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

 

 

beauty, Creation, Creator, Forest, joy, Nature, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Herald of the North

The trillium are in full bloom at Trout Creek,

wearing their white petals like a regal ermine stole.

They blossom early here in southern Michigan; their northern kin won’t be out for another few weeks.

When we first began living in Michigan in the summers, Memorial Day weekends were set aside for the work of opening up: raking, splitting wood, fixing potholes in the 2-track lane, and getting fresh linens on the beds. My clearest memories of those times, aside from the uncontainable thrill to be up north on the cusp of school letting out, was the deep green of the woods carpeted with hundreds of the pink-tinged white of the trilliums’ nodding heads. Like the first robin, and the April earthworm escaping a flooded tunnel, the sight of trillium throughout the forest was

a beauty almost too tender, too holy to behold.

Even today, it brings on a euphoria like few other experiences can.

Maybe that is because northern Michigan has always represented freedom (from the tedium and demands of school especially), and the beauty of lakes and dunes and deep, blue skies (suburban Chicago was a spidery, tentacled cage made of steel and cement and insipid cookie-cutter subdivisions). Even today, turning the car northward sparks a tiny flame of delight that fans itself into joy with each passing mile.

Trillium. A three-petaled lily. (Did you know that flowers with just 3 petals are rare?). Protected. Herald of the north.

A triune beauty that speaks to the nature of God. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the trillium, nodding to greet the longer days and welcome the wanderer, the seeker, the tired and worn.

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~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Affirmation, Birds, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Religion, Silence, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Manifold Witness

We are briefly back north at the bluff to open the house and plant the garden. It is always a “hard work” kind of week-clearing sand out of gutters, raking leaves, sweeping and dusting every horizontal surface, washing windows (a never-ending list really…when was spring cleaning ever easy?).  At the same time, it is curiously restful because we are surrounded by beauty in every direction.  The distractions are natural ones, instead of manmade. No highway or airport noise, no sirens, no teens driving by with thumping base, no door-to-door salesmen. Not even cell phone robo-calls, since the cell signal in the north woods is so weak. The Internet here is iffy too, and our monthly plan severely so limited datawise that we must, by necessity, trim the sails of online time.

Away from town, it’s easier to pay less attention to the news and its tendency to dampen the spirit. There is just something about finding yourself isolated from the noise of the world that is settling. Calming. Affirming. It layers on a balm of hours to get to work with grateful hands, despite the creaky knees and shoulders.  Here, the distractions are different- the screech owl and red-bellied woodpecker. The drumming of an amorous ruffed grouse, a deer prancing by, and the fog rolling in over the lake. Just like in town, we aren’t alone.

The manifold witness of all of nature* reminds us minute by minute of the love, creativity, faithfulness, and constancy of God, maker of heaven and earth.

The bird chorus at dawn, the pregnant bobcat, the mist heavy over the bog, and the waves pounding the foot of the bluff- these are God’s way of assuring us that he is here, ever-watchful, always waiting.

The good news is that you don’t have to go to the north woods to hear and see God’s goodness.

It is my prayer that you can find a space this week to let the beauty of creation enfold you right where you are.

There is glory in the daffodil, marvel in the work of the ant and wren, and a delight in the unfolding of tender new leaves. See if you can silence the distractions wrought by this worrying world long enough to go outside and enjoy what God gives to all so freely.

~J.A.P. Walton

* from the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness

adventure, Affirmation, Backpacking, Camping, Creation, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Rocky Mountain National Park, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Up to Your Hips in Trouble

This photo was taken 41 years ago this month while backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) with friends. We had just finished our freshman year at Colorado State University, and were ready to celebrate before scattering for the summer. It was warm and sunny the day we left, and we could see for miles, with hardly a cloud in the sky. How deeply good it feels to exchange a mental burden for a physical one, to walk off the inner sludge that final exams cause to accumulate, and to finally be able to greet spring with exuberance and open arms.

Taking to the mountains is a kind of spring-cleaning for the soul.

We hiked up to 11,000 feet to base camp among the fir and spruce at Lawn Lake in the Mummy Range. We were the only ones there. After making camp in mid-afternoon, we hiked around the lake, wished for fishing poles, had a leisurely dinner, and planned out our route to, weather-permitting, summit the Mummy, and, with luck, even Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon mountains the next day depending on their snow cover. When you have grand plans in the mountains, you go to bed and get up early. We were bedded down before dark.

The RMNP website expressly warns about the vicissitudes of the wilderness: “Plan ahead and prepare: Plan your trip carefully. Prepare for extreme weather.” And for good reason. I can recall a July day backpacking in the park’s Never Summer range when a cloudless sky on a high plain at lunchtime became a menacing black, cold, and lightning-laced fury within the hour. We were caught high and unsheltered, forced to abandon our packs, spread out, and squat low on our haunches while the booming thunder shook the ground. I was 15, and my cheery camp counselor told the others to stay away from me, because with my mouthful of braces, the lightning would seek me out first. To this day I don’t know if she was serious or teasing. I remember finding the storm curiously invigorating-I was afraid and awed at the same time.

While sleeping the deep sleep of a college student freshly emancipated from classes and exams, the night got colder. Much colder as it turns out. We awoke around 4 a.m. when there was a muffled thump, and my tent-mate and I were immediately pinned inside our tent and sleeping bags. What in the world? I could just wriggle my arms free to push against the weight and find a flashlight. Imagine our surprise when, unzipping the tent fly, there was 3 feet of snow up the sides of the tent, the snow from the spruce having dumped with a tent-collapsing thud. Oh Oh. We were NOT prepared for snow, much less a blizzard of wet, heavy snow. Of course, back then, there were no cell phones or emergency GPS gizmos. The snow was already up to our knees, and it was steady. We could wait it out, or get out before it got deeper. We hoped, by going down, the snow would abate. So, by 4:30 a.m. we were packed and headed out by flashlight. It was a slog, sometimes the snow up to our hips. But, by noon, we were safely down, and headed into Estes Park for hot coffee and the best waffles the world has ever known.

The wilderness of life has its own storms. Illness. Job loss. Poor decisions coming back back to bite us. Weather disasters. Family strife. One night we lie down in peace and happy anticipation, only to be slammed awake, smothered by the fear, anxiety, and panic of an unexpected storm. The Bible has a consistently affirming message: “Do not be afraid.” “I will never leave you.” “God is the strength of His people, and a refuge in times of trouble.” I can’t promise that the outcome is always as good as hot coffee and waffles. Knowing God, it will be far, far better.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, God, Hope, John Muir, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Prayer, River, Sierra Nevada, Spring, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The Geese, the Floods, and John Muir

Geese flew over the house this morning, with a honking so hauntingly welcome that it stopped me breathless with the happy assurance that winter is losing its grip. This has truly been a winter of discontent, to borrow from John Steinbeck (my favorite author of fiction). We lost a loved one. Another continues to decline. We are sending up prayers for too much cancer, too many bullets, the sword-rattling of our enemies, and the deaths of two great men of prayer and faith, R.C. Sproul and Billy Graham. This week we had days and days of rain atop melting snow, sending our creeks and rivers out of their banks.

To dwell on all this too long leaves us as drab and lifeless as the snow-matted flood-stained grass. We defend ourselves with intentional numbness. Yet the geese remind us that goodness abounds, that life is not snuffed out entirely, and that there is work to be done. This week, as Trout Creek rose higher and faster, swelling and bullying itself downstream, I thought about the nature of things-water most especially. How it gathers to itself, seeks out the lowest places, dwells and swells with an abandoned playfulness that lurks with deadly innocence too. Water has a voice and a rhythm. It sings and swings down its course, sweeping everything unrooted away with raw power. What other than our faith can anchor us amid the flood of evil tides?  But water is also life-giving.

I have spent this winter reading the selected works of John Muir because his writing is extraordinarily uplifting (winter is long in the north, so I strategically choose reading that will edify and encourage me). Muir’s prose is divinely poetic, and his love for God and Creation oozes from every page. He often wrote about the waters that fall from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada in California, carving out passes and canyons-

“The happy stream sets forth again, warbling and trilling like an ouzel, ever delightfully confiding, no matter how dark the way; leaping, gliding, hither, thither, clear or foaming: manifesting the beauty of its wildness in every sound and gesture.” 1

Muir shows us that part of the water’s power is in the way it glories to be on its way, hailing any who would heed. Spring is coming friends. Won’t it be glorious to be on our way, doing the work God has given us to do, righting wrongs with energy, and pointing others to the same hope we have in God? May you “set forth again” and rise up out of your banks with a renewed vigor, confiding in one another no matter how dark the way. Look up. The geese will show you the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

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  1.  John Muir Selected Writings, A.Knopf, New York. 2017,p.178.  This excerpt is from Muir’s first book, The Mountains of California published in 1894. (an ouzel is a bird)