adventure, Affirmation, beauty, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, joy, Kindred Spirits, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Rain, River, Spring, Uncategorized, Water, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The Kindred Spirits of Water and Life

The brothers went canoeing last weekend, a spring paddle to quench a long-wintered thirst. Boats and paddles silently slip into waters roiling with snowmelt. Spring rivers are generally unpeopled, effortlessly pulsing on with energy and focus, down, ever down. How odd that their endpoint is called a mouth, opening wide in confluence with some other body of water.

As the brothers shove off, the water embraces each canoe like long-gone and dearly-missed friends, kindred spirits which understand and accept each other with the delight of contented belonging. It is a holy reunion. The brothers wave and paddle off in an unconscious identical rhythm, letting the water carry them downstream. They, too, are kindred spirits-they have been since the day of the younger one’s birth, perfectly matched in mutual respect and a shared understanding of the world and one another. It is a rare and beautiful friendship. They are silent, letting the water and the birds do the talking. What a happy picture of harmony and rightness!  And just like that, they are gone, carried by the water around a bend and on to the day’s adventure.

Water is so dynamic, ever on the move from lake to cloud to rain, from headwaters to the sea, where ocean currents bathe continental shelves. Eventually, their energies amass in swirling foment of wave and hurricane and flood.

I often wonder at the mystery and miracle of water’s global expeditionary nature. Where has it been? Where is it going? Can it be that this very water dripping from the paddle once kissed Jesus at his baptism?

Did this very water float baby Moses in a basket? Did it balk into walls so the Israelites could walk through the Red Sea? Was it one of billions of raindrops that floated the ark? Was it in the spit with which Jesus made mud to heal a blind man’s eyes? Was it in the roiling, storming waves so quickly calmed by Jesus’ rebuke?

Water, so critical to life, lives on long after we die. It passes through us like we pass through it. We are kindred spirits with it, even though we fail to care for it properly. Next time you’re out, dip your hand in the water- be it creek, pond, or lake. Feel the life in it. This too is holy reunion. Listen to its stories. Marvel at its travels. And be resolved to care for it like a dearly-loved brother.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

beauty, Creation, Creator, Forest, joy, Nature, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Herald of the North

The trillium are in full bloom at Trout Creek,

wearing their white petals like a regal ermine stole.

They blossom early here in southern Michigan; their northern kin won’t be out for another few weeks.

When we first began living in Michigan in the summers, Memorial Day weekends were set aside for the work of opening up: raking, splitting wood, fixing potholes in the 2-track lane, and getting fresh linens on the beds. My clearest memories of those times, aside from the uncontainable thrill to be up north on the cusp of school letting out, was the deep green of the woods carpeted with hundreds of the pink-tinged white of the trilliums’ nodding heads. Like the first robin, and the April earthworm escaping a flooded tunnel, the sight of trillium throughout the forest was

a beauty almost too tender, too holy to behold.

Even today, it brings on a euphoria like few other experiences can.

Maybe that is because northern Michigan has always represented freedom (from the tedium and demands of school especially), and the beauty of lakes and dunes and deep, blue skies (suburban Chicago was a spidery, tentacled cage made of steel and cement and insipid cookie-cutter subdivisions). Even today, turning the car northward sparks a tiny flame of delight that fans itself into joy with each passing mile.

Trillium. A three-petaled lily. (Did you know that flowers with just 3 petals are rare?). Protected. Herald of the north.

A triune beauty that speaks to the nature of God. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the trillium, nodding to greet the longer days and welcome the wanderer, the seeker, the tired and worn.

Thanks for reading along! Enter your email to follow along!

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Birds, Creation, Creator, Darkness, God, ice, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Silence, Starry Skies, sunrise, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Joy of Paying Closer Attention

On a short trip to the Bluff to retrieve our old RV, we spent last night at Crystal Lake.  Stars were molten silver in an inky sky that capped the iced-over lake from end to end; a crisp, clear, late winter night. This morning, up before the sun, hot coffee in hand, I walked down to the shore to await the wakening world. How odd to see all the docks, lifts, and boats so lifeless, drawn high up on the sand.

There’s ice all the way to the opposite shore, with visible pressure ridges all along the drop-off where the coho and rock bass are down, deep and drowsy. The ice shifts, warming up its voice in a throaty “boom, boom” that carries for miles like a tympani  solo at the symphony.

A peachy pink blush caresses the eastern end of the lake and the stars begin to fade. I can see the water ripple just underneath where ice meets shore. There are tiny minnows swimming there in just three inches of water, and I shiver to imagine how bone-dead cold it would be to swim with them.

Quickly now, the world awakens, yawning into the dawn.  A cardinal flutes in salute to the sun, adding to the crows’ staccato calls like novice oboe players. The chickadees flit overhead in the birch tree, jabbering like teenagers. Honking geese are somewhere out over the ice, while a downy woodpecker trills a nasal ‘thwank-thwank’.  And the ice booms on, the bass rumbling accompaniment as yet more voices join the song.

Then a car rushes past, spoiling the music. Someone headed to work, I suppose, listening to the radio, oblivious to the music the sunrise has wrought in this icy paradise. And I smile to think of the thousands of mornings I too hurtled half-awake through the dawn to work. Though I always was, and still am thankful for that work, how joyful it is now to slow down and pay attention to the beauty orchestrated by God in nature. It is gratitude as deep and wide as the mystery behind the dawn.

Thank you for listening along with me.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Risk Taking, Silence, Tracks, Trails, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter, wisdom

The Impressions We Leave Behind

There is an important canoe show (the Quiet Water Society ) coming up, but my husband left his canoes up at the bluff last fall. So, this past weekend, we went north to retrieve them.  The problem was that the half-mile 2-track back to the bluff wasn’t passable with its three feet of snow. After much discussion, we decided to haul the boats out like sleds on our snowshoes. (side note, it was also our first-ever experience of reverse worry with our daughter imploring us to be careful and to, “ look after our hearts”). (!)  If anyone later came across our tracks in the snow, they’d wonder if two gigantic ducks with webbed feet, and dragging a wide, heavy fantail made those impressions.

Everywhere we went we came across entire vistas of snow and ice without a single track-no deer, or fox, or rabbit, or human prints for miles. It reminded me of the grandness of the northern wilderness, where, in the dense forested lands the rivers were the Ancients’ first pathways, where narrow game trails became highways for the wild animals and their predators, and where the first permanent peoples-First Nations from the east, and later, the unending influx of Europeans- worked with stone and fire and steel to clear roads out of footpaths.

I love snowshoeing or skiing on virgin, undisturbed snow. It feels like exploring, and makes wide room for going “off trail” (though never in any park where you must stick to the blazes on the trees, like my daughter in this photo at Otter Creek). Glistening powder flours your gaiters, and muffles your footfall. Winds aloft in the forest rarely reach the ground, yet the treetops voice their yearning for spring in an adagio chorale of measured sighs. It is all beauty. All welcome embrace. All new.  But, fresh trackless snow also buries life’s traps and travails, when the things that can easily trip you up are obscured.

Still…. I must also think about the importance and joy of the tracks.

I enjoy identifying what has been this way before me, to marvel at the dainty hoof marks of the deer and her fawn-almost-yearling, or the thumping back-footed thrust of the rabbit. Yes, knowing that someone or something has gone this way ahead of you can be comforting.

It turns my mind to the paths I’ve chosen to follow over a lifetime.

From the wisdom of mentors, and best practices in my profession, to the loving conviction of family and friends when confronting me with behaviors that were evidence of being headed off the path, in the wrong direction.  Then there’s the biblical reminder to trust God because he is the ultimate path maker. There have been times that I bullied myself into forging ahead against advice, blustering ahead to make my own tracks. They were often fraught with the deflating trials my pride-fueled, poor choices deserved.

And I have to wonder about the footprints- the impressions– I have left behind for my child, my husband, and the thousands of college students I taught and advised. I pray that I steered them all well, with the wisdom of years that encourages risk but cautions against recklessness, because the wise stay on God’s path.

Those roads are sure to test you… the road to Damascus, the road on which the Good Samaritan knelt in blood and dirt to help a beaten-up foreigner, the road to Emmaus, and, of course, the road out of Jerusalem to the cross. None easy, none very well travelled.  

In this sense, Robert Frost had it right-the road less travelled is the better way. Faint tracks, sometimes, but real nonetheless. Remember as you go, there are others watching and following.

 

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Praise, Prayer, Sigurd Olson, Silence, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, Winter

Bring on the Ice!

It is icy at Trout Creek this February morning from the overnight sleety rain suspended in millions of icicles off branches and eves. I have the window open a crack to soak in the music of the silence.  The creek riffles on, but the rest of the landscape is a still life, no deer, and no squirrels. Perhaps it is too early yet. Perhaps they ‘ve hit their own version of the snooze alarm, and are rolled over in their roosting cavities for another 10 minutes.

I go make coffee, and sit back down to marvel at the way nature stills itself. The trees have nothing to say, though they are adorned in crystal gowns just waiting for the dance to begin. The tall grasses are bent in prayer. You can feel the hush, as if you are in a great, empty cathedral. The silence is pregnant with expectancy.

Just then the bold, brassy wren who habits the tamarack tree chirrups his, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m heeeerrrre!”

Over and over  he chants his solo, as if inviting the world to join the chorus. Maybe he’s shouting, “Wake up, wake up, wake uuuupppp!”

The wren’s chatter works: the squirrels are carefully heading downtree.  The titmice family swoops in to the feeder for brunch. The deer are out there pawing the snow in the fallen maple’s atrium to belly down for a morning nap.

In his book, The Singing Wilderness,  Sigurd Olson writes about the winter blue jay, with its “brazen call, more of a challenge than a song, a challenge to the storm and cold.

There was a jauntiness and fortitude, announcing to me and to the whole frozen world that where there is wine and sparkle in the air, it is joy to be alive. I liked that jay and what he stood for; no softness there, pure hardiness and disregard of the elements.”

I think that’s how I want to embrace this cold, frozen world we live in. With a cheerful fortitude and strength of character that encourages people to wake up from their numbing technology, their frozen minds, their careless thoughts, their selfish motives. To embrace the joy that life brings, whether it be storm or stillness.  I want to be hardier, and heartier in the face of both challenge and delight. Perhaps, though, a bit less brazen than the wren or jay, with a meekness learned from saints, and a thankfulness wrought by God’s great mercies.

Bring on the ice! (May it give us pause).

~J.A.P. Walton