Looking for the Light

The longest darkest nights of winter are here.

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)

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)