September 28, 2015 § 10 Comments
My first picnic in the north taught me a lesson I never forgot.
“Want to go downriver to fish camp?” One summer Saturday in Aklavik, NT in 1965, we were invited to go on a picnic with schoolteacher Art Wiebe, his wife Anne and their family and Tommy Ross and his wife Phyllis and assorted children. Eighteen of us arranged ourselves in a large freighter canoe (no life jackets) powered by a “kicker” outboard. Forty-five minutes down the labyrinth of channels of the muddy Peel to Fish Point through a watery maze ringed by spruce, alder and willow bushes, brought us past old fish camps in various stages of disrepair and one smokehouse with the fire still smoking.
Finally, Tommy slid the canoe up on a sandy bank among scrub white spruce typical of the sub-Arctic. We had arrived at Archie Headpoint’s fish camp. A once-white wall tent was perched near a smoky campfire and fish racks held drying strips of salmon. I stepped out of the canoe as mosquitoes churned the air in gray clouds, seemingly particularly interested in getting to know me.
Archie’s wife, a Loucheaux woman of indeterminable age, greeted us. Her black and red flowered scarf hid most graying dark hair and framed a weathered brown face that broke into wide smiles. As we settled ourselves on driftwood logs around a low, smoky fire, she urged, “Have tea … have tea,” in low tones punctuated by frequent phlegmy coughs and productive spitting off to the side.
My eyes went to the chipped and dirty enamel cups that had been piled in a washbasin next to the fire. A black, greasy rag lay nestled in one of the cups. Our hostess industriously sloshed leftover tea out of the used cups, grabbed the grimy rag and proceeded to wipe out the cups in preparation for pouring tea in them.
Lord, help me! I can’t drink that! What if she has TB? About that time she hawked another phlegmy blob behind her.
And then I looked at her smile. Happy for visitors to break the monotony of long days at fish camp, she looked as if she were just as pleased to serve us as any well-to-do matron presiding over a silver tea service.
I had been one of those children with a highly developed gag reflex who was bothered by texture in my food. Any little bit of fat on a piece of beef would engage my gag reflex. Rice got stuck going down. Egg whites were suspicious. I stuffed my peas on the underside of my plate to hide them from my father’s disapproving eye. And my finicky eating habits hadn’t gotten much better.
Mrs. Headpoint picked up a knife and began to slice away on something sitting next to the fire in a cast iron frying pan that looked like a large brown baseball. No fancy cookies for this tea party, we were being served slices of cold caribou heart to go with the tea. Dried caribou meat was piled off to the side in thin strips.
I stopped thinking about myself long enough to realize this was my first big test in the North. Could I eat and drink what was offered? I swatted mosquitoes and accepted the dirty cup of black and potent tea, and the caribou heart slice. As I ate and drank I tasted the smoky fire I was surprised to find the dry meat was flavorful and as delicious as any meat jerky, and the caribou heart had a wonderful smoky flavor and the tea was strong and bracing.
The diffused sunshine of an arctic midnight made long shadows as our motorized canoe ploughed the dark water on the way back upstream the channel to Aklavik. We sang and our songs echoed across the water. Our long excursion ended with a second picnic down past Archie Headpoint’s winter place. This time the picnic fare was more familiar: roasted hot dogs, and tarts and pies.
That day I had my first lesson of “if it’s handed to you with love, eat it.” I would learn and relearn that lessons in our years in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The next morning I woke itching furiously from one hundred and fifty-eight mosquito bites on my legs and arms, although I had worn long pants and long sleeves. One eye was nearly swollen shut from bites. Above and below the eye the skin was red and puffy and looked like I had been socked in the eye. I felt sluggish and tired, as if I had gotten a shot of Novacaine in my face. Welcome to the Mackenzie Delta before the days of bug spray! Worth it? Yes. It’s always worth it.
copyright 2015 Inger Logelin
April 11, 2015 § Leave a comment
Sorting through my bookshelves, I picked up the bulky, gray-blue book and leafed through its thin pages. Should I keep it, or put it in the garage sale pile?The Book of Poetry of the English Speaking World looked well worn, and I had other poetry collections. On the inside cover in ink I found the name Louise McFarlane, Nov. 13, 1941, and a street address but no city. A quick Google search and I found her address was indeed a Seattle address. Another site told me the house at that address had been sold recently by someone who could be her daughter or granddaughter, or perhaps it was Louise herself. The house had stayed in the family, and the book hadn’t traveled far.
At the top of a half sheet of yellowed paper tucked inside I found a poem executed on a typewriter by a typist who hit some keys with more strength so the type had varying shades of darkness. One word–“each”–had been crossed out and “every” inserted in its place. Two letters had been typed over and corrected, making it seem a likely first draft. From the notation on the half sheet I saw Lou, had written the poem for a verse writing class on Nov. 26, 1956. It read:
Caught in the grip of indecision, I wrestled with my mind, Believing in the proverb–“He who seeks shall find.”
In the solitude of aloneness, I felt the sharp impact of every objective reason, and each deciding fact.
I carefully weighed and measured, –as if by rule and scale.
— I gave complete attention to each minute detail until no longer swayed by the arguments I hurled, I made my decision, and gave Atlas back his world.”
At the bottom Lou had typed: “To My Sister Her child like beauty and grown up grace, no longer bless this earthly place.”
If Louise was 18 in 1941 when she inscribed the book, she would have been 33 in 1956 when she wrote the poem. It is now 2015 and 59 years later Louise would be 92. She had paraphrased that bit of scripture (“He who seeks shall find”), but determined that Atlas was in charge of the world.
Is Louise McFarlane still living? Maybe she was like so many of us who long to leave a legacy saying who we are, our tentative or bold imprint as if pounded by fingers on a typewriter on the blank sheet of our lives. Did she go on to write more poetry and prose? Had she longed to be published? Did she decide God, not Atlas, held her future in His hands? I don’t know. But, here’s to you, Lou, I found you. You’ve been heard. You’ve been published.
copyright 2015 Inger Logelin
February 19, 2015 § 2 Comments
“The world is too much with us,” wrote William Wordsworth.
Lovely as it is, the world is too much with me these days. A pilot splashed with fuel and burned in a cage. The blood of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians turning the water red in Libya. Villages in Nigeria decimated by Boko Haram, schoolgirls captured and sold off to Islamic warlords, cartoonists slaughtered because they’ve given offense, trains derailed, people just trying to get home killed. A friend of a friend who recently experienced a sudden headache before dropping dead. The marriage of a couple teetering. Children rejecting parents’ values. Siblings who don’t speak.
Sometimes it gets to be too much and I want to escape thoughts of children trafficked, people fleeing violence, in refugee camps, needing hospice, grieving, on life support, homeless.
Then I ease into other ordered worlds, grand elaborations and plots where justice is always meted out, where the bad guys don’t escape the relentless pursuit of retribution, and the good, but flawed, win.
Yes, I read.
My daydreams of choice are memoirs and mysteries, police procedurals, detective sagas, international spy stories. They appeal to my sense of fairness, justice, of wanting the story to end not with a sweet, predictable ending, but with a ringer thrown in, a surprise that satisfies. With justice.
But when the world is too much with me, reading about death is less palatable, and leaves a bad taste. I turned back to an old friend who doesn’t know me at all, Jan Karon, and her new book, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. The title settled it, and I settled in for a cozy, world-escaping read. I didn’t expect to be undone by the daily lives of the Mitford characters.
I read of Father Tim standing before his former congregation to relate the confession of their disgraced priest who was resigning. Then I came to this passage.
“He felt the tears on his face before he knew he was weeping, and realized instinctively that he would have no control over the display. He could not effectively carry on, nor even turn his face away or flee the pulpit. He was in the grip of a wild grief that paralyzed everything but itself.
“He wept face forward, then, into the gale of those aghast at what was happening, wept for the wounds of any clergy gone out into a darkness of self-loathing and beguilement; for the loss and sorrow those who could not believe, or who had once believed but lost all sense of shield and buckler and any notion of God’s radical tenderness, for the ceaseless besetting of the flesh, for the worthless idols of his own and of others; for those sidetracked, stumped, frozen, flung away, for those both false and true, the just and the unjust, the quick and the dead.
“He wept for himself, for the pain of the long years and the exquisite satisfactions of the faith, for the holiness of the mundane, for the thrashing exhaustions and the endless dyings and resurrecting that malign the soul incarnate.”
As Father Tim wept, I wept, tears running down my face for those “sidetracked, stumped, frozen, flung away, for those both false and true, the just and the unjust, the quick and the dead.” My own list. My own sorrows, and the world’s.
When the world is too much with us I can’t do much about it. But I can “weep with those who weep,” as the Bible says. And I can pray to the One who is the ultimate Somebody Good and with whom we are always safe.
copyright 2015 Inger Logelin
October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
The last couple of days Esther Joshua’s name has come to my mind, as it does on occasion when I’m still. I don’t know her but I’ve been praying for her by name. Esther is one of the 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted way back in April by Boko Haram, the radical Islamist terror group.
I wonder what she’s eating, and where she lays her head. Does she have shelter? Has she been forced to say the words of conversion? I think of my own granddaughter that age and don’t let my mind go to unspeakable darker places. Esther’s name speaks of a queen who saved her people by standing up for what is right, and Joshua, a pioneering commander who wasn’t afraid to take new territory. Does she pray in her darkest times? Does she sense God’s presence? Is she even alive?
The news services have been quiet about the captive girls for months. The outraged campaigns to “storm heaven for Nigeria” and the viral Twitter campaign hashtag #BringBackOurGirls have been stilled. Four months after the capture, about sixty girls managed to escape. News anchors have gone on to reporting the spread of Ebola, the encroaches of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and the wedding of George Clooney.
But while we were looking elsewhere, something is happening in Nigeria. In the last few days, twenty-seven hostages, including ten Chinese workers were freed by Boko Haram and handed over to Cameroonian soldiers near the border with Nigeria, according to the Voice of America’s VOA News. One of the captives Abdouraman Seini, said Boko Haram is running out of food for their hundreds of fighters and captives. And then on October 10, 2014, Christian pastor Rotimi Obajimi escaped from captivity by Boko Haram after nearly ten months. In reporting his escape, the Christian Post (October 17, 2014) said Boko Haram has been “waging war on the Nigerian government for over five years now, have slaughtered Christian pastors and entire congregations in their mission to establish Islamic rule over the nation.” This includes beheading of villagers opposing them. Some 2,000 civilians were reportedly killed this year. In a video, Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader is quoted as saying, “We are running our caliphate, our Islamic caliphate. We follow the Quran … We now practice the injunctions of the Quran in the land of Allah.” Cautionary words indeed.
And then today when Esther Joshua came to my mind again, the BBC News says after a month of negotiations, an agreement was sealed between Nigeria and Boko Haram and the girls are to be released. According to the BBC, Nigerian Presidential aide Hassan Tukur said, “They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them … I am cautiously optimistic.” No word yet on what concessions the government had to make.
Today I am praying for Esther Joshua and the other approximately 218 other young women, the pride of their families, students who are the future of the nation, forcibly detained by a group whose name means “Western education is sinful.”
We wait. And pray: bring back our girls.
May 20, 2014 § 2 Comments
Oh! We’re all puffs of air. Oh! we’re all shadows in a campfire. Oh! we’re just spit in the wind. We make our pile, and then we leave it. What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, that’s what I’m doing–hoping …” (Psalm 39:5-7 The Message).
Today is our grandson’s 14th birthday and his eight grade graduation. Wasn’t it just the other day that his father carried him out of the birthing room for the inspection of two eager pairs of grandparents? He was a blond toddler when he came to live next to us so he grew up imperceptibly before our eyes in daily increments. And then one day almost two years ago he and his older sister and his mother and dad moved to the middle of the country to the extremes of temperature in Tornado Alley. And now he’s a young man, taller than his mother and ready for high school.
And what happens to his grandparents in the intervening years since his birth? We grow older in daily increments, and not so imperceptibly. We see old friends and recognize the quick appraising glances we give each other: how did we all get so old?
“Puffs of air.
Does that mean we’re like ethereal gusts, short-lived, entertaining while they’re moving, but not destined to stay around? I think it does.
“Shadows in a campfire.”
I’ve seen a lot of campfires in my 18 years of sitting around nightly smoky campfires at a wilderness camp ministry. Everyone is drawn to fire, sees something different in it, is fascinated by the glowing embers as they burn down. But they eventually burn down and the fire goes out.
“Spit in the wind.”
Not an elegant word picture. Spit in the wind doesn’t go far and can’t decide where it goes. It just has its moment in time and then is gone.
“We make our pile and then we leave it.”
Or not. The accumulations that we leave behind better be more than dishes nobody wants and oddments that get relegated to an estate sale. (A little money would be nice, the kids say sotto voice.)
Do I sound depressed? I’m not, not at all. I’m just measuring my days, looking back and looking ahead. It’s the last line of this psalm of David that tells the real story.
Our lives are more than a puff of air, a campfire shadow, accumulating and leaving. There’s hope! Hope for the discoveries ahead, for the joys yet to come. Hope reassures me God has planned amazing things for our real lives to come in our true home. No more fleeting puffs of air, or campfire shadows but life, eternal life.
“My hope is in you,” the New King James Version of verse 7 says. And that grasp of a living hope in God is what I want to leave my children and grandchildren.
© Inger Logelin 2014
April 22, 2014 § 2 Comments
And it seems as if the earth is groaning too.
Oh, not on the outside where my life goes on as it usually does, where tragedy has not come to my door. Here the apple trees are showing off pink and white blossoms, Easter has been celebrated with gusto, and the garden is pushing up the first green of onions, radishes, beets and potatoes .
But, underneath, underneath, the default position of my thoughts shifts to those 41 lost, the bodies in the mud of the Washington State Oso landslide, not far from my island home. Those bleak March days afterwards—a month ago today—when the rain was still pouring and I was warm and comfortable in my house, my mind would shift to the grandmother, the baby, the working man, the small children, lost in the cold mud and insurmountable piles of debris. Although I sat as close to the comforting steady heat of the woodstove, it was as if I couldn’t get warm enough when there were those who would never be warm again … on this earth.
The Bible says, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” (Romans 8:22 NIV).
And it feels right now as if there is more reason to groan than ever.
The current triad of tragedies began on March 8th with the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with its 227 passengers and 12 Malaysian crew. The unbearable uncertainty, the drowned hopes, the grief with no resolution, the groaning.
When the South Korean ferry “Sewol” sank on April 19, 2014 near Jindo, south of Seoul, Korea it was as if the previous two disasters were combined into something unthinkable, unimaginable and utterly devastating. Some 476 passengers had boarded the ferry, most of them teenagers, 250 of them from one high school in Ansan, Korea. To date, there are 121 confirmed dead, with 181 missing. As rescue has turned to recovery, the numbers of dead will go up exponentially. It is a stunning loss; and I grieve.
It is Earth Day, and the earth is groaning. Darkness and death seem ever present.
The cover story of April 28th’s issue of Time is “Finding God in the Dark” and features Barbara Brown Taylor. Author of the article, Elizabeth Dias, writes that Taylor says, ” … contemporary spirituality is too feel-good that darkness holds more lessons than light and that contrary to what many of us have long believed, it is sometimes in the bleakest void that God is nearest.”
“In the bleakest void … God is nearest.” I remember the words of Psalms 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”
The earth is his. He knows. He understands our darkness. His heart is touched with our grief, our groaning. He is near.
The hope that seems so out of reach in times of great tragedy, but is nevertheless actual and real, is there will come a day, when this earth has worn out like a garment when there will be a new earth, a new heaven. When death that touches all of us here on earth, will be done away with. When there will be no more darkness or grief.
But, not yet; we wait. The rest of Romans 8:22 says, “ … [We] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons the redemption of our bodies.”
There will come a day.
copyright 2014 Inger Logelin
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January 18, 2014 § 3 Comments
I said it. And now I have to do it. In my post “In Search of Simple Things” I said, “Ways to declutter, organize, sort and divest” were sounding attractive. It’s the actual getting rid of stuff, the parting, the excising that isn’t all that attractive to me. And where the ink hits the paper is the indisputable fact that complicates my life. I am a bibliophile. Yes. A lover of books. I’m hoping it hasn’t reached the point of bibliolatry … a state of being overly devoted to books.
Mostly I borrow books from the library, and
don’t mind bringing them back as I can find them again if I wish. Complicating matters is my work as an editor/writer that has at times necessitated reading a book and writing about it. And then there’s the relative who has access and first pick of used books to purchase as a Friend of the Library and who arrives for visits with bags or boxes for me to peruse and buy.
Why do I love books so? They are friends who supported me in various phases of my life, who entertained, who kept me awake, who spun new thoughts in my head, who made me cry, who taught me, inspired me and kept me company. How can I get rid of them? I keep my friends. I don’t necessarily want to read them twice; I just want them hanging around.
And so my garage is filled with books, the downstairs bookshelves are filled, the upstairs shelves have no more room. Some of these babies have to go. I’m approaching the “old woman in a shoe” syndrome.
How to cull? What to get rid of? Here’s the plan. I’m also motivated by value, so I have three boxes ready to go to a used bookstore that buys books for their consideration. I’ve listed many on Amazon, and sold some most weeks. It’s not as painful getting rid of books if I consider they are going to a new good home and if I make a few dollars on the exchange. Those that don’t sell I’ll save for my spring garage sale.
“What are you going to do with the ones that don’t sell then?” my husband asked.
“Oh, I’ll donate them,” I said offhandedly. But, it’s not that simple. I may just pat their covers lovingly and package them up and slide them back in the garage. I don’t have a problem with hoarding … after all. Or do I?
(c) 2014 Inger Logelin