Leslie Leyland Fields is an award-winning journalist and author of ten books; which should be reason enough to commend her writing. But I also get to call this women I admire and appreciate a friend, which is a heaping bounty of grace to me. Her writing is beautiful, and her photos are beautiful… and even those are just a snapshot of this radiant, fierce, gracious woman. I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from her latest release: Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt the Seas. (It’s a good one, you’re going to want to read more. Trust me.)
This work doesn’t make sense. Why are we here? I glance at my son Elisha, 19, here beside me in the skiff, and then at Micah, my youngest son, 11. We work too hard out here on this ocean, our piece of the Golf of Alaska. There have been summers when we worked unending hours every day of the week for four months—and earned nothing.
Still, we came back to our fish camp island the next year. And the next. I’ve been out here for 39 summers now; my husband for 53. It’s a sickness. It’s a disease. It’s love. It’s hope. Once you have spent any part of your life on water—living throbbing thrilling liquid moody dangerous unsinkable water—you cannot turn away. It gets inside you. No, it’s already inside you. We are made of humus, it is true, of the soil itself, but the ocean roars in our chests, pulses through the river of our veins. And there, on the sea, blown about by winds, floating between sky and earth, working by tide and by fish instead of time, fishermen feel a kind of freedom from those who live on land, punching a daily clock. We are slaves to sea and fish, but somehow, paradoxically, we feel a strange sense of freedom. Why would we give this up?
But they did, those fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Those four, or perhaps even six of the twelve, dropped their nets to follow this new rabbi. Why did they do it? The gospel account makes it all so simple, so immediate, and their obedience so unquestioning. “At once” it says, “they left their nets and followed him.” But they weren’t just leaving the nets behind. They were leaving their family business. They were leaving their father. “At once.” That fast.
I turn and look at Elisha, 19. His young beard is sparse, his eyes are half-lidded against the wind and spray as he shakes out finger kelp from the net. His face is neutral though I know he hates this—a whole carpet of kelp clings to the meshes and must be shaken out. We all hate it. I automatically help him, my own arms raising and lowering the net with him. Micah, 11, beside me, follows suit. I am standing between them, my youngest son on my right, my middle son on my left. The three of us now, arms out, waving and vibrating the net in perfect unison. I glance at them and almost smile. I know they do not see this, the wonder of it.
And this is just what those men left behind. They left their father, and maybe even other brothers. And this business they had worked in together all their lives. How do you give this up? I have some idea what those years looked like, those years of training since they were small. First, where to sit in the boat, how to stay still and keep your place and not get in the men’s way.
Then how to pull on the net, where to pull, how to extract the fish, how to tie up to another boat and not get your fingers smashed between them. And among all this, all of us parents watching these little boys and my daughter making a way to play in the boat while the men work: the fish recruited as talking puppets, the bull kelp carved into flutes, the games and stories and falling asleep in the stern when the hour got late.
For Zebedee, the patient teaching on the oars, how to position them, how to dip them efficiently. For us, the gradual move to running the engine, the intricate steering and landing. Then teaching how to mend the nets. Then working in storms. Until the day the son or the daughter stands in the stern of their own boat, only fourteen, but on the water they’re adults now, teaching their crewmen all they know, and driving out onto the ocean ahead of you or beside you. You still work together on the same nets, in the same ten miles of ocean, but now in separate boats. You still have to hire workers to help, but no hired men can replace your own sons and daughters.
I know how this feels, to be Zebedee, and to see your children called away from the nets. He could not operate without them. Nor can we. My children leave fishing early to return to school—first elementary, then high school, then college. Duncan and the rest of the crew stay another month to finish the season. My kids leave for internships, to do research with a professor. Some do not come back, except for a short visit. And after college, what then? One does not come back, except for short visits. Another son says he won’t come back after he graduates. Will they leave fishing forever? I know how it feels, the empty place at the table, their skiff run by someone else. It’s a loss. An aching loss. Will they come back, any of them? That’s all we want to know, Zebedee and I.
Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas is Leslie Leyland Fields’ tenth book. Others include Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, and The Spirit of Food. When she isn’t fishing, speaking or writing, you’ll find her on her island picking rose petals for jam or creating a new recipe with her favorite food—Alaska salmon.
In Crossing the Waters, you’ll be swept up in a fresh experience of the gospels, traveling with the fishermen disciples from Jesus’ baptism to the final miraculous catch of fish―and also experiencing Leslie’s own efforts to follow Christ out on her own Alaskan sea. In a time when so many are “unfollowing” Jesus and leaving the Church, Crossing the Waters delivers a fresh encounter with Jesus and explores what it means to “come, follow Me.”