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

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(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!”



canoeing, Creation, death, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Uncategorized, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The Tired Barn

“When God established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.” Job 28: 25-28

Wilderness paddlers never underestimate how much time and effort it takes to get afloat on a wild river untouched by man. That is because everywhere people go, there is ample evidence of repeated assaults on the natural environment. It is part of our conquering DNA I suppose, of a deep, inner impulse to remake, refashion, and call it “mine”. Although this drive to create is God-given, we often do so with egotistical abandon, unwisely usurping the title and glory of the Creator. Just visit ruins though-the great pyramids, the Acropolis, Petra, Stonehenge-all manmade things built in a race to command and control, intimidate and dominate. Even these are only temporary. The re-engineered rivers, the cement kingdoms we call home, and the miles of coastline we’ve tamed will, all too soon, crack, decay and return to the earth as surely as we do, victims of fire, flood, neglect, and time.

Not far from the Mississippi River there is a barn on a hill in western Illinois that has, at least in our lifetime, stood proud, defiant in the face of stinging northwest winds, its bones leached by decades of relentless summer sun. Sixty years ago it was a robust symbol of the agricultural subjugation of the vast prairies. We drove by it last week, and found instead a tired, sagging structure with sun streaming through multiple holes in the roof-only one generation left until it returns to dust.

Take a good, long look across the River of this life. We too are simply time-warped dust while God stands outside of time, unchanging, and all wise. We paddlers are apt to seek out the remotest rivers to escape into unsullied nature, and the beauty of what we encounter always hushes our hearts and makes our spirits soar. But, we are mistaken if we worship nature instead of the Creator who made it all. Everything but God is a tired, old barn. Wisdom alone knows what counts.

~J.A.P. Walton

Please leave your comments and suggestions.  I am happy to dialogue and debate with you!  Thank you for reading.


canoeing, death, Faithful Living, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Trees, Wilderness Paddling, Winter


The graceful tamarack is my favorite tree. Now, in the iron fist of winter, it soldiers on, bared of its fronds like a naked pine. Also called a larch, the tamarack is a unique tree in that it is considered both coniferous (evergreen, conical shape) and deciduous (loses its leaves/needles). The indigenous Algonquian and Abenaki peoples used it to make snowshoes because of its pliant nature.

Why do I love it so? Mostly I think it is because it is shaped by grace, and colored a rich, soft emerald that turns a royal gold in the autumn, and because the birds love the tamarack’s cover and branching. Here at Trout Creek our resident wrens sing lustily from the largest tamarack next to the garden. Tamaracks grow in swampy areas, greedily drinking up the excess water like a camel in the desert. And, heaven knows, in this family, we love the mired bogs and fens that subdue sound and teem with life. The tamarack tenderly graces the rivers we paddle, swaddled into the forest edge with cedar, birch, and pine.

What I love most, though, is that this tree, so dead-like now, will soon sprout soft, feathery green pinions as the wrens return to nest in its bosom. It reminds me of my dad and brother-in-law who lost their hair to chemotherapy- bald and bare in the cold. But, what seems utterly dead and ready for the woodpile is actually a living thing at rest, hibernating like the bear. What seems lifeless is full of life, of living beauty and grace, where birds and animals shelter with confidence and hope. I love, too, that the tamarack is pliant, like a life bent to the Presence and will of God.

Here, in the strong grip of winter, the tamarack’s barren look mirrors my own mood; the cold, dark days strip and whip me mentally and physically, and my vitality dips, and I feel exactly the same way stumbling through this drowsy hibernation. And yet, I remain secure in the knowledge that I am protected, warmed, and given a great hope in the life that is in me and is also to come. Thank you God for the tamarack trees, and the way they remind us of your grace and love.

These short essays are my way of noodling about life in the wilderness, on foot, in a canoe, on a bike.  If you want to read more, sign up to follow the blog and you will receive an email each time a new essay is posted!  Your comments help

~J.A.P. Walton

If you are passionate about quiet adventuring: paddling, camping, hiking, cycling etc. try this link to find out about the Quiet Water Society!  Quiet Water Society

Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Uncategorized, Winter

The Light Across the Creek

Last week, after a full and happy Christmas Day with her family, my mother-in-law went to bed and fell asleep forever. We were not surprised-her light had been dimming over time, and, in these last days, it was as translucent as the papery skin on the back of her hands. After all, life is bounded by breath, pulse, and light. Without these, we are gray and cold and lifeless. And I think that, on this side of the river, the God who breathes life into us, who drums a thrumming pulse into our veins, and who IS the light of our living, also snuffs out our light in His good timing.

Here, at Trout Creek, the woods and running waters meld into the cold and dark of our short winter days. And even though we live just outside the city, without a clear sky and a near-full moon it is deeply dark here, a playground for the owl and deer, but a mask of drear, even dread for the rest of us. But, high up on the hill across the creek, the neighboring house leaves a back porch light on all night long. It is a beacon of hope for me, that this moldering darkness can be split apart, that there is a Light that welcomes us from across the wilderness of this life. Mom’s earthly light went out last week. But the light upon the hill shining through the dark from the other side of the creek reminds me that mom is not really gone, but joined to the great Light that is our Father.

To celebrate mom’s life, we made a pilgrimage to her home up north, and built a giant bonfire on the beach on New Year’s Eve. Hot cocoa, open-fire grilled kabobs, and happy memories of her faithful and cheerful life warmed us in the 10-degree evening full of the light of millions of stars. What a warm comfort it is to know that her light will live on in all of us.

~J.A.P. Walton

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Faithful Living, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Prayer, Uncategorized, Winter

Lessons from Trout Creek in Winter

A winter storm is blowing in from Lake Michigan, and we will be out on snowshoes later even though we are in town for the season. The cold, wind, and snow bear down on us, snarling traffic, calling on us to shovel the drive, creating in us an inner anticipation-a breath-holding hope really, that activities will be cancelled so we can all hole up with soup, hot cocoa, a fire in the fireplace, and a good book. The silence of the snow beckons us to hush our busy holiday “gottas”, a brake on our hectic lives that we might have the time to sit and think about being blanketed by and made white in God’s love.

Out back, along Trout Creek I can see the squirrels from my desk. They are busy snuffling through the snow, and scrabbling under the bird feeder. The chickadees are bursting with energy, and the wild turkeys’ tracks from yesterday are now just a memory. The deer will be here by afternoon on their daily rounds, hoping for an offering of apples. It seems irrelevant that it is cold-life goes on. In this very snow is stored the spring roots’ draught, underneath it the field mouse can travel unseen from the eyes of the hungry hawk.

Such big flakes now! What if each one were a prayer? For God to redouble his restraint on evil. For our many friends with cancer. For a woman at church burying her only daughter this weekend. For warm shelter and food for the homeless. For homes for the thousands of innocent children orphaned by the opioid crisis. For parents of special needs children. For our own aging parents and all those once-stalwart church elders who can no longer come to church. For people beleaguered by bills, addictions, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. For the oppressed who are trapped between war and inhospitable nations. My God, how can these prayers make any difference? I must trust that you hear my voice crying in this wide wilderness.

Oh how deeply I want to drink of wisdom and patience and mercy, for the snow to hide me from the predatory world, to sit wrapped, and silent, as flakes fall like grace from heaven. And after awhile, to bundle myself against white wilderness and go out and embrace it. To discover the beauty that veils the rot. Yes, the world is cold. It is counterfeit too- just sweep aside the snow to discover the season’s decay under the surface. But, remember too that you are loved, held, and comforted by the same God who assures us that spring is also under there, just waiting to shoot through with abundance and mercy and life. After all, he hasn’t missed a spring yet.

~ God’s deep peace be upon you,

J.A.P. Walton