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, Cancer, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Rain, River, Storms, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, worry

It’s Going to be All Right

The weather along Lake Michigan has been noticeably unsettled this summer, like a nervous groom before his wedding.  We are missing the long stretch of sunny days under high barometric pressure that bring such deep blue skies and the warm assurance that winter is still far away.

What we need is a really good storm.

Of course, the weather takes special watchfulness in paddling situations. You don’t want to be caught out on the water in wind and lightning when a big blow rises up. It’s one of the rules of paddling: to pay attention to the signs and barometer when heading out.

Once on a paddle on the Au Train River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we got caught in a late afternoon storm. The lightning was too intense to safely shelter under the big trees that leaned over the water. Paddling furiously back upstream, we returned to hunker down under a bridge we had passed earlier. The fury of the storm flashed and crashed all around us as the wind was funneled under the bridge. Trees came down, and grasses were flattened while the sedate river of just minutes ago became a roiling, angry maelstrom in pure, unleashed cacophony.

Life is filled with unexpected blows.

Things are sunny and pleasant, and we loll happily in our unwary hours. Then out of the blue, the skies darken, the storm threatens, and we are caught unawares. Examples abound: the day of 9-11; a cancer diagnosis; an accident; a death.  There seems nowhere to take shelter. Nowhere to turn. Nowhere to hide, or huddle.  Life’s storms can be terrifying, and sometimes they pile up and train down on us one after another.

All I can say is that with perfect predictability, all storms pass. In our canoe, after 30 long minutes of hanging on by our fingertips to the overhead girders, the tempest grudgingly moved on, leaving the river to calm its nerves, the trees dripping with diamonds, and a permeating whiff of fresh-bathed forest in every direction- abrupt silence, achingly beautiful crystal lighting, and a newly-birthed loveliness.

God himself set up the physical laws that create storms. He also has his reasons for allowing them to roil our lives.

But, no matter what assails us, God works only good for those who love him.  He is always for us, so that the storms of trouble and hardship cannot separate us from his love.

Not storms. Not evil. Not hate. Nothing high, nothing low, nothing in all of creation can separate us from how much God loves us.*  The most oft-written phrase in the Bible is,
“Do not be afraid.”

In a storm?  Let God be your bridge. Your shelter. Your hope. It’s going to be all right.  Don’t be afraid. Just hang on and let it blow.

~J.A.P. Walton

* loose paraphrase of Romans chapter 8 in the Bible

Affirmation, beauty, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hope, joy, Light, Nature, Praise, Silence, sunrise, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Litany of Praise at Dawn

Yesterday I was awakened at dawn by an oriole’s soft, sweet whistle. He’s been haunting the hummingbird feeder, and seemed to be quietly reminding me it was time for breakfast (we pull feeders in at night to outsmart greedy raccoons).

With hot coffee in hand, I stood with the trees to watch the sun arrive, lighting up the treetops, then soon angling down to swathe the forest floor. With a penchant for keeping my nose in a book far too late at night, I rarely catch the sunrise anymore. But, yesterday, it caught me…in wonder and hope.

How rare it is to greet the day with God’s creation, and for the confirmation that, for today at least, life goes on.

I was treated to a feast of birds at every point of the compass- the oriole and the hummingbird, the pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, those ancient cousins. A pair of indigo buntings timidly nipping a few sunflower seeds, and a scrum of blue jays laughing and nattering in the maple.

In the lane, a doe limped across my way, hindered by a broken ankle. I tenderly told her to take her time, because time would heal the pain. Not long after, the turkeys started gobbling… why the word for bolting down food is used to describe a turkey call I will never know.

The point is that dawn reveals the vitality and fecundity of the world, particularly when you are in a place that is undisturbed by the human awakening of car, horn, bus and garbage truck.  Why would God make such beauty, with its threads of genetic similarity woven into complex cloaks of myriad colors and distinctive sounds?

Why wasn’t one bird, or even three enough?  How did God know when to quit creating?

I guess I liken it to the simplest delight we get when we see something we think is beautiful. It catches our eye, pauses our hurry, and interrupts our breath.  Perhaps God created beauty to arrest our souls that we might, even for a moment, think and thank the creator, to marvel in this glory, which is his glory.

Glory comes in many forms, but the best is in a litany

of praise that rolls off our tongues. 

May your days be filled to overflowing with eyes to see, and ears to hear.

 

~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

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