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

 

 

Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Cycling, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, Hope, Life's Storms, Mountains, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, wisdom

Test Your Mettle

Lately, I have been thinking about the notion of testing one’s mettle.  It’s an old-fashioned way of explaining resiliency, the capacity to soldier on through tough times, and drawn-out challenges. I think the key concept is that we grow in character by stepping out of our comfort zones, and enduring hard experiences. This happens to us as an individual, and to “we” as a community.

We test our own individual mettle to see if we have the courage, tenacity, and inner strength to climb the mountains in our way.

This is jarring, because our world is oriented towards personal comfort, faux strength, and instant gratification. And, because testing oneself is so disorienting, we rarely welcome a chance to see what we’re made of.

First, we don’t want to appear as if we’ve stumbled, splayed out publicly in our weakness, hurt, disbelief, and despair. We often fail to test ourselves because we are too busy acting as if we don’t need to.  Second, such testing is uncomfortable. 

We lay ourselves bare for the blacksmith’s hammering, a tempering that flattens and smashes our beliefs and suppositions on its way to forging strength and stamina.

Third, we are afraid of failing the test, of running the gauntlet only to find ourselves worse off than when we started.  When has your life been at a place of testing?  What was your response?

As a timid kid with little self-confidence, my first tests were all physically-difficult enterprises that pushed my fragile mental and emotional stability to-and beyond- their limits.  Climbing a 13,000 foot mountain while hampered by asthma and anemia was beyond difficult, always served up with a mental side dish of “I can’t do this.” But I did.

Taking a graduate biochemistry course without having the undergraduate requisite of general and organic chem was insanely challenging, my mind constantly gnawed with “I can’t do this.”  But I did.

Biking long distances, when the legs were dead, the seat numb, the fatigue’s lie of “I simply can’t go another mile” an unwelcome inner whine. But I could, and I did.

When we could not have more children, the emotional ache was unbearable. When confronted with “you can’t have kids” I finished my doctorate and taught for 20 years. I had thousands of wonderful kids over time.

Fortitude is an odd virtue. It digs deep, finds strength we didn’t know we had, keeps us moving forward, upward, and outward.  It is gas on the fire when our tank is empty. It is a second wind.  Each time we overcome some unpleasant or challenging circumstance, we carve another notch of confidence in our belt. But, I say fortitude is odd because for people who know and trust God, the real story is not in our own strength and endurance and ability, but in our weakness, our exhaustion, and our inability. All of creation glorifies the Creator.  When we manage to do something we thought impossible, and credit ourselves with fortitude, we take credit for something God did in and through us, trying on God’s glory for size.

We are fallen and always falling. The strength to stand is not our own. Nor is the strength to endure. Those who trust in God know this secret: we don’t have to survive these things alone in our own strength.

God will test your mettle. He will allow some uncomfortable, disorienting, heart-rending chapters to be written in your life. How you respond is up to you. Just know, you don’t have to go it alone.

~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.

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 Tourism, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, Nature, Praise, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, wisdom, worry

My Favorite Lesson

I am watching the birds at Trout Creek today, the outdoors swathed in snow mantle, the wind chill temps blisteringly cold.  After our month-long absence, we found the birds waiting in the wings of the Norway spruce for “their” feeder to be refilled, and the water bath topped off.

It was blizzarding out, lacy snow swirling in a blinding, biting wind.

The intrepid titmouse was at the feeder immediately, running laps from there to the gutter to hammer open his seeds, and find a crack to hide them. The red-bellied woodpecker was not far behind, carelessly scattering seed for which the ground-hugging juncos were thankful. All afternoon they came, the hapless chickadees, bold cardinals, upside down nuthatches, purple and house finches, and downy woodpeckers. This morning, a finch parked itself on the feeder as I worked at my desk through a month’s worth of mail. Though birds’ feet can withstand the cold quite well, it was a happy sight to watch the finch balance on one foot with the other tucked up into her fluffed up feathers. Every so often, she switched feet.

While strolling through the ruins of the Roman Forum earlier this month, I sat for a time to rest and imagine the people who once lived in that grand, impressive place. In the Temple of the Virgins, statues of twelve virtuous ladies line the walk, but only one still has her stone head. On the headless statue in front of me, a small sparrow-sized bird landed, and began to drink out of the water bowled in the lady’s neck.  Next, this bird, a red-breasted flycatcher common to southern Europe, jumped into that pooled water for a bath. I doubt the sculptor could have imagined his beautiful work serving as a bird bath!

Also in Rome, while watching the filthy Tiber River flow by, I observed a pigeon-a fat one at that- limping along on stumped legs; the bird had no feet.  Still, it had adapted quite marvelously, and didn’t even seem to know or care that it was footless.

Jesus taught that

God cares for even the lowliest of sparrows, and that we should never worry about our lives, because He loves us even more.

It is why I like to watch the birds, knowing that while they neither reap nor sow, they are still known by their Creator. While we are busy flitting from thing to thing, worrying the bones of life like a determined dog, God sees us. Knows us. Knows our needs better than we do. Cares for us. Loves us. Provides for us. Hears us.

The birds teach me that. It’s my favorite subject in the school of nature.