adventure, Backpacking, Costa Rica, death, Dying to Self, Forest, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Perseverence, Rainforest, Risk Taking, River, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Over, Under, Around or Through?

It is a fact that the human being is easily dehydrated, because our physiological thirst mechanism is not very reliable. So, often, we go through a day thirsty for water without even knowing it. The brain can override the thirst signal so that we can keep on chug-chugging without stopping for water. The headache and fatigue we attribute to stress and overwork may just be the natural fallout of being dehydrated. In the longer term, it becomes downright dangerous.

When we went to Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip (see blog post of Feb. 6, 2018), our weather was hot, humid, steamy and stifling. All of our drinking water had to be tediously filtered. One day my group hiked high along a rainforest ridge, then descended quickly to find our way blocked by a swiftly moving river. The only bridge was up and over a mountain a ways downstream. After walking up and down the riverbank looking for a place to cross, our guide taught us how to cross together. We hitched our backpacks as high onto our shoulders as possible, squaring off our appearance so that we looked like so many Sponge Bob Square Pants characters. This left our hands free, but she warned us that this also raised our center of gravity and, when in the water, buoyancy, in itself an added challenge to balance. We sent one person far downstream with the emergency rope bag to throw in the event someone lost footing and was swept away. Then we lined up, interlocked forearms, and walked-in our boots- one by one into the icy river at an angle to the current. I thought the challenge quite enjoyable until the water rose to meet my rib cage and the footing among boulders dicey. But, the tight grip on and of my nearest companions was enough to stay upright and walk across and out of that river. It was an altogether exhilarating experience to test those waters.

My husband’s group leader later reached that same spot and decided a river crossing was too dangerous. So they went up and over that high mountain, short on drinking water, on the hottest day yet of the trip. It took them a long time in unrelenting sun, and it was a desperate slog. My husband, the oldest in that group, became severely dehydrated, and, at one point simply had to lie down unable to breathe.  He recalls that he very nearly panicked. He was suffocating.  The guide plied him with fluids, and about an hour later he was able to continue.

Water. Life-giving. Life-taking.

There are always decisions we must make when faced with daunting barriers; do we go up-over-around, or just plow right on through?

Do we take the long view (and route) though ill-equipped for the endurance and time required, only to be forced flat onto our back unable to breathe, living in breathless panic? Or do we risk the shortcut, get floated off our feet, maybe even swept away?

Either way, it is our companions in life that make the difference. They hold us tight, guide us as wisely as they can, recognize our needs, and offer assistance. They hold out their hands, to steady us or offer us a drink. This is one reason Jesus established the church, so that we’d never have to face our challenges alone.  So we’d have others who could recognize our deep thirst for love and belonging, and hand us the only water that satisfies.

Keep a tight grip on your life companions. You need each other along the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

 

Costa Rica, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Prayer, Sacrifice, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Snatched

Do you have questions that can’t be answered?

Does it bother you that mercy is so difficult to understand?” *

I sat staring at the creek through the snowflakes yesterday, thinking about the nearness of Easter. Just then, Trout Creek’s resident red tail hawk dove to the wooded floor, wings awkwardly fanning the brown leaves, hopping and clawing, before launching to a sturdy branch for a fresh snack of field mouse. It only took a minute to rip and tear and gulp that mouse down. It reminded me of a day several years back when I was admiring a male cardinal at the feeder. Without a sound, a sharp shinned hawk dropped out of the Norway spruce, snatching that cardinal with swift surprise. The only evidence was a tiny cloud of red and pink wing fluff floating down onto the deck.

On our Costa Rica Outward Bound adventure, we were required to catch a chicken, kill it, and eat it. The catching was comical, but using a machete to behead it was gruesome, blood spurting in all directions while firmly holding the still nerve-wracked body in its violent and nauseating death shake. All so we could have some protein.  

Our sanitized grocery store wrappings of chicken and ground beef have made us naïve. Time out in the wilderness quickly teaches not of the gentleness of nature, but of its brutishness. Is life so cruel? Out in the wilds, we can’t whitewash the truth that all this teeming life around us will, and must be stilled. The heron will gulp the minnow. The salmon feeds the bear. The vole grows the fledging owlet. The cougar will bring down the freckled fawn, and the speckled trout will become our dinner. For one to live, another must die. That’s the immutable law of nature and nourishment, that one’s weakness becomes another’s lifeblood. And, that is the sum of it; life depends on death by design.

The same can be said for Good Friday and the Easter resurrection and what the mercy of God in Jesus did for each of us. Jesus died our own death and bore the just punishment we deserve, his flesh torn, his blood spilled out. If you think about it, it isn’t really about cruelty, but the mercy of sacrifice. For our own life to go on, we must kill and eat. (before you vegetarians get too high-minded, even the plants must die to feed us).

So I think it is good to ponder, “what or who would I die for?” at this time of year. Perhaps we’d die for our loved ones, or a brother or sister in the faith. Some might answer country, or liberty. I know people who give up things for Lent, like chocolate or screen time.  But that misses the entire point. Christ calls us to die to self first, to willingly give up our rights and our comforts by gladly and sacrificially taking up the hard work of our faith.

It is so clearly laid out for us in the Beatitudes. You are blessed when you recognize and mourn your selfishness and sin. And on up the ladder it climbs: life-giving blessing flows out of a meekness that denies self, hungers after God and a rightly pure heart, and shows mercy to others. Friends, isn’t it time to let Christ snatch you out of this world?

~J.A.P. Walton

Please share with your friends!

* Mary Oliver. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY. 2017. p. 239.

 

 

Backpacking, Costa Rica, Creation, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Rainforest, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Lessons from the Rain Forest

I turned 46 the month I led a group of college students on an Outward Bound trip through the Costa Rica rainforest. Twenty year olds can go all day on enthusiasm alone, but my middle-aged middling fitness brought multiple challenges, the least of which was just keeping pace with my students.

The rainforest is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. On the first day, we hiked UP for 4 straight hours in a relentless rain that made the 90 degree heat unbearable. (Most people don’t even know that Costa Rica has high mountains with rugged wilderness terrain, and that you can easily get altitude sick and lost in the same day). Everything inside of me was, as the Brits say, upsot. Lungs desperate for air, sweat joined to raindrops with nowhere to evaporate, leg and back muscles screaming for relief from the 50 pound pack. Hot spots on both heels you pray are not becoming blisters. All while the young ones traipsed with joyful abandon happily shouting out lines from the Princess Bride movie.

It was hard for me to get outside of my own physical misery long enough to appreciate the stillness, the deep emerald greenness in a fine mist that nearly assaults the senses, the cheerfulness of my companions to finally be underway, and the teeming, fecund, inconceivable LIFE at every turn. Sapphire-tinged moths as big as your hand. Armies of leaf-cutting ants-whole platoons of them winding their way through the jungle, carrying, like me, a heavy load with unwavering duty. Cockroaches as fat as mice. Birds singing. Birds winging. Birds, birds, birds!

In matters of faith, it takes a willful choosing to be outwardly focused. To look at this hurting world with compassion and care even when we ourselves are hurting is, I think, the most difficult, and stridently unnatural thing that God calls us to do. The secret is in the abandon. The giving over in order to give out. To give out and not give up.

 Much of what Outward Bound teaches is how to keep going in the face of physical challenge, and how to embrace a physical challenge that you know will bring pain, tears, doubts, and, always, the bedeviling whisper that you can’t go another step. What God teaches is that there is a strength from unwavering belief that no man, certainly no devil can match. And it is true for all of our difficulties. In the midst of life’s wilderness of hurt, fear, doubt and misery, God is there to be our strength, our immovable rock. But, only if we let Him. Climb on, and BELIEVE that you need never climb alone. It is INCONCEIVABLE!

~J.A.P. Walton

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(more posts about the Costa Rica experience are in the offing, stay tuned. Oh, and lest you think me wimpy, on Day 2 of this trip a student asked if he could take something from my pack to lighten my load.  I was so grateful!  Only later, on the plane home, would I read his reaction in his trip journal:  “I took Dr. Walton’s food sack on the 2nd day to help her out.  HOLY CRAP!! It was heavy!”