adventure, Blessings, Campfires, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, Henry David Thoreau, hiking, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson, River, Trees, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

We spent the past week at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This park is an emerald gem set between Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay and the wide and placid Tahquamenon River. One day we hiked from the river’s lower falls about 5 miles up to the upper falls along a well-loved trail that follows the river, traversing low wet bogs, and high dry forested ridges of cedar, hemlock, and oak. Each step along the river’s edge had me looking into dark, calm pools that surely were teeming with brook trout-oh for my fishing pole! The late summer flowers were lush despite the season’s lack of rain, mostly yellow and orange as the late bloomers tend to be- black-eyed Susan, butter-and-eggs (a sore throat treatment in the old days), tall, spiky mullein, and the delicate jewelweed. We saw little wildlife, though the pileated woodpeckers laughed at us all along the trail.

Near the upper falls we came across a large hemlock about 10” in diameter with a sign that said a hemlock with a circumference the size of a soda can would be about 100 years old. Things grow slowly where the arctic winds and snows of Lake Superior have hammered at the terrain for thousands upon thousands of years.

Nature is not in a hurry it seems, and we have much to learn about the virtues of taking life more slowly.

All in all, this was a hopeful walk, the kind of hike Thoreau or Emerson would approve. In his treatise on nature, Emerson noted that a walk in the woods helps us become young again, where the “air is a cordial” and we find ourselves wrapped in an “uncontained and immortal beauty.” [1]  On this day, the trail, labeled by the park service as strenuous and challenging because it is crisscrossed by fingerlike tree roots, muddy and slick in places, was, for us, a delight, a hushed forest canvas caressed by the river, filled with beauty, harmony, grace, and peace.

Day’s end brought a leisurely campfire enjoyed in good company with mugfuls of hot tea. As always, there isn’t much to say as the fire pulls us in and rearranges our thoughts.

I thought about the wood, not unlike my own life, so many long, patient years in the making.

The wood roars to life in a last, bursting fling, sparks rising up in joyous mutiny as if they could escape a foregone conclusion: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We repeated these words recently as we committed my husband’s mom to her earthly grave. I can only hope that, at the end of my days, I might rise up and light the night in one last delighted burst of joy, willowy arms reaching for heaven just like flames that lick away the darkness-a supplication of praise and thanksgiving for my life and my rebirth.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature.1836.

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