Friday, July 27, 2012

Location, location...

Until this week, I never realized how lucky I was to land in Port Alsworth last year.

When I came up the first time, I had talked to a couple people who worked here before, but talking to people doesn’t accurately convey a landscape or a reality. I had no idea where I would be staying for the next two months. Somehow I pictured flat, open grass areas—I still have no idea why...

Instead, after a one-hour flight to Seattle, and a three-hour flight from Seattle to Anchorage, and another hour-long flight from there to Port Alsworth, I landed here—on a low knoll overlooking a small bay with a range of mountains just outside my window.



 It was amazing.

The work wasn’t always as amazing as the scenery, but I enjoyed it, and I got out occasionally to explore this area.

All that still applied when I came back this summer.

Then, on Monday this week, we had a day when there were no guests staying at the lodge. It gave us a nice break after nearly a month of non-stop rush. To celebrate (or else just to take advantage of the short break), Glen and Leyla took their family, the family dog, a pilot who flies for the lodge, and the lodge crew out on a boating trip.


I haven’t been fishing in ten years, but I picked up a one-day license before we left.

We boated up the lake to the mouth of a creek and set up camp along the beach. Jael and Leyla had packed hotdogs and s’mores. The farm guys (with help from everyone else) started a bonfire with the drift wood and old spruce boughs.

And Jael headed out into the water with her rubber hip-boots and her fly-rod. A couple other people followed her out, wading along a narrow shelf along the mouth of the creek.

After some hesitation, and some help with a reel-rod, I followed them into the water.

I kept my distance, though. In my experience with fishing, distance can be a key factor. Unfortunately, all the fish were biting around the creek. When I didn’t catch anything in the first ten minutes or so, Glen suggested I move closer to the creek, closer to Jael.

Right next to her—

At home, I would never have dared fish just ten feet away from someone else, but here it seemed okay. It helped that she’s right-handed and I’m left, so we could fish on opposite sides from each other. And it seemed to work too—I caught two graylings before deciding it was time to try the hotdogs instead. (It’s catch-and-release fishing up here.)


That was on Monday.

On Tuesday, we also had no guests, and we had nearly all the lodge work done before lunch. After lunch, Jael went out flying and she asked me to tag along with her on a cross-country flight. (No, not ‘across the country,' just across the countryside to another small village.)

It takes a lot of work to get a small plane ready for takeoff—check both fuel tanks, check the oil, check all the flaps and struts and wires, bang on some other things, and so on. Some of it might look amusing to the uninitiated. I stood by and stayed out of the way while Jael did the work, but eventually we loaded up and taxied onto the runway.


About an hour later, we landed in Igiugig. Think of a small huddle of houses along a river, at the lower end of the largest freshwater lake in Alaska.


At Igiugig, everything is different.

Yes, I realize it’s not fair to make a judgment after five minutes in a village. Still, it seems safe to say that if I’d been working there instead of here last summer—well, I probably wouldn’t be working there again this summer.

There are mountains in the distance, I will admit. You just can’t see them because everything close up is flat, with a smudge of bushes…


…And a thick haze of mosquitos.


Mosquitos and mountains, sure. Just mosquitos, no thanks.

I’m glad to be here, not there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Year Out

Today marks exactly one year from my first post on this blog.

So many things have happened that I didn’t expect—to be back in Alaska for another summer, to become a blog reviewer for Tyndale, to still be working on the first book of my Areaex series (though I should hardly be surprised by that), to be still posting steadily after a full year, among other things.


This week also marks my second month working at the Farm Lodge this summer. (For those of you who like numbers, I’ve now been here as long this summer as I was here last summer. I’m also planning to stay here for another three months, until the fall. I haven’t set a return date yet, but it will probably be about mid-October.)



How have things gone here recently?

Work is good, work is busy, work is crazy—work is good?

And when we have fourteen guests show up unexpectedly one evening, I do want to ask whether they are heading to Rivendell or running from the orcs. It might make a difference for tonight? (The official story was that they had been delayed by bad weather on their way to another lodge.)



Some days we have lots of sunshine, some days we have fog and mist so thick that only the large planes can make it out to Anchorage. After a couple weeks of that, it was nice to see the sun again recently.

Along the way, life is full of surprises (yes, that is a cliche), and unexpected things are happening every day. It's almost like finding dogwood that grows on the ground instead of in trees. Fields of white dogwood—how does that sound?



So life is crazy; life is good.

Friends are good also—I've enjoyed hearing from a number of people while I've been here, and I apologize to those I haven't kept up with.

And finally, the mountains are still amazing, even at midnight.



Yes, I took that photo very close to midnight a couple weeks ago. I've only stayed up that late a couple times, but it can be hard sometimes to remember that I still need sleep.

Who needs sleep when you can still get great photos outside?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PTA's Believe It Or Not 2.0

I need someone to explain...


We have a washing machine that chews up rubber gloves for breakfast and spits them out again as left-handed gloves.

Seriously, we still have two full pairs of medium gloves, plus one random large right handed glove, in our cleaning box. And then these.

I actually found another one after taking the photo. Okay, I am left-handed, but still...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hidden in Dreams: Book Review

After a couple late nights recently, I’m excited to post this review for the second of Davis Bunn’s newly released novels, Hidden in Dreams.

My conclusion?

It’s a bizarre world that Professor Elena Burroughs enters.

It’s a world which can twist a person’s mind with fears and confusion—and above all, with dreams.

Elena has landed at a private university in her own field of psychology. It is her refuge after her world shatters under the stress of a controversial book with an even more controversial claim—that God can use dream to warn people about the future.

Then Elena has her own dream that demands her attention and the attention of the entire world.


Think banks and stock markets are boring, not to mention confusing? Throughout Hidden in Dreams, Davis Bunn ties the diverse threads of economics, financial panics, and psychology into an amazing brain thriller. After she and fourteen other Dreamers receive identical dreams—warnings, they believe—Elena Burroughs finds herself back on the national stage, the last place she ever wanted to be, and she’s trying to stop the ultimate disaster.

It’s not nuclear fallout, but a financial meltdown that’s coming.

Along the way, Elena experiences a personal waking, as she recovers from her husband’s death years before, and discovers a new life and hints of a new love. Hidden in Dreams continues Elena’s story from the first book in this series—The Book of Dreams. Hidden in Dreams hints at these previous events in Elena’s life, but I had no difficulty in following the plot without having read the earlier book.

I would rate this book a full five stars—the story and characters captured my imagination. Yesterday, I posted my review of Bunn’s other new release, Rare Earth—originally, based on the descriptions of the two books, I expected to prefer Rare Earth as an action-based story. Both books actually have a similar balance of action, investigation and introspection. Both also focus on the protagonist’s internal and external quests for healing, but Hidden in Dreams takes the prize for its depth and brilliance. I was intrigued by my first quick breeze through the book, and found it even more enjoyable with my second, deeper read.

By the end of the story, the question isn’t whether God can work through dreams, but whether man can recognize his need and rely on God.

I would recommend this book to any of Bunn’s fans, or anyone else in search of a strong, fast read.

You can read find out more about the book at Davis Bunn's site, www.davisbunn.com, or read the first chapter of Hidden in Dreams here.

[My thanks to Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schusters for the complimentary copy of this book that I received. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 25.]

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Bonus: Q & A from Davis Bunn





Q: How much research did you have to conduct to write this intriguing story?

A: In a way, I suppose you could say I’ve been researching this story all my adult life. I did my studies in international economics and finance. Observing the difficulties our nation and economy has faced over the past three years, as well as what we personally have endured, has been tough. It really was great to have this chance to give voice to what we increasingly hear, that the people at fault need to be brought to justice, and the risk of another economic collapse needs to be halted.
Q: In writing a sequel it’s always a challenge to include enough back story to satisfy those who haven’t read the first book while still making sure the book stands alone. How do you approach this dilemma?

A: You’re right, it can indeed be troublesome, but this time it all fell together very easily. The structure just flowed. That sometimes happens, where the story seems to create itself. I wish it was true all the time. I can’t even say why it was such a smooth process with Hidden in Dreams. But there was a sense of impatience about the back story, as though I needed to fit in just a few paragraphs, but I couldn’t allow myself or the reader to be drawn too far from this new story’s flow.
Q: Why do you write fiction?

A: I became a believer at age 28. Up to that time, ever since graduating, I had been working in international business. I came to faith while working as a consultant in Germany. I started writing two weeks later. Up to that point, I had never picked up a pen in my life to write anything longer than a business report. But I had always been an avid reader. And the moment I started, that very first instant, I had the sense of invitation. It was the first time I had ever experienced that incredible sense of being drawn in a new, divinely inspired direction.
I wrote for nine years and finished seven novels before my first was accepted for publication. Simply because I had received a sense of calling did not mean I was ready to serve. First the diamond had to be polished. Hard and painful as that was.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rare Earth: Book Review

(This will be the first of two book reviews this week, since I am privileged to review both of Davis Bunn’s newly released novels, Rare Earth and Hidden in Dreams. Check back Wednesday for my review of Hidden in Dreams!)

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Africa is alive…barely.

Marc Royce, former Baltimore accountant, arrives in Kenya with a new job title—American relief worker, carrying supplies to a refugee camp near Kitale. His first view of his new job? An image of death.

A drought devastates the land, a volcanic eruption coats villages with ash like snow, and vultures move in for the spoils. Under the ash and the fear, however, Marc finds that the people of Africa—and the land itself—are still vibrant with life. Then Marc realizes that some of the disasters are man-made, and not all of the displaced refugees should be refugees.

And so Marc finds he has yet another job, with love and death waiting in the wings as he searches through the African dust for answers to his questions.


I would rate Davis Bunn’s action novel Rare Earth four stars out of five for an intriguing story, amazing setting, but some choppy opening scenes. The book continues Marc Royce’s story from the 2011 novel Lion of Babylon, moving his work from war-torn Iraq to disaster-plagued Africa. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but Rare Earth is written as a stand-alone story, and I had no problem picking up the story. I did struggle initially to figure out what Marc’s real mission in Africa meant, beyond the big clue in the title. By the book’s mid-point, however, I was ready to stay up late to finish the story.

Marc’s challenges include the land itself, as well as many of the people he meets along the way, from the UN workers and private contractors who bet on his chances of survival, to the African pastor Charles and the Israeli nurse Kitra who should be helping him in his search, but raise questions of their own. The characters themselves develop a little through the course of the story, and I wasn’t much surprised by the book’s ending, but I enjoyed the journey all the same—Africa feels real in this book, and it is an amazing, vibrant encounter.

I would recommend this book for teens and adults, and especially anyone who likes faith-based action stories.

For more information, you can check out Davis Bunn's website at www.davisbunn.com, or read the first three chapters of Rare Earth here.

[My thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary copy of this book I received. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.]

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Bonus Q & A from Davis Bunn:

What type of research did you do for this series?
I worked in Africa for four years early in my adult life. I was not a believer at that time. I came to faith four years later. I taught in Kenya last year, the first time I had been back to sub-Sahara Africa in almost twenty years. Going back to Africa now, as a believer, has opened my eyes to many things. Seeing with the compassion of sharing faith and seeking to serve means that I do not merely observe, I share with them. I hope this comes across in my story.
Research is a huge component of all of my stories. But with Lion of Babylon and Rare Earth, the situation was quite different. In both these Royce novels, I was combining knowledge gained in my previous business life with the perspective gained from my walk in faith. It has been quite a fulfilling experience, personally, to revisit these lands and see them through the eyes of our compassionate God.


What was your favorite scene to write in Rare Earth?
It is very rare that a first scene holds such a powerful connection for me. Generally it is one where there is a revelation between characters, or a defining moment when a person’s eyes are truly opened to the eternal for the first time.
But in Rare Earth, when I shut my eyes and envision the story, it is that first scene that blazes into light. Travelling on the UN chopper from Nairobi, watching the volcano take shape upon the horizon. Marc Royce has been sent out there to fail. And to die. I really am pleased with that opening sequence.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Today is the 4th of July


Today is the day for picnics, and parties, and fireworks.

So let’s celebrate!

Picnics, check.

Parties, check.

Fireworks?

No, there are no fireworks.

This is Alaska, and it is summer time. It doesn’t get dark around here.

Actually, it gets almost dark around 2:30 am, but only when it’s cloudy. Even then, even at that hour of the morning, it doesn’t get all dark. Just darkish.

Thus, around here the big fireworks are saved for New Year’s. Apparently, it’s dark enough to see them then.


With the 4th here, however, it finally feels like summer has come, and the clouds with it. The past few days have been cold and cloudy, with light drizzle at times. (It’s starting to feel almost like Oregon.) The guests have been arriving as well, so we started this morning with a mad rush to get cabins cleaned and ready for new arrivals. Then it was time for a picnic on the lawn and a quiet, relaxing afternoon.

How do you describe a Port Alsworth 4th of July picnic?

How do you describe having an entire town on your lawn?

Let's just say it's kind of fun. It makes a really long line at the food table, and it means quite a number of people around the picnic tables, yard chairs, benches, cabin porches, cabin boardwalks, and everywhere else available. But it's fun.
More importantly, thoughhow do you describe singing patriotic hymns in church?

The first time this happened, around Memorial Day weekend, I experienced a small amount of shocksinging Battle Hymn of the Republic in church, sure! But America the Beautiful?

Then I realized that while we may be singing of our country, we're singing as a prayer to God on behalf of our nation:

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My country,' tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims' pride,
from every mountainside let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
and ring from all the trees sweet freedom's song;
let mortal tongues awake;
let all that breathe partake;
let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

Our fathers' God, to thee,
author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright
with freedom's holy light;
protect us by thy might, great God, our King.

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Isn't that the only thing we can say?


Happy 4th of July!