Project 52 #33: Singing in the Night

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!)

Project 52 #31: Sitka Black Tail

Meet the reason my raspberry bushes are heavily fenced!

It’s hunting season here, but these particular deer have been smart enough to take up residence in town where they are safe from hunters. They paid little attention to me when I was taking these pictures, and I could have touched them if I wanted to. Last winter, one slept under our front porch for a couple nights and would just stare at us when we came out to look at it, seemingly fearless! Not great if you’re trying to grow hostas or any other plant they happen to love, but they are still beautiful animals.

A few interesting facts:

—Sitka black tail are a subspecies of mule deer unique to the coastal rainforests of southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia.

—They are good swimmers, occasionally even known to swim deep channels between islands.

—They have four-chambered stomachs which allow them to “ruminate” (rechew) their food, and contains bacteria specialized in breaking down cellulose. Since these bacteria are so specialized, they have tremendous difficulty digesting strange material and can die of starvation with their bellies full of food.

—They are small deer (adult average of 106-198 lb). They honestly remind me more of goats than the whitetail deer I grew up around, especially when I see them leaping and running along the steep, rocky slopes of this mountainous place.

“For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.”
(Psalm 18:31-33)

Project 52 #29: Kasaan

Kasaan means “pretty town”. That seems fitting, since the trail there is certainly one of the most lovely and peaceful trails on the island—and fascinating, too, with the historic Whale House and collection of totems as its’ destination. The silent forest feels old and grand, rich with memories of the past. It’s easy to imagine what life might have been like here a few hundred years ago when all you can hear is the sound of muffled footsteps on pine duff and the gentle lull of the sea.

This is the oldest standing longhouse in North America, circa 1880, former home of Haida Chief Son-I-Hat. I have found it fascinating to learn about native cultures in the region, which are very different from those I grew up around in Minnesota. I didn’t realize until I moved here that totems are for commemoration and for telling stories, much like the petroglyphs of Egypt! They are not necessarily religious, though religion (and traditions and legends), as deeply entwined as they are in a culture, certainly play a part in the stories being told.

Last time we came here, we saw our first humpback whale and petted a raven; this time we found foxgloves.

In the movie “Free Willy”, the Haida caretaker Randolph muses, “300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.”

“So what’d they do the rest of the time?” his young friend Jesse asks.

He smiles. “Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.”

That’s the world I like to imagine when I come here.

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”
(Psalm 22:27-28)

P.S. Lest you think that I only ever take pictures of my youngest child, well, the explanation is simple: he’s the slowpoke, so I’m always lagging behind with him, and the others are always running ahead!

Project 52 #28: Tidal Pools

About the pictures: My family was here visiting from Minnesota, and we took them tide pooling in the rain! This little boy gets over-the-top excited when he finds a starfish or crab and doesn’t want to leave them behind. I hope he never loses that senses of wonder for God’s amazing creatures!

What I’ve been reading this week: I finished the book of Luke—and I love this story at the end: “And they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32) If you want to read the full story, it’s verses 13-32!

P.S. I’ve fallen a bit behind in posting for this project, which you were likely (hopefully) too busy enjoying summer to notice! That’s mostly because I lost the cord I use to download pictures from my camera to the computer. This week, I finally found it in a very unlikely spot…so there will be a bit of a photo dump coming your way while I try to catch up!

Project 52 #27: Ferrying

Those of you who live here know: we may live 40 miles from Ketchikan as the raven flies, but unless you own a boat equipped to handle the bigger waters of Clarence Strait and the weather happens to be fair, or want to pay the higher price to take a float plane over, it takes a good deal longer than 40 minutes to get there. The most economical and sure (voyage cancellations are rare compared air travel) mode of travel is by the daily ferry. A day trip to Ketchikan via ferry involves over an hour drive to the ferry terminal, a three hour voyage, about four hours to do what you need to do in the city, then another three hour voyage back, and another hour plus drive home.

I find the ferry ride to be very enjoyable. Unless the water is particularly rough, it’s a relaxing, slow-paced ride. The boat is roomy, and the seats are comfortable. The galley food is good, and there’s almost always someone you know on the ferry, or at least someone who knows someone you know. Conversations are easy, and they all start with either: “Where are you from?” or “Where are you going to?” From there, our unique mutual connection to a remote island in southeast Alaska is all the common ground necessary for a full-fledged conversation.

And if there’s no one to talk to, or you don’t want to talk, it’s beautiful to just stand out on the deck, staring over the edge at the foamy waves rhythmically peeling away from the hull of the vessel, or watching the misty island mountains alternately appear and then fade into the fog, or the sunlight play chase with the clouds across the vast and wild panorama of the Inside Passage. Maybe you’ll see a whale or two; certainly you’ll feel the ocean wind in your face.

Once you’re chilled by that, there’s the $3 bottomless cup of coffee waiting to warm you in the galley inside, or more if you missed breakfast in the rush of a 5:30 AM departure or didn’t have time to grab some lunch in the Ketchikan while you were trying to get as much shopping done as possible in your limited 4-hour window of time (that was me this week).

There’s a gift in the slowness of the journey, more the feeling of being a part of the land and the sea instead of speeding through it, of having time to breathe, finally start the stitching project you bought the pattern for five years ago, have a long conversation with someone about homeschooling, buy a banana split and take an hour to eat it, play a game with a friend who brought cards, maybe even be lulled to sleep by the steady drone of the ship’s motors and the rhythmic shifting of the waves.

On this particular voyage, I was out on the deck taking pictures. A man who had also been quietly gazing out at the landscape nearby noted me using my camera and commented enthusiastically, “”It sure is beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is!” I agreed heartily.

Is this your first time here, too?” he queries.

I smile. “No,” and the words that come out my mouth next still feel both wonderful and foreign to me, “I live here.”

“And you’re still taking pictures!” he said, approvingly. “But if I lived here, I think I’d still be taking pictures, too.”

“Others went out to sea in ships, conducting trade on the mighty waters.

They saw the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep.” (Psalm 107:23-24)

Fun fact: Three pictures in this post were taken on our trip through Ketchikan in January, the rest were taken this last week in July. Can you guess which ones are which?

Project 52 #25: Swimming With Jellyfish

There are some capsules of time that are just sheer beauty and wonder. They’re the kind you always remember, the kind where you don’t even have to close your eyes to remember…

the wonder and delight of tiptoeing along through the water with the jellyfish swirling magically around you and purple starfish at your feet…

the way the waves of a passing cruise ship wanted to lift your feet right off the sand…

that exhilarating moment of plunging all the way in and listening to your children laugh in delight and come piling in after you…

the way your body tingled when you came up out of the cold ocean into the hot sunshine of a rare southeast Alaskan heatwave, and the way that feeling lasted for hours afterwards…

or the way the beach peas were trailing wild over the bleached driftwood when the sun sank to the treetops and you clambered down the pebbly bank to go home.

I think that those of us who live in the places where summer is fleeting are less likely to take it for granted. In some ways, I am grateful that it’s fleeting, because the beauty of it isn’t lost on me and I am not afraid to stop and savor it before the days slip through my fingers like sand, give way to autumn and winter, and are gone forever.

P.S. Yep, we’re swimming in our clothes. When you feel like swimming, but didn’t think to bring your swimsuit, one of the great delights and freedoms of life is that you don’t have to let that stop you.

Also—the clear jellies pictured here are lovely and harmless, but don’t worry—we kept our eyes open for the stinging varieties!

“There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (Psalm 4:6-7)

Project 52 #24: Fawns, Saltwater, and Thimbleberry Blossoms

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath…

keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart…

…But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You…

The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him…

to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” (excerpts from 1 Kings 8, Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple)

About the pictures: This is a Sitka blacktail doe with her tiny fawn, the first mama to kindly pose for me (after trying to get a shot of a pair all week to no avail). They are more diminutive than the whitetail deer I’ve been familiar with for most of my life, almost goat-like, and those babies are about the cutest thing you’ve ever stopped your car to take pictures of.

We celebrated our youngest daughter’s birthday at the beach, and the waves were wild, big and wonderful!

The thimble berries have such showy flowers, they’re the equivalent to bushes of white wild roses around town! But this is not to say that the roses themselves haven’t been beautiful.

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

Project 52 #23: Hello, Poppies!

When we first moved to our little rented farm in MN, one of the first things I envisioned was a row of bright red giant Oriental poppies along the white milk house, and I began working towards this goal immediately.

Unfortunately, it proved an elusive goal. I bought plants, and they died. I planted seeds and they didn’t germinate. Then some finally took, only to be mostly obliterated by the chickens. A well-intentioned soul thought they were weeds (poppies do look a little like thistles at first) and weed whacked them. A couple summers they struggled between the weeds because I was too pregnant to do anything about it. After awhile, I got one plant to grow, then finally two. But the full row of plants that I had at first envisioned did not successfully grow and splendidly bloom until a good seven or eight years after I began trying.

They were a symbol of perseverance for me, and the pleasure of success was all the greater as a result. When I knew we were going to be moving away, even though it was a little thing in the grand scheme of things, I mourned leaving my hard-won row of poppies behind.

But one of the biggest mind shifts God prompted my heart to when we were contemplating a move, was shifting my focus from what I might be losing to all the things I might be gaining. He convicted my heart with a quiet, “Has it occurred to you what good, beautiful and amazing things I may have in store for you there?” It was indeed a matter of trust. I had to relinquish my limited understanding, and leave room for God to surprise me.

Incidentally, one of things He surprised me with was….you guessed it: POPPIES…in my new front yard.

When I realized that there were giant red poppies getting ready to bloom in abundance in a row right next to my new home, all I could think of was the stunning magnitude of God’s love for me.

It was the tiniest little glimpse into this truth: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”
(Psalm 84:10-12)

The other life lesson here? Always plant something for the people who will come behind you.

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

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!