Project 52 #16, Part 2: Swan Song Trail

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you feel like you need to pinch yourself to make sure whatever you’re experiencing isn’t a dream? When we stepped out of the forest trail onto the shores of this ocean inlet sparkling in the sunshine, and saw the mountains rising snowy and majestic beneath the blue sky before us, that’s exactly how I felt. If it had been a movie set, the soundtrack would have been by John Williams. The scenery was that epic.

We followed the shoreline of the inlet out to where a World War II-era EC-47 airplane had to make an emergency crash landing in 1968 due to engine failure. The landing was successful enough that all four passengers survived, and the plane didn’t burn up, leaving us with a little piece of history in an unlikely place. Fifty-four years later, it’s a bit more worse for the wear, but it makes for a great place to take a snack break on an improvised plane wing picnic table. The kids had a blast climbing around on it, and little Jonathan cried when it was time to go and kept calling, “Bye, hair-plane!” for a long time after we left.

Along the way, we were thrilled to see and hear sandhill cranes (too fast for my camera), and not thrilled (but also not surprised) to find fresh bear tracks in the mud. I spotted a new-to-me variety of shorebirds, pictured below. Two of our party nearly lost a boot in the muddy tidal flats, so that was a new lesson learned about the ocean.

“[You] set the earth on its foundations, never to be moved.

You covered it with the deep like a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away—the mountains rose and the valleys sank to the place You assigned for them—You set a boundary they cannot cross, that they may never again cover the earth.” (Psalm 104:5-9)

P.S. Yes, I know I already did a post #16, but this time you get a bonus! We went on two different excursions this week, taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, and it just felt like the photos of them needed to be in two separate posts.

Project 52 #16: Finding Spring

One of the main things I’ve noticed about spring in southeastern Alaska, is that it is slow in comparison to what I’m familiar with. In Minnesota, we have a long, cold, drawn out winter, generally followed by a fast and furious spring, barely a month or two between the season of snow-on-the-ground to the heat of summer. It always felt like the world was exploding when spring came, and if you blinked, you’d miss it. Here, it feels different.

Spring is a full season here, not just a brief commercial between winter and summer. It’s much more contemplative and thoughtful. The daffodils poke up gently, then slowly rise. The pussy willows blossom gray, then linger for weeks before turning green. The temperatures rise very gradually, almost imperceptibly. You have TIME to take pictures of things here. I appreciate that feature.

Another thing to get used to is the effect of the ocean and mountains on the season. I drive a few miles across the mountains to the western side of the island to find that the flowers and foliage there are a good week ahead of ours on the east side. The violets along a mountain trail are barely poking up, while the violets along Gravelly Creek are wide open and blooming, and it’s all a matter of elevation!

While some signs of spring are the same here, like pussy willows or the return of the robins, there are some delightful new ones to enjoy, too. We walked a trail on the western side of the island this week, and got to see a few of them up close.

Salmonberries blossom early, and they are a delightful shade of pink!

Herring eggs wash up on shore, tiny jewels amidst bits of seaweed. Zach dared me to eat one, and so I popped a clump in my mouth and then he said, “No, stop, don’t do it!” Haha! Guess he didn’t think I would actually go for it. Harvesting herring eggs is a tradition started long ago by the natives here, and they are considered a wonderful seasonal delicacy. He just didn’t know if it was okay to eat ones washed up on the shore or not.

The skunk cabbage blossoms are a startlingly showy yellow flower, that remind of me of giant calla lilies. They are the bright splashes of spring yellow to the boggy ditches here that the marsh marigolds are in Minnesota. They do, indeed, have a fragrance reminiscent of skunks, but thankfully fainter. My two-year-old son was mostly fascinated by the fact that there are little bugs inside the flowers.

And finally, we have the devil’s club just beginning to bud. This is one of those crazy fascinating plants like stinging nettle that you can handle only with gloves (check out those thorns, which they say are nearly impossible to pull out of your skin and must be left to work their way out on their own), but apparently boasts amazing healing properties. I bought some locally-made devil’s club salve to try, so we shall see if the claims are true!

What I’ve been reading this week: The book of Judges, which is one endless cycle of the children of Israel falling away from the Lord, receiving the consequences for their sin, then repenting, followed by God mercifully sending someone to rescue them from their affliction. There are some great, inspiring stories, and also some really sobering ones—all great commentary on the sinful predictability of humankind, and a God who is both just and merciful.

“…may all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But may those who love You shine like the sun at its brightest.” (Judges 5:31)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #15: Pebbly Beach

This was a beautiful, restful place to end a very, very busy Easter week. The morning had been wonderful, with the Christians of our community uniting in a truly joyous celebration of the resurrection. An outdoor sunrise service at the park, a fabulous brunch potluck, an indoor service with the beautiful ending of a baptism, dinner with friends, a community egg hunt, all of it so good—but now, we were tired.

I needed the sound of the waves more than I realized. Picking my way along the beach in search of colors and shapes and forms of life, a slow and silent pastime, was incredibly restful and rejuvenating. Far out, flashing rich brown against the blue, two sea lions were traveling south, and up the shore a few friends gathered peacefully around a crackling fire of driftwood, contentedly watching the sun turn the snowy peaks across the strait pink as it sank in the west.

I suspect that’s why Jesus’ disciples, too, headed to the sea after all the drama of the events leading up to His death and resurrection. Being human, I can only imagine how stimulated and drained and emotionally exhausted they were after the incredible lows and highs of the previous week. They did what we all do when we are spent—they went back to the familiar things, to the soothing rhythm of the wind and the waves, and the things they could do without thinking too hard, like fishing. Maybe for some of them, time alone and in the outdoors was what they needed to sort their thoughts out (there had to be a crazy amount of them running through their heads after the week they’d just been through!) and make sense of it all. I know I’m like that.

Today, I was grateful to be reminded that HE PAID IT ALL and IT IS FINISHED.

“But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37)

No more striving of mankind necessary. Hallelujah!

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #14: Control Creek

I read the entire book of Joshua this week, and I love the way it’s bookended.

It begins with this powerful commission from God directly to Joshua:

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)

It ends with Joshua passing a similar commission on to the children of Israel before his death:

“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed…

…Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 23:14, 24:14-15)

What a great way to begin and end a ministry!

About the photos: This is the creek that runs into Balls Lake, looking beautiful on a sunny day. The berries were amazingly still clinging from fall, and tiny bit of thin ice at the marshy edges was there to remind us that it’s still EARLY spring. We took a short family hike here one afternoon, and then I joined a group of friends to go around the whole lake later in the week. We had such a great time laughing and visiting as we went, and even spotted three of my old friends, the trumpeter swans (who wouldn’t let us get close). Their distinctive call brings back so many sweet memories!

In other news, my camera battery charger got misplaced, so it’s phone photography for a while until I can find it or replace it!

Project 52 #13: Dark and Light

What I’ve been thinking about this week: “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:27)

About the photos: I was watching whale spouts and sea otters while I was taking these photographs. None of them came close enough for me to get decent pictures, but it was beautiful to see the ocean alive with marine life while the sun and the rain danced against the backdrop of the mountains.

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #12: Huckleberry Blossoms

The last time we took a walk along Gravelly Creek, it was a winter wonderland.

But in the golden hour of this glorious clear spring day, when the last rays of the sunshine were slanting low along the singing water and through the stately cedars, I saw the huckleberry bushes in all their fairytale spring glory for the first time.

Even this tiny spider (normally not one of my favorite creatures!) on her web seemed ethereal and lovely, like gossamer lace amidst a thousand shimmering translucent bells dancing along the shadowed forest floor. Perhaps the fact that the sun pierces here so infrequently was what made it all so magical.

This week I’ve been reading through the book of Deuteronomy, and I had a couple thoughts about it.

First, the long lists of laws and sacrifices can seem burdensome (and praise God, those sacrifices are no longer necessary now that we are covered by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus!), however if you were to sit down and read through the current laws of your state or country, you’d likely feel the same way or worse. Like: wow, that’s a lot. How am I supposed to remember all that?! Even the laws strictly concerning driving are overwhelming when you’re trying to take a driver’s test!

But some of those lists of detailed rules were really only there for clarification, and for the benefit of those who would keep the order and judge between cases, the “law enforcement”, if you will. Ultimately, all those laws pointed directly back to the basic principles of the ten commandments, which in turn, as Jesus pointed out, are summed up in two, of which one is ultimately the greatest. So it was really quite simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind (and your neighbor as yourself).

Second, the call to holiness is not a burden, it’s an honor. Just read these two parallel passages and think about the language of privilege used in them:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:2)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #11: Fish Egg Weather

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)

I was thinking about this passage in light of being a mother this week, and also with the other children God has placed in my life—my children’s friends, the kids I babysit, the kids we meet at church and community activities and the grocery store.

Would my interaction with any of these little ones change if I was really, truly taking this to heart? Would yours? Something to think about.

About the photos: I’m sorry if how I titled this post made you think you were getting pictures of fish eggs, and now you are disappointed. Perhaps that will happen eventually, but for now, let me introduce those of you who aren’t from southeast Alaska to what is locally known as “fish egg weather”. It is the time of early spring which coincides with the herring spawn, and is known for crazy weather switches all in one day. You know, those rain turns to snow turns to sunshine kind of days. We have morning rainbows, followed by the first flocks of spring robins arriving in mid-morning snowstorms, followed by a beautiful afternoon of sunshine. (That was a true story, by the way.) It’s very confusing, but also very hopeful because it is the Beginning of Spring.

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #10: Pussy Willows, Alaska Edition

I read the beautiful story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man this week (from Mark 5) and I was especially struck by the ending of the story:

“As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might stay with him.  And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:19)

It’s not that being with Jesus is the wrong thing to do, it’s just that it is a terrible tragedy when you keep the wonder of Jesus all to yourself. There comes a point when you have to leave the church service, or the Bible study, or that precious quiet hour of prayer and study of the Word—and go tell someone what the Lord has done for you.

Incidentally, GOING instead of STAYING doesn’t mean He leaves you:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…”

“...and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:20)

About the photos: Every year since the beginning of this blog in Minnesota, I have done a post featuring the first pussy willows of the year. I wondered if this was a tradition I’d have to end once we moved to Alaska…because did they even have willows on Prince of Wales island?

Turns out, they not only have them, but the biggest, fattest pussy willows I’ve ever seen are growing right in front of our house! If you’re curious, here are the links to all past pussy willow posts (years 2020 and 2021 you’ll have a scroll a tiny bit to find the pussy willow picture, but it’s in there)!

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #9 Snowy Peaks and Hiking Views

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 

Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. 

I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. 

You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.  Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 

I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 

You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26:3-12)

While it’s important to remember that this is a specific promise to the Israelite people, what I found beautiful about this passage was what it told me about the high value that God places on obedience and following His ways.

This is still true of God, by the way, and we’re not exempt from this principle. We have our own promises of the blessings of obedience. Here’s just one of them:

“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

About the photos: Most of our snow at the lower elevations has disappeared—and finally some of the back roads and trails are accessible again! I was so excited about this and the beautiful sunny weather that I hiked two trails this week. You can see part of the town of Thorne Bay in the first overlook photo, and a bird’s eye view of the town of Craig on the other side of the island in the last photo. I was literally looking down at soaring eagles here. Also pictured, a couple of the highest peaks on Prince of Wales where there’s snow year-round!

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Transition

It’s a strange time. When you have one foot in one place, and the other foot in another, and your heart feels like it’s divided in two.

Living fully in the present when you’re in the midst of transition is hard. You feel like there’s this sort of chasm in between here and there where you can’t rest or feel at peace. Half of you is holding to the familiar and beloved, half of you is reaching for the good things to come. You yo-yo relentlessly between the two positions, unable to make a solid landing on either.

I have struggled to write about it, because I like to write reflectively instead of processing out loud in the moment. This is raw stuff, still in process. There is so much on my mind and to-do list right now. But, in the midst of this overwhelming project of trying to somehow wrap up ten years’ accumulation of belongings here into two tidy packages of taking or leaving, all the while trying to say goodbye to people and places we love dearly, I’m still taking pictures. It’s something soothing that I can do that doesn’t require more mental or emotional energy, this composing of images within a frame and capturing moments of time in pixels. Taking time, even just a minute or two, to savor the beauty around me is such a balm for my soul. It reminds me of the things that are solid and don’t change, like the rhythms of nature, the changing of the seasons—and the God who created it all and remains faithful even when everything else feels like it’s in upheaval.

“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25)