“The Island of Grace”

It is my second year at a writing retreat on Harvester Island off the west coast of Kodiak, AK. The island hosts a working fish camp, a seasonal home to the Fields family, and is known to Leslie’s readers as “The Island of Grace.” Getting to this bump of a rock is half the journey.

Harvester Island

Midflight to Kodiak the pilot announces, “We have to turn around. It’s too dangerous to fly through the ash.”

Ash? Resuspended ash, from a 1912 Katmai volcano eruption, stirred up by high winds? We’re grounded because of a volcano that blew over 100 years ago? Fascinating. The passengers don’t look surprised. It’s Alaska. Expect the unexpected.

There, grounded all day, night, and yet another day, in Anchorage, I also didn’t expect to meet up with author Tracy Groots, a friend from the prior year’s workshop. Or after a long day of delays, I didn’t expect to receive the reassuring words, “The worst part is over,” from Tom, the hippy angel, a shuttle driver with a long white beard. Nor did I expect to be entertained by the two-kiss Frenchman, concerned about his fresh tomatoes, porcinis and fromage packaged and flung around the airport with each delay and gate change.

Garrison Keillor

I also didn’t expect for us to stalk, talk to and receive a warm hug (yes!) from radio host and author Garrison Keillor.And the wildlife viewing? If I’d never left the airport, I might’ve seen more there than driving though an animal park. They’re stuffed behind plexi-glass, of course.

A day later, after many delays and bumps, we press against Kodiak’s changing weather. I call “Shotgun!” and am suspended next to the pilot in a six-seater bush plane. We shake below the clouds into pockets of rain.

flight to Harvester

We scan the ocean surface for pods of fin whales, and I wonder if it’s best to crash land in the water, on a gravel beach or a grassy knoll. The pilot, unfazed, steers with his feet and pages through his IPod playlist with both hands. Oh, Mr. Pilot, we see your earphones below your ear protection. As planned, we land safely on the gravel runway in Larsen Bay. This. Is. Awesome.

Almost there, the thirty-minute skiff ride under ash-hewn skies blurs travel woes into nostalgia. I’d been here the year before. Those relished memories pulled me back to these tidal pool and bull kelp strewn shores: a panoramic waterfront and mountain backdrop; air drenched with salt, seaweed and cottonwood balsam; a steaming, wood-stoked banya; an iron, oil stove, warm like the hearth of this home; and beauty of place that one can’t escape. Welcome back. Touchdown Harvester Island.


During the week, Leslie Leyland Fields, and this year’s guest Bret Lott, teach and encourage us. We writers learn, commune, laugh and seek inspiration from another. I’d left my science brain at home and now feel very “writery” here amongst these creative, heart-felt folks. Fiction and non-fiction alike, some of my new compadres have written volumes, while others have only lived them. Still, we are all equal and eager to be filled. Can they feel it, too? The push and pull, of the surf, of ourselves tugging at the words to represent our thoughts?


I also ventured this distance to help, ahem, cook. Let’s just say that my love for cooking at home and my addiction to cooking shows does not qualify me to cook for twenty. Except for friend gatherings and parties, I typically cook for uno or duo. As one hungry writer at the workshop said to me, “No big deal. You just multiply everything by twenty.” No problemo.salmon

As life has taught me before, you never know what you’re capable of until you jump. You push yourself—while also broomsticking a weasel pawing at the fresh fish in a bucket; keeping a puppy nicknamed “Piddles” from escaping and getting eaten by the weasel; and holding back another dog who wants to maim that same weasel. (No, Bret, these are not haphazard gerunds, they really did happen all at once.) This week we all had been fed on this mighty Island of Grace.

net watch

At the end of the week, we retrace our flight path back to Kodiak and disperse across many states. No matter the distance, we have been united and inspired by two authors and a fishing family on Harvester Island. And two dogs. And maybe not so much by the weasel.

I sit before my computer and Bret’s word’s ring, “Write what you are unable to write.” Push.

I hear Leslie speak to me, “Fear not. None of us is good enough to finish a project when we start.” Keep trying.

I think, Laura, you can bum rush Garrison Keillor in the airport. You can feed twenty. You are capable of much more.

And finally, I repeat the words from that guy John in the Bible, “And these things we write, so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 4.

Love this day.

By | 2017-12-11T15:53:59+00:00 September 13th, 2015|


  1. Kim Gratzer October 9, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Laura I love reading about your adventures. Can’t wait for the next one.

    • Laura Hartema October 9, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks Kim. Each day holds a mini-adventure. If only I could squeeze in more time to write about them.

  2. Amy Horton September 21, 2015 at 4:58 am

    So glad my sister Katie Kula shared your blog with me so I can now follow you, too. It was easy for me to nestle into your writing style as I sipped a cup of coffee on my front stoop this morning.

    • Laura Hartema September 21, 2015 at 6:03 am

      Amy, so good to hear these words from you. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me.

  3. Katie Kula September 19, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    I was there when you were packing and preparing for this trip, so it’s wonderful to read about your experience on Harvester. You do have a talent, so please keep sharing your stories with the world. I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with you and call you “friend”, and now I am anxious to see where your path is taking you with your writing endeavor. I believe in you and I love hearing your stories. Here’s another push for you – “Don’t you EVER” stop writing!

    • Laura Hartema September 20, 2015 at 9:04 am

      Katie, thank you for your kind words and friendship. Life is a beautiful adventure, only made better with friends who take the journey with you. Thanks for reading.

  4. Laura Peterson September 17, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Gretchen said what I was thinking: “Thanks for bringing me back to Harvester Island!” You are a beautiful writer and a beautiful woman, Laura. Thanks for sharing your inspirational thoughts and for reminding me what this writing stuff is all about: joy!

    • Laura Hartema September 20, 2015 at 9:06 am

      Yes, Laura, I’m figuring out this ride out as I go. Embrace the challenges for that’s how we grow. Smiles to you, friend.

  5. Gretchen Carlson September 15, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Wow! Thanks for bringing me back to Harvester Island! Your post brings back great memories from the island last year and makes me feel “writery” again. I’m finishing the book I began last year, and yes–I am writing what I am unable to write! I love your blog and join you: LoveThisDay! Blessings!

    • Laura Hartema September 15, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Gretchen, I have heard good reports about your recent work. I can’t wait to see the finished product. I loved the draft you shared last year. Keep on it,

  6. Melanie Lott September 14, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Yes! Good on you for putting into words what I only wish I could. It was a joy to be with you on Harvester — and I mean your joyful spirit brought me JOY, which I really needed at that particular moment! God bless you, dear friend!

    • Laura Hartema September 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks Melanie. I consider myself lucky to know you and Brett. What a wonderful place to learn from each other, and for a moment, just be.

  7. Shari Dragovich September 14, 2015 at 5:13 pm


    The lines you quoted from Bret and Leslie–those are the ones I repeat to myself most often. And that John guy…he was a pretty smart dude, too. 🙂

    So glad we have Harvester! Write on, Friend!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Shari. Often the words are delivered to us just when we need them. Life is beautiful if we open our ears to hear what others have to share. Blessings!

  8. Tracy Groot September 14, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Oh, great stuff Laura! You brought me back to the airport, the hippie angel, the island, Piddles, her mama, and wonderful, wonderful people. But you also reminded me of other great stuff–” Write what you are unable to write.” And, “These things we write, so that our joy may be complete.” I’m gonna stick that in my pipe and stoke on it for a bit. Great stuff! Thanks, my friend!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      Tracy, thanks for this. I read some Annie Dillard this morning. She recalled a memory so vivid she said it would make a great painting, but instead she wrote it down. We get to relive it when we write it. Thank YOU my friend.

  9. Jack Bernard September 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Great start, Laura. In 1970 I told myself if I wrote 500 words a day I’d have a library by the time I was 65. I didn’t but I should have. Though I felt I would never have much to show I started again at 70 and I have over 200 blog posts and roughly 250,000 words in the last six years. It all adds up. Keep on blogging and the other writing comes easier too. Best of luck,


    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks Jack. It was nice to catch up and talk writing this weekend. Keep yours up as well.

  10. Lynn Rowland September 14, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Laura, you have wonderful words capturing the week on the island! And since I was there for the multiple-gerund weasel episode, you have a witness!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      Ha! That weasel had me spinning through the pantry like a light-footed ballerina. And you know I’m no ballerina. Smiles and thanks Lynn. See you again.

  11. Glenese September 14, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Laura, thank you for your lovely words. Keep at it. It was a treat to share kitchen duty with you & Sandra. I still need a couple of recipes from you!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      Hi Glenese. Yes! Team effort in the kitchen. And we ate all that wonderful salmon spread you prepared.

  12. Kelly Greer September 14, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Oh you just made my dream a lot more vivid. How amazing it will be to get there some day, Lord willing. Meanwhile, I am so excited to partake of a slice of this grace on the shores of Lake Michigan in late October to unite and write with Leslie and friends. Wondering now, will there be a weasel?

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Kelly, thank you for your comment. There may not be a weasel, but just like Alaska, expect to be enriched by Leslie and the other writers. Wish I could make it to Wisconsin, too. Lake Michigan was my ocean as a kid. Keep writing.

  13. Suzanne September 13, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Ahhh…you make me smile!

  14. Heather MacLaren Johnson September 13, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    You are an amazing woman and writer, Laura! So honored to know you!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 5:00 pm

      Heather thank you for your encouragement. We’re holding each other up with words and laughter.

  15. Desta September 13, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    It sounds like an amazing day. I think I have been reminded once again the blessings of living each day as it comes and with all it brings. Without the weasel there would have been less excitement, without the ashes, there would have been less adventure. Laura you, of all people, have what it takes to face all that comes head on and bring the beauty out of it. Keep on sharing your adventures!!

    • Laura Hartema September 14, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks for your support Desta. Yes, often we find our biggest blessings when we throw failed plans into the wind and grab hold what is right before us.

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