Wednesday, June 29, 2011

With Nature

I grew up plotting ways to escape from Vacation Bible School. I did not like it, Sam-I-Am. I did not like it in a boat or with a goat or…….never mind. As a child, it always seemed goofy to me.

The big one was always held at First Baptist Church. You had to line up outside, march in with a flag, go through some rituals I never understood, sing songs that seemed babyish to me, the whole nine yards of let-me-out-of-here!

The worst was the craft time. I loved art, being able to imagine and create. But, you know what I’m talking about, VBS crafts were not vaguely related to art. “Here. Glue this pea onto this popsicle stick. Not there….., here! On this exact spot! Now repeat that a thousand times!” I wonder if they incorporate Chinese water torture into the curriculum these days. Drip…..Drip…..Drip…..”There, good job!”

To this day, I try to avoid VBS. When my kids were young (I made them go to build their character), I felt obligated to participate. So I volunteered to keep the nursery for the workers. I can get creative with the newborns. Just don’t let their mothers know.

Brownie camp was no different. I remember in great detail making a sit-upon. Yep, that’s what they called it. It was a pillowcase stuffed with newspaper. That’s about it. Do I need to say more?

So this past week in Alaska I have made a birch bark basket and an agate necklace. What am I thinking?

I’m thinking this: I am overcoming my aversion to "crafts" to accommodate a real need to get down and dirty with nature. It’s not enough here to just observe it. I can watch the eagles soar past my window and hear the surf whipping the shore, but I need to be a participant somehow. It just feels like a need.

This is nothing new. Think of Thoreau and, even earlier, William Wordsworth. They got it. They had to get out there and be a part of it; living in it, living off it. It nourished their souls and gave them life. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. The elders here know about it.

So when Al said, “The women used to make baskets from the birch bark,” I said, “Let’s do it!” Al is going to learn to keep his mouth shut. He was on his knees in the dirt digging up a five foot rope of spruce root that became my sewing cord. When I complained I had no tools, he reluctantly handed me his Swiss army knife-looking thing and told me not to lose it. There was a forlorn look in his eye, like he was handing over his first born to Rumpelstiltskin.

I was up past midnight (with the sun still shining in), sitting on the floor making a glorious mess of water, bark, dirt and root. The prototype is pretty primitive, but if it were thought to be a hundred years old, it would be in a museum. I’m going with that thought.

I’m trying to stay outside as much as possible, now that it’s summer, and drink it all in. I have mosquito bites in my hair that feel like goose eggs, a big infected blister on my finger, a knife cut on the other hand (Al should have warned me!) and lots of mud and blood stains on my clothes from pulling fish. The poets would be proud!

Two days ago Al started showing me his firearms and said something like, “This one should be just right for you.”

Oh Boy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Musings

I spent last week in Anchorage traveling around with friends, seeing new sites and living out of a duffel bag. It’s good to be back in the village. I’ve settled into a summer routine that includes checking my email when I first wake up, making brunch (really too late for breakfast), fetching the school mail from the post office, walking on the beach, reading and staying up late playing music and writing songs.

During the in between times, something always seems to come up that leads to more learning and adventure. Yesterday I discovered Al in his backyard putting the final touches on smoked fish production. He gave me a crash course in the whole process. Of course, I already know how to catch them and clean them, so I was a quick study. When he reached a stopping point we hopped in the paddle boat on the lake behind his house and peddled around looking at water lilies. Then we hopped in his truck and drove to a couple more nearby lakes to see what was there. We ended up back on the beach by the river where I gathered seagull feathers and posed for a pic inside a magnificent hollow tree that was laying just above the tide line.

I continue to feel the surrealism of this entire year. I’m like Scrooge, wide eyed in my metaphorical pajamas, being led by God-picked Spirits into new and interesting encounters.

Some elicit feelings from my past, enjoying nature with Greg and my little children. The clarity of the Alaskan lakes takes me back to snorkeling days in the Florida springs. I breathe these memories in deeply and don’t want to exhale. I miss those days, that life. I still stagger as I step off the old path and find my footing on the new one.

The Spirit of the present is a most welcome guide. There was a trip to Seward last week on the Alaska Railroad. Then a few days later I was flying with Carol (of Valdez Fly-in fame) to a music festival in Seldovia, a tiny little fishing town at the tip of the Kenai peninsula. A couple of hiking trips. New acquaintances and their stories; new memories to savor tomorrow.

Here in the village, the closest thing to a church service is the “Women’s Bible Study” at my house on Monday nights. We sing praises to God, share our worries and pray, read a few verses together and talk about them. All very personal, like church should be. It’s my favorite time of the week. There are only two or three of us this summer, but we are hopeful that more will join us as we invite them.

The most poignant elements of my stay here are too personal to blog. But I post them to God and He smiles at my antics and forgives me for my blunders. He always leaves a comment.

Here in the present, I am learning that God does indeed provide, that he fills our empty spaces and, as I've quoted so often, "He satisfies our desires with good things". Discovering what he means by "good things" is an adventure in itself. There have been a few surprises!

Then there’s the Spirit of my life-yet-to-come. Like Ebenezer, this one scares me the most. In fact, it’s my very greatest fear (besides being covered in hot lava from Mt. Spurr). The next leg of my journey will be the rediscovery of what I left behind, assimilating into the mainstream and finding where I fit. I’m not even sure where I should live. I fear not belonging.

My mind keeps going to Frodo and Sam. I have always believed there is much to be gleaned from the lessons of the “heroic quest” (It started with Jason and the Argonauts, and the Thief of Baghdad when I was a very little girl). After the fulfillment of the ring quest, Sam returned to the Shire stronger, more confident, equipped to make his old dreams come true. Frodo, on the other hand, never managed to “pick up the threads of an old life”. He sadly sailed away to the distant shores (Deirdre says that means he died and she knows these things).

There is a strong tug on my heart to just remain here. I can think of a million reasons why I should and they all sound reasonable and even virtuous. But I’m afraid it’s the fear talking. Fear is what I’ve been shedding so I certainly don’t want to reclothe myself in a more dressy, but oppressive, form of it.

But I still have weeks with the Alaskan Spirits before I decide.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sci-Fi Night

My old friend Scott (not missionary Scott), who is a marine biologist in Kodiak, was flying through Anchorage last night en route to three weeks of fun in the sun in Dixie. He had an eight hour layover so we decided to have dinner. The restaurant we had chosen had a two hour wait, so we just started walking downtown. We found another good place a couple of blocks away and had a great meal. Then we drove to a quaint little coffee shop I know of, but they were closing. So we went to Barnes and Noble and had cheesecake and lattes.
Scott and I both love sci-fi and we got off on Star Trek trivia. We were laughing about how we both knew people who had Ferengi blood and how his 50-something neck looked like a Cardassian’s. We could not, for the life of us, remember the name of the aliens from Next Generation who were always saying, “We are smart” (but they were really stupid).
Around 11 o’clock we got this idea to go check out the new Spielberg flick. I knew there was a multiplex theater around somewhere, but not really where. We asked a cashier and she pointed southwest and said, “somewhere that way”. She should have said, “first star to the right and straight on til morning”, but I digress.
We hopped in the car and took off. I drove a few blocks then turned right and drove a couple more. I was sitting at a light waiting to turn left saying, “I’m sure the theater is right down that way” when I looked to the right to see if traffic was clear. There on the right corner was the theater complex. I screamed like a Tertellian on fire and Scott jumped. Must have been the late hour.
So where am I going with this so-far boring story? WE SNUCK IN! No, really, we did. Well, sort of. Someone was coming out the exit door (which doesn’t open from the outside). Without really thinking, I grabbed it and we walked in (After all, it shouldn’t matter which door you use). Then we noticed the box office was closed. We saw on the marquee that our movie had just started. No one seemed to be looking.
Scott said, “Act like you belong here, walk normally and don’t whisper”. So I did. But I was imagining having to spend all my missionary support money to get bailed out of jail. I kept looking over my shoulder and Scott kept saying to stop that. Maybe he’s used to being criminal. I think I could get used to it. It gave me a rush (just a little rush, ok?)
So today I’m having coffee with Diana and told her this silly story and she asked, “What was the movie?”
I said, “I don’t remember the name. It was the new Spielberg".
She said, “Earthquake”.
I said, “ No, it was a new movie.”
She looked disturbed and repeated a little louder, “Earthquake”.
And I insisted, “No, that’s an old one and not even Spielberg”. I thought she knew movies better than that. I was a little annoyed.
Then I noticed the artificial tree behind her was shaking. And she looked at me very emphatically (like a frustrated Bajoran) and said, “EARTHQUAKE”!
It was over before I could say, “Charleton Heston”. 5.2 on the Richter scale.
Never a dull moment in Alaska (and it came to me that it’s the “Pacleds” that think they’re smart but are really stupid). Maybe I have Pacled blood.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I had to email my new Irish fiddle teacher last week that I’d be traveling with a salmon and would need refrigeration during my lesson. This would go one of two ways: either she’d chuckle and get a glimpse of the goofy person she’d be instructing, or she’d grimace and dread meeting me. Fortunately, it was the former. What a likable young woman, with a big heart and an adequate fridge!
A very talented teacher also. That could also have gone one of two ways: “Here is my agenda for my students, like it or not”…. or, “What would you like to learn and how can I facilitate that?” I was a little nervous to begin with. I told her I knew my vibrato needed some polish. Not to worry, she said. We don’t use vibrato in Irish fiddling. Really? Wonderful. Then I played a tune for her. When I finished I mentioned that my bow seemed to always be going in the wrong direction, like old people driving in Florida. Not to worry, she said. We don’t care about bow direction in Irish fiddling. Really? This lesson was getting better and better. I left with dozens of tunes to work on this summer, downloaded to my itunes and ready to go.
It is another big milestone for me to regain my passion for playing music. My friend, Debby, asked in her blog this week, “Where do you look for God?” I have always found Him in playing my songs. Since I was nine years old and ordered my first guitar from the Sears catalog, I have found both sanctuary and great joy in playing music. A few years ago I expanded to fiddle playing (my family was incredibly patient, even as I heard repeatedly, “Mom, stop that noise in there!).
Music has been my escape pod when I felt my starship was off course or about to explode. It hurled me safely through my sometimes chaotic universe. And I've played songs for Jesus when I couldn't think of anything else to offer (are you hearing pa-rum-pa-pumpum in your head?). It has always drawn me close and given me peace. And it’s been just plain fun!
Three years ago, the music left me. I still practiced, and even performed. I led worship in church and became the fiddler for The Twang Gang, which was actually a dream come true, to play fiddle in a band. But the joy of it kept eluding me. It felt confined, like I was playing in a closet.
That’s finally changing. God is stilling me, forcing me to quiet myself, listen to His music and savor the rhythms He plays for me. I’ve discovered He has a pretty good ear. And the quieter I've gotten, the busier I've become. Doing things like…….practicing fiddle for hours at a time.
Gotta run now. I’m expected at 1:30 at the Goozmer’s for fresh beaver. I am NOT kidding you!