For Christmas, we got snow and a cold snap, cold enough to freeze the bay solid all the way across. Some brave souls even ventured out and went ice skating on it for what they said was the first time in 30 years, though we were not quite that brave. The mail planes couldn’t get in, and they had to finally send over a box truck on the ferry to get us at least some of our Christmas packages. We’re still waiting for some, which is going to nicely extend Christmas. When I explained to the kids that some gifts were still on their way and wouldn’t be here in time for opening on Christmas Eve, Christiana cheerfully said, “That will just make Christmas wider, Mommy!”
The barge was able to get in, but you could hear the thunderous din of it cracking through the ice all over town. The tug went back and forth a few times after it dropped its load, working to widen the path it had made through the ice. It was like our own real life version of Scruffy in the bathtub, and we sat in the living room and watched with great interest through our big picture windows. Who would have thought we would ever get so much entertainment from a tug going back and forth? When you know the tug and its cargo getting through is the difference between fresh food on the grocery shelves or not, that’s when. Real life is so much better than a book or movie.
We counted down the days to Christmas with candles, and on Christmas Eve placed the manger in the center before we sat down to dinner. Later that evening, we joined with our other brothers and sisters in town to celebrate the wonder of Christ’s coming at a Christmas Eve service. I thought, as I stood there with a tiny flickering flame in my hand, singing about the weary world rejoicing, about what God’s people did for hundreds of years past, persevering in faith and hope, waiting for the promise yet to be fulfilled, counting down to a date they didn’t know, looking and longing for Messiah to come. We may simulate the waiting with our Advent candles, devotionals and countdowns, but how blessed we truly are to be on this side of Christmas, remembering together that we are no longer actually waiting, but are privileged, instead, to look back and rejoice in the fulfillment of the age-old promise.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation...
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth...
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect...
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 11:1-2, 13, 39-40, 12:1-2)
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)
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)
We went on our second end-of-October “cabining” trip to Twelve Mile Arm this year, this time for two nights. Does that make it an annual tradition? That remains to be seen, but the fact that a pair of kayaks now come with the cabin is a pretty big draw. We enjoyed taking turns paddling around the estuary, followed by curious seals, and the two little girls were pretty excited when we let them paddle out to the nearby island (so shallow and close you can walk to it at low tide) by themselves.
There was snow on the mountains across the bay when we woke up one morning, but we did not get cold like we did the last time we came here. I guess that means we’ve learned a thing or two about 1) clothing and bedding choices, and 2) running a woodstove.
I read the cabin journal, in which guests talked about hearing wolves and being skunked at deer hunting (I think there’s a connection there), and feasting on crab. One guest left behind a game of Uno Flip on purpose, hoping others would enjoy it, too. (We did.) Another guest left a can opener, which I had forgotten. (I used it, gratefully.)
The utter stillness was achingly beautiful. Not even our phones could ding to spoil it.
“And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
“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”.
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!