Full Circle

This is the final chapter in my series on life in Dillingham.  If you missed the previous two, you can click on the link to the right called “My Life In Chapters” and it will take you to the first two.

Chapter 3

Jamin’s co-workers on the job had to leave when autumn set in.  Lee was a school teacher who had to get back to his hometown to teach, and another man had another project to start in another part of the state, so that left Jamin to finish up the large metal building.  The only problem was that Jamin often needed to get up on the roof of the building and now there was no one there to run the forklift.  This is where I came in again.  I became a forklift driver during the day on the jobsite.  By now I was six months pregnant.

We were getting anxious to finish the job and go home because it was getting colder in our little house and we were missing friends and family.  When we thought the project was finished, the inspector was called to come and look at the building.  He decided that there needed to be more trim around the windows,and that the undersides of the eaves needed to painted blue like the rest of the building, and the screws on the roof panels to also be painted to match the building. I am so glad OSHA was not watching as this pregnant lady stood on the roof panels of the building painting the screws and bolts blue.

I had so much to learn about Alaskan life.  Here I was, a girl from Idaho who had never been hunting, and had never lived in such a remote place.

I was a “Gussok” as the natives like to call “white men”.  I didn’t know anything about their culture or life.  Maybe that is why I was in such shock and disbelief the day we visited the Assemblies of God church in Dillingham.

It was another weekend when we had borrowed a van that we drove out to the Assemblies Church in Dillingham.  I was raised in the Assemblies of God church as a kid, so I was curious to join the fellowship there for a Sunday service.  The Pastor’s daughter led the worship there using a computerized box that she had recorded herself playing the piano into the week before.  She just had to push play and we could all sing along.  She made an appeal to any guests in the congregation who could play an instrument to come up and play and they would have live music, but no one took her up on the offer.  At this point in my life, I didn’t have those skills either.

The service was nice and the pastor began his message.  It was somewhere in the middle of his message that I remember him instructing the audience saying something like:  “The Bible does not support or agree with the idea of the sharing of spouses with one another.”  Did I hear him correctly?  Is he instructing people in the audience not to share their spouses with others?  “Who is sharing their spouse in here?” I wondered.  I wanted to look around but decided against that.  I felt very uncomfortable all of a sudden, however.  I later learned that this is a practice of some of the native communities and it had to be addressed by the church.  “Wow”, I thought, “that pastor has his work cut out for him.”

These were all my first thoughts and reactions.  I didn’t know the people, I didn’t know the culture.  I was intimidated, young, and naive.

I am writing these memories now because just a few weeks ago I left Anchorage to speak and lead worship for a ladies retreat in Port Alsworth, Alaska.  It was my second time to attent this retreat and my first opportunity to speak.  The ladies at this retreat came from different villages in Western Alaska with several of them coming from Dillingham.  It made me feel like my life had come full circle from fourteen years ago when I was new to the state and new to their town.

This time I climbed into an airplane even smaller than the one I initially flew in.  The airplane had been loaded with cargo for people in different villages along the way.  There was a dishwasher, a boquet of flowers, boxes of Cheerios, diapers, bananas, canned goods, lumber, milk, and even a puppy.  I stood on the scale with my carryons for them to weigh my total mass. 😉  I clamoured into my seat wearing my snowpants, coat, boots hat and gloves, and buckled up directly behind the pilot.  This time I was excited!

I got to share life with women from Dillingham and other villages.  The women are strong, creative, and resilliant.  They have endured long winters and isolation.  They are beautiful, hardy, precious people. I was no longer intimidated, but honored.  I had experienced just a taste of their lives and it became my bridge to this moment of ministry together.

As I reflect on all that God has brought me through and the places He has taken me, I realize that all roads lead to relationships, and many of these relationships are ordered of the Lord.  His desire is that every person comes to know Him.  My job is not to complain about the town I live in or the conditions I am struggling with, but to learn, connect, love people and hear God’s heart for the people around me.  This for me is “Coming Full Circle”.  I am so glad God gave me a chance to see this day!

Acts 17:24-28

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

God never wastes our lives.  Every little piece is tailor made to fit together in His plan.  For me the first puzzling piece was Mindy, but now the picture is coming into view.  I am so grateful for Mindy and for the God who orders my steps.

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The Great Hunt

This is Chapter 2 of my Dillingham Adventures

Chapter 2

I remember a rather humorous phone conversation I had with a book company I was ordering from while in Dillingham.  I made my way to the local grocery store to use the payphone located outside so that I could place an order for a Bible Study Series.  I knew I would have a few months there and figured I could get a lot of studying done.  When it came time to discuss the shipping, the Customer Service Representative informed me that they would ship UPS and would reach me in a few days.  I had to inform him that there was no UPS service in the village and I would need them shipped through the regular mail.  This” threw him for a loop” since their ordering system was set up to only ship UPS.  He questioned me to be sure I knew what I was talking about.  He then offered that maybe they could fly the books to the border of Alaska and that I could then send a dog sled team to the border to fetch them and bring them to where I was.  I laughed, he laughed, and he figured out how to get the order mailed to me through the post office.

The mornings were getting colder the longer we stayed, so the little space heater we had was used in one level of the house at a time.  At night, we would carry the heater up to our little bedroom and run it all night.  Jamin would set his alarm for an hour earlier than he needed to get up in order to take the heater downstairs and begin warming up the kitchen/living area.  He would also turn on the oven to 500 degrees F. and open the oven door to speed up the warming process, then he would run back upstairs and join me in bed until it was time to get up again.  This made us thankful that our electric bill was included in our rent!

The building Jamin was building was huge and the pieces to it had been shipped in a few weeks previous.  Each metal sheet for the building was coated with a plastic sheath that had to be removed in order to use it.  On the trim pieces in particular, the plastic sheath was stubborn and the men found they were spending a lot of time removing plastic and it was slowing down the construction time.  The solution seemed to be to drop the pieces of steel off at our little cabin and throughout the day I would work on peeling the plastic off of each piece.  They paid me “Davis Bacon” wages to perform that task, so I had a chance to work along with my reading and studying, and puking.

My dish soap was beginning to freeze in the bathtub at night.  The weather was changing from summer to fall.  Fall in Alaska means moose hunting season and in this village that was no exception.  Being in such a remote area, the chances of finding a large moose are greater, so Jamin was determined we would hunt the mighty moose in our time there.  Our first chance came one weekend when someone loaned Jamin a truck and we took off on a drive around a lake outside of town.

We drove up a road that took us to the top of a hill where we pulled over on the side of the road in order to get a look down at the valley and spot for moose.  We were about 1/4 of a mile atop an embankment that was steep, but thick with Alder trees.  Beyond those short “leggy” trees was a patch of Spruce trees that eventually gave way to an open area of muskeg (low lying marsh or bog) with a small pond at it’s center.  It was near that pond that Jamin spotted the “Big One”.  And big he was.  Through the binoculars we could see a large bull moose with antlers so heavy they weighed down his head when he walked.  He was in the clear and Jamin was stoked!

For the next five minutes, everything was a blur.  Jamin jumped out of the truck, quickly moved to the back and grabbed his rifle.  He dumped out a large bag, brought it to me in the front of the cab along with his .44 handgun.  His instructions were something like this:  “I’m going down after it Cate!  Come down after me in a little while and bring this bag with you.  If you get lost, fire this gun and I will find you.  Okay, I’m going!”

Okay…..I’m six months pregnant now and my belly has become a little cumbersome.  I watch Jamin practically fly down the hill in pursuit of the bull and I grabbed my binoculars to watch and see when he would make it to the clearing.  It took him about ten minutes.  Well, I guessed then that it was my turn to descend, so I holstered the handgun, put it in the bag, zipped up the bag, threw it over my shoulder and got out of the truck.  “Oh, man…I’ve got to get down this embankment!”

I grabbed at Alder branches for stability and began groping my way down the hill.  Alders are trees that kind of begin branching from the ground up.  They are almost like a bush because of the many “legs” and branches that you have to step over and through to get through them.  I didn’t find it very easy.  As I was wandering deep into the alders and down, I thought to myself, “What if I were to encounter a bear here in the Alders?  My gun is zipped up in this bag on my shoulder and holstered.”  I quickly unzipped my bag, unholstered the gun, and placed it where I could grab it quickly if I needed to. Ten or so minutes later I made it to the bottom of the hill through the alders.  Next was the patch of Spruce trees.

I must have lumbered worse than that bull moose because it took me more than twenty minutes to get myself out to the clearing where I last saw Jamin and the moose.  To my surprise neither of them were anywhere to be seen.  I pondered what to do and decided that I would rather hang out in the clearing where I could see in all directions rather than sit under a tree.  So I found a place to sit on the wet squishy muskeg and waited….and waited….and waited.

It didn’t take long before my pregnant body had to pee.  I was grateful I was in the middle of nowhere, because I was going to have to find a place out there in the open to go.  That’s when I learned about “no-see-ums”.  They are these tiny flies that love to eat the flesh of unsuspecting humans taking tiny bites at a time.  They hurt and then the wounds they leave itch and sometimes swell up.  Needless to say, my backside had quite a dot-to-dot art gallery.

I waited and watched for what seemed like hours…maybe two hours and there was no sign of Jamin or a moose.  I was getting impatient.  Then it began to rain.  And I mean it rained!  It began pouring down so hard that there were streams of water running down the branches of the trees.  I decided that I had had enough so I reached for the .44 that Jamin had left me and I extended my arm into the air and fired the gun.

I had never fired that gun before.  That moment was my first.  All I can remember was that my sense of hearing was suddenly absent and I felt the need to overcompensate for my lack of hearing by opening my eyes wide.  I stood there kind of stunned with wide eyes wondering “what just happened?”

I began scanning the tree lines looking for movement and hoping that Jamin would emerge from somewhere.  Then I spotted movement about  a mile away across the meadow coming out of the trees.  It was a dark object that appeared to be moving my direction.  I thought about walking in that general direction to meet Jamin and then realized that I wasn’t sure that this dark object was Jamin.  I had left my binoculars up in the truck so I decided just to stay put and let the object get close enough for me to identify it before I moved.  Gratefully, as it got closer I could see that it was indeed Jamin.

Jamin had followed the moose into the woods and had climbed into a tree to get a better look.  The moose had eluded him, and he was waiting for another sign.  Jamin approached me there in the muskeg with a million apologies.  “I am so sorry Cate.  I didn’t mean for you to have to come down here.  I meant to say only come down if you hear me shoot.  Then I would need the bag to start packing out meat.  I am so sorry.”

“What?” I asked with ears that were slowly adjusting to sound again.

The rain was coming down hard and so we decided to leave and hike back up to the truck while we could.  The 20 minute downhill hike for me turned into an hour uphill hike for both of us.  I was slow. Jamin had to push me up the hill in places.  We were so thirsty and tired, so we would stop from time to time, open our mouths, and drink the water pouring off of the tree branches in a steady stream just like a drinking fountain.  We found several low bush blueberries along the way too which we ate.  It seemed like such a long hike, but we made it finally to the truck before the sun went down.

Jamin was full of apologies for causing his pregnant wife to hike for miles on a hunt, but I assured him that if I had an easy delivery with this child I would thank him then.  For now I wanted to go back to our cabin and straight to bed.

To Be Continued…..

It All Started With Mindy

This story is Chapter 1 in my Dillingham Adventures.  Enjoy!!

Chapter 1

Growing up in Boise, Idaho, I considered myself a Tomboy. I liked the malls, shopping, going to movies and other things convenient to life in a city, but I lived in a suburb on an acre of land where we raised cows, horses, pigeons, sheep and other animals. I shot BB guns, played in mud, caught frogs and grasshoppers and played with worms. I have an older brother, so sometimes, when he let me, we would play “Cowboys and Indians” and I got to join in the fun with his friends. My world enlarged the year I left to Bible School at Christ for the Nations in Dallas, Texas when God placed a roommate in my life named Mindy.

I knew she was a different kind of woman when we began unpacking our things and pulling from our boxes the decorations we were planning to hang on the walls. I pulled out floral calendars, candles, and my favorite stuffed animal, and Mindy pulled out deer hides, fox tails, and raccoon tails. The deer hide went up on the wall and the other fuzzy tails were attached to each of the pull string lights in the two closets of our apartment. I was speechless!
Now Mindy liked girlie things too, but her growing up years consisted of events that I never participated in as a kid–like hunting. She was a fantastic cook, made beautiful beadwork jewelry, and decided to learn to play bluegrass fiddle while she attended school.

I was in awe of this lady. She told me stories of spending her summers working in Alaska, away from her family, hanging nets in a village called Dillingham. She talked about her morning runs along Aleknegik Lake. She talked about her hunting expeditions and other things she did outside in the wild. Her life was such a contrast to mine that I barely paid attention. I couldn’t imagine her life and was certain mine would never even come close to hers. Well, I should have paid attention.

I’ve heard it said many times, that God places people in your life to round off your edges and to prepare you for future events. This was true of Mindy and me. I didn’t always understand her. She didn’t always understand me. I liked security and playing it safe and she loved taking risks. We rubbed on each other some. We disagreed on many things. But then she would cook and I would be disarmed by her wonderful culinary gift.
She only stayed one semester, so I didn’t get to spend more time with Mindy, but after reflecting on my past 15 years of life, there are many things I have found in common with my roommate.

Within my first year of marrying my Alaskan Sweetheart, Jamin, I found myself living in a fishing village in western Alaska. After the conclusion of the salmon fishing season, my husband got a job in this village putting up a steel building for the DOT at the local airport. It would be a project that would take about three months. I was four months pregnant with our first child by the time I packed up our stuff and headed out to meet Jamin in this place. Everything about the village was culture shock to me. The airplane that flew me there alone scared the heck out of me. It was more like a metal tube with glorified lawn chairs for seats. I wasn’t certain of it’s ability to fly. I had to pack food for our time out there because grocery prices in the village were ridiculously high, and some items unavailable. Where was I headed? Why, Dillingham of course!

We lived in a boat for a few days while Jamin searched for a home for us to rent. When he finally found that place and took me to go and see it, I was in shock. It looked like a toolshed. “Are you sure this is a house?” I asked. The landlord opened the door to the little arctic entry and then into the building. There was some mold growing up a wall along the stairwell, and a few mushrooms blooming on the stairs. The kitchen area featured a full size cooking range/oven, an apartment-sized refrigerator with enough freezer capacity to house a half gallon of ice cream, and a few kitchen cupboards. The landlord scratched his head as he looked around and said, “I thought for sure I had a kitchen sink in here!” Hmmm……do people steal kitchen sinks and then cover up the hole with countertops? I mused. So the only running water was in the little bathroom to the right of the kitchen where there was a bathtub/shower and a small sink. There was a small living room area, and up the stairs was the loft where we could make a bedroom.

The house was not insulated, so our time there would have to be temporary as winter set in. There was no source of heat in the home either, but the landlord promised to bring us a space heater and wouldn’t charge us extra for electricity. Well, the price was good, it was all we could find and so Jamin and I made an agreement: If he would harvest the mushrooms on the steps, I would bleach the wall and we would make the best of it. So it was agreed. We were now in our first home!

Oh, If I hadn’t have been so sick with that pregnancy! I mentioned that the only running water in the house was in the bathroom, so all dirty dishes were washed in the bathtub. Only the smell of the food made me so nauseous that I couldn’t wash dishes during the day. Jamin would very often come home from his long day of work and take a shower with the dishes…sort of a pre-rinse cycle! Then after dinner the two of us would work on them together.
What does a nauseous, pregnant woman do with her time all day in a village? That is a good question! Well, I slept a lot and I ordered cd’s books and videos through the mail to entertain me. Jamin’s parents bought us a tv and shipped it out to us along with a couple of book series so that I could read. I remember taking a bicycle to the post office and balancing the box with the tv on the seat of the bike as I walked it back to our home. I did a lot of balancing acts on that bike with our laundry, the mail, and any groceries I purchased. I wasn’t very quick walking that bike, and I would often have a drunk older native man follow me on my way complimenting my blue eyes and hoping to befriend me. I think he needed someone to buy his alcohol because he was no longer allowed in the stores. We had many “chance” meetings on my errands to the grocery store, post office or laundromat.  I wasn’t in any danger, but it took me awhile to get used to this new place and this new culture.  I should have paid more attention to Mindy’s stories.

To be continued……