Saturday, July 19, 2008

Alaska Journal

We are having a second autumn storm in as many weeks, a sign as worrying in the North Pacific as the early appearance and longevity of Hurricane Bertha in the Atlantic. These storms carry high winds and torrential rains; they normally start rolling in after mid-August and characterize October. Any resident of Juneau who can manage is absent in October.

The wind has played hob with the delphiniums, just beginning to bloom, and late, though not as late as the peas, which were planted in April and are only now beginning to blossom. The tall primroses have also suffered, and the lupines, while finished, struggle to stay upright while their seed ripens, which I hope to harvest. The dahlias, usually in full bloom by now, haven't even begun to bud.

Hummingbirds and bumblebees have perhaps suffered most from the wet, cold summer, because of flowers that bloomed and froze, or failed to bloom. The hummingbirds were nearly two weeks late arriving, and with their normal food supply out of sync, have gone through nearly thirty pounds of sugar in three months. I have always wondered what it must be like to live your entire life on a sugar high.

The mature males left more than a month ago. For two weeks, now, the females have been bringing their fledglings to the feeders; they are as comical as any young bird. Perching seems more difficult to learn than flying. One enterprising and precocious juvenile male decided to set up a territory and sat on the wrought-iron hook that holds one of the feeders. He persisted through an inch and a half of rain. I worried that he would die of cold and wet, but he fluffed out his already soft feathers and shook the water off periodically and seemed none the worse for wear. Presumably he has migrated, for his territory has been taken over by a juvenile female, who has been far more sensible about perching under cover during squalls.

But each day there are fewer birds, and they are increasingly tolerant of one another as they tank up on energy, sitting on the perches drinking, drinking, drinking until they have to stop for breath, their long tongues flicking over needle beaks, and then drinking some more. In a day or two the local birds will be gone, and then we will start getting migrants from up north, where the summer also has been cold and wet.

Thankfully the peonies are only just beginning to unfold so the blossoms won't be ruined by the current storm. But the fireweed flowers are climbing the stalk with alarming rapidity, and the big rain two weeks ago dumped fresh snow on the peaks. Termination dust doesn't usually arrive until September.

Every August the community garden hosts a little harvest fair to celebrate the fact that even in a climate as dire as ours it's possible to grow something with enough persistence and ingenuity, and to reward those who try. Sometimes the weather is so bad that a few carrots and potatoes are a miracle; even greenhouse produce can be affected. We haven't seen the sun for weeks, but evidently the length of light at this time of year makes up in part for lack of sun, because I'm happy to report that one pumpkin in my garden window is slightly larger than a softball, while the other is about the size of an American football.

Today I harvested the first Italian striped zucchini from the kitchen window pot, and the first Lebanese from one in the garden window. A few cherry tomatoes are starting to turn color, while out in the polytunnel the plants are really struggling. The Russian tomatoes all have fruit, but whether it will ripen or be edible is anyone's guess. The beans look starved for light.

The paradoxes of global warming keep mounting up. It is said that all the glaciers on Mt Shasta are growing because of increased moisture at high elevations, while ice in the Arctic Ocean this year has melted earlier and faster than any time in recorded history. At our latitudes, global warming means more cold and rain, and in winter, especially if the ground does not warm up enough during the summer, record amounts of snow. Which could, of course, or so geographers tell us, tip us into a new ice age.

Across the continent and ocean, warmth of different kind is bringing hope to the Lambeth Conference, as noted in this post from the Lambeth Journal (

The Language of Silence

The bishops gathered again in Canterbury Cathedral to pray and reflect and listen to the powerful words of the Archbishop of Canterbury. At one point during his reflection, he invited the bishops seated in the nave of the cathedral to silence. As difficult as this may be to comprehend, more than 600 bishops were completely silent.

I could have heard a pin drop in the cathedral. For several minutes we sat in silence, and I learned something more about the language of silence. When it ended, I had the overwhelming feeling that much had been accomplished during that time. It may be that more was accomplished for me in that time than in days of talking. I think silence is a language in which, at least this bishop, could stand to become more fluent.

Sean Rowe, Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The human spirit, to thrive meaningfully, has to hold in healthy tension the complex, the simple, the playful, and the silent - synchronously. Bishop Williams is stirring those who can and those who "breaths slack with exhaustion" (Mary Oliver).

10:11 am, July 23, 2008  

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