Affirmation, beauty, Blessings, Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Storms, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, wind, wisdom

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

adventure, Affirmation, beauty, Blue Skies, Cancer, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Rain, River, Storms, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, worry

It’s Going to be All Right

The weather along Lake Michigan has been noticeably unsettled this summer, like a nervous groom before his wedding.  We are missing the long stretch of sunny days under high barometric pressure that bring such deep blue skies and the warm assurance that winter is still far away.

What we need is a really good storm.

Of course, the weather takes special watchfulness in paddling situations. You don’t want to be caught out on the water in wind and lightning when a big blow rises up. It’s one of the rules of paddling: to pay attention to the signs and barometer when heading out.

Once on a paddle on the Au Train River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we got caught in a late afternoon storm. The lightning was too intense to safely shelter under the big trees that leaned over the water. Paddling furiously back upstream, we returned to hunker down under a bridge we had passed earlier. The fury of the storm flashed and crashed all around us as the wind was funneled under the bridge. Trees came down, and grasses were flattened while the sedate river of just minutes ago became a roiling, angry maelstrom in pure, unleashed cacophony.

Life is filled with unexpected blows.

Things are sunny and pleasant, and we loll happily in our unwary hours. Then out of the blue, the skies darken, the storm threatens, and we are caught unawares. Examples abound: the day of 9-11; a cancer diagnosis; an accident; a death.  There seems nowhere to take shelter. Nowhere to turn. Nowhere to hide, or huddle.  Life’s storms can be terrifying, and sometimes they pile up and train down on us one after another.

All I can say is that with perfect predictability, all storms pass. In our canoe, after 30 long minutes of hanging on by our fingertips to the overhead girders, the tempest grudgingly moved on, leaving the river to calm its nerves, the trees dripping with diamonds, and a permeating whiff of fresh-bathed forest in every direction- abrupt silence, achingly beautiful crystal lighting, and a newly-birthed loveliness.

God himself set up the physical laws that create storms. He also has his reasons for allowing them to roil our lives.

But, no matter what assails us, God works only good for those who love him.  He is always for us, so that the storms of trouble and hardship cannot separate us from his love.

Not storms. Not evil. Not hate. Nothing high, nothing low, nothing in all of creation can separate us from how much God loves us.*  The most oft-written phrase in the Bible is,
“Do not be afraid.”

In a storm?  Let God be your bridge. Your shelter. Your hope. It’s going to be all right.  Don’t be afraid. Just hang on and let it blow.

~J.A.P. Walton

* loose paraphrase of Romans chapter 8 in the Bible

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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

 

 

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When the Blue Blue Sky is Your Cape

There are particular and rare days in Michigan when a cloudless sky dawns a crisp, brilliant blue. We call that a ‘Michigan Day’ in our family.  Being so close to the lake, we are most used to clouds, fog, and haze. So, when the barometer abruptly rises, the immensity and intensity of a blue-blue-blue dome overhead brings a euphoria that can’t be contained.

We relished two such days this past week.  The heat and humidity were swept away by invisible winds, surrounding our part of the world in that uniquely ultramarine blue so favored by painters like Vincent Van Gogh, who once said that he never tired of the blue sky (as most of his paintings illustrate).

Such a sky, so sharp yet inviting, is alive with birds and insects, an expanse that welcomes all comers with its blue benevolence. These are days that make me want to wrap the sky around my shoulders like a cobalt cape, and remind me of my early childhood when I secretly thought I could fly. Oh to join the birds! I’ve settled for sailing and rowing instead. These kinds of days are energizing too. Maybe that is because of all the colors of the visible spectrum, the blue rays have the most energy. As a result, the blues are also the most easily scattered by atmospheric particles, thus we see a generally all-blue sky on days of unfettered sun.

In summer, the Walton brothers haunt the barometer with quiet intensity for these extraordinary days where water and sky are twins, when winds and waves are steady, the sun boundless, and the itch to paddle strong.  This time, they canoed from Point Betsie lighthouse to Otter Creek, just south of the Sleeping Bear (and back), a trip of about 20 miles. They were able to raft their Kruger canoes together and sail with the westerly wind most of the way, mesmerized by the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany a hearty day on the water.

When the wind moves you under the yellow eye of the sun, with that expansive ultramarine sky reflected in the cold, cobalt waters, it would seem that it might make you feel small and insignificant. Not so! Your heart swells in an inexplicably spacious way when riding upon the deeps with the sky around your shoulders.

It is like drinking bottomless draughts of beauty from the wellspring of the cosmos.

Some call it a high. For a time, you can understand that this is how God meant us to experience his Creation and appreciate that he gave us all this to enjoy and care for.

In my camp days, we sang a song about blue skies. I leave it with you as a benediction.

May all of your days bloom like daisies in the sun. May you always have stars in your eyes. May you not stop running, not until your race is won. May you always have blue skies.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo Credit: MLWalton 7/7/2018

 

adventure, Anishinaabek, canoeing, Lake Michigan, Outdoor Adventures, Uncategorized, War

Mishigami

For the last 18 years, the Walton brothers have taken to Lake Michigan in their canoes every July 4, paddling south into Frankfort to watch the fireworks from just outside the breakwater. Tonight, as I watch them paddle by, I have just finished reading Robert Downes’ book Windigo Moon, a novel about the Anishinaabek peoples of the northeastern shores of Mishigami (Lake Michigan), and I find I am thinking of the native peoples who hunted and paddled up and down along this coast.  What was it like to stand on this high dune and see raiding warriors from the Fox tribes of Wisconsin coming across these waters, or white traders coming up from the south to trade iron pots and diphtheria for mink and beaver?

Just now, there’s a storm moving straight north through the middle of the lake with low growls of thunder that cannot match the hostile booms soon coming on the tail of darkness.

Four mute swans flee north, bellies skimming the wave tops. They’ve skittered out of the bay as the crowds and noises swell. Like me, they have a distinct distaste for the warlike cacophony of fireworks.  Not even the Sleeping Bear can sleep tonight.

What would the ancients have thought of all this drumming without any drums? All this whooping without any dancing? All this firing without any fire? So many stars so low to the ground all along the shores of their beloved Mishigami?

I look down. My lifetime love paddles past with a wave. I can sense his delight in both the paddling and the pageantry even from way up here.  I am glad, tonight, for the freedom to celebrate this land that we call ours, even though it isn’t. Like our ancient brothers and sisters of the Anishinaabek, we are just passing through.

~J.A.P.Walton