Affirmation, Blessings, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wisdom

Count On It

I am known in my family for my quirky penchant for counting things-the number of kayak strokes I take to my husband’s single dip of a canoe paddle (about 8), the mileage on a bike ride, the number of geese flying in V formation, how many feet of fishing line I let out when trolling, the number of steps in any flight of stairs, and a daily report of the number of cargo and cruise ships that pass by on the big lake.

During June at the bluff, the fervent counting begins. See the doe with two fawns, and raise your eyebrows in disbelief when the neighbor shows you a picture of the bobcat with five kits under her deck.  The robins are on their second brood already, and the dying ash trees that have summoned the voracious pileated woodpeckers means there are bugs galore just for the hammering. Today I saw a monarch butterfly, the first of the summer’s four generations that it will take to produce heirs with the will and stamina to fly to Mexico in September (one day two Septembers ago, I counted 75 monarchs/hour heading south along the bluff line). Each night, two baby screech owls silently glide in at dusk to hunt the plentiful moles and voles at the forest’s edge. And who could even begin to count the mayflies at hatch time?

I think I count things because it helps me be present and aware of my surroundings. Counting gives the world I see and hear a sense of order and rhythm, helping me apprehend patterns and hear Nature’s music.  Mostly I just love all things numbers.  Of course, much of the counting we do in life could be considered just so much idle wool-gathering; we tally our financial assets, count down the number of days until Christmas, check the number of likes on a social media post, and keep a running score in our head of who’s let us down.

But what should we be counting?  What (and who) can we count on? When Job tried to argue his feeble case, God let go with a thundering,

Who are you to lecture me? Where were you when I filled the storehouses with snow and hail? Do you even know how I measured out the dimensions of the universe? Can you count the lightning bolts?”

In other words, there are lots of things only God can count, like all the stars in all the universes, every fish in the sea, and the grains of sand on the coast. This is the same God who tenderly tells us that He knows the number of hairs on our head, and the very sum of the days of our life.

We can count on God to be our strength, hope, and peace when we feel like our own strength is gone. And, of course, when we live a life that has died to self, we can count on each other.

I love to watch the world go by while I keep count, and I am beginning to appreciate how to count it all joy when God gives me work to do, and the strength to do it. That’s what it really means to count your blessings.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo Credit: ML Walton, Lake Charlevoix, June 2018.

Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends.

adventure, Camping, Close Quarters, Creation, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Prayer, Rain, River, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Golden Prescription

I went camping last weekend at a state campground along the Lake Michigan shore with 21 other women and girls from church. Group camping presents me with an immediate conflict- I seek out the wilderness for its solitude and quiet, as a salve to an agitated personality, but the building of intimate community through group experience is a critical component of faith formation and practice. Let’s just say it pushes me out of balance to be in the woods with so many people and so much chatter.

To ensure some semblance of quiet time apart, I took a solo tent so I could bookend the day with thinking and prayer, zipping myself inside a tiny cocoon of solitude while the junior high girls laughed and squealed in a tent as big as a 2-bedroom apartment.  We were each having fun in our own way.

The second night, there was a long, slow, low rumble of thunder from far out on the big lake as I zipped up for the night. While rain in camp makes for muddy messes, and complicates the packing up of tent and fly, being snug and dry inside your tent as a thunderstorm rolls in, over, then onward is a singular thrill.  The flash of lightning, the bass thrum of thunder, and the percussive rain all around is like a cleansing bath for the soul. As I lay on my back, a gentle storm all about me, I was reminded of the way the spirit of God stills us even in the grip of life’s gales. The prophet Isaiah wrote that from the heavens above, clouds rain down righteousness; they shower it down to earth so that salvation can spring up, a salvation God creates and showers upon us. (Isa 45:8, paraphrased). In truth, all restoration and flourishing come from God.

But, our life is usually too rushed to feel like it is flourishing, restorative, and life-giving.

The present often seems more like a flooding river hurtling itself downward, always rushing in multiple directions, void of any sense of calm, hungrily sucking in those unaware and unprepared, flinging everything in its path down, and under as the waters close over, drowning all light and life. We are constantly trying to catch our breath, to hear God’s voice in this wilderness, and to spend a quiet moment alone with Him, that His Presence fills our present.

Who needs to worry about the future with a present like that?

If you are tired of your to-do list a mile long, I highly recommend a solo night under the trees in a rainstorm as a golden prescription.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, childhood, Creator, Forest, God, Growing Up, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pirate, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Pirate Still Lives Here

We left Trout Creek this week and moved back to the bluff. This is where I spent all but two summers since a child, atop a 150’ sand cliff with its face to the setting sun. From up here, Lake Michigan is grand and wide and shimmering. And though my grandparents bought this land 55 years ago, there is evidence from area artifacts that it was part of a network of hunting grounds for the ancients since the last ice age retreated north.

My grandparents built a cottage in the woods, and my brother and I slept and played to the steady rhythm of waves, wind, car ferry whistles, and Coast Guard foghorns. Here, our imaginations ran feral, with no television or telephone, and very few rules (compared to our city life) except to be home at the stated hour, to NEVER disturb mother if she was napping, and to remember that our behavior in public wore the family name. We had some drawing paper, a few dog-eared books, and a well-worn deck of cards that sat on a sunny windowsill underneath a moth-eaten Yahtzee cup. Every finished box of Jay’s potato chips was carefully deconstructed and laid flat to create a new board game. We made our own rules, we settled our own disagreements, and we laughed each other to sleep in the bunk beds’ sandy sheets. We became and remain best friends.

On a grand ash tree at the edge of the bluff, I flew my pirate flag, bought with birthday money and a sense of delight. (I still have it.) My brother had a telescope which we used to keep charge of this coast, vigilantly spying on fisherman, ore boats, and beachcombers. Here we learned to shoot with bow and arrow, how to tie bowlines, to know the language of woodland birdsong, to read the cats paw winds, and to name the constellations. We buried treasure, hooted up barred owls, hunted salamanders, found morel mushrooms, and haunted the cemetery where our father now lies. Here too I met my future husband when we were five, had my first argument with my parents, and developed what was to become a lifelong love of the conspicuous, God-breathed beauty that we call Nature.

This is not a big place, but it gave me a big heart and a curious mind.

In the sunrise of my life I ran barefoot and carefree, careful to mind the elders, but happy to be a child. Now all but one of those elders is gone, and I find myself here, under the same tree canopy, looking out at the same expanse of water and sky. I may be closer to the sunset of my own life, but I still have a telescope. The pirate in me will never die.

~J.A.P. Walton