****I thought this had been posted last week but realized it had not.
You’ll be on good terms with rocks and mountains; wild animals will become your good friends. You’ll know that your place on earth is safe, you’ll look over your goods and find nothing amiss. You’ll see your children grow up, your family lovely and lissome as orchard grass. You’ll arrive at your grave ripe with many good years, like sheaves of golden grain at harvest.
As I was preparing for this Alaskan adventure, my mother told me my father had always wanted to travel here. I had never heard him say this but it is something she had tucked away in her trunk of memories, one that is full to overflowing with love and an account of the beautiful life they created together. I am so glad I had she offered up this nugget which I have held as I have been soaking in this amazing landscape. Seeing the lush green trees and the rock-solid mountains, I have imagined my father’s reaction to it all. He also served in the Navy,so being on this ship I have imagined his too-young body pitching and swaying with the movement of the sea. A movement that took him far away from all he knew, into a world of war and people who were so very different than those he knew and lived with in his small, southern Ohio home. I have observed several men on board who are near to the age he would have been, men who seem somewhat puzzled by the leisure, the lack of any real work to do, who are finding themselves surrounded by a community of people from around the world. I have watched them as workers serve, clean, paint and fix and see an itch inside them to help out, to pick up a tool, any tool, and just do some work instead of sitting doing what they are supposed to do. Relax. Escape from the ordinary. Be on vacation.
Living into the landscape of these snow-capped mountains and the distant glacier, I can hear my father’s voice in its slow, melodic timbre: “Mighty pretty. Mighty pretty.” That would be about all he might be able to muster vocally but his face would speak volumes of awe, even his own kind of praise. Awe at the majesty of it. Praise that he had been blessed to see it. I have seen this look on many of the faces as we have sailed through fjords with the mountains creating a protective, jagged nest for our vessel. At some level, I hope I am seeing this magnificent place for myself and for him.
A day ago, I had one of those peak life moments that stun the senses. Every pore and cell in my body throbbed with an ecstatic experience of Creation. With six other people I boarded a small fishing boat to go whale watching. We were not necessarily guaranteed to see these magnificent creatures but were told our odds were good. Our captain was a crusty, younger man who had retired early to be able to do what he loved. He took people whale watching to feed his habit of being able to spend as much time as he could on his sailboat. I marveled at his life and his ability to make the choices that allowed him to shape his days with intention.
Setting out into another fjord, its wide expanse a sheer mirror of glassy water, we could see the Mendenhall glacier, icy and blue, tucked in the folds of the mountains. Soon we were headed to a part of the water where there had been a sighting. We pulled up in time to see water spouting into the air and the enormous tails of the humpbacked whales fly into the air before dipping gracefully back into the water. There must have been eight to ten of the enormous beings spouting, lifting, diving as we human ones looked on, faces full of awe. Cameras snapped, video was filmed. All while I stood with tears running down my cheeks, stunned that in the goodness of Creator and Creation, I had been blessed to live till this moment. The gift of it seemed almost too much to receive. My heart was beating with such gratitude.
I thought of the lessons the book of Job tries, I think, to offer to us. Though he has seen the worst of life’s hardships and experienced unimaginable loss, the Holy One keeps reminding Job that there is so much more to this living. These threads woven into the fabric of this amazing Earth bind us together and hold us in ways that can bring an encounter with the Sacred in the land of the living. And as the human recipients of this grandeur, we had no hand in its creation and every responsibility in its appreciation.
Through mountain, sea, and whale sightings, I have tucked away these memories for the time when I will forget the awe that is at the heart of it all. I will treasure these experiences for myself and in the memory of my father.