adventure, Affirmation, beauty, canoeing, childhood, Creation, Faithful Living, God, John Muir, Kindred Spirits, Lessons from the Wilderness, Marriage, Nature, River, Silence, Uncategorized, Water, White Water Paddling, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

Where Words are Unnecessary

I must confess that I covet the times my husband and I paddle a river alone together. Being surrounded by boats, family, friends, and visitors, we are more often than not on the water in big groups.

He is a much stronger, abler paddler than I. He can read the currents and the wind in ways that let him slither downriver like a water snake-completely at home and at one with the boat. It is a marvel to watch him, when the edges of man, boat, and river blur into lovely moments of being in nature, rather than standing over it.

We met 57 years ago as children.  Now, the canoe and the wild river are symbols of our relationship. Stable and still in deep quiet water, swift and determined in the face of life’s challenges and submerged snags. We seek out the wilderness for our own restoration as individuals and as man and wife. We travel the rivers and lakes because this is how man has traveled the deep, dark forests for centuries, taking us where no road can go, no cell phone can reach. We go quietly. Reverently. Following the world’s first paddlers past rocks and pines, scrub oaks and scarred outcroppings, shallow sandbars and towering eagles’ roosts.

Out here, life hangs on; a tree’s roots cling with enduring hope, it’s branches reaching for God. Every breeze lifts a melody. The deer snuffs and stamps. The kingfisher scolds. The milkweed suckles the Monarch.

And all the while, the waters flow down, the land bowing to its power and majesty. John Muir said, “The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

My husband and I need to be where words are unnecessary that we too might glide, and where creation does all the talking and singing for us. Where there is healing at every bend.

Where the earth’s broad sighs, and the sun’s nightly farewell give the soul hue and heft, and space and weft. Like candy at a parade, the wilderness tosses us joy with remarkable abandon, and we unwrap each treat with childish wonder that our hearts, together, could know such timelessness and beauty.

It is breath. It is gift. It is life. It is marriage. And it is ours.

~J.A.P.Walton

Thanks for reading!

 

adventure, Affirmation, Blessings, Blue Skies, childhood, Creation, death, Growing Up, Nature, Risk Taking, sailing, Uncategorized

Unbounded Joy

Last week I sailed my new little dory for the first time.  It was heavenly. Until the wind died that is. My one-hour sail turned into a 4-hour battle to move even one foot forward.  I know. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from being becalmed;

I can easily point out life stations in which discontent and a slovenly spirit toyed with my well-being.

Still. Just one brief hour skimming across the blue deeps, trimming sail and being consumed with the watery, foaming song of the bow slicing through the water was enough to make my re-entry into the world of sailing a delight I will never forget; an unbounded joy.

I grew up sailing an old Grumman aluminum dinghy that was my mother’s first boat. It was slow and stable, not good in light winds. When I was 12, she bought a new, fiberglass Butterfly, a beautiful, sleek turquoise boat, sail number 4607. Oh how I loved that Butterfly! It could nose ably into the wind, rising up onto the lee gunnel in a gallop across the water, straining like a racehorse to run fast. At 14, I was allowed to sail it alone, and it was then that I discovered the singular joy of a solo sail, where all the conversation is in your own head, and the music is orchestrated by God Himself. Sun. Wind. Crystal blue, cold, inviting water. Freedom and solitude.  Bliss.

Until one day at the age of 16 when I made a near-fatal error in judgment about the wind. I had been sailing a little recklessly, to be sure. I was experienced, had righted a tipped boat many times by myself, but on this day, when a gust took me and the boat right over, the boat quickly turtled, a term used to describe the mast sinking from parallel to the water to pointing directly down to the bottom of the lake. Butterfly masts take in water like a big straw, so once turtled, they are hard to right. On this day, as I slid across the fiberglass down the lee side of the boat to be dumped in the water, the tiller extension (a long bar that swivels off the end of the tiller to allow the sailor extra reach for hiking out) somehow slid under the shoulder seam of my life jacket.

As I kicked to free myself from underneath the boat, I was dismayed to learn that I was, in effect, tightly trapped to the boat deck. Of course, I was wearing my contacts and had my eyes closed (dumb).

I fumbled around long enough to realize that my life jacket was ironically going to kill me.

So, I unzipped it, scrambled loose, and burst to the surface to cling like wet laundry across the placid and welcoming big white underbelly of the boat. That incident frightened me, no doubt.

Until last week, I never again sailed a boat solo,

and I had very little trust when sailing with my husband that he would keep the boat upright and not dump me into the dark and deep waters of Crystal Lake. I spent years dreaming about sailing my own boat, but the doubt would hold me back. The Butterfly was eventually sold, and we went through a few iterations of sturdy little day cruisers for our family- the Flying Scot, the Wayfarer. They were too big for me to sail alone, and the gnawing desire to sail something small and safe kept growing.  I chose the 12’ dory because of its stability, and because when there is no wind it can be sculled for good exercise. The uncanny thing is that its tiller is too short, so we are building an extension- a nice smooth teak one without the T-shaped butt that can tangle in a life jacket.

Last week’s sail was fraught with a kind of humiliating comedy because I ended up needing to be towed in about an hour before dark (after refusing a tow 2 hours earlier with unexpectedly stubborn pride). But before the wind died, that sail was also a victory of will over fear, of returning to an important piece of my development from child into adult. It welcomed me back to my first memories of the power of the wind, the beauty of the white sail kissing the deep blue sky, and the sounds and smells of the water frothing its glad tidings underneath the bow of the boat.  Peace. Freedom. Delight. Solitude. I’ve only just begun to make up for the 40 years I missed out there.

~J.A.P. Walton

Starting August 1, WordPress will no longer connect with my Facebook profile. To receive future posts in your email feed, please consider clicking on the FOLLOW button! In the meantime, I will experiment with moving to a separate Facebook page dedicated to the blog. Wish me luck! Going on vacation for 2 weeks. More to come. Thanks for reading!

 

 

adventure, Blessings, Blue Skies, canoeing, childhood, Creation, Creator, God, Lake Michigan, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling

When the Blue Blue Sky is Your Cape

There are particular and rare days in Michigan when a cloudless sky dawns a crisp, brilliant blue. We call that a ‘Michigan Day’ in our family.  Being so close to the lake, we are most used to clouds, fog, and haze. So, when the barometer abruptly rises, the immensity and intensity of a blue-blue-blue dome overhead brings a euphoria that can’t be contained.

We relished two such days this past week.  The heat and humidity were swept away by invisible winds, surrounding our part of the world in that uniquely ultramarine blue so favored by painters like Vincent Van Gogh, who once said that he never tired of the blue sky (as most of his paintings illustrate).

Such a sky, so sharp yet inviting, is alive with birds and insects, an expanse that welcomes all comers with its blue benevolence. These are days that make me want to wrap the sky around my shoulders like a cobalt cape, and remind me of my early childhood when I secretly thought I could fly. Oh to join the birds! I’ve settled for sailing and rowing instead. These kinds of days are energizing too. Maybe that is because of all the colors of the visible spectrum, the blue rays have the most energy. As a result, the blues are also the most easily scattered by atmospheric particles, thus we see a generally all-blue sky on days of unfettered sun.

In summer, the Walton brothers haunt the barometer with quiet intensity for these extraordinary days where water and sky are twins, when winds and waves are steady, the sun boundless, and the itch to paddle strong.  This time, they canoed from Point Betsie lighthouse to Otter Creek, just south of the Sleeping Bear (and back), a trip of about 20 miles. They were able to raft their Kruger canoes together and sail with the westerly wind most of the way, mesmerized by the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany a hearty day on the water.

When the wind moves you under the yellow eye of the sun, with that expansive ultramarine sky reflected in the cold, cobalt waters, it would seem that it might make you feel small and insignificant. Not so! Your heart swells in an inexplicably spacious way when riding upon the deeps with the sky around your shoulders.

It is like drinking bottomless draughts of beauty from the wellspring of the cosmos.

Some call it a high. For a time, you can understand that this is how God meant us to experience his Creation and appreciate that he gave us all this to enjoy and care for.

In my camp days, we sang a song about blue skies. I leave it with you as a benediction.

May all of your days bloom like daisies in the sun. May you always have stars in your eyes. May you not stop running, not until your race is won. May you always have blue skies.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo Credit: MLWalton 7/7/2018

 

Affirmation, childhood, Faithful Living, Fathers, Fishing, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Praise, Uncategorized

Fishing for Praise

I have spent the better part of the last two years cleaning out my mom’s and mother-in-law’s homes. This time last year, I came across two fishing pole carriers, and inside one of them I was delighted to find the salmon pole my dad bought me 48 years ago.

My dad and I always had an iffy relationship. He disliked my temerity, and I distrusted the deep chasm between his public and private personas.

To others, he was affable, fun, and social. Inside our family space, he was irritable, short-fused, and prone to what he thought teasing, but was, in truth, mockery wedded to scorn. He knew I distrusted him, not because he was abusive, but because his personality was so discordant and unpredictable. I learned early how to walk on eggshells around him.

I have to give him credit though, because he tried mightily to find things we might enjoy doing together, and we managed hours of good times playing gin rummy and Yahtzee, and watching pro golf and football on TV while sharing a Budweiser (I was allowed my own small juice glass of beer starting quite young-one of the things about my dad that will always bring a smile). We also endlessly tossed baseballs. And we fished.

We discovered that fishing was the one activity that could unite us- in mind, in the hunt, in the murmured debates about which lure to try and at which depth to fish, and in the relative silence that accompanies the chase. Fishing sanded off the rough edges of my dad’s anxious personality. He became a contented, calm, loving man when he had a fishing pole in his hands, and since I was the only member of our family to really “take” to fishing, the two of us spent many dark, cold, early mornings on the Frankfort pier, and out in boats. He always brought 2 large thermos bottles, one with coffee, the other with Campbell’s tomato soup, because according to him, “Nothing beats a cup of hot soup in the cold autumn dawn.”

I will never forget his pride the day 12-year old me caught my first coho salmon- he so badly wanted to reel it in for me, but he let me fight that fish on my own terms. It weighed 17 pounds, it’s beautiful silvery sheen like a candy wrapper around a hidden treasure of delicious rosy flesh. He told everybody about it over the next week, and I was so pleased to hear him publicly praise me.

It is a truth that children desperately need to hear heartfelt, sincere praise from their parents without having to fish for it.

I think it is one way we learn to praise others.And an attitude of praise should be a permeating aroma of the life of a Christian.

So, as Father’s Day approaches, I have been thinking a lot about fishing. I got a new pole and re-rigged the old one. Bought a fishing license. Got a refresher course from cousin Dave. Went fishing. Caught a northern pike, a beautiful coho, and lots of rock bass. Lost the perfect lure to a “big one that got away.” Enjoyed a deeply gratifying fish dinner. Felt all of my own agitations related to mother-care melt away. And all that time, my long-dead dad was here, praising me. This will, indeed, be a Happy Father’s Day. I think I’ll go fishing.
~J.A.P. Walton

Thanks for reading and sharing!

adventure, Affirmation, childhood, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Religion, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

“It’s OK, I’ll Catch You”

Wilderness conjures up a sense of wildness, of things untamed. We typically think of wide swaths of forest, desert, or sea that have remained relatively untouched by people, and left in their natural state. Going into the wilderness is something we tend to do by choice, being well-prepared for survival of the physical challenges of weather, and the lack of shelter, clean water, and walk-in urgent care centers. It can be risky to enter into a wilderness adventure, but we control that risk with the right equipment, training, clothing and companions.

Still, taking such a calculated risk is beyond most people. There are certain characteristics associated with people who won’t take risks. They are not comfortable with any degree of discomfort, physical,emotional,or spiritual. They tend to only undertake activities that they can control. They are too easily afraid of the unknown…fearless would never describe their nature. And lastly, they are often too self-obsessed to intentionally step into that scary unknown.

Now, in the physical wilderness of outdoor adventure, common sense should dictate our behaviors. It would be foolish to paddle storm-tossed Lake Superior when you could hunker down safely in camp for the day, or to leave food and dirty dishes around camp in bear country.  But what can be said about our ability to navigate the emotional and spiritual side of the wilderness of life?

I was a timid child-so much so that my father often expressed mild disgust in wondering if something was seriously wrong with me. People frightened me.  So did the dark. And the Bambi movie, carnival rides, crowds, tornado warnings (my assigned spot was under a big desk in the basement), fireworks, nuclear attack drills, people shouting, and swimming in deep water. It was, frankly, a very big, and extremely scary world. In my middle years, I gained confidence by learning the ropes of sailing, paddling, climbing, backpacking, tennis, archery, and mathematics. As you might infer, I gravitated toward the solitary and quiet pursuits. These taught me a lot about myself- that I should focus on moving forward, not on failure, on problem solving, and developing a tougher skin more impervious to judgment. It slowly dawned that I could, and should-on purpose– be willing to try new things that made me uncomfortable, because being fearless is not the same as being reckless. As an adult, while my temerity can still arise at inopportune times, I am much better adapted to being open-minded to others’ opinions, and more willing to do the hard work of self-assessment- that uncomfortable dissection of one’s beliefs and attitudes and assumptions that need serious and studious attention.

I think the key words are LEARNING and WILLINGNESS. This is how we avoid always doing and saying what we have always done and said. It is how we cultivate a new, and godlier mindset.

As people in step with God already know, He seems fond of directing us to take big steps into very dark territory, into situations we cannot control, cannot predict, and for which we have few skills to offer. My guess is that God works this way to teach us dependence on Him. We have much to LEARN, and it is our WILLINGNESS to leap obediently into a new wilderness that, in the face of our common, culturally-dictated sense of things, makes no sense at all; to us it seems foolishly reckless. To God it makes all the sense in the world.  Fearlessness comes from complete trust, and a willingness to relinquish control and comfort and fear of failure to the One who makes all of life a wilderness. What has been holding you back? It’s time to drop your self-obsession and push through to a higher plain. The wilderness of life may be scary, but it is also indescribably beautiful. Make the leap. God will catch you.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

~J.A.P. Walton