adventure, Blessings, Campfires, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, Henry David Thoreau, hiking, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson, River, Trees, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

We spent the past week at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This park is an emerald gem set between Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay and the wide and placid Tahquamenon River. One day we hiked from the river’s lower falls about 5 miles up to the upper falls along a well-loved trail that follows the river, traversing low wet bogs, and high dry forested ridges of cedar, hemlock, and oak. Each step along the river’s edge had me looking into dark, calm pools that surely were teeming with brook trout-oh for my fishing pole! The late summer flowers were lush despite the season’s lack of rain, mostly yellow and orange as the late bloomers tend to be- black-eyed Susan, butter-and-eggs (a sore throat treatment in the old days), tall, spiky mullein, and the delicate jewelweed. We saw little wildlife, though the pileated woodpeckers laughed at us all along the trail.

Near the upper falls we came across a large hemlock about 10” in diameter with a sign that said a hemlock with a circumference the size of a soda can would be about 100 years old. Things grow slowly where the arctic winds and snows of Lake Superior have hammered at the terrain for thousands upon thousands of years.

Nature is not in a hurry it seems, and we have much to learn about the virtues of taking life more slowly.

All in all, this was a hopeful walk, the kind of hike Thoreau or Emerson would approve. In his treatise on nature, Emerson noted that a walk in the woods helps us become young again, where the “air is a cordial” and we find ourselves wrapped in an “uncontained and immortal beauty.” [1]  On this day, the trail, labeled by the park service as strenuous and challenging because it is crisscrossed by fingerlike tree roots, muddy and slick in places, was, for us, a delight, a hushed forest canvas caressed by the river, filled with beauty, harmony, grace, and peace.

Day’s end brought a leisurely campfire enjoyed in good company with mugfuls of hot tea. As always, there isn’t much to say as the fire pulls us in and rearranges our thoughts.

I thought about the wood, not unlike my own life, so many long, patient years in the making.

The wood roars to life in a last, bursting fling, sparks rising up in joyous mutiny as if they could escape a foregone conclusion: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We repeated these words recently as we committed my husband’s mom to her earthly grave. I can only hope that, at the end of my days, I might rise up and light the night in one last delighted burst of joy, willowy arms reaching for heaven just like flames that lick away the darkness-a supplication of praise and thanksgiving for my life and my rebirth.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature.1836.

adventure, Camping, Close Quarters, Creation, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Prayer, Rain, River, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Golden Prescription

I went camping last weekend at a state campground along the Lake Michigan shore with 21 other women and girls from church. Group camping presents me with an immediate conflict- I seek out the wilderness for its solitude and quiet, as a salve to an agitated personality, but the building of intimate community through group experience is a critical component of faith formation and practice. Let’s just say it pushes me out of balance to be in the woods with so many people and so much chatter.

To ensure some semblance of quiet time apart, I took a solo tent so I could bookend the day with thinking and prayer, zipping myself inside a tiny cocoon of solitude while the junior high girls laughed and squealed in a tent as big as a 2-bedroom apartment.  We were each having fun in our own way.

The second night, there was a long, slow, low rumble of thunder from far out on the big lake as I zipped up for the night. While rain in camp makes for muddy messes, and complicates the packing up of tent and fly, being snug and dry inside your tent as a thunderstorm rolls in, over, then onward is a singular thrill.  The flash of lightning, the bass thrum of thunder, and the percussive rain all around is like a cleansing bath for the soul. As I lay on my back, a gentle storm all about me, I was reminded of the way the spirit of God stills us even in the grip of life’s gales. The prophet Isaiah wrote that from the heavens above, clouds rain down righteousness; they shower it down to earth so that salvation can spring up, a salvation God creates and showers upon us. (Isa 45:8, paraphrased). In truth, all restoration and flourishing come from God.

But, our life is usually too rushed to feel like it is flourishing, restorative, and life-giving.

The present often seems more like a flooding river hurtling itself downward, always rushing in multiple directions, void of any sense of calm, hungrily sucking in those unaware and unprepared, flinging everything in its path down, and under as the waters close over, drowning all light and life. We are constantly trying to catch our breath, to hear God’s voice in this wilderness, and to spend a quiet moment alone with Him, that His Presence fills our present.

Who needs to worry about the future with a present like that?

If you are tired of your to-do list a mile long, I highly recommend a solo night under the trees in a rainstorm as a golden prescription.

~J.A.P. Walton