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)
John 13-17 contains the most detailed and beautiful account of Jesus’ last supper before His death. Best of all, it includes His last charge to His disciples and by extension, us. I treasured those words as I read them this week, each one perfectly expressed, sheer gold—not one word wasted.
“Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.
Truly, truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (13:12-17)
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (13:34-35)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.” (14:1-3)
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (14:15-17)
“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.
I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples.” (15:4-8)
“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
This is My command to you: Love one another.” (15:14-17)
“If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (15:18-19)
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (16:33)
“I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one…
I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, so that they too may be sanctified by the truth.” (17:11, 15-19)
“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (17:20-21)
“Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, that they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (17:24)
What a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Lord!
(And didn’t He make the autumn forest a place of true beauty and delight?)
This week we took a little school field trip up to Luck Lake where we did some hiking and had a picnic. It was a lovely fall day for some nature study out in the wild. I found and identified highbush cranberries, the leaves were fluttering down from the alders, and the pushki (cow parsnip) were making stunning dried floral arrangements wherever we looked.
The winding road between there and Thorne Bay is nothing but wilderness, and crosses multiple salmon streams. We paused on each bridge to observe the water below us teeming with fish intent on spawning, marveling at the spectacle. The life cycle of the salmon has fascinated me since I watched “The Wonders of God’s Creation” as a child, but what a gift it is to be able to observe part of that cycle in person.
Did you know salmon are anadromous? That means they hatch in freshwater, migrate to salt water, then return to the same fresh water they hatched from to spawn. It was a cool big word to teach my students this week.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1)
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)
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!)
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)
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)
On a beautiful day at the beach in which we had the rare privilege of the entire place to ourselves, I read a magazine with the theme of “Life with a Flourish”. It caught my attention, because while I have tended to think of the word “flourish” as a verb, as in the idea of thriving or doing well, the articles I read steered the reader more towards “flourish” as a noun.
It’s those purposeful, sort of over the top actions in life, those highly enriching gestures in which we above and beyond the necessary simply because it will bring ourselves and those around us joy. It’s the confetti at the party, the wildflower bouquet on the table, the curl on the end of your signature. It’s taking the time to stop for ice cream and sit on the porch to eat it, and trying an Earl Gray infused apricot jam recipe instead of just plain. It’s the back door painted brilliant red.
This was a week that was delightfully full of Vacation Bible School, and sunny days at the beach with friends, and ice cream at Naani’s, and it was fairly easy to feel like we were living life with a flourish. I even had time to relax at the beach and read a whole magazine while my kids swam! But there are plenty of weeks when it doesn’t happen naturally, when I can get so busy checking off the boxes of duty—the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning—that I forget to take the time to celebrate life with creativity, beauty and wonder.
Here is my note to self to remember, and not to forget.
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure.
The lines of my boundary have fallen in pleasant places; surely my inheritance is delightful.
You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (Psalm 16:5-6, 11)
*Thoughts inspired by the referenced Summer 2022 issue of Magnolia Journal.
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!