beauty, Birds, Creation, God, Heaven, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Praise, sailing, Silence, Sounds, Uncategorized, wilderness, wind

What Are You Listening To?

It is not a quiet morning here on the bluff.

Last night’s storm blew the haze and humidity away, bringing a stiff north wind and choppy whitecaps on the big lake.

I haven’t been awake long, but already two sailboats have bounced past, sails full, hulls thumping the wave crests. A cardinal has hopped close with a chip-chip to peek in the screen. The hummingbird has been buzzing at the feeder. And two bald eagles have skimmed south on the breezy uplifts like stealth bombers.

It is easy to write about what we can see, but trying to convey the sounds is a distinct challenge. The leaves in the maple dervish in ecstasy to the gusts, their bodies swishing like so many petticoats. The waves themselves thrum in the ancient rhythm that pushes them ever coastward, and crashes them ashore with a distinct split-second of surprised gasp before sucking back out and under the next swell.  The crows and jays jabber and scold as the eagle approaches, while the breeze tells them to hush their hyperbole.

I asked my husband the other day if the wind would sing aloud in the absence of obstacles.  The trees stand before it to give it voice and treble. But, what if it were blowing in the middle of a vast desert? He said

even the grains of sand would joyfully lift to the wind’s call to give it speech.

Creation is rarely silent.

Even in the stillest of nights, the owls hunts, its prey screams. The mole’s paws scratch the dirt, and the deer snorts.  In August, the cicada sings, and the cricket plays its dusky violin.

I think it is good to listen. Here is the still, small voice of God, lifted on the breeze of his creation, burrowed in the rabbit hole, slithered in dry leaves as the snake creeps. But, we rarely pay it much attention, going around with our ear buds, always blotting out the beauty of the music already all around us. Oh, what the music of heaven must be like!

What have you heard lately?

~J.A.P. Walton

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, Blessings, Blue Skies, childhood, Creation, death, Growing Up, Nature, Risk Taking, sailing, Uncategorized

Unbounded Joy

Last week I sailed my new little dory for the first time.  It was heavenly. Until the wind died that is. My one-hour sail turned into a 4-hour battle to move even one foot forward.  I know. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from being becalmed;

I can easily point out life stations in which discontent and a slovenly spirit toyed with my well-being.

Still. Just one brief hour skimming across the blue deeps, trimming sail and being consumed with the watery, foaming song of the bow slicing through the water was enough to make my re-entry into the world of sailing a delight I will never forget; an unbounded joy.

I grew up sailing an old Grumman aluminum dinghy that was my mother’s first boat. It was slow and stable, not good in light winds. When I was 12, she bought a new, fiberglass Butterfly, a beautiful, sleek turquoise boat, sail number 4607. Oh how I loved that Butterfly! It could nose ably into the wind, rising up onto the lee gunnel in a gallop across the water, straining like a racehorse to run fast. At 14, I was allowed to sail it alone, and it was then that I discovered the singular joy of a solo sail, where all the conversation is in your own head, and the music is orchestrated by God Himself. Sun. Wind. Crystal blue, cold, inviting water. Freedom and solitude.  Bliss.

Until one day at the age of 16 when I made a near-fatal error in judgment about the wind. I had been sailing a little recklessly, to be sure. I was experienced, had righted a tipped boat many times by myself, but on this day, when a gust took me and the boat right over, the boat quickly turtled, a term used to describe the mast sinking from parallel to the water to pointing directly down to the bottom of the lake. Butterfly masts take in water like a big straw, so once turtled, they are hard to right. On this day, as I slid across the fiberglass down the lee side of the boat to be dumped in the water, the tiller extension (a long bar that swivels off the end of the tiller to allow the sailor extra reach for hiking out) somehow slid under the shoulder seam of my life jacket.

As I kicked to free myself from underneath the boat, I was dismayed to learn that I was, in effect, tightly trapped to the boat deck. Of course, I was wearing my contacts and had my eyes closed (dumb).

I fumbled around long enough to realize that my life jacket was ironically going to kill me.

So, I unzipped it, scrambled loose, and burst to the surface to cling like wet laundry across the placid and welcoming big white underbelly of the boat. That incident frightened me, no doubt.

Until last week, I never again sailed a boat solo,

and I had very little trust when sailing with my husband that he would keep the boat upright and not dump me into the dark and deep waters of Crystal Lake. I spent years dreaming about sailing my own boat, but the doubt would hold me back. The Butterfly was eventually sold, and we went through a few iterations of sturdy little day cruisers for our family- the Flying Scot, the Wayfarer. They were too big for me to sail alone, and the gnawing desire to sail something small and safe kept growing.  I chose the 12’ dory because of its stability, and because when there is no wind it can be sculled for good exercise. The uncanny thing is that its tiller is too short, so we are building an extension- a nice smooth teak one without the T-shaped butt that can tangle in a life jacket.

Last week’s sail was fraught with a kind of humiliating comedy because I ended up needing to be towed in about an hour before dark (after refusing a tow 2 hours earlier with unexpectedly stubborn pride). But before the wind died, that sail was also a victory of will over fear, of returning to an important piece of my development from child into adult. It welcomed me back to my first memories of the power of the wind, the beauty of the white sail kissing the deep blue sky, and the sounds and smells of the water frothing its glad tidings underneath the bow of the boat.  Peace. Freedom. Delight. Solitude. I’ve only just begun to make up for the 40 years I missed out there.

~J.A.P. Walton

Starting August 1, WordPress will no longer connect with my Facebook profile. To receive future posts in your email feed, please consider clicking on the FOLLOW button! In the meantime, I will experiment with moving to a separate Facebook page dedicated to the blog. Wish me luck! Going on vacation for 2 weeks. More to come. Thanks for reading!