Affirmation, beauty, Burnout, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Heaven, Henry David Thoreau, Home, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Augustine, Travel, Uncategorized

Are Your Feet on the Right Road?

As a publishing company launch team reviewer, I have been reading a colleague’s forthcoming book about Saint Augustine . [1]  It has been the most important read of my life so far, and I hope you will read it!  Why? Because it returns me, yet again, to the wisdom of Augustine, a 4thcentury bishop, whose young life was stained with aggressive ambition, relentless restlessness, and sordid living. All he wanted from life was the freedom to be, to go, to escape. Repeat.

We leave in a few days for Lake Superior. The brothers will canoe while I keep camp (in the RV). I have too great a respect for the Ojibwes’ gichi-gami to contemplate 2 weeks on its unpredictably stormy deeps. But, with Augustine ringing in my ears, it puts me in the mindset of trying to understand human restlessness.

Lately, an outdoor sporting goods company called Backcountry has been running Instagram ads about burnout, beseeching people to get outside every day, to take long weekends in Nature,

to answer chronic workplace stress with big seasonal doses of “outervention.”  [2]

Even Augustine wrote about burnout, about the vanity of the chase (so did Solomon for that matter in Ecclesiastes). And you will find all kinds of advice to get out and “GO” in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Abbey, Leopold, Dillard, and other nature writers.

Their collective point? Humans are restless, and Nature is the balm.  But, none of this deals with the fact that escapism only delays the inevitable.  That our love of the road, of its freedoms, and that the destination is usually vague and indefinable.  Think of the way people dream about throwing off the shackles of work to take to the open road:  retiring young enough to travel; taking a year off to see the world; developing a bucket list.  Always, the focus is on escaping one’s present circumstances, and none of us is immune. And almost always, the goal is to master and revere creation rather than to revere the master Creator.

Augustine would argue most vehemently against our propensity to flee, particularly when the destination is not well-understood. 

The truth that is buried in our subconscious is that this earth is not our home. That nature is not our mother- it neither cares for us nor nurtures us in tender protection-it simply is. That death is the final outpost.

So, where is our real home? Augustine would encourage you to think long and deep about this;

that all the roads we desire on earth will lead to nowhere; that the only true road is the one that leads us home to God.

Christians believe this road is the way of Christ’s gospel, and it’s not a vacation, but a vocation-a lifelong endeavor to be about God’s work.

Feeling the burn of your workaday world? Dreaming of the beaches in Jamaica, the Grand Canyon’s wide-open arms, or sightseeing in Europe?  All wonderful things, to be sure.  But none of them set your feet on the right road.

As you prepare to enter winter through the colorful gates of autumn, I pray you can find some time to sort out why you feel so restless, and Who it is that can lead you to the road of peace. And, paddle on, even when it’s into the wind in rough waters.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Smith. James K.A.  On the Road with Saint Augustine. Brazos Press. Available October 1, 2019.  #OTRWithAugustine.  More info available at See more about Jamie’s book here:

[2  Backcountry Info

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Soldiering On

There is a dead calm in the trees today after a string of gusty days. The calmness amplifies animals’ movements; looking out just now, I can see a doe raise a front foot, then continue her slow browsing in the woods across Trout Creek.

Though a calm is often just a comma between storms, we should pay attention to it, because it invites introspection and watchfulness, a time heavy with anticipation like a maple leaf just waiting for the wind to ask it to dance.

I am at a point in life of watching and waiting. Watching sick loved ones cling to life, waiting for God to answer prayer. My eyes see misery clawing at hope. My pulse drones in my ears and pacifies the waiting like an undisturbed river flowing deep and sure.

Vigil is the gutsy response to life’s gusty times.

It is a posture of watching with loved ones, and waiting for an outcome while in the eye of the storm.  Every day I see adult children in their 60’s and 70’s visiting aged parents at the nursing home.  The visits are difficult-many residents can’t even remember their kids’ names-but the children soldier on out of respect, accepting the duty to honor the last days of a parent’s life. There is calm, and order, and rightness in the watching and waiting.

Vigil gives time for forgiveness and reconciliation, for sharing old memories, and for meditation on the way all of life soldiers on.

At the bluff, there is a lone cedar tree about 10 feet from the dune’s edge.  The dunes along this stretch of Lake Michigan have been unstable since the ice age created them, crumbling in the constant onslaught of waves and winds. The property my grandparents bought has lost 88 feet since the early 1960’s. This means that the cedar soldier was once deep in the forest at the back of the dune, playmates with the grand, towering beech, the stately ash, and the playful maple.  But, time has marched on with unstoppable force. The other trees succumbed to the storms of disease or the loggers’ saws. The dune continued to roll into the deeps.  So, now this cedar stands alone and bent, facing its inevitable demise with deep roots and grace in its vigil of watching and waiting. Each morning it greets the eastern sun and takes delight in the jays and cedar waxwings that haunt its branches, and the bald eagle who hunts from its crown. At night, it lifts its face westward, basking in the sun’s glow, a view it never had in its youth.

Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. But, like the ash and beech, disease took him before he could have a better view, a vigil cut short. Like the cedar, my mom stands at the edge, soldiering on through the indignities of Parkinson’s disease, in a vigil for glimpses of heaven.  Watching. Waiting. Praying.

~J.A.P. Walton

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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

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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

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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