Affirmation, beauty, Burnout, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Heaven, Henry David Thoreau, Home, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Augustine, Travel, Uncategorized

Are Your Feet on the Right Road?

As a publishing company launch team reviewer, I have been reading a colleague’s forthcoming book about Saint Augustine . [1]  It has been the most important read of my life so far, and I hope you will read it!  Why? Because it returns me, yet again, to the wisdom of Augustine, a 4thcentury bishop, whose young life was stained with aggressive ambition, relentless restlessness, and sordid living. All he wanted from life was the freedom to be, to go, to escape. Repeat.

We leave in a few days for Lake Superior. The brothers will canoe while I keep camp (in the RV). I have too great a respect for the Ojibwes’ gichi-gami to contemplate 2 weeks on its unpredictably stormy deeps. But, with Augustine ringing in my ears, it puts me in the mindset of trying to understand human restlessness.

Lately, an outdoor sporting goods company called Backcountry has been running Instagram ads about burnout, beseeching people to get outside every day, to take long weekends in Nature,

to answer chronic workplace stress with big seasonal doses of “outervention.”  [2]

Even Augustine wrote about burnout, about the vanity of the chase (so did Solomon for that matter in Ecclesiastes). And you will find all kinds of advice to get out and “GO” in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Abbey, Leopold, Dillard, and other nature writers.

Their collective point? Humans are restless, and Nature is the balm.  But, none of this deals with the fact that escapism only delays the inevitable.  That our love of the road, of its freedoms, and that the destination is usually vague and indefinable.  Think of the way people dream about throwing off the shackles of work to take to the open road:  retiring young enough to travel; taking a year off to see the world; developing a bucket list.  Always, the focus is on escaping one’s present circumstances, and none of us is immune. And almost always, the goal is to master and revere creation rather than to revere the master Creator.

Augustine would argue most vehemently against our propensity to flee, particularly when the destination is not well-understood. 

The truth that is buried in our subconscious is that this earth is not our home. That nature is not our mother- it neither cares for us nor nurtures us in tender protection-it simply is. That death is the final outpost.

So, where is our real home? Augustine would encourage you to think long and deep about this;

that all the roads we desire on earth will lead to nowhere; that the only true road is the one that leads us home to God.

Christians believe this road is the way of Christ’s gospel, and it’s not a vacation, but a vocation-a lifelong endeavor to be about God’s work.

Feeling the burn of your workaday world? Dreaming of the beaches in Jamaica, the Grand Canyon’s wide-open arms, or sightseeing in Europe?  All wonderful things, to be sure.  But none of them set your feet on the right road.

As you prepare to enter winter through the colorful gates of autumn, I pray you can find some time to sort out why you feel so restless, and Who it is that can lead you to the road of peace. And, paddle on, even when it’s into the wind in rough waters.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Smith. James K.A.  On the Road with Saint Augustine. Brazos Press. Available October 1, 2019.  #OTRWithAugustine.  More info available at See more about Jamie’s book here:

[2  Backcountry Info

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!

 

Accomodation, adventure, Adventure Tourism, Creation, Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, hiking, John Muir, Lessons from the Wilderness, National Parks, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outfitting, River, Silence, Uncategorized, White Water Paddling, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The ‘Unhurried Grace’ of the Wilderness

The Walton brothers are back and rested from their rafting trip down the Colorado River, full of stories, memories, and the gratification one gets from completing a once-in-a-lifetime wilderness adventure.  Over eleven days, they rafted 192 miles, bucking through 66 rapids, 28 of which were level IV or V (i.e., significantly formidable).  Since the Colorado is open to paddlers only by permit, almost everyone on the river is with a professional outfitting group. This is good because the rapids and cold water (around 50 degrees) are dangerous even when you know what you are doing.

So the brothers joined 12 other trippers at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as 4 guides and 4 support staff from O.A.R.S. outfitters. They spent time at the start in orientation: man-overboard drills, helmet rules, and “groover” instructions (a groover is a backcountry toilet for solid waste, because we all know that everything we eat must come out, and that on the Colorado, everything solid that comes out must be packed out).  At 4:00 a.m. the next day, they set off down the Bright Angel trail from the rim of the Grand Canyon hiking down (with a capital D), nearly 10 miles to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. They began in a frosty, pitch dark with headlamps, and 3 water bottles apiece. By the time they reached the bottom it was 95 degrees and they were footsore, more than ready to on the river. The rafts were awaiting them in the cool brown Colorado, 4 for the 16 trippers and 4 guides, and support staff with other rafts with supplies like food, drink, gear, and groover. The group all agreed that this was the most physically-challenging day of the trip, and that hiking 10 miles downhill makes everything hurt: back, hips, knees, and, most especially, toes.

When you trip with an outfitter, you have to learn that you are the patron, and the staff is there to serve you.

This is so unlike any trip you would plan and execute on your own; on this trip, carrying the gear, brewing the coffee at 5:30 a.m., cooking the food, cleaning up the camp kitchen, and steering the raft through dangerous rapids was all done for the trippers.  This is fun for most people, and allows them a chance to enjoy being in the wilderness without any of the obligations of planning and paddling.  But, for the two paddling Walton brothers, this was hard. They enjoy the process, and welcome hard physical challenges, where testing themselves against the beauty, danger, and mystery of the wilderness is the main thrust of why they go in the first place. This is not to say they didn’t have a terrific time on the Colorado, only that they would have enjoyed a more hands-on experience.

It begs several questions that have plagued the national parks for decades. How do we get more people in touch with what the wilderness has to teach, and accommodate the novice explorer’s lack of expertise and physical fitness, while preserving the true notion of “wilderness”?  How do we make the wilderness accessible and relatable for people with disabilities?  We know that hands-on experience is a master teacher. So, if we want people to advocate for wilderness preservation, how do we help them be active participants instead of passive passengers?

The world is shrinking. The national parks are experiencing record numbers of visitors, and the wildness of the lands the government preserves is in peril when accessibility/development is at loggerheads with preservation of the virgin wilderness.

Edward Abbey, John Muir, and Henry Thoreau would decry the bulldozers ripping and gnawing at the wilderness so that the auto, RV, motor boat, and trail bike can reach far corners, in faster time, than would happen if we could only get there on foot, or with mute paddle.

What’s lost is the silent stretch of time and physical challenge that births reverence and awe in the undiminished wilds, something that industrial tourism* can never authentically afford.  For now, there’s the shallow surface beauty that national park visitors can enjoy in a quick stop-for-a-day.

The deeper, more mysterious, yet difficult to access  “unhurried grace”* of the wilderness, is won

only by those able and willing to do the hard work to get out and away from the crowds, and it is diminishing by the year.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire. Chapter 4. 1968.

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Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, God, Hope, John Muir, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Prayer, River, Sierra Nevada, Spring, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The Geese, the Floods, and John Muir

Geese flew over the house this morning, with a honking so hauntingly welcome that it stopped me breathless with the happy assurance that winter is losing its grip. This has truly been a winter of discontent, to borrow from John Steinbeck (my favorite author of fiction). We lost a loved one. Another continues to decline. We are sending up prayers for too much cancer, too many bullets, the sword-rattling of our enemies, and the deaths of two great men of prayer and faith, R.C. Sproul and Billy Graham. This week we had days and days of rain atop melting snow, sending our creeks and rivers out of their banks.

To dwell on all this too long leaves us as drab and lifeless as the snow-matted flood-stained grass. We defend ourselves with intentional numbness. Yet the geese remind us that goodness abounds, that life is not snuffed out entirely, and that there is work to be done. This week, as Trout Creek rose higher and faster, swelling and bullying itself downstream, I thought about the nature of things-water most especially. How it gathers to itself, seeks out the lowest places, dwells and swells with an abandoned playfulness that lurks with deadly innocence too. Water has a voice and a rhythm. It sings and swings down its course, sweeping everything unrooted away with raw power. What other than our faith can anchor us amid the flood of evil tides?  But water is also life-giving.

I have spent this winter reading the selected works of John Muir because his writing is extraordinarily uplifting (winter is long in the north, so I strategically choose reading that will edify and encourage me). Muir’s prose is divinely poetic, and his love for God and Creation oozes from every page. He often wrote about the waters that fall from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada in California, carving out passes and canyons-

“The happy stream sets forth again, warbling and trilling like an ouzel, ever delightfully confiding, no matter how dark the way; leaping, gliding, hither, thither, clear or foaming: manifesting the beauty of its wildness in every sound and gesture.” 1

Muir shows us that part of the water’s power is in the way it glories to be on its way, hailing any who would heed. Spring is coming friends. Won’t it be glorious to be on our way, doing the work God has given us to do, righting wrongs with energy, and pointing others to the same hope we have in God? May you “set forth again” and rise up out of your banks with a renewed vigor, confiding in one another no matter how dark the way. Look up. The geese will show you the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

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  1.  John Muir Selected Writings, A.Knopf, New York. 2017,p.178.  This excerpt is from Muir’s first book, The Mountains of California published in 1894. (an ouzel is a bird)