Project 52 #49: Snowy Drive

“Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and lovely to praise Him!

He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.

He spreads the snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes;

He casts forth His hail like pebbles. Who can withstand His icy blast?

He sends forth His word and melts them; He unleashes His winds, and the waters flow.” (Psalm 147:1, 15-18)

Project 52 #48: December Outings

Hands-on learning is, hands down, my favorite part of home education. Experiencing something is the icing on the cake for learning anything. You don’t usually forget things you actually experience in a meaningful way like you might a list of names and dates in a book. My goal for school is to provide as many of these as possible for my kids.

This week, I happened to see that the forecast for the aurora borealis was favorable, coinciding with a string of cold, clear nights in southeast Alaska. This is when we’re glad for the long nights, because it was dark early enough that we headed out at 6 PM to what I hoped would be an ideal unobstructed aurora viewing spot (it was), sat out there for about an hour and a half, and I still had everyone home and headed to bed by 8:30. Admittedly, the aurora were not as good as I was hoping for. There was not a lot of movement and a bright half moon provided some competition in the west. Nevertheless, the northern lights were distinctly visible, it was the first time my younger daughters had seen them, and they were thrilled.

We also got in some good stargazing. We spotted a couple meteorites, and I showed the girls how the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are actually part of Ursa Major (Big Bear—pictured above) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear), and how to find Orion. When we needed to take a break to warm up in the car, we’d peek at our Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky for more inspiration and sip from the thermos of the special-occasion-only hot chocolate (not to be confused with hot cocoa) I’d brought along. It was such a simple, yet satisfying outing!

Our next excursion of the week involved searching for that perfect Christmas tree. I had to chuckle when I saw a wanted ad on one of our local online buy-sell-trade groups, someone new to the island asking where they might find an inexpensive tree, and reading the comments from locals chiming in to say, “They’re free along every road; grab a saw and take your pick!” That’s exactly what we did…or at least what we set out to do. If you want the full story, you can ask Zach. I’m just here to say the snow and the mountains were looking extra lovely while we searched!

And as the countdown to Christmas has begun, I’ve been taking the time as much as I can in the midst of the swell of feasting, fun and activity to think about this:

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:14, 10-12)

Project 52 #43: Alder Trail

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

About the photos: Some weeks I don’t take many pictures, and our explorations don’t take us much further than the edge of town to this little trail. I think my favorite part of it might be this gentle, if somewhat deceiving, start through the alders, before it quickly switches to the steep ascent more worthy of it’s local nickname “Heart Attack Trail”.

Project 52 #42: Salal Berries

Found during a family hike along an unnamed road, this was my first sighting of salal berries. Oddly, on this day in late October, we found blossoms, too. I did not know what they were at the time (and Google doesn’t work in the wilderness), so I left them there, but later, my friend Juliet identified them for me and confirmed that they are, indeed, edible, with the flavor being described as somewhere between a blueberry and a grape.

The amount of pleasure I get out of discovering a new-to-me plant and learning about it is deep, especially when it’s as interesting as this one turned out to be. Did you know that salal berries have a long history as an important staple food of the Pacific coastal native Americans? Did you know that berries like these that stain your fingers purple when you pick them are high in phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals, aka compounds that fight against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases? Did you know salal berries have three times the antioxidants of their much more widely touted “superfood” cousin blueberries? Did you know that salal leaves are astringent and anti-inflammatory, and poultices or teas of it can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments like wounds, coughs and stomach/digestive issues? Did you know the young leaves of this plant can be used as an appetite suppressant?

But for all this, the salal shrub classified as “Gaultheria shallon” is most widely known today merely for it’s beautiful evergreen leaves, prized in the florist industry!

“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

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 #32: Salmon Moon

Here in southeast Alaska, I’m told the Haida call the full moon of August the “Salmon Moon”, and the Tlingit call it “Berries-Ripe-On-Mountain Moon” (Incidentally, the Haida July moon is “Ripe Berry Moon” and the Tlingit July moon is “Salmon Moon”!). Both names certainly make sense! This week, we were blessed with night after night of clear skies to watch the moon rise. The thimbleberries were at their peak of ripeness, and my fingers were bright red by the time I’d picked enough for a batch of jam.

The streams were full of spawning pinks, and with my Alaska fishing license hot off the press (yep, I was cheap and waited until I could pay $5 to fish in Alaska instead of $100!), I landed my very first one. It was a male humpy, past the stage of good eating, and we released him, but it was still a thrill to land my first salmon! Lord willing, it will be the first of many.

We drove down some new forest roads, and hiked down some new trails. Though many of the wilderness places pictured here are without official name, the very last picture is of Hatchery Falls, where we got to see salmon jumping up the falls. It was amazing to see their determination and strength!

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

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!

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)

Once in 86 Lifetimes

IMG_3418 editThere are a lot of things about 2020 I’d be happy to never see again in my lifetime, but this is one of the few things I saw that I can say I wouldn’t mind seeing again sometime soon. 

Except that won’t be happening, because, according to NASA, Comet NEOWISE will not be seen again for 6,800 years.  So this was not just a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, it was a once-in-86-lifetimes opportunity.  Wow.

Fun fact: the comet was named for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, on which it was first sighted.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1)

Photographed 11:02 PM July 16th, 2020; Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota, USA.

Savoring Summer #39: Stone Axe Creek

IMG_1833 edit.jpg“Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life.” (Romans 16:3-4)

I love how in most cases in this passage, Paul specifically mentions why he’s grateful for each of these friends, or how they have been a blessing to him.  In your prayers today, try making a list like this yourself, if you can, of every person from your church!  I found this to be such a joyful exercise.

“Thank you for ________; he cheerfully takes out the garbage every week at church.  Thank you for ________; she is such a faithful prayer warrior.  Thank you for _________; he always encourages me to dig deeper into my Bible.  Thank you for __________; she gives so generously…” and so on!

And if there’s someone who you don’t know well enough to mention, take note; it might be time to change that!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

About the photo: Most days we hike to this creek for our daily exercise; most days we pause to skip rocks or watch sticks go in one end of the culvert and come out the other, or, if we’re lucky, spot a sunning turtle.