beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Hope, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Silence, Sounds, The sounds of nature, The still small voice of God, When God speaks, Winter Water Sports

A Rare and Precious Nothing

It is unusually still at the bluff this morning, as if the trees and waves are playing Red Light-Green Light, stuck in a frozen, statuesque posture. We had a similar day last week after a powdery snow. Walking up the wooded section of dune through the stilled maple , oak and hemlock, we stopped to listen. And other than the blood pulsing past my ears, there was complete silence. No cars on the distant highway. Not a whisper of breeze in the tree boughs. No timid chips from a bird. No jet skis ripping up the day on the water below. 

A rare and precious nothing.

Our regular lives are noisy. So many things clamor and clang for our attention that we thrust our earbuds in deep in a futile attempt to choose our own noise. We are so accustomed to the noise that real silence is often uncomfortable. And yet, Scripture tells us that God often speaks into silence. If you can believe that, then a life without silence might be one that thrusts God aside, forgoing his presence and wisdom.

Out in the silent snowy forest, I began to think about the times nature is silent. The noise is there, but it is tiny, inaudible to us. I think of mama mouse in her cozy nest of mewing pups. Of the mole busily tunneling beneath my feet. The turtle suspended in the pond with just its nostrils showing. The pinecone and milkweed pod splitting open to disperse seed. The stars making their way across the night sky. The blink of eyes watching silently for a meal; the bobcat and the sharp shinned hawk, the owl and the snake-each patiently, moodily, warily silent.

All of nature speaks without words in a lyrical, melodic fashion with an unuttered language our plodding words cannot describe or comprehend. The rose, for example, nods silently; its sound is beauty and fragrance and silkiness. We know that the trees communicate, yet we hear nothing.

It’s said silence is golden. So why is it so hard for us to be silent? Why must our own thoughts and endless chatter fill the void? In my teaching I was fond of throwing out questions that required thought, massage, analysis, and synthesis. It took a while for students to learn that those would end up being the same questions on an exam. Students were so busy sounding out answers, waving their hands in the air to put voice to the answer, that they never thought to write down the question in their notes. And I refrained from rewarding the “bunny rabbit” responders, because they wanted to answer without the harder work of deep thought in silent rumination. I would ask them to think a little longer. To sit in the quiet with a quieted mind. To marinate on the question. That was where the learning would take place.

We can all learn from the quiet. The questions are where to find it and how to patiently sit in it? How to still the voices in our heads? How grasp the truth that God speaks into the silence?

My prayer for you today is to find a quiet spot where you can stop talking long enough to listen to the silence, blanketed in the comfort of a rare and precious nothing, for that is where you will learn the most about yourself, your world, and God.

Thanks you so very much for reading. My goal is to be hospitable to my readers, giving them ideas and words that delight and challenge. If you want, you can click on the blue FOLLOW button to receive blog posts in your email. Feel free to drop me a note at the email below.

~J.A.P. Walton, PhD

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

adventure, Anishinaabek, beauty, black bear in Michigan, Creation, Do all bears hibernate?, Faithful Living, Forest, God, going against one's instincts, Hardiness, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Living Faithfully, National Parks, Nature, Seasons, taking risks, The Legend of Sleeping Bear, Tracks, vigil, What does it mean to go against one's nature?, when time stands still, Why do bears hibernate?, wisdom

The Bear who wasn’t Sleepy

We live in lower Michigan not too far south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm The Sleeping Bear is a 400’ silken sand dune famous for its shimmering white presence in the afternoon sun and glorious lake views of the two Manitou Islands. People love to run down it to Lake Michigan. The climb back up-not so much.  Anishinaabe (Ottawa/Ojibwe) legend has it that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a great famine in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan. When Mother Bear reached shore, she turned to watch her cubs founder and drown in the waves. The great dune marks the Mother Bear’s place of vigil, and each cub one of the Manitou Islands.   https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/kidsyouth/the-story-of-sleeping-bear.htm

And Mother Bear sleeps on. As a child here, the legend did not much resonate with me because we never had any bears in our forests. That has changed in the last several years. Mamas, cubs, and boars are now routinely spotted, and their tracks are common. Here in the northwest tip of the county, we’ve had a large boar by the name of Buttons roaming from cottage to cottage for about four years. Buttons is, most definitely NOT a sleeping bear. Around here, we like to joke about the bear who isn’t sleepy! He has a regular site visit schedule, meandering from bird feeder to bird feeder, from trash can to trash can. He may be upwards of 400 pounds. Just last month he tore through the screen on our cousins’ porch trying to get at a trash bag.

A bear that doesn’t hibernate? Is that normal? Doesn’t it go against what bears are supposed to do?  Our friend Alan, a retired DNR game warden says that hibernation is less a deep sleep than a nap, and that “boars, in particular, are not powered by the maternal instincts that drive pregnant sows to ground, often resisting slumber as long as there is ample forage- an unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.”  https://summerassembly.org/stories

Still, I find myself ruminating on what makes anyone go against their better instincts. Why do we go against our own nature sometimes to take risks, to do something totally out of character, to fly in the face of everything that’s been done before?

In my late thirties I left a good, fulfilling, and secure job to accept a temporary two-year post as a college professor. People thought I had lost my mind. But for me, there was an inner nudge, a very small, still voice saying, “Go ahead and try it out-you will like it!” And I never looked back, having jumped impulsively with both feet into an unsecure and unsure situation. I was the bear who refused to sleep.

Now, sometimes we need the respite and the dormancy. We need to give ourselves permission to enter a temporary torpor that we might recover from a particularly stressful season in life. The pandemic was a hibernation of sorts, where entire populations joined the turtle, frog, skunk, and groundhog in a metaphorical winter of forced inactivity. But now, maybe it’s time to rise up, snuffle around for some goodies, and get busy not sleeping-more like the energetic chickadee and the lumbering Buttons the bear than the sleeping bees and bats. Happy lumbering!

Thanks for reading along! If you click on the BLUE FOLLOW button (top and bottom of site) you will automatically receive blog posts by email. I truly wish for my writing to be easily and freely accessible for any who can use the encouragement. 

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

Send me a note at jpraywalton.writing.com

Buttons the bear
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, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, joy, Kindred Spirits, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Rain, River, Spring, Uncategorized, Water, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The Kindred Spirits of Water and Life

The brothers went canoeing last weekend, a spring paddle to quench a long-wintered thirst. Boats and paddles silently slip into waters roiling with snowmelt. Spring rivers are generally unpeopled, effortlessly pulsing on with energy and focus, down, ever down. How odd that their endpoint is called a mouth, opening wide in confluence with some other body of water.

As the brothers shove off, the water embraces each canoe like long-gone and dearly-missed friends, kindred spirits which understand and accept each other with the delight of contented belonging. It is a holy reunion. The brothers wave and paddle off in an unconscious identical rhythm, letting the water carry them downstream. They, too, are kindred spirits-they have been since the day of the younger one’s birth, perfectly matched in mutual respect and a shared understanding of the world and one another. It is a rare and beautiful friendship. They are silent, letting the water and the birds do the talking. What a happy picture of harmony and rightness!  And just like that, they are gone, carried by the water around a bend and on to the day’s adventure.

Water is so dynamic, ever on the move from lake to cloud to rain, from headwaters to the sea, where ocean currents bathe continental shelves. Eventually, their energies amass in swirling foment of wave and hurricane and flood.

I often wonder at the mystery and miracle of water’s global expeditionary nature. Where has it been? Where is it going? Can it be that this very water dripping from the paddle once kissed Jesus at his baptism?

Did this very water float baby Moses in a basket? Did it balk into walls so the Israelites could walk through the Red Sea? Was it one of billions of raindrops that floated the ark? Was it in the spit with which Jesus made mud to heal a blind man’s eyes? Was it in the roiling, storming waves so quickly calmed by Jesus’ rebuke?

Water, so critical to life, lives on long after we die. It passes through us like we pass through it. We are kindred spirits with it, even though we fail to care for it properly. Next time you’re out, dip your hand in the water- be it creek, pond, or lake. Feel the life in it. This too is holy reunion. Listen to its stories. Marvel at its travels. And be resolved to care for it like a dearly-loved brother.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Affirmation, Birds, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Religion, Silence, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Manifold Witness

We are briefly back north at the bluff to open the house and plant the garden. It is always a “hard work” kind of week-clearing sand out of gutters, raking leaves, sweeping and dusting every horizontal surface, washing windows (a never-ending list really…when was spring cleaning ever easy?).  At the same time, it is curiously restful because we are surrounded by beauty in every direction.  The distractions are natural ones, instead of manmade. No highway or airport noise, no sirens, no teens driving by with thumping base, no door-to-door salesmen. Not even cell phone robo-calls, since the cell signal in the north woods is so weak. The Internet here is iffy too, and our monthly plan severely so limited datawise that we must, by necessity, trim the sails of online time.

Away from town, it’s easier to pay less attention to the news and its tendency to dampen the spirit. There is just something about finding yourself isolated from the noise of the world that is settling. Calming. Affirming. It layers on a balm of hours to get to work with grateful hands, despite the creaky knees and shoulders.  Here, the distractions are different- the screech owl and red-bellied woodpecker. The drumming of an amorous ruffed grouse, a deer prancing by, and the fog rolling in over the lake. Just like in town, we aren’t alone.

The manifold witness of all of nature* reminds us minute by minute of the love, creativity, faithfulness, and constancy of God, maker of heaven and earth.

The bird chorus at dawn, the pregnant bobcat, the mist heavy over the bog, and the waves pounding the foot of the bluff- these are God’s way of assuring us that he is here, ever-watchful, always waiting.

The good news is that you don’t have to go to the north woods to hear and see God’s goodness.

It is my prayer that you can find a space this week to let the beauty of creation enfold you right where you are.

There is glory in the daffodil, marvel in the work of the ant and wren, and a delight in the unfolding of tender new leaves. See if you can silence the distractions wrought by this worrying world long enough to go outside and enjoy what God gives to all so freely.

~J.A.P. Walton

* from the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness