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 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

Autumn, Blessings, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Home, Light, Nature, Silence, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Way of the Turkey, Deer, and Squirrel

The leaves are nearly all down now at Trout Creek. I love late autumn in Michigan, ever grateful to live where the slow turns of the seasons nourish and nudge our souls to look ahead. Here, we embrace the changes a new season brings, even when it is winter on the near horizon.

The signs are everywhere. Squirrels are hoarding acorns and fortifying nests with newly fallen leaves. Sow bugs and spiders are tunneling into the house in search of warmth. Just this morning, a buck out back was rubbing his antlers on the tamarack to get off the last of his pesky velvet.  Even the wild turkeys come in closer in their hunt for food.

At the store yesterday, the mother behind me had a cart overflowing with toys for Christmas, and people were stocking up on bread and milk with the news of imminent snow. I have a loaf of bread rising, and a brand new soup pot sitting on the stove awaiting its first of many assignments.

When we get back to Trout Creek, we work as hard as squirrels to be ready for winter. The split wood supply is renewed. Lawn tools are cleaned, oiled and stored even as the snow blower and shovels are readied. Gutters are cleaned, the car’s winter emergency kit is thrown in the trunk, the furnace is serviced, and the gas fireplace turned back on. Another blanket goes on the bed, and the boots get a new coat of waterproofing. Boats are hosed out, stored upside down on their rack, and covered.  Paddles go into the tall storage can. Ski poles are moved to the front. The bird feeders are restocked, while the downy woodpeckers and jays greedily cackle for more suet.

The short days mean more lamplight to illuminate those corners of our lives the sun seems to have forgotten. Now, instead of bright sunny picnics, we gather around the old family farm table. It’s soup, fresh baked bread, and fruit cobbler in place of burgers, beans, corn on the cob, and watermelon. I spend time arranging this year’s crop of canned and frozen foods. The anticipation of asparagus soup and a bubbly cherry cobbler on a cold, snowy night makes all the summer’s industry worthwhile.

It’s a time for being thankful, making ready, and taking delight in the slowdown. The long days of summer are filled with extended hours of play and work. It is now that we can give ourselves permission to hibernate for a time-to peruse that never-opened stack of summer reading, sit and pray with friends around the fireplace, study to learn something new, or simply curl up in a blanket with a hot mug of tea to watch it snow.

There is much to be learned from deliberately coming in out of the world, from slowing our hectic lives, and filling up on God’s wisdom. 

The wilderness will wait for us while we rest, regroup, reorient, and renew. The winter is for maps and making plans. Before we know it, we will be out on the water again-ice fishing, winter camping and canoeing, or learning to ski, or snowshoe, or curl on an outside rink. But these short, dark weeks of late autumn are for savoring the getting ready.

~J.A.P.Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outfitting, Peace, Prayer, Serving Others, Uncategorized

Do You Have a Purple Notebook?

If you had an hour to think about where you are headed, and why, what would you write down on your “outfitting” list?

We’ve begun a slow transition from the bluff back to Trout Creek, and the tall grasses and migrating birds are telltale signs that summer is nearly over. Normally at this time of year, the Walton brothers are busily outfitting for their annual fall paddle in the northern latitudes, when the hallowed and dog-eared purple notebook comes out with its years of collective wisdom- list upon list of gear, menus, and groceries that must be gathered before departure.

The brothers deeply enjoy the process of getting everything ready. As I write this, I have just put Hugh on a plane for Arizona to join 3 of his brothers for their paddle trip down the Colorado River.  He was lamenting that taking a trip with professional outfitters takes away much of the pleasure that the “doing for yourself” brings.  He was missing his purple notebook.

It is interesting to study the word outfit as a verb.  In wilderness jargon, it means to assemble the gear and necessities for an extended time away from civilization: water purification, camp stove, food, first aid kit, compass, tent, emergency distress signaling device, and the like. But it has made me think about whether or how we outfit for our everyday life. I tend to be a list maker, so it’s not a stretch to see how my adopted processes for daily tasks help me stay on course; a decades-old two-month menu cycle informs grocery shopping, and a bill-tracking database helps quickly settle accounts. Going to church every Sunday morning gives each week an anchor, adding stability and sanity into this busy life. Still, what do I DO on a regular basis to see to the proper “outfitting” of my life?  If I kept a small purple notebook of the necessities, what would it contain, and how would it keep me on a wise path? Do I enjoy the process of “getting ready” and what am I getting ready for?

When we were younger, this was easier to answer. We were saving money for a house down payment, for kids’ college, for retirement, and developing skills and talents that made us valuable in the workforce. We were learning our way through parenting, and, more recently, caring for our parents. We were studying Scripture and developing a deeper relationship with God and each other.

But what do I “outfit” for now, in retirement?  I am making new lists. They are less about preparing for the future as they are about understanding that the future is already here in the present. My own lament is in wondering how much “present” I missed all those years that were so focused on preparing for someday.  So, I find that the lists are evolving, much less focused on action and more focused on virtue.  Virtue? Yes. Character infused with godliness. It’s a high calling, and worth the study.

I believe in eternal life with God, which gives me a secure future that I didn’t fully appreciate in my younger years. A secured future gives us the freedom to take better care in and of the present.

My new set of lists is energized by prayer that God outfits me with grace, wisdom, contentment in any circumstance, and a truly benevolent heart for others.

Other things in my notebook (mine is blue) include to:

  • refrain from divisive speech
  • be the best listener in the room
  • honor my husband
  • cherish and dignify my mother’s final days
  • to appreciate creation in all its beauty and mystery
  • and to jump more readily with Isaiah’s enthusiastic response to God’s lament, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And, Isaiah swiftly replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8)

~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