Birds, Creation, Creator, Darkness, God, ice, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Silence, Starry Skies, sunrise, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Joy of Paying Closer Attention

On a short trip to the Bluff to retrieve our old RV, we spent last night at Crystal Lake.  Stars were molten silver in an inky sky that capped the iced-over lake from end to end; a crisp, clear, late winter night. This morning, up before the sun, hot coffee in hand, I walked down to the shore to await the wakening world. How odd to see all the docks, lifts, and boats so lifeless, drawn high up on the sand.

There’s ice all the way to the opposite shore, with visible pressure ridges all along the drop-off where the coho and rock bass are down, deep and drowsy. The ice shifts, warming up its voice in a throaty “boom, boom” that carries for miles like a tympani  solo at the symphony.

A peachy pink blush caresses the eastern end of the lake and the stars begin to fade. I can see the water ripple just underneath where ice meets shore. There are tiny minnows swimming there in just three inches of water, and I shiver to imagine how bone-dead cold it would be to swim with them.

Quickly now, the world awakens, yawning into the dawn.  A cardinal flutes in salute to the sun, adding to the crows’ staccato calls like novice oboe players. The chickadees flit overhead in the birch tree, jabbering like teenagers. Honking geese are somewhere out over the ice, while a downy woodpecker trills a nasal ‘thwank-thwank’.  And the ice booms on, the bass rumbling accompaniment as yet more voices join the song.

Then a car rushes past, spoiling the music. Someone headed to work, I suppose, listening to the radio, oblivious to the music the sunrise has wrought in this icy paradise. And I smile to think of the thousands of mornings I too hurtled half-awake through the dawn to work. Though I always was, and still am thankful for that work, how joyful it is now to slow down and pay attention to the beauty orchestrated by God in nature. It is gratitude as deep and wide as the mystery behind the dawn.

Thank you for listening along with me.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Risk Taking, Silence, Tracks, Trails, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter, wisdom

The Impressions We Leave Behind

There is an important canoe show (the Quiet Water Society ) coming up, but my husband left his canoes up at the bluff last fall. So, this past weekend, we went north to retrieve them.  The problem was that the half-mile 2-track back to the bluff wasn’t passable with its three feet of snow. After much discussion, we decided to haul the boats out like sleds on our snowshoes. (side note, it was also our first-ever experience of reverse worry with our daughter imploring us to be careful and to, “ look after our hearts”). (!)  If anyone later came across our tracks in the snow, they’d wonder if two gigantic ducks with webbed feet, and dragging a wide, heavy fantail made those impressions.

Everywhere we went we came across entire vistas of snow and ice without a single track-no deer, or fox, or rabbit, or human prints for miles. It reminded me of the grandness of the northern wilderness, where, in the dense forested lands the rivers were the Ancients’ first pathways, where narrow game trails became highways for the wild animals and their predators, and where the first permanent peoples-First Nations from the east, and later, the unending influx of Europeans- worked with stone and fire and steel to clear roads out of footpaths.

I love snowshoeing or skiing on virgin, undisturbed snow. It feels like exploring, and makes wide room for going “off trail” (though never in any park where you must stick to the blazes on the trees, like my daughter in this photo at Otter Creek). Glistening powder flours your gaiters, and muffles your footfall. Winds aloft in the forest rarely reach the ground, yet the treetops voice their yearning for spring in an adagio chorale of measured sighs. It is all beauty. All welcome embrace. All new.  But, fresh trackless snow also buries life’s traps and travails, when the things that can easily trip you up are obscured.

Still…. I must also think about the importance and joy of the tracks.

I enjoy identifying what has been this way before me, to marvel at the dainty hoof marks of the deer and her fawn-almost-yearling, or the thumping back-footed thrust of the rabbit. Yes, knowing that someone or something has gone this way ahead of you can be comforting.

It turns my mind to the paths I’ve chosen to follow over a lifetime.

From the wisdom of mentors, and best practices in my profession, to the loving conviction of family and friends when confronting me with behaviors that were evidence of being headed off the path, in the wrong direction.  Then there’s the biblical reminder to trust God because he is the ultimate path maker. There have been times that I bullied myself into forging ahead against advice, blustering ahead to make my own tracks. They were often fraught with the deflating trials my pride-fueled, poor choices deserved.

And I have to wonder about the footprints- the impressions– I have left behind for my child, my husband, and the thousands of college students I taught and advised. I pray that I steered them all well, with the wisdom of years that encourages risk but cautions against recklessness, because the wise stay on God’s path.

Those roads are sure to test you… the road to Damascus, the road on which the Good Samaritan knelt in blood and dirt to help a beaten-up foreigner, the road to Emmaus, and, of course, the road out of Jerusalem to the cross. None easy, none very well travelled.  

In this sense, Robert Frost had it right-the road less travelled is the better way. Faint tracks, sometimes, but real nonetheless. Remember as you go, there are others watching and following.

 

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Praise, Prayer, Sigurd Olson, Silence, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, Winter

Bring on the Ice!

It is icy at Trout Creek this February morning from the overnight sleety rain suspended in millions of icicles off branches and eves. I have the window open a crack to soak in the music of the silence.  The creek riffles on, but the rest of the landscape is a still life, no deer, and no squirrels. Perhaps it is too early yet. Perhaps they ‘ve hit their own version of the snooze alarm, and are rolled over in their roosting cavities for another 10 minutes.

I go make coffee, and sit back down to marvel at the way nature stills itself. The trees have nothing to say, though they are adorned in crystal gowns just waiting for the dance to begin. The tall grasses are bent in prayer. You can feel the hush, as if you are in a great, empty cathedral. The silence is pregnant with expectancy.

Just then the bold, brassy wren who habits the tamarack tree chirrups his, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m heeeerrrre!”

Over and over  he chants his solo, as if inviting the world to join the chorus. Maybe he’s shouting, “Wake up, wake up, wake uuuupppp!”

The wren’s chatter works: the squirrels are carefully heading downtree.  The titmice family swoops in to the feeder for brunch. The deer are out there pawing the snow in the fallen maple’s atrium to belly down for a morning nap.

In his book, The Singing Wilderness,  Sigurd Olson writes about the winter blue jay, with its “brazen call, more of a challenge than a song, a challenge to the storm and cold.

There was a jauntiness and fortitude, announcing to me and to the whole frozen world that where there is wine and sparkle in the air, it is joy to be alive. I liked that jay and what he stood for; no softness there, pure hardiness and disregard of the elements.”

I think that’s how I want to embrace this cold, frozen world we live in. With a cheerful fortitude and strength of character that encourages people to wake up from their numbing technology, their frozen minds, their careless thoughts, their selfish motives. To embrace the joy that life brings, whether it be storm or stillness.  I want to be hardier, and heartier in the face of both challenge and delight. Perhaps, though, a bit less brazen than the wren or jay, with a meekness learned from saints, and a thankfulness wrought by God’s great mercies.

Bring on the ice! (May it give us pause).

~J.A.P. Walton

Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, God, Heaven, Starry Skies, Uncategorized

When Mercy Begot Grace

It’s fair to say that I am a fan of what my writing workshop instructor cautiously termed “strong verbs,” (she didn’t like my writing, but wanted to say something encouraging).

Words can evoke a visceral response in the same way a simple whiff of (fill-in-the-blank) floods the mind with childhood memories… right now I am conjuring up the smell of crayons, peppermint Chiclets gum from the bank, of Fels-Naptha soap, and a cigar box of writhing, doomed earthworms waiting to bait some fat perch.

The words for this time of year are powerful too.  Darkness. Brokenness. Cold. Despair. Hope. Joy. Salvation.   These last three are worth dwelling on.

Last night we hunted the comet 46P/Wirtanen slowly cruising way out in the outer black void of space, tucked in a lane between Taurus and the Pleiades. It’s always a wonder to look upon something 7 million miles above and know what you’re seeing- in this case, a fuzzy, Christmas-green ball decorating the twinkling night sky. I love comets for their predictability and promise of return, knowing that people long dead and those not yet born have seen, or will see what I see.  Comets, like sunrises, and tidal ebbs and flows, and spring hounding the heels of winter make us hopeful that the world will go on.

Last night, the darkness could not hide the light of the moon, stars and comet. The cold could not penetrate the happy warmth of stargazing. The despairing news of the week could not harden a seeking heart set on hope and joy. Because, of course, it is the season we celebrate the best news of all. God come down from the heavens, heralded by a star to light the world with Wisdom that bids us seek the Lord while He can be found. It’s the same Light that split the silence and the temple curtain when mercy begot grace, and sacrifice rebirthed an inheritance long rejected. Like the crisp night sky of winter, it can fill you with wonder. Because He is called Wonderful. Everlasting. The Prince of Peace.

Wishing you and yours a Christmas of wonder, light, joy, peace, and the resurrection of the Word in your hearts.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo credit: S. Zetterberg

Blessings, Creation, Darkness, Forest, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Silence, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter, wisdom

The Days Grow Short

The snow is drifting down at Trout Creek, but the squirrels and juncos pay it no heed. They stay busy burrowing and flitting, feeding.  Even so, it is quiet.  Too quiet. The pair of great horned owls we’ve had in the tall cedars for several years have not returned. Perhaps it’s too early, or they’ve wandered further north in search of denser forest. Their absence is palpable, even though we rarely saw them.

The color palette is hushed this time of year too. Brown is the primary hue, only brightened by the snow. Most signs of life are dampened too; no green leaves to dance in the breeze, no delectable tender shoots for the deer to eat. A six-pointed buck roamed by last week in a futile search for greens.  He was hard to spot in his winter camouflage of bristle brown.

We took a walk last week, up north on the Old Indian Trail, part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear info  It too was silent, the only sign of wildlife in the form of prints and scat. One lone, blustering blue jay pierced the calm, but even it preferred to remain hidden. No other sounds but the wind sighing up high in the firs, and our footsteps crunching on snow-crusted, ice-rimmed leaves.

Silence and beauty are soul sisters, each one weaving purpose and meaning into the other, that we can wrap ourselves in them.  It is one of the gifts of the wilderness to be able to experience both together.  The pulsing of the mute northern lights. Silently spreading ripples on still water. The shadow of an overhead harrier flitting across your path. The flick of the white patch of a deer’s tail.  The sun on its daily trip across the sky.  How nice that the tick of the clock, that slave driver of modern life, cannot contaminate the wilds.

The days grow short. May you find some silence in them, in the falling snow, the lighted tree, and the smile of a loved one. God once broke the winter’s silence with a baby’s cry and an angel’s song. It was cold and dark then too. May you embrace the quiet spells with wonder and delight.

~J.A.P. Walton

Thank you for reading along, and sharing with your friends.