OK...just for starters let's remind ourselves; this blog is about northern life. It's not about urban living; it's about rural living; bush living. Some of the stuff that would be totally inappropriate in...well...LA, Denver or even Anchorage might be alright here...might even be the best way to do it. You might even be really dumb if you didn't. Today's topic; the gun.
A gun is a tool. It's a little different from a screwdriver in that a gun is also a weapon (I suppose a screwdriver could be a weapon at times too but you'll never see a few thousand soldiers outfitted with shiny new screwdrivers and sent off to face the enemy).
In many remote areas of the free world a gun is useful and necessary. While it may be used against other two legged creatures, it is primarily used for #1; protection from four legged creatures, some of which have large and indiscriminate appetites, and #2; obtaining food. Food in this case may even be the very same four legged creatures with the large and indiscriminate appetites. Not to digress here too much, but it can be a case of "him or me", kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. In the northern forests there are large furry animals that happen to be quite tasty, and they may feel the same way about you. A gun will enable you to sit in front of the dinner plate rather than on top of it.
Think of it this way, a gun is like a credit card for the wilderness. Now I know there are a lot of wilderness purists who would just freak out over that statement, but...what can I say? Some of them get eaten. Campers, hikers and wildlife photographers have all ended up as the main course. Even the occasional park ranger gets nibbled on now and then.
Urban dwellers use credit cards to obtain the things they need, and more importantly, a card in the pocket is security; it's there so you are prepared for the unexpected. In places like LA, Denver or Anchorage you may confidently face uncertainty by purchasing gas if you run out, or paying for a tow truck if you break down. But more likely it will be something along the lines of capitalizing on a great sale price. You know the feeling; boldly marching into Best Buy unafraid because you are powerfully armed with that piece of plastic, prepared for whatever unexpected bargains you may be faced with. And Heaven forbid you should ever wander into Wal Mart unarmed; it simply isn't done.
Well it's the same with a gun (just don't take the gun into Best Buy or Wal Mart). When you wander into the northern woods, which northern people do all the time, since the woods are about...hmmm, 100 feet away, it's quite the fashion to take along a gun. You never know what unexpected opportunity may present itself.
Today I saw three people on their way to pick berries. How did I know this? Because the two women were each carrying a pail and the man had a gun. It's a mathematical formula; women + pails x man + gun = berry picking. (although this formula only works in summer; if I saw this in winter...I wouldn't be able to make any useful calculations). The gun was the credit card that allowed them to confidently "shop for" and "purchase" the berries. Had they ventured into the woods sans gun, they still may have got the berries, but it would be more like shoplifting; you know, lots of excitement, wondering if you're going to get caught, and if you are, how bad will it be?
This principle applies to many northern activities. If you go out in the boat to get firewood, the gun allows you to do it without feeling like you're stealing. If you go fishing, a gun lets you fish with confidence. Without it, you're always looking nervously over your shoulder, feeling like "Piglet" on Winnie the Pooh ("Oh...oh dear!"), and this is not good for fishing.
Picture, if you will; the unarmed fisherman (fisherwoman...fisherperson...fisher...whatever) standing on the bank of a pristine river. No roads, no boats, no people. Nothing. Just the man and the river...and a few other things too, of course; the things that happen to live there. This is THEIR home; the man is just a visitor...no...he's a trespasser! And he happens to be fishing right where these "other things" also like to fish.
If you've ever gone fishing and found someone else "in your spot" when you got there, you have an idea how this feels. Except it's more like getting up in the middle of the night and finding someone in your house, in your kitchen, in your fridge!!! Now you've got the picture.
So the unarmed fisherman must keep looking over his shoulder because the owner of the house may show up at any moment. And it never fails; right when he's making his cast he hears the snap of a stick breaking close behind him. He spins his head around...there's nothing there...but he just threw his lure into the trees and it will take ten minutes to retrieve it. Like I said, not good for fishing.
With a gun our fisherman would hear the snap, yet remain focused on completing his cast. Then in his best Clint Eastwood voice he'd calmly utter the words "Do you feel lucky punk? Well go ahead...make my day". He's confident, self assurred, even cocky. He may not care to look behind him because he knows his "MasterCard" is right by his side (unless he was foolish enough to leave it back there leaning against the tree, in which case he instantly becomes the shoplifter again and expects to feel the heavy hand of the law upon his shoulder.)
The gun is also useful for making grocery "purchases". Most northern residents view the big outdoors as something of a giant Safeway. We all know the real Safeway is out there, somewhere, but like grandmother's house, it's over the river and through the woods, making it a long way off. So we "shop" right here at the neighborhood market and we spend most of our time at the meat counter.
A gun lets you "buy" hamburger, steaks, ribs, whatever you feel like cooking. The only catch is you'll be cooking it for a long time. This is Costco shopping taken to the next level. When you "purchase" three pounds of moose ribs, you get the rest of the moose with it, so you'll spend several days getting it home from the "store" and into your freezer. Moose will be on the menu tomorrow, next month, maybe even next year. Innumerable haircuts will come and go, fashions will change, gas prices will continue to go up, and the White House may have a new occupant, but moose on the menu will remain the one constant in this ever changing world. Look at the bright side, it beats going hungry, and after a couple thousand pounds, moose meat starts to taste pretty good.
The gun is used to "purchase" a variety of menu items; moose, bear (it comes in a choice of colors), caribou, ducks, geese, ptarmigan and "chicken" (which is grouse, I'm sorry to say). Those with a taste for the exotic may select swan, crane, snipe, porcupine and muskrat (the spring shot beaver is particularly good). Other areas have a different variety available in their markets, and all this is seasonal, of course.
So the next time you turn on the news and hear about two legged animals hunting each other, take heart; somewhere far away in a wilderness there are civilized people who use guns instead of credit cards.
The Book of Proverbs, chapter 6, instructs the reader to consider the industrious little ant. Hard worker that he is (or she perhaps...I don't know much about determining the gender of bugs), the ant labors dilligently without supervision, storing away food, harvesting at the proper time, etc. Chapter 30 also glorifies the household pest. Here the admirable attribute is wisdom possessed by small creatures, and our ant (not aunt) makes the top four. Ant strength is of course legendary as well.
There are many other furry, scaley and feathered examples which the Bible spotlights for all who would pay attention. The point is not to encourage worship of created things, but to help us learn and encourage our worship of their Creator. With that in mind, I now provide a couple of feathered examples which we may also learn from; ducks vs. ravens (sounds like a sports mismatch pitting hockey against football).
Consider the duck: intelligent, motivated, willing to travel great distances to reach the northern breeding grounds where summers are spent attending to family matters. Here the duck enjoys pleasant weather, plentiful food and wide-open spaces. At summer's end the duck seeks greater numbers of his own kind and prepares to head south. The shorter days and colder weather causes the duck to pack his suitcase, rush to the airport and catch a flight to Mexico, Miami or some other popular snowbird destination. He may return again next summer, but for now it's "hasta la vista, baby!", leaving the cold north to those who are hardy (or foolish) enough to stay the winter. Mr. Duck is no slacker; he works hard to get up here, and he's a busy fellow all summer, but he's something of a fair-weather friend. When things start to get ugly, the summer romance is over and he's history.
Now, consider the raven: intelligent, adaptable, capable of enduring a wide range in climate and environment. You'll find this rugged bird in the Mojave Desert at 120 above and in the Brooks Range at 70 below! A resident raven here can expect annual temperatures to fluctuate between 80's in the summer and minus 60's in the winter; that's a span of a hundred and fifty degrees! And he'll stick it out year-round. He can live on berries, fish, carrion, rodents, insects, trash, other birds and I don't know what else. Small wonder native peoples revere and often worship this creature. Come what may, Mr. Raven is here to stay. He'll watch Mr. Duck arrive in the spring with a flurry of excitement over the new environment and summer prospects, and he'll watch Mr. Duck leave in the fall, rushing back to friendlier climes. Mr. Raven remains on the spot, 24-7, week after week, month after month, year after year.
What do these two think of each other? Mr. Duck usually thinks Raven is an amazing guy (he may secretly think he's amazingly stupid to waste his life up here, but amazing none-the-less). Duck will usually say something to Raven like, "I could never do what you do", or "I don't know how you can do it year after year". Duck always seems happy he's a duck and glad he's not a raven. Regarding Raven, typical ducky thoughts may be, "Raven doesn't seem to get much done", "He's something of a loner", or "He's hard to understand...the strange noises he makes, 'Kaaa-ronk' or 'Bo-wing'."
Raven usually thinks Duck is a good guy, though he often wonders why he seems so frantic and what he's always chattering about. He's glad Duck put all the work into coming up for the summer, but he thinks it's a lot of trouble to come all this way just to leave again. Raven wonders why so many ducks come and go, but never stay. And sometimes, when Duck is leaving, Raven wishes he could go too. "It must be nice to fly south to a warm place" he thinks to himself, with a tear in his eye, watching the ducks wing their way over the horizon. He feels lonely when they go, but he knows he'll never go with them; ducks fly away but ravens stay here. That's what they do.
A couple of key words come to mind. For Duck the word is energy. Mr. Duck is nothing else if he's not energy in feathers. He flaps those little ducky wings for thousands of miles to get here. He's hustling around while he's here trying to get everything done. Then he's flapping off again. And when he's away in duckyland, he's busy there too, doing his ducky stuff. "ENERGY"
For Raven the word is....persistence. He's here doing whatever it is that ravens do, in season and out, year after year. Through good times and bad, Raven will be here. Duck may think Raven lacks energy, but Raven knows the pace needed to survive over the long haul...and Raven is definitely here for the long haul! "PERSISTENCE"
"Lord, thank you for the ducks. We're glad they come. We need them and we appreciate all they do. But Lord...please give us more ravens. It's a big, open country with room for a lot more. We need more ravens, Lord. It's a lonely job...being a raven."
A "woodyard" is a place where rural people get wood (perhaps I should back up and explain "wood". Wood is "firewood", and around here firewood is primarily dry spruce, but sometimes wood is also green birch). You can get wood in many different places; such as driftwood along the riverbank or standing dead spruce wherever it may be found. A "woodyard" is a location where you harvest firewood year after year. Only a few men in our village maintain a woodyard; most just hunt around and get their wood wherever they can find it.
I have a woodyard. It's down on "ninemile island", a few miles from town. To me it makes sense to harvest wood in the same spot every year, but there is a trick to it. Ordinarily you would never find an adequate supply in the same place so you must "ring trees". This means you must remove the bark around the base of the tree and wait for it to dry. Then in a few years it's ready to harvest.
I just came back from the woodyard. Being located on an island it is obviously near the river. The bank of the river/island there is a "cutbank"; a steep bank where the river cuts away the land. It is from here I will haul wood this winter, using the "sno-go"(snow machine, snowmobile), but to be able to drive up the bank then, I must shovel away the vertical cut bank and make a sloped ramp now, before the ground is frozen. And it's war; let me tell you, it's war!
Picture if you will, the fortress: a 20-30 foot high earthen bank, protected by a nearly impenetrable tangle of driftwood, fallen trees, brush and roots. Barb-wire is a child's toy in comparison. And this bastion in the wild is not left unoccupied...oh no! It is quite well defended. The ramparts of this fortress are literally swarming with the host of the enemy. A million or more hungry insects await; eager for action.
Now imagine a feeble, middle-aged army of one, building a Roman style seige ramp in preparation for a winter assault. If our lone soldier could build his ramp in winter, he'd face an unmanned fort; the countless regiments of insects would be dead or hibernating. But alas, the ground then will be frozen and hard as concrete, making the job impossible. So as the Bible says, "Today is the day"; and with that in mind our one man army must wage his solitary war.
See him there, the valliant warrior, fighting bravely, ignoring their wicked onslaught. His only weapons, a shovel, an axe and a can of "bug dope"(insect repellent), which is largely ineffective. His blood is spilt; innumerable drops taken from him one at a time. He fights on and on, chopping, shovelling and vainly swatting at his many foes. His courage (or stupidity) is evident to all who witness this spectacle; the squirrel, the chickadee and the vole.
Finally his mission is accomplished. The ramp is completed. Our brave hero surveys the fruit of his labor and nods in approval. Then, weary of combat, he quickly turns his tail and runs for the boat. He now would flee faster than the greatest of cowards, but to his great dismay, the motor won't start. Sensing an opportunity in his moment of weakness, his enemies gather their full strength and unleash their fury. In vain our coward pulls on the rope, sweating profusely, unable to defend himself. Many more of the "innumerable drops" are being added to the total. Hope is failing. Just when our once hero-now coward is about to throw himself in the water, the motor starts, carrying him to safety.
I just heard a plane land. If I'm not mistaken, that would be the one brining back the body of the deceased woman mentioned previously. The casket will be transported to the hall (see last month's posting under same title) and remain there until Monday, 8-20. This will be long time from death to burial, 8 days, but family in the lower 48 could not get here sooner. This is the reason the body was flown to Fairbanks and embalmed. As you may imagine, there is a limited amount of time before a body must be buried otherwise.
Our community has been mourning for about a month now. This will be the fourth funeral in the same number of weeks. The cold, soggy blanket of grief lies heavily upon this village.
Four people is about 1.3% of the population. May not sound like much but let's look for perspective. Fairbanks has a population of about 31,000. If that city suffered the same death rate in the past month, they would have almost 400 new graves. Anchorage has 278,000 residents; the same rate would equal approximately 3,600 dead. Detroit Michigan has 886,000 people; that would be about 11,000 funerals. Los Angeles, a city of nearly 4 million residents, would need nearly 50,000 coffins. And how would New York City fare with a population of eight million? Consider this; if 9-11 had struck with equal intensity, they would have faced a death toll of 100,000 rather than 2,800. Imagine that; one...hundred...thousand...bodies!
Obviously there are many differences between NYC and a remote northern village, and I don't presume to say 100,000 deaths there would be the same as 4 here, but the comparison in population ratios is enlightening. In the given examples, every community would be extremely hard hit and likely every family would suffer a great loss. That's the current situation here.
Please pray for the people of this community. Pray that God would do a great work and use this hardship for His purpose, and, in the end, for His glory. Some may question this, but God says in Jeremiah, chapter 32, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?" Later He promised to rebuild the Nation Israel; transforming desolation into a place where "...the voice of joy and the voice of gladness..." will be heard. Pray He would do a similar work here.
It's not a good day for flying; low pressure system moving in. The wind is kicking up, clouds are getting thicker and it's trying to rain. But here I am, stuck in another village and needing to get home. Again.
My friend offers to give me a ride in his little, old, cramped, slow plane. I know this contraption; made of fabric, patched with duct tape, half the instruments in the panel don't work. What sane person would risk their life in this thing?
"I don't know man...it looks pretty bum for flying" I tell him, speaking of the weather but thinking of his plane. There won't be any more commercial flights today so it's him or nothing. Nothing sounds good to me but he's a persistent fellow.
"You'll be there before you know it. You won't get sick" (He knows my history. He should, he's caused enough of it.)
"Yeah, right. Your flying has made me sick before."
"Quit complaining" he smiles.
"The wind's really blowing" I argue.
"It's calm. Besides, we'll have a tailwind so you'll get there faster".
"I don't know".
"Come on, get your stuff and I'll bring you down."
It takes a few more minutes of his well known persistence before I cave in. "Oh well, I can survive another flight" I say to no one in particular and pull a bag of Tums out of my pocket. As I stuff a few in my mouth, he asks what those are for.
"They help put out the fire you're getting started in my stomach".
"Well, give me a couple".
I do, and I notice another man who's been watching and evidently enjoying our little drama. He smirks and watches me load up on a few more Tums. I crunch some of the flavored chalk and the rest go back in my pocket, next to a gallon size zip-lock; standard equipment for me where planes are concerned.
The gear is loaded, plane untied, we get in and he starts it up. "Hello!...my door is still open!" It's so cramped that I can't get the door to stay closed. After I bang it into my shoulder a few more times he reaches around me, fiddles with the latch, pulls me over and says "Try it now". It shuts, but I'm happy to have a seatbelt with a shoulder harness in case it pops open during flight (don't laugh; it's happened to me before). The lack of room forces me to ride with my left arm around him. "Snuggle up sweetheart" I joke as we taxi out. (What a time for jokes. I feel like the convict in an old movie, on my way to the electric chair and asking the warden if he's paid the light bill).
I happen to notice one fuel gauge is on empty and the other reads a quarter of a tank. "I assume we'll be on this one" says I, pointing to the one with fuel. He chuckles and mumbles something about wanting to drain or clean the tanks. Flying with him is often a game of poker; I never know when to call his bluff.
I pray, as always, before take off, and watch the gravel strip turn into a blur as we accellerate. The wheels ripping over the rocks sound like a coffee grinder and the engine noise makes me feel as though my head were resting on a lawn mower. There's just way too much noise. Then we're airborne. The coffee grinder is quiet but the mower continues frantically.
The plane rocks back and we climb. It seems to be a great struggle for this little bird, but I've done it before so I'm not too worried. And there's the first bump; one of a great many we'll share on this 30 mile flight. Twenty feet off the ground and the party's already started.
Bump. Bump-bump. Bump, bump...barump...bumpity-bump-bump...BANG!(those are the ones I really hate).
It's as though my entire body has become the head of a losing boxer in the ring with the champ. I'm taking all kinds of shots; a hook...a jab...there's an upper to the chin...another hook...a round house...more jabs..."Owww, that was a cheap shot to the back of the head". I'm Rocky but I take heart; he survived so I probably will too.
BANG! Bump-bump...barump. Bumpity, bump...SWOOSH! (Oh, how I hate the swooshes; they're murder on the stomach.)
We can't fly very high because the clouds are only a few hundred feet off the ground. In many places they obscure visibility altogether, so we have to zig-zag. Something's not right here. Planes are supposed to fly strait ahead. "I bet his GPS doesn't work. What a piece of junk! What am I doing here?" We're going to the left, then to the right, more to the right, back to the left again. Now I'm in the computer game my wife plays trying to find a way through the maze.
If it wasn't for all these dumb clouds I could at least see the hills across the river and I'd know how long this ordeal will last. I can't see where we are. The bumps are relentless. By now the clock is ticking on my personal airsick meter. Well, actually it started ticking when we hit the first bump; now we've started the final countdown. And once again I'm back in that very familiar place; the place I least like to be...head getting disoriented, stomach churning and filling with acid, sweating profusely, can't get enough air, can't get enough Tums, and wondering if this flight has hit a time warp and will never end. I promised myself I'd never do this again. If Purgatory were a real place, this would be it.
Bump, bump, barump. BANG! Bump...bumpity...
This is more than my brain can process. I know I'm eating chalk and riding a lawn mower...and there's something about boxing, but what's with the old movie and the computer game? My thoughts are getting all jumbled up. Things are rapidly getting out of control.
Bump...bump-Swoosh...SWOOOOSH! ("no more swooshes...please, no more swooshes") Bump, bump...
"Lord, you know the deal. You've got to get me through this. How many times must I endure it? Now would be a good time for me to die and come to you; where there is no more pain, no sickness, no suffering. Now is the time, Lord, and we can take him with us. He's a christian. He got me into this mess. Oh Lord, please...help me."
Bump-bump, BANG! Bump...swoosh...bumpity, bump...
"When will pilots ever get it through their head??? I'm not some kind of starfish that can turn its stomach inside-out. I can't do this...I..I just can't take this any more...if I ever get out of here I'll never, EVER, get in another plane again...I mean it! He's got to land...NOW...I don't care, put this thing down on that sandbar...anywhere...come on...look at him...what a jerk! he doesn't even care...I'm dyin' here...can you land this thing?...LAND THIS PLANE!!!Oh thank God! There's the airstrip. Come on baby, get this thing on the ground...we're almost there...hang in there...almost there...almost...oh no, he flew over it and we've got to go around...are you kidding me? Come on, put it down...put it down...PUT IT DOWN!"
Ahhh, there's the coffee grinder; the blessed, wonderful coffee grinder sound. We're on the ground. "Thank you, Lord, for getting me through this; you always have. I don't ever want to fly again."
But I will; I always do.
"Well, you're home. That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"It was alright I guess. Hey...thanks for the ride. I really appreciate it."
Today is off to a rough start; early morning phone call informing me of yet another death. This makes four in about three weeks. In a community of just over 300.
This time it's a suicide. A woman, middle age, mother, grandmother. She's struggled with depression and attempted to end her life before. She was a nice person. What a sad deal.
It's been raining hard all night and now it's fogged in pretty bad. We'll have to wait for the Trooper to get here before moving the body, but given the weather, it may be a while. There will be no planes as long as the fog stays put.
I'm debating whether I should post the details...I don't know...I don't want to be insensitive or disrespectful...
I'll just say that she was found early this morning (probably when it started to get light) by a passer-by; she was on her porch.
More hard times in store for this small community. What a bummer!
Consider the airplane. Not the real airplanes you probably have in mind; big jets and all like you'd see at LAX. Well forget 'em. Around here there are no jets. In fact, forget everything you know about air travel and we'll take it from the top. We have no security, no TSA, no flight attendants, no assigned seats, etc.
Up here we're talkin' planes. The "big ones" can handle about 12-14 passengers; from there it drops down to 8, 6, 4 and...well, one I guess. A Super-cub (common throughout the north) will carry the pilot and one passenger. This limit is sometimes unwisely ignored (I saw one case where the pilot was carrying two passengers; when he crashed in the river, the pilot and one guy got out, but the other man in the back didn't, which probably explains the limit.)
Our planes have props instead of jet engines, which is a good thing because our "runways" are usually gravel strips. I'm not sure what a loose rock would do in a jet engine but it wouldn't be pretty. Seems about the same as me swallowing a handful of sharp tacks. Not good.
Most planes here are private. There are a few "airlines" that carry passengers, freight and mail, but most planes are small (Cessnas, Pipers, etc.) and for personal use. Exactly WHY anybody would want their own plane is a question I can't answer. It's a lot of money and the concept of "pleasure flying" is too abstract for me to comprehend. That's like intentionally getting the flu, or eating in the worst restaurants hoping to get food poisoning; who does that?
My friends who are pilots (a bit of an oxymoron to me) say "flying is a great way to see the country". My response, "who can see through a zip-lock bag?" (Did I mention I get airsick?) And when they tell me getting airsick "...is all in your head", I say "usually its all in the bag, but if you don't land this thing, it will be all over your plane.
Pain or pleasure...I'll let you decide. But planes are a way of life here. Without them there would be no mail, and northern life circulates throught the post office; the heart of every community. We order groceries by mail, clothes by mail, spare parts for boats and snow machines come by mail, even money (in the form of checks) comes in the mail. Planes and mail go together like flashlights and batteries, shoes and laces, or coffee and a cup; one without the other isn't much good.
Planes span the hundreds of miles that separate villages from larger communities where essential services are found; doctors, hospitals, real stores (as opposed to the little village imitations) and the like. Planes consistently save lives by "med-evaccing" the sick and injured; putting emergency medical care within reach. Only hours are needed to get to the ER. Without planes you'd be looking at days, or not at all, and most would never survive.
Of course, when you want to ride you need plenty of the green stuff. From village to...let's say...Anchorage, now that can get spendy. You'd need more than 600 of those green papers with Washington's portrait for the round trip. That's from my village. This is a big state; some villagers in other areas have to pay about a thousand to make the trip. A lot of cash for people who are usually unemployed. But without air travel you'd be limited to "local" travel by boat or sno-go. Going all the way to Anchorage by boat is not feasible and seldom even possible.
So what about security. Well, on any given day you can step on a plane and travel to or from a rural village with a weapon. Any weapon! You could carry a knife (many Alaskans do), a pistol or even a hand grenade, since there are no metal detectors or other security devices. I suppose if I was carrying an axe they might ask if I'd want to put it in the coat closet, but maybe not. It's just like back in the...hmm, when was that? In the 60's? You simply step up to the counter, buy your ticket and get on the plane. Up here officials are more concerned about a terrorist threat to the oil pipeline than they are with small aircraft.
Are small planes reliable? Usually. They do have a tendency to crash now and then. My so-called "pilot friends" have all had their moments of extreme adrenalin. It's usually the standard stuff; loss of oil pressure leading to engine failure, or fuel flow problems leading to engine failure. Whatever it is I don't much care for it. Even I know the engine is not supposed to fail; when the prop stops spinning bad things happen. Things like flipping the plane while attempting to land in the snow.
I was flying just yesterday with a friend who was giving me a ride home. He likes to fly low and look for moose. When I saw some hills approaching the front of the aircraft, I realized we were too low, so I tactfully suggested he go higher. "There's not enough oxygen up there" he joked. "Well we won't need any if we stay down here" I replied, watching the hills become forest and the forest separate into trees. "At this rate I should be able to start counting individual needles on a given spruce tree soon. Maybe I'll even see a squirrel or chikadee" I was thinking when my ex-friend finally took evasive action.
Just a few weeks ago a woman was at work thinking she had the flu. Symptoms persisted and increased in severity to the point where she boarded a plane and flew to the nearest hospital. Testing revealed trouble with the colon; lack of adequate bloodflow. Testing also confirmed what she knew to be a family trait; a diseased heart. She needed a "defibrillator?" (I think that's what it's called; it's a device implanted in the chest to monitor and maintain a healthy heartbeat.) Doctors were also wanting to perform surgery on the colon; further testing had revealed cancer. Then they didn't want to operate because of the heart risk...then woman was planning to return home, saying,"...there is nothing they can do"...then she started bleeding internally, necessitating emergency surgery...then her heart gave out during the operation...then she died.
Three weeks from the flu to eternity. Life is fleeting.
Just a few weeks ago a teenage girl had her entire life ahead of her. She was visiting grandparents in another village, a fishing community in the Aleutian chain. Her and a friend thought it would be fun to steal a bottle of liquor, sneak out of the house late at night, and have a private party on the dock. Everything went according to plan...until she fell off the dock into the cold, dark water. She hasn't been seen since. Her friend, intoxicated and afraid, was going to get help, but instead fell asleep. It was the following day before family and the authorities learned of the drowning. A search was organized, but ocean currents are strong and the body was never recovered. She was fifteen.
Just a moment from the dock to eternity. Life is fleeting.
Last month I wrote about a man who also drowned. Saturday night, he wanted to go to the next village for a dance, he "borrowed" a boat, had a fun night and while returning home the next morning ran out of gas. He was only a couple of miles from home so he decided to walk. Just a small river stood in his way. He was wading across where the water was about 4 feet deep. Unfortunately he stepped into a hole. Suddenly the surface was well above his head, and the water was icy cold (this is Alaska). He went under, never to breathe again.
A night of dancing preceeded the day of his death. Life is fleeting.
There are few guarantees in this world. The "stuff of life", such as health, family, economics, love, even life itself, are all fleeting; here only for a moment. We want to count on these elements of life, yet we're continually reminded how unreliable they are. Health declines, family passes away, economics are always uncertain, and love...well, its reputation is notorious. Isn't it odd that the ONE THING YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY DEPEND UPON IS DEATH, yet it always seems to take everyone by surprise.
Life is fleeting; but death is certain. Plan on it. It will happen. It will happen to you!
If the purpose of childhood is to prepare us for life, then the purpose of life may be to prepare us for death. Death is coming your way! Its only a matter of time. Be ready. Don't be caught unprepared.
Christ has been there ahead of us. He has made a way for us to face death with confidence. In Him there is hope. Hope that enables us to face death. Hope to carry us into eternity. Whether death comes today, tomorrow or fifty years from now, you can be ready.
Make the most of every day and live the abundant life to the full. But never forget that life is fleeting. Live each day as if it were your last, because who knows...maybe it is.
Ah yes...Alaskan weather. Who can beat it? The stuff of legend. Consider the calendar:
September; Oooooh yeah, this is the best. Definitely my personal favorite. The onset of "cooler" weather, which means starting up the woodstove, but no worries, I've got lots of firewood. Days are in the thirties and forties, nights dipping below freezing. Fall colors, bugs are toast, time for hunting and camping. You can even smell the great outdoors. Most Alaskan post cards display Alaska in the fall, but there's nothin' like the real thing, baby!
October; Freeze up month, lakes freeze early in the month, the ice starts running in the river and later it freezes too, pull the boat out, no more fresh fish until...don't want to think about that, temps are in the twenties, teens, and dropping, mud is a thing of the past, bugs a distant memory. The wood pile is definitely shrinking. Break out the winter gear. Die hards and psychos are catching grayling in the remaining open holes in the ice. Hunting "chickens" (spruce grouse) along the road.
November; Cold weather is here, the first of four cold months, the ground is frozen so any snowfall is here for the duration, and when enough snow accumulates it's officially sno-go season, which is a good thing, the wood pile is going fast now, hope it will last until I can start hauling wood. Temps are anywhere from twenty above to fifty below, and will be for the next four months, usually averages around zero. Down parkas and fur hats are just what the doctor ordered.
December; The river is safe for sno-go travel so the entire world is before you. The months of confinement are over. No longer are you restricted to the village; even expensive boat travel hasn't been available for 3 months, now it's all green lights. Cross the river, get out into the country, haul firewood (I'm saved! the woodpile barely made it), trap, haul firewood, visit other villages, haul firewood, life suddenly has many options. I can even haul firewood. Not to mention the holidays, dog mushing, hauling firewood, winter camping, etc. The downside? That would be living with only 3 hours of sunlight (if it's not a cloudy "day"). But hey, I can haul wood in the dark, my sno-go has lights.
January; More of the same, but the days are gradually getting longer.
February; More of the same, days are noticeably longer. Time to start stocking up on wood for next year.
March; Now we're talkin'! Spring beaver trapping, sunlight that actually resembles sunlight, the cold, dark days are behind you, temps are usually above zero, often windy. Iditarod and other dog races, great time for camping out (with a wall tent and woodstove, naturally), pike fishing through the ice, what a great time. Need to get more wood, though.
April; Whoa, was that water I saw dripping off the roof? I haven't seen H2O in a liquid state for 6 months, uh-oh, that's also water on the river, time to put the sno-go away, bummer, wish I had stocked up on more wood, oh well, spring geese hunting is coming, the days are warmer, lots of sunlight.
May; WOW!!! feel the warmth, short sleeves, even if it is only 45 degrees it feels like 75. Put the winter gear away. The snow is going...going...gone! What's that sound? Ice breaking up on the river, by the end of the month the boat will be in the water. I'll use the boat to get drift wood.
June; Awesome! summer is here, fresh fish, first the sheefish, then the kings arrive, the busy season is upon us, lots of summer chores to do, gardening, Bible camp, bzzzz...this is mosquito season, lots to do, no time to get wood now.
July; King salmon fishing, chum salmon, later on, silvers, more summer chores, gnats are now competing with mosquitos for my blood (I wish I could just give them a pint like at the blood bank so they'd leave me alone...OK, two pints...name your price and we'll work this out, come on you guys! give me a break. there's plenty for all, but can you just form a line or something, hey...get out of my ear!) Who can think about wood now? I've got to find my headnet.
Well that about does it. We covered the year. What's that? Where's August? Oh, well...August doesn't count, August is...August. It's cloudy, it rains, the wind blows, it rains some more, it's still cloudy but the wind stopped, but it's still raining, lots of mud, gross weather. August is Alaskan weather for the Aleutian Islands, not here. August is like winter in much of California; forties and raining. So nasty, can't wait for September. Who wants to get wood in the rain? I probably have enough anyway.
Have you ever fished with a level-wind reel. At least that's what we called them. It's the kind of reel where the spool of line is situated horizontally across the rod. Usually you push a button with your thumb to cast, and brother can they cast! I'm sure no other type of reel can match the distance; those babies can really let it rip, way out there. A level-wind is pure fishing pleasure nestled wonderfully in the palm of your hand. A simple touch of the thumb, a flip of the rod, and ZOOM!...your fish offering is rocketing out there between the asteroid belt and Pluto. But, like everything else in life, this ecstatic experience comes at a price.
I don't mean the cost of the reel, which, by the way, happens to be the costliest rig you can buy (I couldn't afford a good one so I bought Ted's old reel...hmmm, perhaps that may explain why...well, I don't want to get ahead of myself here). No, I mean there's another price. It's called "backlash". Backlash is when...(now imagine you're fishing, you bring the rod back over your head, push the button and throw it forward to make your cast. The line goes peeling off as your hook sails across the water...farther...even farther...then SPLASH! OK, got the picture?) now...where was I?...oh yeah...backlash is when the spool keeps spinning after the hook has landed (but hey...if it "lands" in the water, shouldn't they say it "watered"? You know, like "...it landed on land" vs. "it watered in the water"...whatever) So anyway, the spool keeps spinning when the line isn't being pulled off and "voila!" You have a backlash. A big snarled mess (aka "bird's nest")
Back in the day when I was learning to fish, my mentor ("Ted" of Russian River fishing fame) always insisted I untangle it rather than simply cut out the snarled line. It was rumored Ted may have actually cut his own bird's nests out, (he thought I never saw him) but whenever I had one it had to be fixed "The way a real fisherman would fix it".
Now them thar backlashes were the bane of every fisherman, and they always happened right when the fish started hitting. In fact there was a Murphy's type law that came into play; the bigger the fish being caught, the bigger the backlash. When Ted and LB were hookin' 8 or 10 pound steelhead, I'd be spinning up the appropriately sized backlash. A 15 pound fish required a 15 pound bird's nest, 20 for 20, etc. And when the good ol' boys were into monster kings, I'd be next in line for a world record backlash. If you could mount 'em and hang 'em on the wall I'd have quite the collection.
Well enough of this drivel. You get the idea. A backlash is a major pain. You can't fish when you've got one. The worse the backlash, the longer it takes to fix it. In extreme cases you have no choice but to cut off all the line and start over.
I know a guy (remember this phrase; you'll see it again from time to time)...I know a guy whose life is basically one big backlash. As usual, it started early (well...yeah, his life started early too, but I meant his problems) His father committed suicide when he was about 10. That, obviously, was not good. But it didn't hit him as hard as it might have, probably because his parents were split up and his grampa was the real father figure in his life. Did you catch that?..."was". Yeah, his grampa passed away a couple of years later, leaving a big hole in his life.
What followed was the making of a big backlash; dropping out of school, lots of drug use, no adult supervision, crashed a car, flipped another one into the lake, an arrest, another arrest, a felony conviction, etc, etc. He's been "bird's nesting" his way through life for about a dozen years now.
I took him into our home to stay with us last fall. He was awaiting trial and "really wanted to make a change". A month later he was out of our home and into an alcohol treatment program, but it took much less than the whole month for me to realize the only change he wanted to make was his immediate circumstances. Some how life-change never got on his "to do" list. In other words...he used me. He used me to get out of jail (I felt like the "get out of jail free" card in a monopoly game). Treatment was more of the same; in his words "it beat going to jail".
I talked with him today. He wanted a reference to get into another program. This time it's not treatment but it's a work experience program that will allow him to get his GED. I'm not sure how serious he is. His mom is losing her house, probably moving away, and he has nowhere else to go. It's a rough place to be, in his shoes, but I keep reminding myself that these are the shoes he picked out for himself.
His life is one big backlash. There he stands on the shore, painfully flailing away at life, day after day, reminding me of myself trying to cast with a tangled reel. Will he be able to untangle it? I seriously doubt it. Will he turn to Christ and let Him cut away all the tangled line? I hope so...time will tell.