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

adventure, Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outfitting, Peace, Prayer, Serving Others, Uncategorized

Do You Have a Purple Notebook?

If you had an hour to think about where you are headed, and why, what would you write down on your “outfitting” list?

We’ve begun a slow transition from the bluff back to Trout Creek, and the tall grasses and migrating birds are telltale signs that summer is nearly over. Normally at this time of year, the Walton brothers are busily outfitting for their annual fall paddle in the northern latitudes, when the hallowed and dog-eared purple notebook comes out with its years of collective wisdom- list upon list of gear, menus, and groceries that must be gathered before departure.

The brothers deeply enjoy the process of getting everything ready. As I write this, I have just put Hugh on a plane for Arizona to join 3 of his brothers for their paddle trip down the Colorado River.  He was lamenting that taking a trip with professional outfitters takes away much of the pleasure that the “doing for yourself” brings.  He was missing his purple notebook.

It is interesting to study the word outfit as a verb.  In wilderness jargon, it means to assemble the gear and necessities for an extended time away from civilization: water purification, camp stove, food, first aid kit, compass, tent, emergency distress signaling device, and the like. But it has made me think about whether or how we outfit for our everyday life. I tend to be a list maker, so it’s not a stretch to see how my adopted processes for daily tasks help me stay on course; a decades-old two-month menu cycle informs grocery shopping, and a bill-tracking database helps quickly settle accounts. Going to church every Sunday morning gives each week an anchor, adding stability and sanity into this busy life. Still, what do I DO on a regular basis to see to the proper “outfitting” of my life?  If I kept a small purple notebook of the necessities, what would it contain, and how would it keep me on a wise path? Do I enjoy the process of “getting ready” and what am I getting ready for?

When we were younger, this was easier to answer. We were saving money for a house down payment, for kids’ college, for retirement, and developing skills and talents that made us valuable in the workforce. We were learning our way through parenting, and, more recently, caring for our parents. We were studying Scripture and developing a deeper relationship with God and each other.

But what do I “outfit” for now, in retirement?  I am making new lists. They are less about preparing for the future as they are about understanding that the future is already here in the present. My own lament is in wondering how much “present” I missed all those years that were so focused on preparing for someday.  So, I find that the lists are evolving, much less focused on action and more focused on virtue.  Virtue? Yes. Character infused with godliness. It’s a high calling, and worth the study.

I believe in eternal life with God, which gives me a secure future that I didn’t fully appreciate in my younger years. A secured future gives us the freedom to take better care in and of the present.

My new set of lists is energized by prayer that God outfits me with grace, wisdom, contentment in any circumstance, and a truly benevolent heart for others.

Other things in my notebook (mine is blue) include to:

  • refrain from divisive speech
  • be the best listener in the room
  • honor my husband
  • cherish and dignify my mother’s final days
  • to appreciate creation in all its beauty and mystery
  • and to jump more readily with Isaiah’s enthusiastic response to God’s lament, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And, Isaiah swiftly replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8)

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

adventure, Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Praise, Prayer, Silence, Uncategorized, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

Hush Yourself

The Walton brothers leave in two days for their epic paddle on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as they pack and plan, I find myself wondering how Mark and Hugh will adapt to a group setting, because when it’s just the two of them, the trips are filled with long, contented, contemplative silence.  A group of 16-20 paddlers is sure to be filled with whoops and the idle yakking that an exciting adventure can bring out in boisterous, bombastic ways.

Silence and wilderness are comfortable companions.  Big, wide, primitive, and timeless spaces like the Grand Canyon almost demand our reverent silence. So much so that the human tendency toward ceaseless chatter is nearly a sacrilege. I say ‘nearly’ because there are times when a gasp or sigh just won’t do, when, in our inability to find the words to describe God’s perfect creation, we can only utter an awe-filled, praise-pregnant, “Wow.”

A few weeks ago, at a gorgeous state campground in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we were surrounded by such surreal beauty that we could hardly speak at times. Yet, there were our neighbors, blasting their base-thrumming music right up to the stroke of the start of quiet hours. Beautiful wilderness, birdsong, chipmunk chirrups, the wide river lapping the shore, thunder in the distance- all crowded out by someone’s idea of a sound so beloved that it just had to be shared with everyone.

We seem to have arrived at a cultural norm in which it is another person’s right to fill “my” personal space with any sound, at any volume they choose, and if I don’t like it, I can leave. I get to listen to their cell phone conversations, their music, and their video movies on line at the store, in waiting rooms, restaurants, and, yes, even wilderness campgrounds. They may find it entertaining. I find it immensely thoughtless- storms, earthquakes and fires of our own destructive making.  But, God told Elijah that he was not in the earthquake, wind, or fire. God was a whisper so low that Elijah had to go outside and be silent to hear it. (1Kings 19)

Where in this whole, big world can we go to find real silence-that quietness of space and soul that God can speak into with his whispers?

And why do we shun God’s silent places with noise that distracts and numbs us while overflowing into our neighbors’ lives?  I find this mindless and endless self-absorption disheartening at best, a habit-forming and careless* practice of escapism that effectively shuts God’s voice right out of our lives, and, what’s more,  intrusively does so to the people around us.

Just look to the creation! The sun rises and sets without a sound. The caterpillar curls up and noiselessly becomes a whispering butterfly, the trees mutely leaf out in a stunning welcome to spring, and the snowflake somersaults in freefall in glorious silence.

I think this is why I gravitate toward rowing, sailing, paddling, fishing, and beach walks. No, these are never silent, but the music is God-given, rarely brassy, harsh, or discordant. The rills of water against the oars, the foaming gossip of a white-capped wave spilling onto the beach, the scree of the hungry hawk, the wind like a cellist’s bow against the cedar boughs, and the laugh of the blue jay- now this is a symphony of harmonious delight, free for the listening. The wilderness preserves silence on this busy planet, which is one big reason it is important for us to be committed to the preservation of the wilderness.

The wilderness can give you the concert of a lifetime if you’ll learn to hush yourself.

Happy listening!

Sign up to FOLLOW and you will join a growing list of regular readers who get an email push each time a blog post is published. As always, thanks for reading as I continue on this writing journey into the wilderness.

~J.A.P. Walton

  • by careless, I mean that a person could care less
Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hate, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Praise, Prayer, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The H’s of Learning & Unlearning

I taught thousands of college students over the years.  The biggest challenge was not helping students learn; it was first getting them to unlearn the things wrongly buried in their psyche: that rote memorization rarely creates understanding; cramming is foolish; being in class is a critical necessity; classmates are not just co-learners, they are also your teachers; the internet is not always the best source of information; talking to people face to face is an important skill… believe me, there’s more!  But, the point is that

we have all learned things that we need the guts and determination to root out and unlearn before our growth as a whole, helpful, and happy person can develop and mature.

When we take the time (that in itself is an important learning skill) to seek out the grandeur and solitude of the wilderness, we become students of nature- wild and human. There is so much we can learn if we are also willing to unlearn the things that make us small, harried, worried, unhappy, and vexed (oh how my grandmother the writer loved that word!)

I believe that all of learning is rooted in love.

And what does the wilderness teach us out of love about love?  That this world was created by design, with an Artist’s eye and a passionate Hand. What we find in the wilderness is that the world, as created, is infused with a holiness that transcends all the things humans can do to ruin it.  The wilderness teaches us humility, and to affirm the good that we see and can be to others. It teaches us to love the Creator.

If love is the root from which all learning blossoms, then it follows that the things we’ve learned wrongly do not shoot forth from love. When I take the time to seek out the solitude and teaching that creation offers, I ask myself what I need to unlearn first-those things the world pushes me to think, say, or do that are not things to be proud of. First, I must unlearn haste. It’s one thing to hurry to get dinner on the table for a hungry tribe; it’s another to live each day as if God did not create enough time. The wilderness teaches me that I must slow down.

The world has taught us to hate. We distrust anyone who is not like us. We spill our hatred over onto social media.

We grind our axes and our teeth. Hate is the rot at the core of our discontent, and it cannot possibly grow out of a heart steeped in love.

If you find yourself impatiently fuming at (fill in the blank), you are not acting out of love.

We have also learned to hoard from this consuming and consumptive world. We make and we take and we guard it closely with our tightly balled up fists- our time, our money, our very selves.

The wilderness teaches us all this: that our haste, and our hate, and our hoarding are ugly and shameful, and utterly pathetic in the face of the humility and holiness we encounter in creation.

I don’t know about you but I have much to unlearn in order to learn rightly.

~J.A.P. Walton

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