adventure, Affirmation, beauty, canoeing, childhood, Creation, Faithful Living, God, John Muir, Kindred Spirits, Lessons from the Wilderness, Marriage, Nature, River, Silence, Uncategorized, Water, White Water Paddling, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

Where Words are Unnecessary

I must confess that I covet the times my husband and I paddle a river alone together. Being surrounded by boats, family, friends, and visitors, we are more often than not on the water in big groups.

He is a much stronger, abler paddler than I. He can read the currents and the wind in ways that let him slither downriver like a water snake-completely at home and at one with the boat. It is a marvel to watch him, when the edges of man, boat, and river blur into lovely moments of being in nature, rather than standing over it.

We met 57 years ago as children.  Now, the canoe and the wild river are symbols of our relationship. Stable and still in deep quiet water, swift and determined in the face of life’s challenges and submerged snags. We seek out the wilderness for our own restoration as individuals and as man and wife. We travel the rivers and lakes because this is how man has traveled the deep, dark forests for centuries, taking us where no road can go, no cell phone can reach. We go quietly. Reverently. Following the world’s first paddlers past rocks and pines, scrub oaks and scarred outcroppings, shallow sandbars and towering eagles’ roosts.

Out here, life hangs on; a tree’s roots cling with enduring hope, it’s branches reaching for God. Every breeze lifts a melody. The deer snuffs and stamps. The kingfisher scolds. The milkweed suckles the Monarch.

And all the while, the waters flow down, the land bowing to its power and majesty. John Muir said, “The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

My husband and I need to be where words are unnecessary that we too might glide, and where creation does all the talking and singing for us. Where there is healing at every bend.

Where the earth’s broad sighs, and the sun’s nightly farewell give the soul hue and heft, and space and weft. Like candy at a parade, the wilderness tosses us joy with remarkable abandon, and we unwrap each treat with childish wonder that our hearts, together, could know such timelessness and beauty.

It is breath. It is gift. It is life. It is marriage. And it is ours.


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Accomodation, adventure, Adventure Tourism, Creation, Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, hiking, John Muir, Lessons from the Wilderness, National Parks, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outfitting, River, Silence, Uncategorized, White Water Paddling, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The ‘Unhurried Grace’ of the Wilderness

The Walton brothers are back and rested from their rafting trip down the Colorado River, full of stories, memories, and the gratification one gets from completing a once-in-a-lifetime wilderness adventure.  Over eleven days, they rafted 192 miles, bucking through 66 rapids, 28 of which were level IV or V (i.e., significantly formidable).  Since the Colorado is open to paddlers only by permit, almost everyone on the river is with a professional outfitting group. This is good because the rapids and cold water (around 50 degrees) are dangerous even when you know what you are doing.

So the brothers joined 12 other trippers at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as 4 guides and 4 support staff from O.A.R.S. outfitters. They spent time at the start in orientation: man-overboard drills, helmet rules, and “groover” instructions (a groover is a backcountry toilet for solid waste, because we all know that everything we eat must come out, and that on the Colorado, everything solid that comes out must be packed out).  At 4:00 a.m. the next day, they set off down the Bright Angel trail from the rim of the Grand Canyon hiking down (with a capital D), nearly 10 miles to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. They began in a frosty, pitch dark with headlamps, and 3 water bottles apiece. By the time they reached the bottom it was 95 degrees and they were footsore, more than ready to on the river. The rafts were awaiting them in the cool brown Colorado, 4 for the 16 trippers and 4 guides, and support staff with other rafts with supplies like food, drink, gear, and groover. The group all agreed that this was the most physically-challenging day of the trip, and that hiking 10 miles downhill makes everything hurt: back, hips, knees, and, most especially, toes.

When you trip with an outfitter, you have to learn that you are the patron, and the staff is there to serve you.

This is so unlike any trip you would plan and execute on your own; on this trip, carrying the gear, brewing the coffee at 5:30 a.m., cooking the food, cleaning up the camp kitchen, and steering the raft through dangerous rapids was all done for the trippers.  This is fun for most people, and allows them a chance to enjoy being in the wilderness without any of the obligations of planning and paddling.  But, for the two paddling Walton brothers, this was hard. They enjoy the process, and welcome hard physical challenges, where testing themselves against the beauty, danger, and mystery of the wilderness is the main thrust of why they go in the first place. This is not to say they didn’t have a terrific time on the Colorado, only that they would have enjoyed a more hands-on experience.

It begs several questions that have plagued the national parks for decades. How do we get more people in touch with what the wilderness has to teach, and accommodate the novice explorer’s lack of expertise and physical fitness, while preserving the true notion of “wilderness”?  How do we make the wilderness accessible and relatable for people with disabilities?  We know that hands-on experience is a master teacher. So, if we want people to advocate for wilderness preservation, how do we help them be active participants instead of passive passengers?

The world is shrinking. The national parks are experiencing record numbers of visitors, and the wildness of the lands the government preserves is in peril when accessibility/development is at loggerheads with preservation of the virgin wilderness.

Edward Abbey, John Muir, and Henry Thoreau would decry the bulldozers ripping and gnawing at the wilderness so that the auto, RV, motor boat, and trail bike can reach far corners, in faster time, than would happen if we could only get there on foot, or with mute paddle.

What’s lost is the silent stretch of time and physical challenge that births reverence and awe in the undiminished wilds, something that industrial tourism* can never authentically afford.  For now, there’s the shallow surface beauty that national park visitors can enjoy in a quick stop-for-a-day.

The deeper, more mysterious, yet difficult to access  “unhurried grace”* of the wilderness, is won

only by those able and willing to do the hard work to get out and away from the crowds, and it is diminishing by the year.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire. Chapter 4. 1968.

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adventure, Life's Storms, Orienteering, Outdoor Adventures, Saint David, Serving Others, Technical Climbing, Uncategorized, Wales, White Water Paddling, wisdom

Saint David, the Wilds of Wales, & Doing the Little Things

March 1st is Saint David’s Day. My family has always celebrated it with pride, and not a little relief that the winter months are behind us. My great-grandmother was an immigrant from Wales in the 1880’s. Her father left the poverty-stricken slate mines of north Wales to settle in eastern Iowa as a farmer. Nearly one hundred years later, I found myself a student at Trinity College in south Wales where I could study Welsh (a difficult, guttural language to be sure). My other classes were Russian History, Outdoor Pursuits, and Chorale, because when you are in Wales, you must sing!

It was the OP class that captured my heart. Over 12 weeks, we learned technical climbing on the steep western cliffs facing the Irish Sea, whitewater kayaking in the wild, foaming rivers of Wales, hiking up the brooding mountains of the north, and the sport of orienteering. It challenged me physically, and I learned quickly to trust ~ my peers, the ropes, the kayak, and the compass. When we live with our petty suspicions about the motives and nature of others, it is wonderfully freeing to learn, experientially, that trust is a virtue to be cultivated.

My brother is named after Saint David, who was a teacher and a monk in the 6th century. Native Welsh, Saint David established Christian enclaves throughout the country. He was no stranger to challenges, and it was his faith that led him on as he shared the gospel with Atlantic pirates and poor Welsh villagers alike.

His trust in God never wavered. On his deathbed, he admonished people to be joyful, to keep their faith, and do the little things in life.

In future posts, I will describe the thrill of running rapids, racing through deep snow to find the orange control flags at an orienteering competition, and rappelling down the steep sea cliffs in a wildly beautiful, breathtaking country. But today is Saint David’s Day, March 1, and I am thinking about “doing the little things” that, when added up, make for a life of meaning and service…things like sharing a meal, sitting with the sick, imprisoned, or widowed, taking on extra at work so a co-worker can get a break, driving your car without ranting at other drivers, keeping your space neat so people don’t have to live with your mess. Joining folks in their sorrow. Saying thank you.

It’s rarely about the thrill, is it? Life is about trusting God that he made you to lighten the burden of other people. It takes trust to step backwards off a high cliff. To paddle over a waterfall, or to run in deep snow after hidden clues. But to trust in God is so much grander. It means that all will be well, even as waters pour over our heads, even as we slip and fall, even as we persist in the mundane. The secret is in staying focused on the little things of life! Happy Saint David’s Day!   Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

~ J.A.P. Walton

Photo Credit: Google images (because mine are all slides!) My chorale class sang a Christmas Concert here on a cold, snowy evening in December 1978.  For more information about Wales, see here: Wales | History, Geography, Facts, & Points of Interest |      Wales travel guide