“…eternal joy to the soul.”

My heart is full.

We just returned from a glorious five-day journey down to Valdez, Alaska. My heart is so full. There were so many firsts on this trip. First of all, it was a 6.5 hour drive. We split the initial drive into two parts and spent the night halfway, in an area called Tolsono. It was simply gorgeous. It rained most of the time, but between the raindrops the mosquitos were out in full force and we were all so grateful we were staying just one night!! The showers were amazing, but the mosquitos sort of killed the joy. LOL.

Tolsono Campsite View

This campsite is almost stereotypical of what you would expect when camping in Alaska. And it is everything I had wanted to experience. What I did not take into account is that to the right of this photo is a stagnant area of water. Kinda greenish. Yeah. Mosquito hatchery in full swing. LOL. But even saying that, I would return. I would plan around mosquito season and also take lots and lots of netting and bug spray. The sound of the stream going by our camper was so cathartic. It was mesmerizing and I fell deeply asleep in no time at all. We chose to forgo breakfast and even coffee, because of the bugs. We took off towards Glenallen, which was a short hop, to gas up and get some breakfast. We ate on the road…

Bridal Veil Falls Outside Valdez, with my grandson.

Our first big stop was outside Valdez at Bridal Veil Falls. They were magnificent. My grandson and I walked around to try and get a good view of them. It was pouring rain but it just didn’t matter. The sound of the falls was overpowering and the beauty was just stunning. In person, what a magnificent stop!!

We drove through to Valdez and it was full of rain and curves and so much to see. The roads are typically Alaskan….bumps and potholes…but the views make up for it! Valdez is on the coast and is a fishing town, as well as where the Alaskan Pipeline ends. We saw so many fishing vessels, as well as lots of oil tankers. The tide is pretty stark – when it is in it is so flush with water, but when it is out, there are miles of mud. It was pretty incredible. We could see distant glaciers, and even drove past one that we took the time to drive to on a different day. Worthington Glacier. Amazing.

One of the many piers in Valdez

We happened upon a festival that we had no idea was occurring the same weekend. We traversed some booths and had some good food. It was still raining like mad, so we chose to visit the local museum. It was filled with dioramas of the big earthquake and tsunami that flattened Valdez and it was not the best thing my grandkids wanted to see, so we ventured out into the rain and chose to go to the Fish Hatchery across the bay. Oh my goodness. Literally the highlight of our trip!!

Valdez Hatchery

This is a view of the Hatchery, on the right, as we approached along the highway. The clouds settling into the mountains made this view just incredible. And yes, it was still raining!! LOL.

I was so imbued with nature. It was surreal. Being raised in Southern California, where nature is held at bay and contained behind fences and cement pools and glass enclosures, this day was monumental for me. For all of us, really. It was so cool that we all experienced this first together. And I’m going to just post a series of photos. And even though I think they are pretty good, the sights and sounds just cannot be fully conveyed in a photograph!

Sea Lions gorging themselves on salmon trying to spawn upstream. Valdez, Alaska
Brown bears gorging on spawning salmon. Valdez, Alaska
Sea Lions-Salmon-Gulls
Lone Gull taking a rest…
Herd of female sea lions barking out orders for the males hunting…
Hubby and I with sea lions behind us.

I cannot fully express how wonderful this experience was. It was so loud – the sea lions barking at each other and all the gulls squawking at each other…it was a cacophony of the sounds of nature. Right in front of us. Life and death. Right in our faces. Incredible. The brown bears were along the roadside as we left the hatchery and the salmon ladders. The salmon spawn all over the coastline in Valdez. And when the tides were in, it was a feeding frenzy for all the wildlife. It rained the entire time we were there, but it was so incredible, we simply ignored the weather.

Valdez Harbor, Alaska

I wish that everyone would have an opportunity to ignore media. To stop rushing here and there. To sleep in the middle of nature, rain and all. To take in the glory that is the creation of God. We are so blessed to live here. And this weekend, we experienced so much more than what I have shared here. I actually went into a shale-lined, water-filled dark cave that was created in a rush to create a faster access from McCarthy and the Kennicott Mine to the sea and the ships that could take the copper. It was blown into the side of the mountain. The back side of the cave was where they gave up creating a train tunnel. I do not do caves. LOL. But my kids encouraged me, held my hand, and my husband was by my side the entire time. I overcame my fear and made it out the other side!! We climbed up to a glacier. We went on a tour of the hydro-electric plant. The kids went gold-panning. We walked up to and touched the Alaskan Pipeline. We drove through hours and hours of God’s country, displaying all its glory. We saw fireweed blooming, eagles soaring, and incredible mountains. I just pray that other people can be blessed to experience this amazing place called Alaska.

The Cave

“Be still…”

Mirror Lake

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

This quote, by John Lubbock, spoke to me. We have had friends visiting from the “lower 48” this week and I know experiencing some pristine nature is never a waste of time. I have watched them visibly relax. I have seen the wonder on their faces and their joy burst forth when coming face-to-face with bears at the Wildlife Preserve, with watching the salmon jump as they climb to their spawning grounds at our Hatchery. I love sharing the blessing of where we live with people who do not get to experience it as often as we do. This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, and I would not expect others to embrace where I live just because I do. I know it took me more than 40 years, once I first imagined this place, to actually live here. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). It is amazing to me how close to God you can feel, immersed in nature.


I jokingly asked our visitors if they needed some time with asphalt and smog, with all this “nature overload.” And we chatted about how tired they are because of processing all that they are seeing, hearing, breathing, and tasting. It takes a lot out of you to travel to an environment that is so foreign to your daily routine. As we meandered along our coastline and mountains, we all remarked about how brave the early explorers were. We were imagining the native peoples making their home here, and the early explorers and then miners, making their way through these near-impenetrable mountains. There are places here that have never experienced the footfall of man. How remarkable that we live here, in among all the stupendous magnificence of a God who loves us.

Salmon ladder

Occasionally nature needs our help. In this state, we encourage natural activities and assist in raising the live birth numbers of many of our indigenous species. Most people who come here to sports fish would be sorely disappointed if nature was the only provider! Our Fish and Game Department is doing themselves proud with how they are helping our salmon spawn successfully.  There were approximately 6.5 million fish released into the waters of Alaska in 2016. Pretty impressive. We recently learned that an entire herd of Wood Bison, over 130 of them, were released successfully from our Wildlife Conservation Center. Wow! I love walking through our hatcheries, learning the stories of the many fish we have here in Alaska. At the Sealife Center in Seward, they work so hard to rehab the different animals back into the wild. In amongst all this nature, thriving here, you certainly feel humbled.

Aurora August 2016

One of the things that people always want to see is the Aurora Borealis, or the “Northern Lights” when they visit us. In the summertime, that is pretty hard because it doesn’t really get dark enough. Last night we got notices through our news and weather sites that the Aurora possibility was a +6, which is high. We stayed up until 1:30am, and even got up again at 3:30am, but it was either too light or too cloudy where we are. The photo above was taken north of us last night. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24). When you see the magnificence in the heavens, where the stars seem to dance, you certainly feel small, humbled, and in awe.

The experience of nature, up close and personal, away from the noise, smells, and interference of thousands of people, can ease your suffering and your pain. It makes your spiritual connection strengthen. I know for me, when I go to Church and can watch the snow dancing on the windows, and the candles are burning brightly, I can feel God. Learning to be still and seek His presence can be difficult in the midst of asphalt, smog, freeways, and social insanity, but it can be done. I found God in the middle of Southern California’s rush hour lifestyle. But I was constantly seeking my peace elsewhere. My prayer is that more and more can experience God in the stillness of His creation. It is truly magnificent, humbling, and breaks open those walls we place around ourselves when we live in a crazy, crowded world. Prayer seems to come naturally, in nature’s wonderland.

Be Still

Truly remembering….

duckThis weekend was wonderful in so many ways.  We traveled two hours south on Saturday to see a glacier and walk in a “Sealife” rescue center. Being able to watch our youngest son as he discovered new things was such a joy.  It was compounded by being able to watch our grandson experience a new aspect of life on this planet, too.  His over-riding joy at seeing the “fish-fish-fish” was so heart-warming.  Seeing a glacier up close brought to mind how insignificant we are.  My oldest son said he contemplated the amount of glacier-melt it took to create these rivers we saw – “Imagine the little bit of water a melting ice cube produces,” he said, “and then imagine the amount of ice in a melting glacier it takes to create these rivers.”  It is pretty astounding to think about. The drive was delicious to a former SoCal gal…all that green in the mountains, capped by snow-covered peaks, and the glorious sunshine…it was a perfect day spent with loved ones.

Weekend2Sunday’s Divine Liturgy was so enjoyable, too.  The visiting priest welcomed us and instituted some traditions we are familiar with, and welcomed doing again. I love standing next to the Deacon or Priest as the Gospel is read, receiving a blessing afterwards. It just warms my heart to be up close and personal to the Word of God.  The children seemed to really enjoy it, as well.  My husband was asked to serve on the altar and we are thrilled he can once again wear vestments.  There are legalities to work out, but the gist is that this parish welcomed us, no questions asked, no hoops to jump through.  What a stark difference to our last experience.  It has helped to mitigate some of the trials we have been going through.  We feel blessed to have found this parish and look forward to the years ahead, serving this community.

Memorial Day 2013Yesterday was Memorial Day.  This is traditionally the first real Bar-b-Que day in America. Most American kids see it as the first hint that summer is fast approaching. Up here, the kids are already out of school for the summer, so it is very much the first summer holiday.  Traditionally, we always paused to remember our heroes, those who have served or are serving our Country, and then we’d play.  But yesterday was the very first time I was privileged to share the holiday with a veteran.  And he happens to be my son, so it took on a myriad of emotions for us all.  We went on base to the Military Cemetery.  There were so many graves, so many flags, and lots and lots of people.  The setting was gorgeous, with the majestic mountains in the background, beautiful blue skies, a wonderfully gentle breeze to keep us cool in that blazing sunshine.  We walked among the grave stones and our son was somber, quiet, contemplative.  We kept a respectful distance from he and his small family.  They came to a section where they remembered the father of a friend and brought flowers to his gravestone.  We then had to return to the main gate to gain access to the Memorials for my son’s unit.  We were finally granted access (do not even get me started on how poorly we treat our vets) and went to visit the memorial dedicated to the men lost in Iraq.  It was an incredible moment for both my husband and myself, and our 14-year old son.  As we wandered through the grave sites at the cemetery, I began to feel the weight of the sacrifice these soldiers had made for me…from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the recent wars.  I felt so unworthy and so insignificant.  When we arrived at the Memorial, and when I saw how deeply affected my son was, it caused so many emotions to well up within me.  First of all, as a mother, regardless of the age of your child, you want to help them and make their sadness go away.  I cannot do that for him and it makes me feel so very impotent.  It is also a very personal thing for him and I was privileged he allowed us to share those moments with him.  Standing there, reading their names and their ages, I again experienced my insignificance and that I felt like I had not done enough, or even anything, for them.  I also felt love for these young men who gave their very lives for our safety and well-being. I felt motherly towards them and offered prayers for them and their families.  I felt very unworthy, actually, to be there with my son, because it was truly something very private for him…and it changed forever, Memorial Day, for me.

We read things in news blurbs online; we occasionally see something on the TV news somewhere, mentioning the military still serving our Country and protecting our freedom, in Afghanistan.  We rarely hear about it, though, and very few of our children understand it.  We, in this country, have re-written history from a date and occurrence to memorize, to moments of political victory. The perspective of history has quickly undergone a profound change.  Our children do not understand why there was a WWII or a Vietnam, let alone the recent events in the Middle East; it makes me so sad.  And if my son had not been involved, I would be equally ignorant.

There are so many “first-person” video games out there, glamorizing death.  There are battles fought and won; lives are “re-generated” and players come back again and again, which is far from reality.  Sadly to say, many young men join the military today wanting to see if it is like these games they play; they have no real clue what war entails.  And I have been up close to war before, during Vietnam particularly, but never a direct family member, let alone my son. I learned a lot this weekend.  We had this amazing experience at the SeaLife Center, we saw a glacier, we worshiped at God’s altar, and we walked among the buried Veterans on Memorial Day.  What an array of experiences in three days!

On Sunday in Father’s homily, he talked to us about the Love of God and how God is touching us always…in little ways.  When a mother caresses her child; when we hear the laughter of our children; when we fall in love; when we have those inexplicable moments of faith…all these touches are the Love of God…His love for us.  As I saw all those grave stones, all those flags and felt the insignificance of my contribution to this world, I also felt God’s peace.  These warriors gave their all for me and I never really appreciated it before.  Raising all sons, we have a collection of war movies, action flicks, who-dun-its…and as I thought about a lot of them, it sort of made me mad. It is almost like taking and profaning the deaths of these soldiers.  It is so hard to explain fully how I felt.  These soldiers died protecting me, allowing me to sleep in safety each and every night.  Having someone act that out somehow seems shameful.  There were so many posts in all the social media sites over the weekend, each one trying to be more patriotic and touching than the last one posted.  And they all fell short, so short, of what I witnessed at that Cemetery.  The reality of the sacrifice they made for me really touched me.

After we visited the Memorial, we went home and my husband and I both cried for our son and how this has had such a ripple effect on him, his life, and his family.  We felt so proud of what he went through and what he lost for our safety.  And I respect him so very much more.  I believe this country can never do enough for our veterans.  We don’t do enough as it is.  These men and women will never be the same after their experiences and their families will not either.  The only peace I have is that God has all these souls in His Hand.  His love touched all of them and all their families.  And yesterday, they touched us in a very personal way. We later got back together with my son and his wife’s extended family and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of some amazing burgers and beans, salads and pies.  I hope that every Memorial Day is spent truly remembering those we miss, those who are no longer Bar-B-Queuing with us on this Holiday, and that we can then move on to making new memories of a day spent with family and friends…smiling, laughing, and burning some meat.  I know I will never forget Memorial Day 2013.