My kids are so used to me always bringing the camera wherever I go and looking for potential photographs, sometimes they beat me to it. “Mom! You should pull over and take a picture of that spot back there. I see a good place up ahead to turn around!” That first photo up above was Talitha’s original idea, and a collaboration on everyone’s part, since there was no good pullout at the most advantageous spot, and it was a long ways to walk. They watched both ways and told me if/when a car was coming while I snapped my photo out the window. Just wanted you all to know that some of my photography is the result of some real teamwork over here—and I’m grateful for my team!
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you”…
“But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design.” (1 Corinthians 12:15, 18)
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)
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?
Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve always known the contrast of short days of winter to the long ones of summer, but here in southeast Alaska the difference is even greater. While we certainly didn’t move up to the Arctic circle where the days dwindle down to almost nothing, we have indeed moved north, and this is the time of year when we realize it most. The arc of the sun across the sky is shallow, a big blazing ball always in your eyes, rolling in a low arc over the mountains across the bay. This week, on winter solstice, the sun rose at 8:17 AM and set at 3:18 PM. An all-day snowstorm obscured the light even further.
Mankind’s yearning for light is especially distinct at this time of the year.
I was thinking about this as we walked out onto the marina on Sunday night, a group of Christmas carolers with clouds of breath hovering about us in the frosty air. My eyes instinctively sought the points of light as we peered down the docks, looking for the houseboat windows that glowed, signaling that their occupants were home. Around the bay, festive lights twinkled, outlining roof edges and trees in windows. Far above us, pinpricks of starlight formed constellations, and a gentle glow in the east signaled the impending rise of the moon. Someone answered our knock, and headlamps shone down on song sheets. We sang about light:
“Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus Lord at Thy birth.”
Light posts glowed periodically along the marina as we walked back to shore, guiding us safely down the solid boards of the dock and away from the dark icy ocean at its edges. The church was waiting down the street, the cross a lighted beacon and the windows glowing with the promise of hot drinks and cookies awaiting us inside. The door opened and light flooded warmly across the street, beckoning us in.
We were created to love light, and it is at this time of year that I understand the most clearly why Isaiah, Zechariah and John described the coming of Christ this way:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will visit us from on high, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
The figurative darkness of our souls was once deeper than the darkest Arctic night, yet Jesus came into this world as LIGHT,
brighter than the floodlights down at the barge docks when they’re unloading at night,
brighter than the three story LED cross down the bay on our neighbor’s house,
yes, brighter even than the noonday sun fully unleashed—
and the darkness fled. There is no more reason to walk fearful in the shadows of sin and impending death, blindly groping, peering, stumbling…
because He came.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
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)