Spruce Island

A dried salmon

A pilgrim’s gauntness

Both in the coldest season


Because he was gentle in a brutal time—Father Herman was hated, and beloved. The blue-eyed Russian monk who baked sweets for children, who cared for the sick as whole villages were dying. I saw already-dead mothers across whose cooling breast a hungry infant crawled, crying out and searching for food.* Serving God means loving this broken world, after all, wearying as that is. The long winter ties your hands and makes everything difficult, he wrote. We live between a bucket and bad weather, between joy and tedium, between plenty and privation, satisfaction and hunger, warmth and cold. Weariness led him, finally, to Spruce Island, because it was far from men and reminded him of home. The forest hush of green on green on green. The moss softened branches. Where life was simple and hard. He slept with a board for a blanket. Hauled heavy baskets of seaweed for his gardens. He ate very little—fish, potatoes, mushrooms he foraged—sharing his meals with birds and ermine.


You can come here, without declaring a pilgrimage, without renouncing all comfort, or your children bickering behind you, (though the thought occurs). After all, even Saint Herman tried and failed to shed his flock, his worldly life. To be alone with only angels for company. Yet still they sought him out. Not angels, but lost women, orphans, ship captains, families. Was it for his storytelling or for his way of listening? (He was slowly going blind). Was it the way some people’s presence is like a quiet needed rest?


In local news today, three people and their two small dogs were blown miles out a bay toward Spruce Island on an enormous pink inflatable flamingo. True story. They were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Which wasn’t the way I meant for this to go—our brief comical heart-breaking lives. Or maybe this was where it was going all along. I’m telling you—how we care for one another is as holy as it gets on earth. Is how we save each other, over and over. The daughter at the foot of the hospital bed. The friend on your porch with pie warm from the oven. Grace is those whose company in a difficult time is the prayer you hadn’t yet spoken into air.

*S.I. Ianovskii, Fall 1819