Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Begin the new year with The Rest of the Story

Happy New Year!

Want something special to start the new year off?

Friend Marjorie Stewart has written the script for a you-tube video, Christmas--the Rest of the Story. She also plays the part of Anna in it.

The video takes about a half hour to watch, so brew a cup of tea, turn up the volume, and prepare for a thought-provoking treat! (You'll love the original music written and performed by the young couple who play Joseph and Mary.)


Sunday, December 8, 2013


Here's another true Alaskan fishing story by Stanwood teacher and commercial fisherman, guest blogger Jim Nash. (with Joan Husby)

At the set net site where the skiff capsized

    “!” My prayer flashed heavenward as my body plunged into the breathtaking cold of Alaska’s Cook Inlet. I fought to the surface.

    A few yards away my crew mate, Chuck Barron, sputtered, treading water. Then Chuck’s brother, Danny, popped his head up. No sign of our skiff. The safety of the beach was a half mile away. None of us wore life jackets, although they would have conserved our energy. In the late 1970s, we didn’t even own them.

    At our fishing site at Coho near Kenai, cool, windy days are the norm. So at 70 degrees F., this July day had seemed hot. We wore jeans, T-shirts, and knee-length rubber boots while dragging a three-ton boulder to the water with a tractor. Such boulders made inexpensive anchors for our gill nets. I had already drilled a hole in this one for a large iron eye bolt. Then I attached a line for a buoy.

    From water’s edge, I saw my young wife, Dixie, and the rest of the crew mending nets at camp on the bluff. I waved. Dixie and some of the others waved back. We knew they’d be keeping an eye on the boat. The currents ran strong here, parallel to the beach. If something happened, those on land could quickly launch another boat and speed out to help us. But what could go wrong? We were young and in tiptop physical condition. At least Danny and I were. Chuck was a little older, the father of small children. I turned to them. “All right, guys. Time to launch.”

    The twenty-two foot aluminum skiff rested in its cradle behind a tractor. Danny hopped into the seat and backed the trailer into the surf. The water lifted the boat free. Then we splashed aboard, and, as the tide rose, we positioned the skiff over the boulder. We secured the line from the boulder to a sling suspended beneath the boat. I peered over the edge and checked the taut line. “Okay, let’s take it slow.”

    Enjoying the sunshine and the rare warmth, we inched away from shore, towing the boulder. I angled a couple of miles up the beach toward our fishing spot.

    Half a mile offshore, I cut the motor. Now all we needed to do was release the slipknots that held the sling in place, and let the boulder drop to the bottom. Easy, I thought. The worst that could happen might be a line binding as the big rock fell. That could cause the boat to ship water. Then we’d have to bail like crazy. No problem.

    I stood next to the slip knot at one rail, ready with a knife in case the knot should stick. Chuck and Danny stood at the opposite rail. “Three, two, one...release!” I shouted. We yanked at the knots.

    I felt mine let go. No need for the knife. Suddenly, the world flew upside down. Details registered like snapshots in my mind. I saw Chuck sail overhead, launched out of his boots, and disappear. Danny, too. Then the swells closed over my head. I knew what had happened. The other slip knot had stuck and the plummeting boulder had flipped the boat.

 Loose gear bobbed to the surface in a scatter of bubbles. In warmer waters, we would have struck out for shore. But the shore was far away and the current was strong. I shivered violently. At most we had twenty minutes to save ourselves before the blood to our extremities slowed in an effort to protect heart and vital organs from the cold. Soon we’d be unable to use our hands, arms, or legs.

    “We’ve got to get out of the water,” Danny said through chattering teeth.

    How? I wondered. Suddenly, the skiff broke the surface beside us. With yells of relief, we swam to the overturned craft.

    I shoved as Chuck tried to haul himself up on its bottom. The boat rolled under his weight. He fell back.

    “Here, I’ll try.” Danny made it up, but the boat slid out from under him, too.

    “Water must be leaking into one of the flotation tanks,” I said. Foam gel filled these aluminum compartments in both bow and stern. The weight of the water would destabilize the boat. We watched the gas tank and a number of small buoys float away with the current as we tried to climb onto the boat, only to slide back into the icy water.  “It’s no use,” I said after ten minutes of futile effort. The others looked exhausted. Were we going to die out here? Though lightheaded and numb, I felt strangely at peace.

    “Look,” Chuck gasped, gesturing toward a bright pink buoy floating between us and the shore. “If we can hang onto that, maybe we can kick our way to the beach.”

    We reached the buoy and clung there. Far away on the bluff, we saw our friends clustered near the net racks. “Help!” we yelled, over and over, but no one looked our way.

    “This isn’t working,” Chuck muttered. “We’re too tired to reach shore. I can’t feel my hands anymore.”

    “Hold on,” I said. “There’s one more thing we can do.” We were all believers. We trusted God every day to guide and help us. As we clung to the buoy and to each other, I called aloud to God: “Father, send help, or we’ll die. But whatever you do, it’s all right with us...Just take care of our families.” An almost physical warmth flooded over me. I knew he’d heard.

    For a moment, all sounds faded away. Then we heard the mutter of a small plane. I recognized a friend’s yellow Super Cub.  We yelled and waved, but the plane flew on along the shore and out of sight. We groaned.

    I looked back to the boat. Only the tip of the outboard stuck up. Enough water had entered the ballast tank that the boat now floated vertically, bow down with its stern a few feet beneath the surface. I swam over and pulled myself up. Holding to the outboard, I balanced thigh-deep, grateful to be partially out of the life-sucking cold.

    Still clinging to the buoy, Chuck looked toward the shore. “I’m going to try it,” he said.

    “Me, too,” Danny agreed.

    “I know I can’t swim that far,” I told them. “God be with you guys.” The two brothers kicked for shore, pushing the buoy.

    Chuck and Danny moved slowly toward the beach. Why didn’t the crew see us?

    Later, we learned that unexpected company had arrived, and the watchers on shore had gathered around to visit. Not until Dixie’s cousin, Gary, asked where I was did they come to the edge of the bluff. They looked in vain for the boat.

    From my precarious perch, I saw them. “Help!” I yelled, and waved.

    “Boy, that seagull sounds a lot like Jim. Anybody have binoculars?” Someone handed them to Gary. He scanned the inlet.  “It is Jim!  They’re in the water!”

    The other boats were nearby on the bluff, loaded with mended nets and their trailers already hooked to the tractors, ready for the next day’s fishing. In a frantic scramble, people tossed nets out of a boat. Rick Grossel, a wiry native Alaskan,  jumped on a tractor. Four people leaped into the boat for a wild ride down the dirt road and across the beach.

    Almost too cold to keep my grip on the outboard motor, I watched them launch into the water and head toward us. Chuck and Danny had stopped swimming. I saw Danny struggling to keep his brother’s head above the water.

    “I’m okay,” I yelled as the boat neared. I pointed toward the others. “Take care of them first.”

   When the rescuers reached the two, Chuck was barely breathing. The men in the boat pulled his dead weight over the side as Danny pushed. Then Danny almost leapt into the boat in his eagerness to get out of the water.

    Back at camp and wrapped in dry blankets, I shivered violently in my wife’s embrace as I waited a turn at the hot shower.

    Meanwhile, our friends pulled Chuck and Danny back from the brink of hypothermia. We didn’t know then that warming the body too quickly can force the cold blood from the extremities into the vital organs and cause a shock that can kill. But God protected us from that danger, too.

    He had heard and answered our cry for help out there on Cook Inlet.

    Like most commercial fishermen, I had done all I could to prepare physically and mentally for emergencies. “I’m glad I didn’t wait for trouble to strike before I prepared spiritually,” I tell people now. “Because God and I already had a relationship, I knew he’d hear me when I called. When trouble came, God gave the peace that comes from knowing he wants what’s best for me.”

    Nevertheless, after our capsizing, we bought and used life jackets.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Sarah Josepha Hale, Mother of Thanksgiving

This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation establishing the 4th Thursday in November as the official National Day of Thanksgiving, a move he hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation” following the War Between the States.

In a conversation last week, I stated my desire for our own Thanksgiving to include expressions of gratitude for our blessings. Someone very dear to me responded with a comment about the supposedly wrong ideas we’ve been taught about the pilgrims, Indians, and the first Thanksgiving. None of us were there to observe what happened then. But we can’t deny that from the very beginning of European settlement in this country, Americans have paused to thank God when he has led us through times of crisis.

During the American Revolution, Continental Congress issued a number of proclamations setting aside days for thanksgiving following some major battles of the war. When George Washington was inaugurated as first president, he proclaimed a national day of thanks for both the end of the war and the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations during their presidencies. Thomas Jefferson feared that doing so would interfere with the separation of church and state, so no formal proclamations were issued after 1815.
However, most states continued to celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday, although not all on the same day.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a well known writer, editor and crusader for women’s issues, edited the influential magazine, “Godey’s Lady's Book,” for over 40 years. She wrote pieces urging the establishment of a national day of thanks on the last Thursday in November. She believed the holiday would be a unifying measure that could help the growing divisions between North and South. She continued to advance the cause throughout the Civil War, and when the war ended, President Lincoln asked Secretary of State William Seward to draft such a proclamation. The President issued the proclamation in the fall of 1863.

At the age of 72, after 3 decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (and the United States of America) had her national holiday. She is sometimes called the "Mother of Thanksgiving" because of her tireless efforts.

Both President Lincoln and Sarah Hale believed that people who realize their dependence upon God are the people God blesses. As we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let’s remember to be grateful for our forebears’ sacrifices and for the blessings God continues to shower upon us.
Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Best Catch Ever

   Guest blogger Jim Nash and his family are commercial salmon fishermen who fish in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in the summer. He teaches high school in Stanwood the rest of the year. He shares his photos and this story about his BEST CATCH EVER:

The Kudos has an estimated 3000 pounds of fish aboard as it continues to haul in the net, preparing for another set.

Jim Nash with Joan Biggar Husby

  The radio crackled to life. “I’ve propped the net,” the crew heard group member Everett gasp.

  Jim Nash groaned. Propping one’s net is never a good thing for a fisherman. Backing the propeller into the net can ruin the net, the propeller, and sometimes the entire day of fishing.

  “The wind’s blowing the boat into the shallows and I’m almost in the surf!” Everett sounded desperate as well as chilled to the bone. And no wonder. He’d gone over the back of the boat in nothing but his underwear, trying to cut the net loose in the forty-five-degree water.

  Jim grabbed the mike. “The soonest we can have the net in the boat is twenty minutes. Where are you?”

  Everett gave his position, less than five miles away.

  Jim had spent many summers as a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Regardless of the success or failure of the season, one reason he kept fishing was the relationship he had with his radio group, comprised of the captains and crews of six or seven boats. They fished in the same general area and shared information with each other.

  If one group member found fish, he’d radio the others on a scrambled frequency that no one else could decipher. He’d tell them which direction the fish were heading, or if he found no fish, he might say, “No luck here.” Or he might radio, "This area's already crowded with boats. Try someplace else." He might give tips on how best to set the nets in order to make the catch.
Many of the fishing operations in Alaska are family operated. This picture of the Kudos, one of Jim's boats, has Phil (Jim's son-inlaw) on the bridge, Spencer Nash (nephew), holding the little king salmon; Shea Nash (son), and Necia (daughter) in the stern. You can tell by the bouys dragging in the water that the boat is nearing being full (12,000-15,000 pounds).
  The purpose of a radio group was to help everyone catch more fish. It was assumed that all members maintained their boats and equipment well. If one was in trouble or needed a part, the others would help out, but that seldom was necessary.

  That year, Everett, a likable man in his 30s, had joined their group. Everett’s family had fished out of Kodiak for some time, but Jim had never fished with him before.

  Everett’s problem was his ancient “woodie,” a craft from the era just after sailboats and before aluminum or fiberglass boats. All he could afford, it barely held together. The fittings and gaskets leaked, fouling the diesel engine and making it smoke. The crotchety transmission balked at shifting into neutral. As a result, Everett often called for help. Usually, it was urgent.

  One day Jim had found a great spot for fishing. He hauled in a net full of thrashing salmon and set it again. Corks jerked on the surface as fish swam into the deep part of the net, announcing their arrival with exuberant splash and dance. Fishermen live for times like this!

  Then he heard Everett on the radio. He had a problem. Could someone help? Jim stared at his radio. If he went to help Everett, it could cost him thousands of dollars in lost fishing time. “There’s got to be someone closer than me,” he muttered.

  Jim picked up the microphone and held it, waiting, until he heard Dick, his older brother, say, “I’m pulling my net, Everett. I’m on my way.”

  Dick was like that. Not a selfish bone in his body.

  Relieved, Jim put the microphone back on its clip. God elbowed him hard. He knew in his gut that what he had done was not right. “Don’t worry about the money,” he felt God say. “Remember, all these fish belong to me.”

  “God, you’re right. Of course, you’re in charge. Next time Everett needs help, I’ll be there.”

  The very next day Everett called to say he’d propped the net. "We'll be right there," Jim responded. The crew got their net out of the water and on board in record time. As the end buoy bounced over the stern roller and into the boat, Jim pushed the engine to full throttle and turned toward the coordinates Everett had given him.

  Soon they saw his boat, a small dot just outside the surf line in an area similar to a place called "Dead Man Sands." Years before, an unexpected storm had blown part of the fleet onto those sands miles off shore, too far away to swim to safety. All hands were lost. It looked as if Everett was about to do the same thing–ground on a bar, with the actual shore nothing but a thin gray suggestion in the distance. Jim flipped on the radio. "Hang on, Everett. We're almost there."

  “I think I’ll be okay, Jim,” he responded breathlessly. “I dived overboard again and cut most of the line from the prop. I think I can get my net in now.”

  “That’s great,” Jim told him. “We’ll be standing by if you need assistance.”

  Now what? Jim looked at his chart of the Nushagak fishing district. It showed sand bars, channels, and water depths. He realized they were in an area they’d never fished before. With a fingertip, he traced one deep channel surrounded by shallows near the mouth of the Igushik River. “Hmm,” he said out loud. Sometimes fish school up along deep channels before moving into rivers to spawn. “Let’s give it a try,” he told his crew.

  They set the net across the channel and the net filled with salmon. Of more than 150 times they’d already set the net that season, this set out in the middle of nowhere with no boats in view other than Everett’s a mile away, turned out to be the best of the year. Jim had been worried about the money he’d forfeit by helping Everett. But the Lord hadn’t given him his dependable boat just to catch fish and make money. He could feel God smiling as the lesson sank in. The boat was his to use for God’s purposes. God was perfectly able to take care of the rest.

On F/V Seaquill in Bristol Bay Alaska. (Necia and Taylor) This was a good day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let's Celebrate Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell...Freedom From Want
    This year, we were dismayed to find Christmas merchandise and decorations going up in a number of stores, even while their shelves still overflowed with Halloween “stuff.” Did you notice? Some stores even played Christmas music. Now, with Thanksgiving only two weeks away, you’d hardly know the beloved November holiday is still important to most Americans.

    It seems we are being whipped into a spending frenzy even before the Thanksgiving turkey has a chance to cool. The “attitude of gratitude” that ought to prepare the way for a thoughtful, thankful celebration of Christ’s birth is being replaced with a frantic culture of greed and “have to do’s.”

    Well, I’m trying hard to keep priorities straight in spite of all that, and I know that many of my readers are doing the same. The music of the season can help us. Here’s a familiar old hymn, often sung at Thanksgiving time, both at family meals and at religious services. Maybe you’d like to add the song to your celebration this year.

We Gather Together...Theodore Baker, 1894

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

  “We Gather Together” was first written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in a war of national liberation. Under the Spanish king, Dutch Protestants had been forbidden to gather for worship.

  The modern English text was written in 1984 by Theodore Baker, and first appeared in an American hymnal in 1903. By World War I, Americans could see themselves in the hymn, and even more so during World War II, when “the wicked oppressing” were understood to include Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. I love that the lyrics of this song are particularly appropriate because we've just celebrated Veterans' Day and the freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifices.

Friday, November 8, 2013

In Flanders Fields

Lt. Col. John McCrae

While having lunch at our favorite Silvana restaurant the other day, we picked up the Java Jabber, the entertainment and advertising folder found on the tables of many local eating places. Instead of the usual humorous items, this issue’s front page featured the classic poem, In Flanders Fields, written during World War I.

Hank had me copy it on a napkin (the only writing paper available at the moment).  It’s Hank’s self-appointed task to share one-liners or jokes for the amusement of our fitness class. This morning, in honor of Veteran’s Day, he read the poem, and there were tears:

In Flanders Fields
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae was a medical doctor with the Canadian Army during the terrible battle in the Ypres Salient in the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium (Flanders), early in 1915.

In military language, a salient is a part of the battlefield that projects into enemy territory. The troops occupying the salient are surrounded by the enemy (n this case the Germans) on three sides, making them particularly vulnerable. This piece of real estate was the location of five battles of Ypres, some of the biggest battles of World War I, fought over the period from 1914 until the Germans were pushed back for good in 1918.

During these battles, Britain, France, Canada, and Belgian armies combined their defensive efforts against the German incursions and it was here that trench warfare began in the mostly flat salient as both sides “dug in” around the line. The Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 saw the first use of poison gas and terrible injuries and loss of life,

Lt. Col. McCrae, a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, had spent seventeen straight days treating injured men: Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans, while the battle raged around him. The screams, blood, and suffering were hellish and impossible to get used to. One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student had been blown apart in a shell burst. McCrae had helped to gather the body parts and bury them in a cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station. Then, because of the chaplain’s absence, he performed the funeral ceremony.
The next day, McCrae sat down to rest on the back of an ambulance parked near his duty station. He watched the breeze toss the wild poppies growing in the nearby cemetery, and he began to scribble the lines of a poem in his notebook.

A young soldier was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. He watched quietly as McCrae wrote. The doctor’s eyes strayed to his friend’s grave now and then, but he went on writing. Five minutes later, he put down his pencil. He took his mail from the soldier, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson, and without a word, handed his notebook to the young man. Allinson was moved by what he read. “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both,” he later wrote.

McCrae also showed the poem to a nurse he worked with, Clare Gass of Nova Scotia. She copied the words into her diary and urged him to offer it for publication. Perhaps it was her encouragement that resulted in its publication in the English paper, Punch.

Generations of school children have memorized the poem. It carries a powerful message as we remember our military service people this Veteran’s Day. There is a torch for us to hold high.     

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Putting Families Together

There’s a longing in all people to belong. God planned that this longing should culminate in marriage and family.

Because we’re human and subject to the weaknesses and poor judgement of humanity,  the blueprint often gets messed up. Children are left orphans or are abandoned by parents. Marriages end through death or divorce. Families can get complicated.

When my first husband died, our young adult children were left with a dad-sized hole in their lives. After I married Hank, though he could never exactly fit that hole, he did his best to love my kids. And I did the same for his five children, each of whom had their own tales of hurts from the past. With all the relationships represented in the lives of each of these nine people (Hank, myself, and our combined seven offspring), there’s room for a lot of family building and rebuilding.

When he married Lois, Hank was raising four small children by himself. Lois had a toddler son, Nathan, born after her first husband abandoned her. Hank adopted Nate. Nate’s birth father went on to marry and father other children, but Nate did not know them until he attended college near where they lived. Then he met his half-brother and was delighted to find out how many interests and values they share. Now Nate spends vacations with his brother and family.

When my son Rob married, he also adopted his wife’s child, my granddaughter Marva. Lydia had a son too, who was being raised by his birth father. We saw him occasionally during his growing up years, but not until he was an adult and his father died, did he really become part of our family. He’s a wonderful, thoughtful young man, a grandson I’ve only recently been able to claim.

Hank’s daughter Carmen got married at age 18 to Ben, who was raising three children alone. Those children knew there were three half-brothers born later to their mother, but what they didn’t know until recently was they also had a half-sister who’d been given up for adoption and raised as part of a happy, stable family. Through the wonders of modern technology, Kendra discovered the three half-brothers and through them, the three siblings Carmen had raised and then adopted as adults after Ben died of cancer. We were there at the family picnic to meet Kendra, her husband and her children and watch the reunited siblings and their children get acquainted. What a joyful time!

Some years after our marriage, we attended a family reunion in Hank’s home town. An honored guest at that reunion was an 82-year-old cousin, Jud, who’d just been discovered by the family. Born during the depression to a destitute mother, he’d been given up for adoption to a loving family. He grew up never knowing he had six younger brothers and sisters living nearby, nor did they know about him. While his daughter was using the Internet to research family geneology, she discovered his connection to Hank’s family. We looked on as Jud and his siblings met and caught up on all the years of unshared history. Proof of relationship came through the uncanny resemblance between Jud and Hank’s cousin, John.

The Bible says God puts the lonely in families. I think it’s delightful to watch the many ways in which he does it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Good Samaritans to the Rescue

Last Saturday's picnic turned out quite differently than planned.

The October weather couldn't have been lovelier as we headed out to look for a picnic spot along the Mountain Loop Highway. But the parks we passed were closed for the season. As we passed the road  leading up Mt. Pilchuck, I suggested to Hank we turn there. We could always eat our sandwiches in the car, and we'd have a grand view.

As the potholed road wound up the mountain, I remembered all the times in the past I'd been up that road, and the times in my youth before the road existed, when we started at the river in the valley below and hiked five miles or more to the lookout at the top of Mt. Pilchuck. We shared the trail with very few people then, but things have changed. The hike is shorter now. It's one of the most popular trails in Snohomish County.

As we neared the end of the road, we passed a spate of cars coming down. Good! That should mean plenty of parking would be available. But no, the graded area at the end of the road was filled with vehicles. There must have been hundreds of people up on the mountain. (We found out later that there'd been a wedding in the woods along the trail. The cars that passed us were probably guests leaving. Someone told us they'd seen the bride and groom, in jeans and hiking boots, put their balloons and leftover wedding cake in their car. Then the bride tied her hair up in a pony tail and away they went, up the trail!)

Hank spied a place large enough for our car and one other, if he nosed it up on a rocky berm.
So he did that, and suddenly we felt a front corner drop a few inches. A Ukrainian boy passing with a group of other young people called out, "You popped your tire."

So we had, the first flat tire in the twelve years we'd had our Honda Odyssey. One of the young people offered to change the tire for us, but it was two o'clock and Hank declined the offer, needing some food in his stomach before doing anything else.

We hauled our folding chairs to the brink of the overlook and enjoyed a picnic with a view. The valley where I grew up spread below us. Beyond Green Mountain to the north, we could see the Cascade peaks on into Canada. To the west was Puget Sound with its islands, to the south, the Olympic Mountains. Somewhere out there in the haze lay Everett and other communities. And behind us loomed the rocky crest of Mount Pilchuck with all those hikers.

We finished our coffee and turned to the task at hand. There must be a spare tire and a jack somewhere in the car, although we'd never used it. I pulled the manual from the glove compartment and discovered they were stored in a compartment between the front two rows of seats. After a struggle, we dislodged and hauled them out. The spare with its wheel was about half the size of the other tires. The jack looked like a toy. And the wheel with the flat looked huge and heavy.

About then, a young man came down the trail to the car parked next to us. He saw our problem and offered to help. He sat on the ground and turned the wimpy little crank on the jack around and around, lifting the big van until there was room to loosen the lugs on the tire and remove it. He put the spare in its place and lowered the car to the ground. The tire had seemed firm, but under the car's weight, it too went flat. We asked people arriving and leaving if anyone had a tire pump, but no one did.

"No problem," Hank said. "We have Triple A." He thanked the helpful young man, who left. Hank went to the brink of the overlook, the only place our phone got reception. But he couldn't get through. A truck pulled into the empty spot beside us with a couple just out for a drive, not a hike. The man offered his more powerful cell phone. Then we waited and waited for the AAA receptionist to call back with news that a tow truck was on its way. The couple waited with us. Finally she called back, apologetic. Five or six companies had refused the job. They would not take their trucks out on a graveled mountain road and risk damaging them.

So the helpful Samaritan, Brock, put our tire in his truck and drove it and Hank down the mountain and back to Granite Falls, a round trip of about 35 miles. They got there just as the mechanic was closing up shop. He discovered a rock puncture in the tire, repaired and aired it up, and Hank and Brock returned to the parking area where Brock's friend Linda had been keeping me company. By the time they got there, the temperature had dropped. Linda and I were sitting in the car, watching hikers pour off the mountain, hoping the men would get back before dark so we wouldn't be alone.

Brock soon had the tire back on the car. Though he didn't want to take it, we gave him the little money we had with us to help pay for his gas. He and Linda waved and headed down the mountain. By the time we reached the main road, darkness had descended and they were long gone.

We are so grateful for the good and generous people that still walk the earth. Thank you, Brock and Linda and all the other good Samaritans for "paying it forward." When our turn comes, I hope we won't need to change a heavy, dirty tire like you did for us.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Powerful Photos

Image of baby reaching: Need a hand?
As we drove home from Camano Island this afternoon, we found the intersection of Marine Drive and Highway 520 lined with people of various ages, each holding a poster. Some said simply, "Jesus Heals and Forgives." One said, "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart." The one that held my attention showed a little child reaching for its mother's hand. The caption read, "Take my hand, not my life." My eyes flooded with tears. That one photo said everything to me that can be said about abortion.

Something very similar happened yesterday. We'd reserved the beautiful fall day for a picnic at Verlot, but arrived in Granite Falls just as the annual Railroad Days Parade was making its way through town. Trying to find our way around the blocked-off route, we found ourselves facing the oncoming parade. One single parking spot waited just ahead. So we grabbed it and walked a half block to a perfect, unobstructed viewing spot, where we watched participants turn a corner and march on to the disbanding area.

Just as we got to the corner, a large group of adults and children arrived, preceded by a sign saying they were from Monte Cristo Elementary, a school nationally recognized for their efforts to honor military veterans. The marchers carried oversized portraits of Washington military people who have given their lives in service to their country. Again, tears threatened to overflow. Real people. Real lives, cut short so that we could enjoy these beautiful fall days with the freedom to stand for what we believe.

Lord, thank you for people. Each one is precious to you. Thank you for photos. And thank you for speaking to my heart through the faces I see in photos.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Youth on Age Trail

One of Snohomish County’s little treasures, The Youth on Age Trail, is easily bypassed on the way to better known hiking spots along the Mountain Loop Highway. But it’s a perfect place to stop and explore on a sunny (or misty) fall afternoon, especially if you have children or disabled people along.

The short loop, approximately a quarter mile long, is paved except where, back in the 1980s, the rambunctious Stillaguamish River cut into the old-growth forest and carried away a piece of real estate. The repaired section is still wheelchair-passable. Toppled trees have been left in the riverbed to provide fish habitat. Four-inch fingerlings dart through shaded pools beneath them.

The trail’s name comes from the Youth on Age, or piggyback, plant which is common in the area. Late in the summer and into the fall, new leaves grow from the base of the older, heart-shaped leaves as if they’re riding piggyback. (Don’t dig them here, but these plants do well in the house if transplanted into a pot.)

Kids will enjoy looking for seedlings growing on nurse logs, mossy logs which hold the baby trees up into the sunshine and nourish their roots while their rotting wood slowly turns back into soil. If you look for them, you can find mature trees lined up along the resting place of their former nurse log.

Thickets of vine maple add color to the understory in the fall. Some of the spruce and fir giants towering above them have been growing since Columbus discovered America. You can marvel at the spreading root systems of trees that have fallen. Where logs were cut away from the trail, you can count the rings that tell their age.

There are picnic tables and vault toilets at the trailhead. A side trail leads off to the river. To get here, drive eleven miles east of Granite Falls along the Mountain Loop Highway, then seven miles beyond the Verlot Public Service Center. The parking area and trailhead is on the right.

Come walk through the woods

Color and pattern

Texture everywhere

A nurse log with baby firs

Log jams make good shelter for baby fish

A mystery! What made the pile of fresh sawdust?

Little homebuilders...carpenter ants

Each ant drops its mouthful of sawdust on the pile and vanishes, to be replaced by a constant stream of others.

Old growth trees on the riverbank

Pitch dripping from an old wound on an old-growth spruce

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Years ago, Edie Smith, an Eskimo friend, could not grow a garden on her forested hillside property in interior Alaska. When a friend parked his car in the only sunny spot in her front yard and left it there for the summer, she created an improvised greenhouse by planting tomatoes inside in boxes of dirt. The tomatoes loved it, filling the car with a jungle of greenery and ripe fruit. Edie knew how to make the most of what she had.

Like most people in Alaska’s wilderness areas, the Penzes at Kako Retreat Center make do with the resources on hand. When the center was just beginning, Dave and Vera made good use of the old buildings from Kako’s gold mine days. They lived in one of them. They used others to lodge the first campers. They tore some apart and reused the lumber for new buildings. Sometimes Dave bought an empty building in one of the villages, disassembled it, and brought the materials to Kako for reuse.

Now they have their own lumber maker, called a Woodmizer. They cut logs from the  property, saw them into rough boards, and plane them for use in building projects. When we were there, they were making lumber to build a shed around the Woodmizer where it stands. The building will be big enough to store and dry a lot of lumber.

Over the years a lot of equipment has worn out. There is no place to send scrap metal for recycling, but that’s all right. Broken-down snowmachines, four-wheelers, even trucks and other large equipment are parked out of sight, ready to serve as parts-donors for other machines still in use. I saw a good-sized “boneyard” of scrap metal where the men can scavenge for the just-right piece of metal for projects in process.

When everything you need must come by small plane or by barge up the Yukon River, then be dragged by sledge over an 8-mile trail, one develops great skill in reusing, recycling, taking apart and rebuilding. Here are a few photos of some clever ways of repurposing materials at Kako:

The Woodmizer with a log in place, ready to make lumber. The drying-storage shed is going up around it.

Hank sorts nails and screws into vegetable cans from the kitchen. (He's taped one of each kind to the outside of its can.) Dave pays a small amount for the nails that get spilled and swept up from the floors of hardware stores. Once sorted, they're ready for Kako's use at much less than full price.

Playground area for summer campers. Tires are worn out, but still fun to play on.

Storage area along the runway. Old freezers and refrigerators are reused for dry storage for small parts and pieces.

A broken shop broom and an old handle get together.

What do you do when you want to pick berries in the rain? You tear the bottom of a garbage bag open and cinch the ties around your waist. Now you can kneel on the tundra and not get wet.

The laying hens live in the shed. The young chickens live in the repurposed camper. They're fed the kitchen scraps.

Hank made this shop table on the spot when Dave noticed a piece of pallet lying there and said, "That would make a good table top."

This scavenged street light was spotted high on the wall of one of the shops. It can brighten the shop or be moved anywhere someone needs lots of light.

A plastic barrel cut to shape protects the innards of Kako's Cessna 182 while the engine is being rebuilt.

A fabricated metal water tank sits on four oil barrels next to the garden. Gravity feeds the water to irrigate the garden. The tank is filled from the canoeing pond which is out of sight below the brush.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ladies' Berry Picking Retreat at Kako, 2013

Kako Retreat Center's most popular event is the annual Ladies' Berry Picking Retreat. This year 42 women from about 12 villages were flown in for three days of fellowship, teaching, and berry picking. Since berries are the only fruit that grow in western Alaska, wild berries are a highly prized part of the diet, and they're easy to find at Kako.

Vera Penz and Lynda work on name tags for the participants.

Brenda holds one of the gift baskets each woman found on her pillow.

Shea decorates with wildflowers.

These pretty teens were some of the youngest guests.

Off to pick up another three ladies. The weather was rainy, but not bad enough to keep the two planes from flying.
These women were the first to head for the mountain. Bill gives them a ride on Kako's all purpose vehicle, a four-wheeler.
Wild Alaska blueberries grow only a few inches high in the tundra.

Picking berries on the mountain above Kako. Kako's cross is visible on the distant hill.
Recording memories. The red metal box is a berry rake, used to make the job go faster.
An unwritten rule everyone respects: Elders go first. These Eskimo women are wearing kuspuks, or summer parkas.

Jeannie, our speaker, grew up in the villages. Here she visits with old friends.

Vera's daughter, Debbie, also grew up in Alaska. Here she receives a handmade jacket from a friend.

Berries bagged and ready for the freezer.

Lovey (back to camera) is telling the ladies of her recent discovery that young people in the villages are ordering dangerous prescription drugs over the internet, using debit cards. The drugs come from foreign countries with no questions asked. Kids as young as elementary age quickly get addicted and many are dying. "Check your debit statements," she says. "Please, tell your village councils we must work together to stop the loss of our young ones."

Irene sings a hymn for us in her "up north language," Yupik Eskimo.

Jeanne uses handmade visual aids to illustrate her teaching.

All the women and staff at the close of the retreat.

Raining again, but it's time to go back to the villages. Brenda helps one of the women carry her berries and belongings to the plane.