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

 

adventure, Backpacking, Camping, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, Henry David Thoreau, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Prayer, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

A Song of Praise

Why do people yearn to go to the wilderness? Is it as simple as wanting to get away for a break? Is it an escape? For some, these adventures take the form of a quest to seek out beauty and peace and quiet, to discover new worlds. For others, getting away- in a canoe, or a tent, backpacking or biking- is a form of worship. Thoreau once saw a man fishing, and described it as “a sort of solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world.”[1] Even Jesus was known to draw away for time alone. But he was not really alone, because we are also told that he drew away to pray to his Father.

We should think about the reasons we draw away from our busy world. I have heard people laughingly say that they don’t go to church on Sunday morning because they prefer to enjoy God’s world out on the golf course. Nature is beautiful, and no doubt golf is fun. Time spent in nature is restorative. Instructive. But to worship the creation instead of the Creator, to create our own god out of nature, is a mistake because nature is not God.

Nature teems with life. We rise from our tent, look out across a fog-shrouded wilderness lake, hear the birds, and breathe deep sighs of contentment. We feel so alive! But where does all this life come from? Your life does not rise out of the deep waters, the sighing pines, the quick-footed hare or the soaring hawk. God made all this beauty. Heart-wrenching, breath-stopping, glorious beauty. Why? To point our hearts to Him. It turns out that all of creation is a road map to God, and the delight He took in making everything is the same delight we are to take in Him.

Job knew it was all too wonderful to understand. But he did appreciate that “earth will never be your savior…that God alone is able to give you life.”[2]

There’s more to living this life than we can see, just like there’s more to a river than what we see on its surface. We don’t go out in nature to worship what we see but what we can’t.”

The next time you pick up a paddle or a pack, and find yourself surrounded by the glories of the wilderness, take a moment to let the awe sink in that a Creator would make all this life, including your life, and that He takes great delight in you. A song of praise can’t help but well up out of your heart.

~J.A.P. Walton

I appreciate it when you SHARE a blog post!

[1] Henry David Thoreau. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Viking Press, 1985. p. 22.

[2] Paul David Tripp. New Morning Mercies. Crossway. Wheaton IL. 2014. Devotion for March 24.

Backpacking, Costa Rica, Creation, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Rainforest, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Lessons from the Rain Forest

I turned 46 the month I led a group of college students on an Outward Bound trip through the Costa Rica rainforest. Twenty year olds can go all day on enthusiasm alone, but my middle-aged middling fitness brought multiple challenges, the least of which was just keeping pace with my students.

The rainforest is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. On the first day, we hiked UP for 4 straight hours in a relentless rain that made the 90 degree heat unbearable. (Most people don’t even know that Costa Rica has high mountains with rugged wilderness terrain, and that you can easily get altitude sick and lost in the same day). Everything inside of me was, as the Brits say, upsot. Lungs desperate for air, sweat joined to raindrops with nowhere to evaporate, leg and back muscles screaming for relief from the 50 pound pack. Hot spots on both heels you pray are not becoming blisters. All while the young ones traipsed with joyful abandon happily shouting out lines from the Princess Bride movie.

It was hard for me to get outside of my own physical misery long enough to appreciate the stillness, the deep emerald greenness in a fine mist that nearly assaults the senses, the cheerfulness of my companions to finally be underway, and the teeming, fecund, inconceivable LIFE at every turn. Sapphire-tinged moths as big as your hand. Armies of leaf-cutting ants-whole platoons of them winding their way through the jungle, carrying, like me, a heavy load with unwavering duty. Cockroaches as fat as mice. Birds singing. Birds winging. Birds, birds, birds!

In matters of faith, it takes a willful choosing to be outwardly focused. To look at this hurting world with compassion and care even when we ourselves are hurting is, I think, the most difficult, and stridently unnatural thing that God calls us to do. The secret is in the abandon. The giving over in order to give out. To give out and not give up.

 Much of what Outward Bound teaches is how to keep going in the face of physical challenge, and how to embrace a physical challenge that you know will bring pain, tears, doubts, and, always, the bedeviling whisper that you can’t go another step. What God teaches is that there is a strength from unwavering belief that no man, certainly no devil can match. And it is true for all of our difficulties. In the midst of life’s wilderness of hurt, fear, doubt and misery, God is there to be our strength, our immovable rock. But, only if we let Him. Climb on, and BELIEVE that you need never climb alone. It is INCONCEIVABLE!

~J.A.P. Walton

Sign up to receive email notices of new posts. I welcome your feedback.

(more posts about the Costa Rica experience are in the offing, stay tuned. Oh, and lest you think me wimpy, on Day 2 of this trip a student asked if he could take something from my pack to lighten my load.  I was so grateful!  Only later, on the plane home, would I read his reaction in his trip journal:  “I took Dr. Walton’s food sack on the 2nd day to help her out.  HOLY CRAP!! It was heavy!”