Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tourist or Pilgrim

During the summer, Chet and I developed a new routineHe’d come home from work and change into walking clothes while I loaded the kayak. Off to Cane Creek, where he’d help me launch the kayak, then he’d be off power walking the trails. We carried walkie talkies, helpful to check on where I should pick him up. In October, the park began closing earlier, so we couldn’t make it after work. My mom came to visit and said it was too chilly for her to consider kayaking. One thing and another and I didn’t get out until this past Wednesday.

I hesitated, wondering if I really wanted to go, but all doubts vanished when I launched the kayak into the still water. The bright blue sky was edged by a scrim of haze. The trees around the edge were wearing fall colors. If the colors in New England are fresh out of the crayon box, here they tend to be more like water colors. The cormorants and anhinga coming in for the winter were perched on their favorite power tower. They don’t mingle with the vultures on the other tower.

Some one asked me recently if I took pictures while kayaking.  I remembered what one of my seminary professors said, “You can tell the pilgrim from the tourist by how many cameras are carried.” I tried taking pictures once and found that even when it seemed calm, my kayak was bobbing up and down. Really good pictures would require more equipment and more worries about it falling in. No picture can capture the panoramic views of my eyes, the sounds, the smells. I go out because something in me needs to be outdoors. I go as a pilgrim; I breathe deeply; I pray.

I realized in writing this that difference between a tourist and a pilgrim is similar to the difference between a fan and a follower. A pilgrim sets out looking for signs of God’s presence. Do you have a place you consider a pilgrimage spot?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back at Last!

A long and weary time has passed since I loaded my boat and headed for the lake. This spring, what seemed like a mystery illness spiraled out of control. Bit by bit I lost ordinary things: kayaking, driving the car, walking briskly, crafts, concentration enough to read serious books.  Test after test came back positive. A friend said, “I’ve never seen anyone cry because their blood work came back normal!”  My sister took me to Florida to visit Mom. I had to borrow my step Dad’s walker or lean on a shopping cart. Only short trips were possible, not much energy, not much stamina. Time for “finger nail faith.” The chorus that starts “Father I adore you…” kept running through my head.

In early July I saw a neurologist. I handed him four pages describing the history of the illness. He said, “I think your sleep study was read wrong and you’re not getting the deep levels of sleep that you need. Take this pill in addition to what you’re already taking and do nothing for the next five weeks. Chet drove me to the pharmacy and then home. Finally, a glimmer of hope.

Today, after the five weeks were up, I loaded my kayak and headed for the lake. I paddled slowly, but enjoying every moment, at times, I just drifted. Enough hope to float my boat, thanks be to God!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring on the Lake

I went out paddling in the chilly breezes on Friday afternoon. Each trip has some beautiful moment to treasure. The secret is keeping open eyes and ears. Friday I didn’t see many birds. Most of them are busy with nests and young families. But I did see a tiny, silver-green beech leaf just unfolding from its copper sheath. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I could have easily missed it.

            Sunday afternoon was warmer, shirt sleeve weather. I counted fourteen motor boats, a row boat, three kayaks and a canoe. So I headed east towards one of the inlets, too shallow for the bigger boats. On the way, I saw something I’d never noticed before, beech trees in bloom. The blossoms were hung like small, fuzzy cream colored cherries. Even though I’ve paddled around the lake for over three years, there’s always something new to see or learn. Last fall, I encountered beech nuts for the first time. I knew in theory they existed, but the squirrels always got there first. These were hanging over the water. Inside the bristly husk, the nuts were tiny equilateral triangles on all sides. (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this figure, but I never took geometry!) Only the size of half my small fingernail, they were delicious. Maybe there will be more this fall.

Over the years I’ve found that if I don’t look for the small miracles, my eyesight gets distorted and I miss the big ones. Practicing thanksgiving for small things helps me weather storms and be ready to praise God for the big things. What’s lovely in your world today? What are you praising God for?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Uphill Both Ways

I made it to the lake three times last week. Friday was amazing. The forecast was for partly cloudy, but instead it was a deep blue sky, cobalt blue water and a brisk wind coming out of the north. I struggled east against it until I paddled into a sheltering inlet.

Coming back, I decided to change my route plan so I would be in the lee of the trees on the north side. I pulled up my neck gaiter, fastened the top of my paddling jacket and headed into the wind. As I came around a corner heading west, there was the eagle. Not circling or soaring, but diving on a flock of ducks. I stopped to watch. He’d drop out of the sky and the ducks would come up off the water quacking in alarm. The eagle would swoop up. The ducks would re-assemble and the eagle would drop towards them again.

An eagle will eat duck, but this one looked like he was just harassing them. He flew off west and I resumed paddling. I saw him again later, perched on a dead branch near the water, looking like he was posing for a wildlife magazine: “See my noble profile!”

Out of the sheltering tree line, I discovered that the wind has shifted around to the west, north-west. So I had a challenging paddle back to the boat ramp, uphill both ways, as it were. Just when I think I have figured out which way the wind’s blowing, it changes.

Isn’t life like that? Just when we think things are going well, something comes along. But no matter which direction the wind blows from or how hard it blows, Jesus’ love for us never changes. He knows the storm and he knows us. I love the line from a song, “Sometimes he calms the storm and sometimes he calms his child.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Out in the Cold

The week before Thanksgiving and the beginning of Thanksgiving week were lovely for kayaking. The water was cold enough that I needed my boots, but long sleeved shirt and long pants were perfect—not melting hot, not chilly cold. Then the weather snapped from fall to winter.

I was out Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. My new, light weight wool base layer works great with my waterproofed wind pants and jacket. Paddling keeps me warm. No time now, though, for meditative drifting or picnics up an inlet. I go down to the lake, slide in my kayak and paddle briskly for an hour.

A flock of thirty or so seagulls has come for the winter, giving a strange sense of incongruity. Seagulls in fresh water, I feel like I should be smelling the salt and hearing the beat of the waves. At least a hundred cormorants are wintering. I’ve seen the ospreys, a pair, I think. Last week I saw two bald eagles soaring together.

Even in winter, there’s a lot going on. One day the lake was so still that I felt like I was paddling through the blue sky. Yesterday a mist turned the shore line and the trees into a delicate water color. The same lake, yet it’s always different from day to day. I paddle; I breathe deeply; I’m grateful to God for the loveliness of creation. Where have you seen loveliness lately?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Down the River, Up the Creek

I don’t get tired of paddling on the lake at Cane Creek Park. Each time I go out, there are different cloud and wind patterns, different flowers, and different birds and other creatures to watch for. But recently, I wanted to explore somewhere different.

Last Friday afternoon, a friend and I set off from the Route 9 boat ramp in Lancaster SC. The first thing I sensed was that my kayaking friends were right. The Catawba is no place for a lone paddler. It is big. Beneath the smooth surface, there’s a sense of power. Along the shores are huge snags in which the current could tangle a boat. Snags on the lake, I just go around or untangle myself easily without the extra danger of a strong current.

We went down the wide river, looking for the outflow of Cane Creek. We knew that it came in across from an island. Several small streams entered. We wondered, could that be it? Or that one? Then the opening swept into view on our left. At this point, it was no longer a little creek. It was a river.

Up we paddled, through swamp at first. Lovely contrasts of green, varieties of texture in the plant life on the shore line. We were almost to a big bend where the land rose in steep little hills on the left when my companion said we’d better turn back, since she had to be home by 5:30. I said, “Please can we go far enough so we can see around the bend?” So we did.

With regret, I turned down stream and we slid down to the main river ever so much faster than we had paddled up. I looked regretfully down stream as we turned into the Catawba. So much more river running down to the sea. And so small a boat.

On the river of life, may God bless you with friends for the journey.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Simmering Summer

I was out on the lake yesterday afternoon. The sun was hot. The occasional breeze was hot. The water that dripped off my paddle was as warm as a tropical river. In the trees, the cicadas buzzed. Cicadas always sound hot to me. Summer in the Carolinas, yet there were signs of change. The elegant cardinal flowers were blooming. The green in the swamp maple leaves was fading. A single, perfect yellow leaf drifted down from a tulip poplar and rocked gently on the mirror smooth water. The orb weaving spiders had webs hung in the bushes. The wild grapes were beginning to turn purple. That raises the question, if I want to pick grapes, how can I pick the minimum number of spiders? I’d like that number to be zero!

When I’m tired, my mind often defaults to the horrible “what ifs”. I’ve learned to recognize that tiredness can trigger this undesirable behavior, and I quickly ask for forgiveness and for Jesus to change my mind. When it happened recently, the word to me was, “Live in the now, not in the maybe.” Living in the maybes and what ifs means I’m missing the present moment. So I’m working on living in the now, enjoying this hot, sticky day without looking for fall. But the signs are there, it is coming. Jesus urged people to pay attention to Kingdom signs, as well as weather signs. We have His word on it; He will make all things new. We can’t know the day or the hour, but we know a new kingdom is coming. Live in the now, but keep your eyes open for signs of His coming.