adventure, Affirmation, August, Autumn, beauty, Birds, Creation, Faithful Living, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Praise, River, Seasons, Sounds, Uncategorized, wisdom, worry

To Everything There is a Season

August is drawing to a close. Here at the bluff, life is slowing down; the need to cram as many summer activities as one soul can bear is over.

It’s time to think about slowing down.

I adore all that August brings, starting with the garden. Luscious ripe tomatoes and scores of green beans, and afternoons of canning and freezing put me in step with the squirrel storing up for winter. There’s a returned hush outside-the Queen Anne’s lace nodding and napping in the afternoon lull, while the goldenrod and dune grasses sway to an onshore breeze. The tourists have gone home, there’s food on the grocery store shelves once again, and the locals are letting out a long, collective sigh of literal relief.

Salmon are running up the river mouths, and fisherman line the riverbanks like people at a parade.  Still, August brings an unhurried feel, an almost welcome lonesomeness, marked most starkly by the early departure of the migrant birds. The grosbeaks and buntings are already gone, while the hummingbirds stuff themselves in readiness.

Sumac has lit its fiery torches as the sun has finally wearied of its northward travels.

Evening comes earlier, dishing up a delightful coolness that sends me rummaging for socks and sweatshirt. It’s nearly time for bowls of chili and fresh apple pie.

When I was teaching, the beauty and delight of August was always overshadowed by a gnawing, almost unholy anxiety. “Days are short, gotta get ready.”  Hurry, scurry, worry. It was sometimes a circus, unsettling, nerve-fraying. Stressful.  What a shame that we lose the slow glow of August in slavery to an academic calendar.

But now, looking to nature, I can appreciate that the seasons bring a calming rhythm to life we’d do well to mimic. To everything there is a season. A time to vacation, and a time to work. A time to sit with friends and share a sunset, and a time to pray alone. A time to bathe in creation, and a time to create. A time to get ready, and a time to fly. A time to renew, and a time to rise up refreshed.

August never lasts, and the September calendar fills up fast. Take a moment to thank God for the last days of summer.

Even the earth will rest. See if you can’t too.

Thanks for reading along.

~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

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.