Adventure Tourism, Birds, Blessings, Camping, Faithful Living, God, Home, Nature, Prayer, Religion, River, Uncategorized, wisdom

With a Honk and a Prayer

On our meandering way home last week, we camped near a lake in northern Kentucky.  We went on a rainy walk before supper, so glad to stretch our legs, gladder still to see geese on the water, which, like robins, I prefer to interpret as another sign of spring.

After dinner and washing up in the RV, we settled into our bunk with our books, lulled by the sound of rain on the roof. Outside was a deepening twilight. Faintly at first, then growing louder, the honking of an army of geese approached the lake for the night, answered robustly by the birds already in residence.  The honking was a roar at splashdown.

At first I thought the geese were honking to establish some kind of hierarchy, a kind of threat between resident and intruder. But my reading revealed that geese make such a racket in their dusky landings and dawn takeoffs so that other geese will know where they are.  They don’t honk in threat, or greeting, or goodbye. They honk to be “seen” in the dark, to prevent accidentally colliding with one another. Our church has become so crowded of late that I laugh to think about honking in the vestibule so that no one accidentally elbows me while drinking hot coffee! Still,

we can use our hearing as a kind of sonar, to listen for people’s stories, hopes, fears, and needs.

The other time geese routinely honk is while migrating. Bird experts think it is a form of encouragement. It reminds me of they way players on the bench, and the fans behind them cheer on their team on the court and field. My church family is truly my flock in this regard.

In returning to our home church for worship, it felt wonderful to be welcomed by our church family… the honking of landing back in our fold, of encouragement in the questions about our trip, our welfare, what we learned, how it went. And we learned what had been happening at home in our absence.

The Bible calls this being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… people on both sides of the river, alive and dead, who greet us, enfold us, encourage us, pray with us, and then send us back out into God’s world with a honk and a prayer.

Who is in your flock to encourage you, to see you safely home? Listen for them!

 

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo credit: bestof:canada geese branta canadensis …snappygoat.com

adventure, Adventure Tourism, Bryce Canyon National Park, Camping, Creation, Creator, Desert, God, hiking, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Praise, River, Starry Skies, Uncategorized, Water, wisdom, Zion National Park

Thin Air, Thick Dust, Beauty All Around

It is good to be home in Michigan after a 3-week spell in Arizona and Utah. Here, I can drink deep draughts of the autumnal palette of green, vermillion, orange and gold, reveling in this bounty of colors so much rarer in the western landscape.

Phoenix was particularly hot and dry where the greenish-yellow of the prickly pear and saguaro cacti stands in base-relief against the purple of distant mountains. Here, the only deep greens are on the golf course, watered with precious and dwindling flows from the Colorado River, and on the cell phone towers painted green to look like giant saguaros.

Climbing out of the desert into the high mesas to the north, the landscape changes in an instant. The cactus and sand give way to rock and bristlecone pine at the higher elevations. In appearance it seems an unforgiving landscape, but

the Hopi and Navajo have lived here for a thousand years, “thriving long in adverse conditions: poor soil, drought, temperature extremes, high winds.”*

Past the Grand Canyon and on into southern Utah, aspen join the autumn chorus, waving golden, glittering arms in gladness. Here, the weathered rock cathedrals tower, where sandstone is king, and sagebrush his queen as they reign over free-ranging cattle on a thousand hills. Here is the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, those life-giving ribbons of water, home to the pronghorn antelope, nattering prairie dog, and swift peregrine falcon. Here, too, is Zion, a river-carved fortress of sheer honeyed walls, and Bryce, with its colorful hoodoo armies blown by winds like fine glass.( Zion National Park   and Bryce Canyon National Park )

It is an entirely different kind of wilderness than what we experience in northern Michigan and southern Ontario.  Here, damp, verdant, fertile. Out west, thin air thick with dust, where the only immediately visible abundance for hundreds of miles is rock. To be sure, both are beautiful in their own ways. Both point to an imaginative Creator, who paints with a bold and vibrant palette.  Both give us the same gifts that wilderness always gives: delight in its bigness, contentedness with our own smallness, hope that life and beauty abound wherever we find ourselves, and that

nothing on this earth is godforsaken at all.

~ J.A.P. Walton

* William Least Heat Moon. Blue Highways. Chapter 2.

adventure, Camping, Close Quarters, Creation, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Prayer, Rain, River, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Golden Prescription

I went camping last weekend at a state campground along the Lake Michigan shore with 21 other women and girls from church. Group camping presents me with an immediate conflict- I seek out the wilderness for its solitude and quiet, as a salve to an agitated personality, but the building of intimate community through group experience is a critical component of faith formation and practice. Let’s just say it pushes me out of balance to be in the woods with so many people and so much chatter.

To ensure some semblance of quiet time apart, I took a solo tent so I could bookend the day with thinking and prayer, zipping myself inside a tiny cocoon of solitude while the junior high girls laughed and squealed in a tent as big as a 2-bedroom apartment.  We were each having fun in our own way.

The second night, there was a long, slow, low rumble of thunder from far out on the big lake as I zipped up for the night. While rain in camp makes for muddy messes, and complicates the packing up of tent and fly, being snug and dry inside your tent as a thunderstorm rolls in, over, then onward is a singular thrill.  The flash of lightning, the bass thrum of thunder, and the percussive rain all around is like a cleansing bath for the soul. As I lay on my back, a gentle storm all about me, I was reminded of the way the spirit of God stills us even in the grip of life’s gales. The prophet Isaiah wrote that from the heavens above, clouds rain down righteousness; they shower it down to earth so that salvation can spring up, a salvation God creates and showers upon us. (Isa 45:8, paraphrased). In truth, all restoration and flourishing come from God.

But, our life is usually too rushed to feel like it is flourishing, restorative, and life-giving.

The present often seems more like a flooding river hurtling itself downward, always rushing in multiple directions, void of any sense of calm, hungrily sucking in those unaware and unprepared, flinging everything in its path down, and under as the waters close over, drowning all light and life. We are constantly trying to catch our breath, to hear God’s voice in this wilderness, and to spend a quiet moment alone with Him, that His Presence fills our present.

Who needs to worry about the future with a present like that?

If you are tired of your to-do list a mile long, I highly recommend a solo night under the trees in a rainstorm as a golden prescription.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Backpacking, Camping, Creation, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Rocky Mountain National Park, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Up to Your Hips in Trouble

This photo was taken 41 years ago this month while backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) with friends. We had just finished our freshman year at Colorado State University, and were ready to celebrate before scattering for the summer. It was warm and sunny the day we left, and we could see for miles, with hardly a cloud in the sky. How deeply good it feels to exchange a mental burden for a physical one, to walk off the inner sludge that final exams cause to accumulate, and to finally be able to greet spring with exuberance and open arms.

Taking to the mountains is a kind of spring-cleaning for the soul.

We hiked up to 11,000 feet to base camp among the fir and spruce at Lawn Lake in the Mummy Range. We were the only ones there. After making camp in mid-afternoon, we hiked around the lake, wished for fishing poles, had a leisurely dinner, and planned out our route to, weather-permitting, summit the Mummy, and, with luck, even Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon mountains the next day depending on their snow cover. When you have grand plans in the mountains, you go to bed and get up early. We were bedded down before dark.

The RMNP website expressly warns about the vicissitudes of the wilderness: “Plan ahead and prepare: Plan your trip carefully. Prepare for extreme weather.” And for good reason. I can recall a July day backpacking in the park’s Never Summer range when a cloudless sky on a high plain at lunchtime became a menacing black, cold, and lightning-laced fury within the hour. We were caught high and unsheltered, forced to abandon our packs, spread out, and squat low on our haunches while the booming thunder shook the ground. I was 15, and my cheery camp counselor told the others to stay away from me, because with my mouthful of braces, the lightning would seek me out first. To this day I don’t know if she was serious or teasing. I remember finding the storm curiously invigorating-I was afraid and awed at the same time.

While sleeping the deep sleep of a college student freshly emancipated from classes and exams, the night got colder. Much colder as it turns out. We awoke around 4 a.m. when there was a muffled thump, and my tent-mate and I were immediately pinned inside our tent and sleeping bags. What in the world? I could just wriggle my arms free to push against the weight and find a flashlight. Imagine our surprise when, unzipping the tent fly, there was 3 feet of snow up the sides of the tent, the snow from the spruce having dumped with a tent-collapsing thud. Oh Oh. We were NOT prepared for snow, much less a blizzard of wet, heavy snow. Of course, back then, there were no cell phones or emergency GPS gizmos. The snow was already up to our knees, and it was steady. We could wait it out, or get out before it got deeper. We hoped, by going down, the snow would abate. So, by 4:30 a.m. we were packed and headed out by flashlight. It was a slog, sometimes the snow up to our hips. But, by noon, we were safely down, and headed into Estes Park for hot coffee and the best waffles the world has ever known.

The wilderness of life has its own storms. Illness. Job loss. Poor decisions coming back back to bite us. Weather disasters. Family strife. One night we lie down in peace and happy anticipation, only to be slammed awake, smothered by the fear, anxiety, and panic of an unexpected storm. The Bible has a consistently affirming message: “Do not be afraid.” “I will never leave you.” “God is the strength of His people, and a refuge in times of trouble.” I can’t promise that the outcome is always as good as hot coffee and waffles. Knowing God, it will be far, far better.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

adventure, Adventure Tourism, Camping, Creator, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Home, Outdoor Adventures, River, Travel, Uncategorized

Home is a Comfy Old Robe

It feels so good to be home after a month of adventuring. Stepping across the threshold is like slipping into a comfy old robe. Sleeping in our own bed. Salivating over the stack of waiting books that were too heavy to take along. Standing under a cascade of endless hot water. Driving a car! I think being far away from home for long stretches of time is good for us. We learn to appreciate what we have, and to be grateful for the hospitality of others. It teaches us to be better hosts, offering others sanctuary, nourishment, and rest.

To have a home is a great privilege, whether it is a dorm room, a tent in the wilderness, a small loft apartment in the city, a 3-bedroom ranch, or an old drafty farmhouse. What pleasure there is in making our own “nest” for rest and comfort and for hosting others, with a roof over our head, a place to sleep in relative safety, and an inviting place at the table!

Adventuring often means taking your entire home with you in packs- tent, camp kitchen, food, sleeping bag, first aid kit, knife, matches, lantern, clothing, water filter, camp stove, bucket, bear bag, hatchet, and trowel (for your outdoor “bathroom”). It is amusing to discover how much stuff you can live without when you travel like this, when the weight of everything is a factor for consideration.

It’s true: our stuff truly does weigh us down, and makes our homes cramped and confining. I think we try to fill a hole of deep longing with more stuff because of an undeniably lingering sense that we are never truly at home on the earth.

Jesus, to become a human, left an indescribably magnificent home in heaven. During his 3-year ministry he was an itinerant with no home and, short of the kindness of strangers, had nowhere to lay his head.

Imagine the Son of God having no home!

But he wasn’t homeless either, because he knew where he had come from and that he was going back. More than that, he told us before he left that he was leaving in order to prepare a home for us in heaven. Our unease on earth- really our dis-ease, is this whispering sense of longing, and of knowing that there is something better. It’s a God-given sensation, that we might pine for heaven and God himself while living right here.

These feelings are often most acute when we are away from home, sleeping under the stars, wondering what they look like from God’s vantage, carrying our necessities on our back, needing a map to get around, and relentlessly relying on the kindness of strangers. We miss our own bed, and the comfort of the rooms we know so well. It is a whiff of what heaven will be like-somewhere on the other side of the river of life, a place to be home, known, safe, and loved. That’s a trip I want to take, a threshold I will be glad to cross, and a robe I can’t wait to don!

~J.A.P. Walton