Friday, May 27, 2011

Moose Turds and Wild Celery

I’m sitting on the beach wearing an insulated shirt with a pullover sweater and my coat and a windbreaker over that. My native friend and mentor, Al, in shirt sleeves, mumbles, “If it weren’t for the breeze, it would be unbearable out here.” No honestly, that’s what he said! All the Alaskans are hot because MOST of the snow is melted. I don’t get it.
It was another day of exploring and learning new things……about Alaska, nature, God and myself. It started at 8 this morning when Al and his brother, Thomas, picked me up to let me go with them to “set the net”. I think that’s how they put it. We drove in the pickup past several fish camps and they stopped to let me breathe it in and take pictures along the way (although my camera battery died after just a few shots). I know they were rolling their eyes at the white woman behind her back. Especially when I started filling my pockets with moose turds. Hey, they’re free and I’ve decided that is going to be the souvenir of choice to bestow on all of you when I come home. They’re lighter than beach agates and will ship cheaper. Have you ever seen a moose turd? They are perfectly formed and pure vegetable matter. A marvel of nature I think, and they don’t stink. I finally asked Al for a baggie to collect them in. Much eye rolling going on.
We finally reached our destination which was Al’s salmon net line, already anchored several yards off shore and ready for us to attach the net and pull into the water. The tide was coming in. We settled ourselves on the beach and had some snacks. Al brought hot coffee. It was amazingly peaceful. We watched as an eagle swooped very near us to pick up a salmon backbone he spied on the rocks. He soared over us and all around us and we found his nest through binoculars.
I’d been asking questions about how the native ancestors got enough to eat (no doubt, more eye rolling). Al took a few steps into the woods behind us and came out with a green sprout he called wild celery. I peeled the ….whatever that is that you peel on celery……and tasted the stalk. It was delicious….unique. I got the message. There was food all around us.
After the tide started to ebb, we saw a salmon caught in our net. Yay! We had hoped for more, but one good one was considered success. We started to pull the net in but……..our salmon had messed up the line and it was stuck. We pulled and pulled, I got REAL muddy, but no luck. We would have to wait for the tide to go all the way out so we could get to the net (If this had been Florida, we would of course have waded out, swum over to the net and untangled it). I had the feeling Al wanted to cuss.
Thomas had been gone for a while and appeared out of nowhere with hotdogs. He built a fire and we had a picnic on the beach. I sarcastically asked how Indians build fires and he shot back, “with bic lighters”. True enough.
After much waiting, rock collecting, eating, napping and almost cussing, the fish was retrieved. Then the fun really began back at Al’s house when he showed me how to clean and fillet it. I was trying very hard to NOT look like a prissy toenail painter. But this job was hard. I commented that I felt like I was on a reality TV show and was about to get voted off. Al scowled and said I was going too slow. OH! So it’s really a game show…..A Minute To Winit? I was thrilled beyond words to be learning to do this stuff.
When I left home in Florida, my guiding verse was in Isaiah. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Every new thing is a confirmation that the world is bigger than I could ever imagine, that life holds mysteries I have only begun to unravel, that God is actively creating and renewing, and I am a player in His epic tale. Eventually I will leave Rivendell and the Misty Mountains behind and return gratefully to the Shire. But I will have the assurance that God will still be doing “a new thing” in me. It isn’t about the new sights, or the new friends, or the new skills. It’s about what He’s doing in me. Creating and renewing.
btw, I got to keep the salmon.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Valdez Fly-In

My friend Carol asked me in a text last week if I was game for playin’ and singin’ at the Valdez Fly-In this weekend. What do I know? I said, “yes” with no hesitation. What’s a Fly-In, where’s Valdez, what songs do we know, how do we get there (and back)? I just didn’t ask. For me, Alaska is about adventure and everything pretty much goes right (or however it goes, I proclaim it “right”). My expectations for God to work are high, but I’m learning to stop anticipating what He’ll do and how. He likes to surprise me.
That is becoming more and more my Alaska “MO”: Don’t over-think things, don’t imagine all that can go wrong, don’t worry about the cost and the trouble and, esp., how cold it’s going to be. Just say “yes” and accept what may come. Like a gift.
Having said that, I can name a bunch of things that went “wrong”. Carol’s plane got a flat tire before she left to pick me up in the village Friday night. When we finally got back to Anchorage (our “layover”, haha), the radio stopped working on the plane. Carol had to find her walkie-talkie. Then she couldn’t get the back to snap on it, then the “new” batteries she just put in didn’t appear to work. Lest you think I have taken up with some crazy bush lady, Carol is a working commercial pilot with over 4000 hours of flight time. It just wasn’t her day.
When we finally took off for Valdez the next morning, Carol fell off a something (not sure what) while she was fueling the plane. She was okay but bruised. She landed on the hand that had just had surgery (and plays guitar). Did I mention I had laryngitis? This was a musical train wreck skidding down the tracks.
Anyway, the flight to Valdez was spectacular. I’m so used to flying back and forth to my village that I had forgotten that if you go the other way from Anchorage you go over and through the Chugach mountains. It’s a completely different experience. I posted my pix on fb but they don’t begin to relate the majestic feel and spiritual awareness of being there. It was awesome the way David understood awesome.
Then we landed and it was back to aggravation. When I stepped out of the plane I felt something wet. It was me! The coffee I had held between my knees had slowly leaked out and had soaked the back of my jeans. And these were the butt-fitting tight jeans that I was sure would make me look hot in this testosterone-rich environment. Now I just smelled hot, like espresso. I brrrrrrrrrrrr-ed my way to the terminal and quickly changed into the mommy jeans that I had fortunately brought as a backup. Whatever!
Then I reached for my camera to catch photos of setting up the tent and… camera. Okay, I just had it. It can’t be far. But I looked everywhere and ended up having the people in charge make an announcement that whoever stole my camera was going to be in big trouble. Then I found it…….. it was in my duffel bag and I don’t want to hear a word about this…ever!
We were dead tired because we had about three hours sleep the night before, so when everything was settled, we decided to lie down for naps. The air mattress in the tent had gone flat……and stayed flat all weekend. Well who needs an air mattress on cement???????
Want to know what this event was all about? So did I. It’s the bush pilot Olympics. They come from all over to compete in events like, who can take off in the shortest space? And who can land in the shortest space? I think it’s nuts, but what do I know? Was there a reason I saw fire trucks everywhere? Maybe they were having a fire fighter Olympics there, too.
We played our music (and we were pretty darn good), slept remarkably well and packed up Sunday morning. It took two trips for Carol to bring home the whole crew, her family included. One and a half hours each way. Rather than fly on further to my village Sunday night (she was “bushed”), I stayed at her house and she planned to fly me back Monday morning. When we got ready to leave, Carol couldn’t find her airplane keys. Really? That sounds just like me. It made me love her even more. She dropped me off at Spernak and the guys there were happy to see me. I missed a day of work and told my stories to the teachers at our taco dinner.
Another long weekend to proclaim “right”!