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, 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, 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

 

 

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, Cancer, canoeing, Creator, death, God, Hardiness, Hope, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Prayer, Religion, Risk Taking, Sea Canoe, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

All Things ARE Possible with God

At the recent Quiet Water Symposium, QWS  we were thrilled when Hugh was recognized with the Verlen Kruger Award for his years of encouraging others to take up their paddles, and for his ongoing volunteer work on water quality issues in his county. In the nominator’s words, “Hugh believes in the power of water to challenge, teach, and heal.”

At the event, one of Verlen’s original Sea Wind canoes was on display, with the ever present Scripture, “ All things are possible with God,” Verlen’s favorite verse from the Bible.[1]

When you launch out into the current of life with God, anything, even all things are possible right there in the middle of your life, your sickness, your challenges, even your death-God prevails.

Verlen took his faith across 100,000 miles of paddling not just in Michigan, but from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, up the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, from Montreal to the Bering Sea, and many more. He was an inspiration in vision, perseverance, courage and faith. And he was humble enough to admit his mistakes. For more about Verlen, click here

In receiving the award, Hugh spoke about having to move home to Michigan after his leukemia diagnosis, and his desire to fully explore the Great Lakes by canoe. To do so, especially given his illness, he would need a canoe that could take on “big water.” Verlen’s sea-tested design was reputed to be the toughest canoe ever made. In 1999, Hugh visited Verlen and ordered what would become Sea Wind #125.

When the canoe was ready, Mark went with Hugh to pick it up and meet Verlen, who consulted with them about their upcoming trip to the Apostle Islands. When Verlen found out that Mark was taking a family canoe, he insisted that they take one of his old Sea Winds.  When Mark returned the borrowed canoe, he immediately ordered his own Sea Wind. That was the beginning of the Walton brothers’ Kruger Expeditions, and a blossoming friendship with the man behind these boats.

What neither of them knew was that Verlen himself was living with cancer at the time.  Shortly before he died in 2004, he told his biographer, “I’ll fight this thing as long as I’m able, but if God wants me now, I’m ready.”[2]

Hugh had the same philosophy over the ten years of treatments he endured before the curative bone marrow transplant. In those years, he paddled in spite of the fatigue, in spite of the drug-induced flu-like symptoms, and in the face of long odds.  A day didn’t pass that he wasn’t grateful for life, and for the opportunity to paddle with his brother, unwavering in his own belief that all things are possible with God.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]See accompanying photo of the bow of Sea Wind #3

[2]Phil Peterson. All Things are Possible:  The Verlen Kruger Story. 2006. p.284.