Accomodation, Affirmation, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Parasites, Pilgrimage, Religion, Sacrifice, Serving Others, Trees, Uncategorized, wisdom

The Plover and the Crocodile

Last month, we hiked through a mixed forest of beech, oak, pine, and hemlock. It is evident all through the north that these hundred+ year-old forests are stressed; the ash still standing are all dead from the ash borer, the beech are ringed with deadly fungus, and the hemlock is next, expected to succumb to the wooly adelgid in Michigan as the tiny insects migrate from the east.

When we came across this tree (pictured), I began to think about the nature of parasitism, that form of symbiosis between species in which a squatter takes advantage of a host. The deer tick is a good example; it sucks the host’s blood, and transmits Lyme disease. Obviously, there is nothing good in the relationship for the host. The photo is of a hoof fungus on a decaying tree. It is a true parasite, attaching to a vulnerable place on the tree and causing stem rot, which eventually kills the tree.

Other symbiotic relationships can be mutually beneficial, in which both host and parasite benefit one another. In Egypt, the plover and the crocodile have made peace for millennia. The crocodile opens wide, the bird flits in and eats the rotting food stuck in the croc’s teeth, and, in apparent gratitude, the croc doesn’t eat the plover. Voila!  The bird eats and the reptile gets a free dental cleaning.

I think the most interesting of these relationships is that of commensalism, in which a parasite attaches to a host for a free ride. One benefits, while the other is not harmed; think barnacles on a whale. Or a person who has asked for prayer.

This has had me thinking mostly about human relationships.  I am people-shy by nature,

in a lifelong struggle to reconcile scriptural demands to love my neighbor with the fact that I prefer solitude. Instead of open arms that welcome “the inconveniences and suffering that love requires,” [1] I tend to flee into myself, wrapped, not in apathy, but in a dread-frosted cake of isolationism.

I do not want to be needed. I do not want my energy to be sucked dry like a tick sucks blood. I do not want to be used. And, to be sure, there are people who are parasitic on one’s time, emotions, money, and good intentions. Thus, most of my freely-given time goes to things like making the coffee, offering to pray for people, serving a meal, helping people move across town, even recover from a hurricane. I can do these things without much chance of exposing my inner self to the deep, sometimes twisted, often long-term (even endless) neediness (especially emotional neediness) of others. It is as much as I can do to avoid parasites while agreeing to a time-constrained spell of commensalism.

I guess, if I am honest, I dislike sacrifice.

And that’s too bad. Here, Nature is such a good teacher. I know that, like the plover and the crocodile, the Church is full of people who both need and love God.

I know that people will come alongside me to model what it means to love without dread, to give without constraint, and to be the hands and heart of God to someone who is hurting-even when that someone, someday, is me.

We always want our relationships to be mutual, in which both parties benefit. I see this naiveté all the time when young people head out on a mission trip; it’s less about sacrificial service than they like to think.

Truth is, the foundation of faith is sacrifice. And bloody.

Freely given that we might be greedy takers of forgiveness and salvation.

But, once freed from our wayward living, the expectation is that we follow. All the way to our own death if necessary. I believe this, but I have to continually pray that God helps me in my unbelief.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]www.desiringgod.orgaccessed July 13, 2019. John Piper. Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God.  pp. 283-284. 2012.

Accomodation, adventure, Adventure Tourism, Creation, Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, hiking, John Muir, Lessons from the Wilderness, National Parks, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outfitting, River, Silence, Uncategorized, White Water Paddling, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The ‘Unhurried Grace’ of the Wilderness

The Walton brothers are back and rested from their rafting trip down the Colorado River, full of stories, memories, and the gratification one gets from completing a once-in-a-lifetime wilderness adventure.  Over eleven days, they rafted 192 miles, bucking through 66 rapids, 28 of which were level IV or V (i.e., significantly formidable).  Since the Colorado is open to paddlers only by permit, almost everyone on the river is with a professional outfitting group. This is good because the rapids and cold water (around 50 degrees) are dangerous even when you know what you are doing.

So the brothers joined 12 other trippers at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as 4 guides and 4 support staff from O.A.R.S. outfitters. They spent time at the start in orientation: man-overboard drills, helmet rules, and “groover” instructions (a groover is a backcountry toilet for solid waste, because we all know that everything we eat must come out, and that on the Colorado, everything solid that comes out must be packed out).  At 4:00 a.m. the next day, they set off down the Bright Angel trail from the rim of the Grand Canyon hiking down (with a capital D), nearly 10 miles to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. They began in a frosty, pitch dark with headlamps, and 3 water bottles apiece. By the time they reached the bottom it was 95 degrees and they were footsore, more than ready to on the river. The rafts were awaiting them in the cool brown Colorado, 4 for the 16 trippers and 4 guides, and support staff with other rafts with supplies like food, drink, gear, and groover. The group all agreed that this was the most physically-challenging day of the trip, and that hiking 10 miles downhill makes everything hurt: back, hips, knees, and, most especially, toes.

When you trip with an outfitter, you have to learn that you are the patron, and the staff is there to serve you.

This is so unlike any trip you would plan and execute on your own; on this trip, carrying the gear, brewing the coffee at 5:30 a.m., cooking the food, cleaning up the camp kitchen, and steering the raft through dangerous rapids was all done for the trippers.  This is fun for most people, and allows them a chance to enjoy being in the wilderness without any of the obligations of planning and paddling.  But, for the two paddling Walton brothers, this was hard. They enjoy the process, and welcome hard physical challenges, where testing themselves against the beauty, danger, and mystery of the wilderness is the main thrust of why they go in the first place. This is not to say they didn’t have a terrific time on the Colorado, only that they would have enjoyed a more hands-on experience.

It begs several questions that have plagued the national parks for decades. How do we get more people in touch with what the wilderness has to teach, and accommodate the novice explorer’s lack of expertise and physical fitness, while preserving the true notion of “wilderness”?  How do we make the wilderness accessible and relatable for people with disabilities?  We know that hands-on experience is a master teacher. So, if we want people to advocate for wilderness preservation, how do we help them be active participants instead of passive passengers?

The world is shrinking. The national parks are experiencing record numbers of visitors, and the wildness of the lands the government preserves is in peril when accessibility/development is at loggerheads with preservation of the virgin wilderness.

Edward Abbey, John Muir, and Henry Thoreau would decry the bulldozers ripping and gnawing at the wilderness so that the auto, RV, motor boat, and trail bike can reach far corners, in faster time, than would happen if we could only get there on foot, or with mute paddle.

What’s lost is the silent stretch of time and physical challenge that births reverence and awe in the undiminished wilds, something that industrial tourism* can never authentically afford.  For now, there’s the shallow surface beauty that national park visitors can enjoy in a quick stop-for-a-day.

The deeper, more mysterious, yet difficult to access  “unhurried grace”* of the wilderness, is won

only by those able and willing to do the hard work to get out and away from the crowds, and it is diminishing by the year.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire. Chapter 4. 1968.

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Accomodation, Affirmation, Camping, Close Quarters, Uncategorized

The Buck Snorts of Life

One intent of this blog is to challenge us to live life fully… grace-fully, wonder-fully, hope-fully.  Because being around the Walton brothers is such a hoot, I hope to experiment with using humor to face our challenges with this grace, wonder, and hope.  Here’s to first attempts!

My husband Mark and his younger brother Hugh have been paddling their sea canoes in the wilds of the north for over 25 years. For most of those years the brothers always shared a small tent. Mark will readily tell you that his brother snores. Not the little snips and snorts of a sleepy tongue relaxing at the back of the mouth, but the giant, gaping, mawing croaks that sound like an angry and randy buck. If you have spent much time around deer, you know about the buck snort. It’s a cross between a loud grunt, a sneeze, and a bawl.  Earplugs don’t begin to help Mark with Hugh’s buck-snorting antics. The noise keeps him awake through the watches of the night, as he lies there rigidly, imagining the tent looking like a flimsy lung inhaling through his brother’s open mouth, followed by a cracking and whiffling forced expulsion of air out his face. Snuffle in. Snort out. All the blessed night long.

Mark has tried pushing Hugh over. Turns out a true buck-snorter can snort as well on his stomach as his back. Each morning he awakes refreshed and looking forward to his coffee, while Mark groggily assess how much sleep he did, or did not actually get. Why it took over twenty years for Mark to start bringing his own tent-pitched as far from his brother’s as the campsite will allow-is something for the psychologists to study. In the end, Hugh’s snoring is likely why they’ve had so little trouble in camp with bears.

We who live intimately with other people know firsthand the little, but many annoyances that intrude on day-to-day life. The power of love in such relationships is to learn to accommodate with grace.

It is the most basic premise of hospitality to accommodate. And it is always your choice: you can either affirm or infirm those you love with your gestures and words (and the tone you use). You can be grandly grace-filled, or you can belittle. One builds, the other tears down.

Take a look at your closest relationships. Can you accommodate the little annoyances without taking offense? Without self-importance? It means to make room for somebody, to be obliging, to tolerate with sacrificial humility. I am not saying you must become a doormat- sometimes the solution is to get another tent! But for most of us, it is just like being in your sleeping bag; it may be time to roll over and cherish the one you’re with, no matter how loud the snorting.

~J.A.P. Walton

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