us to do the same.

I remember him quoting A.W. Tozer and other great Christians, and how he liked singing hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father” and “Redeeming Love” and “He the Pearly Gates Will Open”.

I remember being a little bit in awe of his Bible as a child, with notes scrawled thick in the margins and worn binding patched together with gray duct tape.

I remember how he’d quote S.M. Lockridge at the end of the Good Friday service: “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s a comin’!”.

I remember him telling the story of “My Heart, Christ’s Home”, and I still have the copy of it he gave me when I asked where I could get one.

I remember him publicly apologizing to the entire congregation one Sunday for having a wrong attitude when he delivered the previous week’s sermon, and how much I respected him for his honesty and humility.

I remember that he was not some unreachable daunting figure in my life, but someone who was approachable, kind and always took time to answer questions and take genuine interest in me.

And so many of my favorite childhood memories, things like beautiful candlelight Christmas, Good Friday and Thanksgiving services, singing around the campfire at the parsonage, and weekend-long missions conferences, are associated with his leadership and ministry at Northern Bible Church.

When I decided I wanted to get baptized at age 9, I distinctly remember sitting down with him and my dad in his office with the 70’s shag carpet, every nook and cranny crammed to the ceiling with books, and one of the first questions he asked me was, “Why do you want to do this?” And, kindly but more pointedly, “Are you doing this because you see other people doing it?” That kind of brought me up short in my mind, because it was a little bit true. I had heard that another girl a little bit older than me was getting baptized, and I remember thinking that if she could do it, why couldn’t I? And when he asked me that, I realized that I couldn’t do it just to be cool like someone else. I had to do it because I understood what it meant and believed in it with all my heart. I remember how clearly and kindly he walked through the whole process with me, making sure I understood exactly the seriousness and significance of what I was doing. On a gently overcast Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, he was the one who dunked me under the water of Lake Dellwater while the crowd on the beach sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”.

In my adulthood, though retired, he remained a trusted friend and source of much wise counsel.

When we got married, he did our counseling and gave the message at our wedding. Later, as my husband took on and began his very first pastorate, Pastor Don made himself available to Zach as an invaluable listening ear and voice of experience and wise counsel.

One of my sweetest memories, however, is from just this last year. When we were considering a major life change and move, and torn over the multiple options before us, Pastor Don was the one who helped us see our way through a confusing sea of emotions and well-meant but conflicting advice. He was one of our only advisors who literally gave no opinion, but simply shared wisdom from his own years of experience in ministry, and challenged us to earnestly seek and follow God’s will rather than man’s (our own or others). His counsel was pivotal in our ultimate decision. The time he took, the prayers he prayed, and the care he showed for us during this time meant the world to us, and it brings tears to my eyes even as I write. He and Donna were there to give us hugs and assure us of their prayers at our last little goodbye party in Bemidji. “We’ll look forward to seeing you and hearing all about Alaska when you come back for visits,” he assured us. I did not imagine that it would be the last time we would speak face to face with him on this earth.

On September 30th, heaven welcomed a good and faithful servant. He is with his Savior face to face, receiving his reward. Our loss, his incredible gain. I only pray that those of us who he invested in can step up to fill the void he has left behind and carry on his legacy of faithfulness for Christ to the next generation.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)

We Went Driving

Up the rugged Superior shore,

To where two countries meet;

Through the golden Sawtooth hills,

With the waves at their feet.

Along the pebbled, craggy edge,

Where restless waters stretch,

All the way to meet the dawn,

At a line so faintly etched.

Through the forest silent,

To where the roaring water falls,

Beneath the gentle mountain peaks,

Where the soaring eagle calls.

Spires of pine were pointing up,

While fluttering leaves fell down,

To grace the humble forest floor,

In a multi-colored gown.

A journey up the North Shore in October is about as lovely an autumn experience as it gets—and if you can get fresh coffee and cardamom rolls to eat while you drive, even better.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul…who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1,5)

South Dakota Adventure: Seeing It Through Their Eyes

IMG_7164 editWe’d seen them before, my husband and I.  The weird eroded shapes of the badlands.  Four massive solemn faces carved into a granite mountainside.  A herd of buffalo calmly holding up traffic.  Bighorn sheep leaping effortlessly up the faces of seemingly sheer precipices.  But oddly, seeing them for the second time seemed more meaningful to me than the first—and it was all because of three little people strapped in the back seats behind us.IMG_6733 editIMG_7518 editIMG_7806 edit

We had seen it all before, but there was something wonderful about experiencing it anew through their eyes.IMG_7584 edit.jpgIMG_7578 edit.jpgIMG_6951 editIMG_6968 edit.jpgIMG_7838 editIMG_7452 edit.jpgIMG_7471 edit.jpgIMG_7854 editThe wonder continued when we visited the world’s largest collection of live reptiles.  We watched our littlest girl’s eye’s practically pop out of her head at the sight of a massive anaconda.  We looked together for loose tiny geckos running around in the conservatory, and gasped with them to find an (uncontained!) snake hanging in a tree over our heads.  We felt their excitement as they got to pet baby alligators and giant tortoises.  We laughed with them at the parrot who could meow like a kitten.

And I thought to myself: Wow! This place is way more fun than I remember as a teenager.  Had it changed that much?  No.  It was just me that had changed.  I was seeing the same blue frogs and cobras, but this time as a mother through the eyes of my children—and that made all the difference.IMG_7180 editIMG_6894 editIMG_6930 editIMG_7091 editOn this trip, I though a lot about what Jesus meant when He said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

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Golden

IMG_2611 edit.jpgWhen you hear the word “golden”, what do you think of?

For my four-year-old right now, it’s anything metallic.  Silver, copper, gold, it’s all “golden” to her.  And since it makes me smile to hear her calling our humble everyday silverware “golden”, I haven’t gotten around to educating her on the finer points of metallic hue identification.

But for me?

I think of my wedding band, a circle of precious metal around my finger, a valuable gift that symbolizes a solemn covenant made to me by a beloved man.IMG_2598 edit.jpgI think of lamplight on aged pine walls, and candle flames dancing above brass candlesticks, and the color of faces gathered companionably around a fire.img_2616-editI think of the warmly lit hour right around sunset that a photographer lives for, that has been universally dubbed “the golden hour” for it’s unparalleled quality of light.IMG_2603 edit.jpgI think of honey drizzled on cornbread,

of foot pedals on pianos,

of the gilded edges of a new Bible,

of the rims of the plates I used to serve golden slices of pumpkin pie on Thursday,

of a palomino horse galloping in the sunset,

of the color of my daughter’s favorite hen and the yolks of her pretty brown eggs.IMG_2606 edit.jpgAnd I think of the splendid way that autumn ends up here in the northwoods, all the tamaracks ablaze with glory, making even the murky swamp waters glimmer with unaccustomed splendor.  If the sun is shining on it all, then it truly is a tiny glimpse of heaven on earth.IMG_2614 edit.jpgThis little taste of “heaven on earth” is my favorite of all, then, because it’s one fleeting golden moment reminding me of a golden eternity.

It’s that place I’ve never been where my homesick heart belongs,

where the streets, buildings, furnishings, dishes, and clothing are golden,

where the prayers of the God’s people are so precious that they are presented before His throne in golden bowls,

where all that splendid gold needs no sun to illuminate it because God is there.

I can hardly wait to get there.

“…the city itself was of pure gold, as pure as glass…and the city has no need for sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 22:5)

“The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8)