adventure, Affirmation, beauty, Blue Skies, Creation, Fog, God, Growing Up, Home, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Risk Taking, sailing, Uncategorized

Safely Into Port

A peculiar delight of my childhood summers in northern Michigan involved the dueling foghorns of the Coast Guard stations in Frankfort and at Point Betsie. The old fog signals were automatically activated when sensors detected fog.

All through a foggy night, the two lighthouses would sing their duet, the throaty bass booooommm from Frankfort followed 30 seconds later by a nasal middle F note from the Point.

Big ships, obscured in the mist, would echo back with their own howls accompanied by their thrumming propellers. Whenever the horns were bleating at dawn, my brother and I could lazily roll over, cozy in the cottage blankets, sleepily glad because there would be no 9:30 a.m. swimming lessons today.

Just such a day occurred last week, when I had a dozen things on my to-do list, but awoke to the musical thrill of the foghorns.  I rolled onto one side to enjoy the concert, secretly glad that I would not waste a “good beach” day on so many errands. As I rolled, however, I could feel the sun on my face. What in the world? Why would the fog signals be singing out if the sun was out?  Sure enough, it was a clear morning with just a hint of mist on the far horizon.

The foghorns lied.

It turns out that, over the last decade, the US Coast Guard turned its automatic coastal warning system into one that is, instead, an on demand system for mariners.  It means that any sailor, or fisherman, or tugboat captain can activate the coastal foghorns from the cockpit of their boat.

Now, I find it disorienting to know that it can be densely foggy and the signals won’t sing. Or bright and clear yet the horns are bleating. It robs one of the assurance that things are as they should be. We can no longer rely on the signals to tell us the weather. Talk about getting your signals crossed!

It brings to mind a scary crossing in thick, disorienting fog that we undertook on a sailboat across Lake Ontario when we were newly married. The captain had paid us to help him crew his new boat from the Toronto shipyards, across Lake Ontario, and through the locks of the Welland Canal. He needed to get his boat into Lake Erie, and we needed the money. But, we should not have been out in that fog. It was my job to stand at the bow with a tight grip on the fore-stay (I am unsure, had I fallen over, if they would have been able to find me in that fog), and blow the air horn- one prolonged blast at two-minute intervals to indicate we were underway by engine.  Perhaps it would have been less nerve-wracking had we had the ability to summon the coastal signals at will.

Today’s onboard navigation systems make being fogbound a less daunting circumstance. Even so, I take great comfort in hearing a foghorn trill on a truly foggy day.

It is a lot like life; we can rarely see what’s ahead, and we often feel we are just barely muddling through, but we can have confidence that God will see us safely into port. He may even be calling to us on a sunny day.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

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!

 

 

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

adventure, childhood, Creator, Forest, God, Growing Up, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pirate, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Pirate Still Lives Here

We left Trout Creek this week and moved back to the bluff. This is where I spent all but two summers since a child, atop a 150’ sand cliff with its face to the setting sun. From up here, Lake Michigan is grand and wide and shimmering. And though my grandparents bought this land 55 years ago, there is evidence from area artifacts that it was part of a network of hunting grounds for the ancients since the last ice age retreated north.

My grandparents built a cottage in the woods, and my brother and I slept and played to the steady rhythm of waves, wind, car ferry whistles, and Coast Guard foghorns. Here, our imaginations ran feral, with no television or telephone, and very few rules (compared to our city life) except to be home at the stated hour, to NEVER disturb mother if she was napping, and to remember that our behavior in public wore the family name. We had some drawing paper, a few dog-eared books, and a well-worn deck of cards that sat on a sunny windowsill underneath a moth-eaten Yahtzee cup. Every finished box of Jay’s potato chips was carefully deconstructed and laid flat to create a new board game. We made our own rules, we settled our own disagreements, and we laughed each other to sleep in the bunk beds’ sandy sheets. We became and remain best friends.

On a grand ash tree at the edge of the bluff, I flew my pirate flag, bought with birthday money and a sense of delight. (I still have it.) My brother had a telescope which we used to keep charge of this coast, vigilantly spying on fisherman, ore boats, and beachcombers. Here we learned to shoot with bow and arrow, how to tie bowlines, to know the language of woodland birdsong, to read the cats paw winds, and to name the constellations. We buried treasure, hooted up barred owls, hunted salamanders, found morel mushrooms, and haunted the cemetery where our father now lies. Here too I met my future husband when we were five, had my first argument with my parents, and developed what was to become a lifelong love of the conspicuous, God-breathed beauty that we call Nature.

This is not a big place, but it gave me a big heart and a curious mind.

In the sunrise of my life I ran barefoot and carefree, careful to mind the elders, but happy to be a child. Now all but one of those elders is gone, and I find myself here, under the same tree canopy, looking out at the same expanse of water and sky. I may be closer to the sunset of my own life, but I still have a telescope. The pirate in me will never die.

~J.A.P. Walton