adventure, Anishinaabek, beauty, black bear in Michigan, Creation, Do all bears hibernate?, Faithful Living, Forest, God, going against one's instincts, Hardiness, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Living Faithfully, National Parks, Nature, Seasons, taking risks, The Legend of Sleeping Bear, Tracks, vigil, What does it mean to go against one's nature?, when time stands still, Why do bears hibernate?, wisdom

The Bear who wasn’t Sleepy

We live in lower Michigan not too far south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm The Sleeping Bear is a 400’ silken sand dune famous for its shimmering white presence in the afternoon sun and glorious lake views of the two Manitou Islands. People love to run down it to Lake Michigan. The climb back up-not so much.  Anishinaabe (Ottawa/Ojibwe) legend has it that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a great famine in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan. When Mother Bear reached shore, she turned to watch her cubs founder and drown in the waves. The great dune marks the Mother Bear’s place of vigil, and each cub one of the Manitou Islands.   https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/kidsyouth/the-story-of-sleeping-bear.htm

And Mother Bear sleeps on. As a child here, the legend did not much resonate with me because we never had any bears in our forests. That has changed in the last several years. Mamas, cubs, and boars are now routinely spotted, and their tracks are common. Here in the northwest tip of the county, we’ve had a large boar by the name of Buttons roaming from cottage to cottage for about four years. Buttons is, most definitely NOT a sleeping bear. Around here, we like to joke about the bear who isn’t sleepy! He has a regular site visit schedule, meandering from bird feeder to bird feeder, from trash can to trash can. He may be upwards of 400 pounds. Just last month he tore through the screen on our cousins’ porch trying to get at a trash bag.

A bear that doesn’t hibernate? Is that normal? Doesn’t it go against what bears are supposed to do?  Our friend Alan, a retired DNR game warden says that hibernation is less a deep sleep than a nap, and that “boars, in particular, are not powered by the maternal instincts that drive pregnant sows to ground, often resisting slumber as long as there is ample forage- an unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.”  https://summerassembly.org/stories

Still, I find myself ruminating on what makes anyone go against their better instincts. Why do we go against our own nature sometimes to take risks, to do something totally out of character, to fly in the face of everything that’s been done before?

In my late thirties I left a good, fulfilling, and secure job to accept a temporary two-year post as a college professor. People thought I had lost my mind. But for me, there was an inner nudge, a very small, still voice saying, “Go ahead and try it out-you will like it!” And I never looked back, having jumped impulsively with both feet into an unsecure and unsure situation. I was the bear who refused to sleep.

Now, sometimes we need the respite and the dormancy. We need to give ourselves permission to enter a temporary torpor that we might recover from a particularly stressful season in life. The pandemic was a hibernation of sorts, where entire populations joined the turtle, frog, skunk, and groundhog in a metaphorical winter of forced inactivity. But now, maybe it’s time to rise up, snuffle around for some goodies, and get busy not sleeping-more like the energetic chickadee and the lumbering Buttons the bear than the sleeping bees and bats. Happy lumbering!

Thanks for reading along! If you click on the BLUE FOLLOW button (top and bottom of site) you will automatically receive blog posts by email. I truly wish for my writing to be easily and freely accessible for any who can use the encouragement. 

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

Send me a note at jpraywalton.writing.com

Buttons the bear
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The Advent of Aging

The fall winds have picked up intensity here at the bluff, mercilessly stripping the bluff-top maples of their leaves. Although I welcome the changes autumn brings, I must steel myself against the knowledge that winter will be fast on fall’s heels. 

The nakedness of the maples always shocks me, and that jumpstarts a sort of nesting instinct. The to-do list is long. Wash and store the outdoor furniture and bird baths. Do a final weeding. Pull and compost the garden and plant the winter greens in the greenhouse. Ready the tiny milk jug “greenhouses” to plant the saved milkweed, butterfly bush, and black-eyed Susan seeds for overwintering. Get more firewood split and stacked and top off the propane tank. Fertilize the evergreens and blanket their hems in fresh mulch. Make applesauce and apple butter. Start up the soup pot. Get the outdoor Christmas lights up before the polar vortex takes its first frosty bite. Lay in the baking supplies-all that butter, and flour and sugar and cocoa that the holidays will demand. Waterproof the winter boots and get out hats and gloves. Re-dress the beds with flannel sheets.

I am, obviously, just a giant squirrel with lists.”

And the lists seems endless. Still, it is good to have things to do that anchor us in the present while preparing us for the future. But I must yet do the harder work- to see the coming of winter as a gift, the advent of salvation as the real hope that it is. 

How incongruous that the maples shed their clothing just as I reach for more; I cannot go naked into winter like they do.

And all this reminds me to hold fast to my hope in the future God has ordained. We watched our parents leave us. Dust to dust. God gave them first breath, and gently helped each one to take their last. Naked they came, and naked they left. We have had to wear our hope like a stole to fend off the snows of grief. 

It has always been human nature to understand aging as decline, as the loss of robust strength and youthful vigor. To see it as a descent into nothingness. My own entry into my elder years has me thinking much differently, much more hopefully. 

This aging is not a mournful descent but a peeling away of the things that keep us from God.”

It lightens our souls for the glorious ascent to heaven. God removes our health, our energy, our ability to will an outcome through sheer hard work to strip us bare in preparation for “next.”  

Aging is not descent but an advent. 

Entering our older years is the beginning of something mysterious. A victorious yielding of what was and what is to what will always be

May you find your own aging less about mourning what you lose, and more about an ascent that promises to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Thank you for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

jpraywalton.com

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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The Junco

When the sun is at a certain angle, birds see a reflection of the vast expanse of trees and lake in the west windows here at the bluff. A junco flew into a window just last week, falling onto his side, eyes shut tight, tiny talons stiff and thrust laterally.

It is rarely good news when our feet go out from under us.

As the junco lay stunned and panting, I wondered at his presence. Why is he here so early? It is sunny and delightfully warm for early October. 

Around here, on the edge of dune and dense forest of maple, beech, and hemlock, the junco is a harbinger of winter. A flock will stick around all winter scrabbling the earth for seeds. Dressed in drab, dark coats with a buff white undershirt, they forage and flit in the cold, short days. They are as colorless as many of the cheerless gray days of the far north in winter, and as hardy as the cedar and dune grass and snow-bound trillium patiently waiting for spring’s warm kiss.

Still, they hold a fascination. I like that they flock together and am reminded of the reason God calls his church to be serious about fellowship. In that community we are afforded a measure of safety, companionship, and encouragement. The society we keep is a salve to some of the drag of winter’s bleakness. 

The juncos’ cheerless plumage makes me appreciate their contentment at keeping a low profile, nothing flashy, no brash “look at me” behaviors. They are happy to wear what God designed and shun being the center of attention. I marvel at my own lack of such inherent humility and contentment with what God provides.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt 6:25-27.

Basically, the junco is a bottom feeder, a forager snuffling through grasses and low foliage for insects and seeds.

I inherently like anything or anyone who is willing to work at the bottom rung of the ladder in humility, without compunction to produce or hoard. For me, the junco is a perfect example of the difference between the innate drive to work and thrive, and the big lies we swallow when we become driven, competitive, and overly ambitious. I am reminded that I must not think more of myself than I ought.

I most especially enjoy the juncos’ indifference to the cold and snow. Like their chickadee cousins, they seem to embrace the loveliness of that stark splendor only winter can serve up. I always resonate with any creature that welcomes winter’s caress and finds beauty in the sharp coldness of vapory breath and tingling cheeks.

Within minutes my tough, determined little junco had rolled onto his feet and opened his eyes, his milky breast pillowed and fluffed on the deck. It wasn’t long before he flew off to nurse his headache under the umbrella of the low-lying bluestem at the edge of the dune.  An omen of winter?  Perhaps. But I prefer to believe that the juncos are here as a God-given reminder to be humble and content and quietly diligent in all circumstances and seasons.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com Instagram: jpraywalton_writing Facebook: Julie Pray Walton Image by JackBulmer from pixabay.com

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Picking up the Pen

Dear Readers,

The desk is cleared. I am ready to write again. My prayer is that you will be willing to read along once more after this very long span of silence.

What do you do with silence?

There is so little quiet in our easily-agitated lives. And though my writing voice has been silent, my life most assuredly has not, so I relish the thought of sitting quietly at this desk. 

Why have I not been writing? That would take a long answer over a deep cup of tea, extra sugar. A short version would be a chronological list: 

  1. Mom died (late 2019)
  2. I settled her estate
  3. We inherited the family home on the Lake Michigan bluff in northwest lower Michigan
  4. Covid and its severe restrictions in Michigan created a literal standstill
  5. We sold our Trout Creek home, and moved ourselves to the Bluff in a pandemic 
  6. A one-time bluff cave-in of 20-25 feet, brought the bluff house to within 55 feet of the edge in a high-water climate
  7. Prayer-lots and lots and LOTS despite the physical separation from our church of over 25 years 
  8. We decided to keep the property and initiate moving the entire house back 110’ to the rear of the lot
  9. Built a barn to hold house contents during move 
  10. Remodeled the kitchen 
  11. First Christmas at the Bluff 
  12. Removed and stored everything from ground floor then demolished the entire lower level of the house ourselves (friends and family helped) 
  13. Removed 50 trees (a very tearful day to lose our little forest)
  14. Found somewhere to live for 8 months (thanks family and RV!); moved out (homeless)
  15. Moved the house (see photo) 
  16. Daughter Molly, our only child, was diagnosed in France with a blood clot in her brain (let’s talk sometime about how you can be calm and in a panic simultaneously); (clot still there, but she is better)
  17. Re-built the ground floor walkout side before winter
  18. Moved back in (spring ’22)
  19. Remediated the entire lot with new native planting and 24 trees (in a drought)
  20. Rebuilt the lakeside deck
  21. Celebrated with a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour on the new deck with 40 friends, family
  22. Settled in (this has been nothing short of lovely over the summer)
  23. Molly and Stéphane visited in August and were engaged to be married
  24. Today: the house is nearly finished. At 82, our contractor moves slowly, so the back deck off the kitchen may have to wait until 2023. We also await EGLE ‘s (Michigan DEQ) sign-off on our permit. 
  25. God and Mark have gently nudged me to start writing again. So, I have joined Redbud Writers Guild, a diverse group of women who write about faith in community and culture (link) I am hoping it will help me be accountable to regular postings!
  26. SO! Time to write!

I will be setting down to write some of the pent-up things that have been swirling in my heart and mind, and

I invite you to come alongside and share with friends.

Some will be written here at the beautiful and flourishing bluff space-to which you are all invited for respite. Some from an RV trip to the southwest in search of sun. Some from writer’s retreats. Some from trips to France. No matter what, I hope to present you with heart-and-mind-filled pieces that bring God close, that describe his revelation in and to our world, that provide words of both comfort and challenge, and help create in you a refreshed desire to look for him in your daily life and relationships. 

May it be a blessing to you as you stand on this side of the river.

~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Feel free to email me directly at my email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Find me on Instagram: jpraywalton_writing

Find me on Facebook: I will create an author page on my regular Facebook page under Julie Pray Walton

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Soldiering On

There is a dead calm in the trees today after a string of gusty days. The calmness amplifies animals’ movements; looking out just now, I can see a doe raise a front foot, then continue her slow browsing in the woods across Trout Creek.

Though a calm is often just a comma between storms, we should pay attention to it, because it invites introspection and watchfulness, a time heavy with anticipation like a maple leaf just waiting for the wind to ask it to dance.

I am at a point in life of watching and waiting. Watching sick loved ones cling to life, waiting for God to answer prayer. My eyes see misery clawing at hope. My pulse drones in my ears and pacifies the waiting like an undisturbed river flowing deep and sure.

Vigil is the gutsy response to life’s gusty times.

It is a posture of watching with loved ones, and waiting for an outcome while in the eye of the storm.  Every day I see adult children in their 60’s and 70’s visiting aged parents at the nursing home.  The visits are difficult-many residents can’t even remember their kids’ names-but the children soldier on out of respect, accepting the duty to honor the last days of a parent’s life. There is calm, and order, and rightness in the watching and waiting.

Vigil gives time for forgiveness and reconciliation, for sharing old memories, and for meditation on the way all of life soldiers on.

At the bluff, there is a lone cedar tree about 10 feet from the dune’s edge.  The dunes along this stretch of Lake Michigan have been unstable since the ice age created them, crumbling in the constant onslaught of waves and winds. The property my grandparents bought has lost 88 feet since the early 1960’s. This means that the cedar soldier was once deep in the forest at the back of the dune, playmates with the grand, towering beech, the stately ash, and the playful maple.  But, time has marched on with unstoppable force. The other trees succumbed to the storms of disease or the loggers’ saws. The dune continued to roll into the deeps.  So, now this cedar stands alone and bent, facing its inevitable demise with deep roots and grace in its vigil of watching and waiting. Each morning it greets the eastern sun and takes delight in the jays and cedar waxwings that haunt its branches, and the bald eagle who hunts from its crown. At night, it lifts its face westward, basking in the sun’s glow, a view it never had in its youth.

Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. But, like the ash and beech, disease took him before he could have a better view, a vigil cut short. Like the cedar, my mom stands at the edge, soldiering on through the indignities of Parkinson’s disease, in a vigil for glimpses of heaven.  Watching. Waiting. Praying.

~J.A.P. Walton