Monday, November 6, 2017
Memory is a curious thing. Frederick Buechner describes memory as a room we can visit. When I visit Grandpa, the room has the sweet smell of an after-dinner William Penn cigar and the sounds of an old-time radio show. Melvin Halverson is sitting in his easy chair attended like royalty by my sister and me. I get his slippers and reading glasses. Mary gently brushes the remaining wisps of white hair around his crown. He has names for us. Mary is “krudling the old booster” and I am the “man with the glass nose and the tin ears.” Krudling is Norse for “sweetie”.
The 13th of 14 children born on a farm in Mishicot, WI, Melvin went to Luther College and became a pastor. I never heard him preach but I savor a collection of his hand-written sermons. Each morning he would begin the day in his study and have a conversation with God. With farming in his background, Good Shepard was one of his favorite ways to address God. His sermons were poetic and lyrical, no doubt inspired by the music played on the pump organ in his childhood home. My mom’s favorite memory was picking blueberries in the North Woods with her dad. Perhaps the best thing about that “room” of memories is we never know when we might be surprised by the aroma of a cigar or the taste of blueberries or a fugue by Bach.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
On the other side of the river was the little town of Cold Spring. Originally it housed the workers who built W. P. but in recent years had become a sleepy bedroom community. I was drawn to this shore by the sloop Clearwater moored at the town dock. I could almost hear my folk-music hero and anti-war activist, Pete Seeger, singing from the deck of this beautiful craft. For years Pete had plied the Hudson River waters seeking to clean up his badly polluted river home. You see my dilemma?
As I paddled downstream pondering the paradox of patriotism and protest, I sang one of Pete’s anthems, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out justice, I’d hammer out freedom, I’d hammer out love between my brothers and sisters, all over this land.” I prayed for safety for the young men and women serving in our military and wisdom for our national leaders to pursue the way of peace. That night I pitched my tent on the beach by the Shattemuc Yacht club in Ossining, NY. A warm shower refreshed and good food at a nearby restaurant fueled me for the final push to NYC and the Statue of Liberty.
Months later while planning a Paddle Pilgrim book tour on the Hudson River, I was invited to be the “Earth Day” speaker at the same Yacht Club. I was delighted to return to this place where I received such warm hospitality. I suspect some of my friends are chuckling as they imagine me speaking at a Yacht Club. When I arrived, I was greeted by Dave, the Commodore, a friendly “button-down” Wall Street broker. As the crowd began to gather, I noticed a number of folks whose bearded and informal presence seemed a bit odd in the well-appointed meeting room and bar overlooking the river. I was introduced by the event’s surprising cosponsors, Commodore Dave and John, the Director of Ferry Sloops, an environmental sailing group inspired by the work of Pete Seeger. My dilemma, for a “brief shining moment”, had a denouement as two seemingly disparate groups came together, despite different political leanings, to work together because of their common love of the Hudson River. I suspect Pete is singing a new chorus to his iconic anthem, “We have overcome….”
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
I am a sucker for fall foliage. As I drive down the road I have to remind myself to pay attention to the traffic not the trees. The sublime palette of colors draws our attention. Once while traveling through New England’s hardwood hillsides, a bright orange Maple stopped me in my tracks. Pulling over to the side of the road, I was moved to applaud this glorious distraction. As a gardener I also celebrate this autumnal season of harvest. A ripening red Oak reminds that the hours of tending my vegetables bring rich rewards. A multicolored Sweet Gum mirrors the staggered stages in this aging sexagenarian’s frame.
Why do we savor this month of colors and not with even greater pleasure rejoice in the many colors and cultures on the human family tree? Perhaps we need to slow down on our journey and stop to behold the beauty of our bronze and black and brown brothers and sisters. Just as the creation thrives through bio-diversity, our civilization is sustained and enriched by a richly variegated human landscape.
Turn off the road, look, savor and celebrate all the foliage!
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Music has such enormous power. It can make us laugh, create calm, lead to action, inspire to dance, and yes, weep. Music has that power for me. But it evokes a different kind of tears. The theme song written by John Williams from Schindler’s List is a prime example. The marriage of sounds and scenes from the holocaust transports my spirit to a place of deep remembering. To borrow a phrase from the writer and activist, Father Boyle, it leaves a tattoo on my heart.
Recently I have been transfixed by, Enno Maricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe”,from the movie, The Mission. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WJhax7Jmxs
I have come to believe that this music touches my soul because of its “excruciating beauty”. These two words are not often juxtaposed. They seem to come from very different worlds.
Beauty is usually seen has something sweet, attractive, lovely, and winsome.
Excruciating suggests pain, distress, suffering, even torture. The Latin word cruciare” from which we get “crucify” means to torment.
Excruciating beauty describes the deepest of paradoxes; that what is truly beautiful is often extremely difficult, involves personal struggle, but in doing so marries profound pain and palpable pleasure.
Perhaps it’s no accident that Gabriel’s Oboe touches my soul. The oboe is one of the most difficult instruments to master with great skill born of painful practice.
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the cross. Jesus’ way of redemptive suffering didn’t deny or avoid the painful realities of life caused by human selfishness. Rather with “excruciating beauty” God took on the suffering of the world to redeem and restore it.
Have a listen and experience excruciating beauty…
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Treat a person as she can be"
This gem comes from a surprising source, Peyton Manning. Quotes from even great football players are often filled with cliches, like “we win as a team, we lose as a team”. “I’d like give the credit to my offensive line….” Or “We had a great game plan which we executed”. All true statements, but not particularly deep or important. Here, however,the first phrase is true, but the second is potentially life-changing.
Fairness certainly suggests, even dictates, the first phrase. Our response to a person should be in proportion to who they are and to their actions. Good behavior is rewarded, bad behavior punished. At the heart of the matter is justice and fair play. The sentiment is often tweaked to “we should treat all people the same.” This works well when we have a “level-playing field”. But that’s an essay for another time. Treat a person as she is….what you see is what you should get.
What captured my attention was the second phrase. Treat a person as she can be. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think there is greater wisdom and ultimate benefit comes when we see the potential in a student, child, adult; and call forth and challenge that person to “come out”. Da Vinci looked at a block of marble and he saw the persons of Mary and Jesus and brought them forth in the Pieta. My dad was my teacher in this regard. He saw potential in people where I only saw a “loser”. But he went the extra mile with those who were written off or overlooked and encouraged them to be all that they could be. I expect he practiced this wisdom a bit on me…
Payton Manning comes from a football family. His dad, Archie, was a college quarterback legend at the University of Mississippi. His professional career, however, was remembered more for losses rather than wins quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints, whose nickname was the “Ain’ts”. But Payton and his other famous quarterback brother, Eli, both grew up in a close and loving family where his parents not only treated each both as he was, but more importantly as he could be.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Pete Seeger and the Clearwater
Seeing the Sloop Clearwater brought with it a flood of memories. I found myself singing, “Where have all the flowers gone…” followed by “If I had a hammer” and then, of course, “We shall overcome.” Pete wrote these memorable folk songs which married music and social justice more than any other activist I know. During my college and seminary days Pete, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and a host of musicians wrote music that stirred the soul and encouraged a generation of young people to work for peace, civil rights and the environment. We were inspired to protest injustice and, if necessary, take to the streets and demonstrate. I learned to play the guitar and gathered a group that sang in close harmony about the world we wanted to see.
Most people don’t know that Pete was classically trained at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, but his “folk” music touched the lives of blue collar workers, coal miners and soldiers. His songs were eminently singable, yet contained a depth and passion rooted in his love for the common good.
Pete loved the Hudson River Valley and lived in Beacon. His social conscience was disturbed by the pollution in the river, particularly the discovery of harmful PCB’s being discharged from a General Electric factory near his home. As a student of history, he had seen pictures of the ships that had sailed the river carrying thousands of immigrants in their quest to experience the American Dream. So, he had an authentic model of one of these ships built so he could travel the river, singing his songs while working on cleaning up the Hudson through concerts, workshops, and political action. Another vessel, the River Keeper was also built to more closely monitor progress in the oftenslow process of environmental justice. Pete died a few years ago, but his musical legacy lives on!
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Is it just me?
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Gratitude: A Full Heart
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5-7
I don’t know how many times I heard my mom share her favorite verse. In so many ways over her nearly 97 years, she came to embody much of the wisdom in this passage about joy, gentleness and peace. It wasn’t until I was paddling the Mississippi that I discovered what I believe to be the key to my mother’s kind and generous spirit. The word is “thanksgiving.” As I paddled, I regularly made my requests known to God: for sunshine, clouds, tailwind, slight headwind, cool when it was hot, heat when it was cool, good food, a warm shower, good campsite and cold beer. I was pretty good at the “in everything, by prayer and supplication” part. We humans are good at making requests and even demands of God. But that little word I had missed for all those years makes all the difference: thanksgiving.
I began to remember to give thanks during my prayers. I even began my prayers with thanks: for the gift of life, for breath itself, for a new day, for family and friends, for faith, for health, for the creation, for the opportunity to paddle my kayak. The whole dynamic of the day changes when we begin with saying “thank you!” We see, even in the midst of struggle, pain, heat, cold, loneliness and hunger how blessed we are to have another day to live life’s adventures, to love our neighbors and, above all, the God who created us! When we give thanks, we experience a full heart, and out of that fullness, we have more than enough to give others. And then for a final bonus, we experience a deep peace beyond our understanding. Paddle with gratitude!
~Paddle Pilgrim: Kayaking the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the State of Liberty (available on Amazon)
Friday, February 24, 2017
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Even though my paddle pilgrimage down the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty has ended, the journey isn't over. One of the experiences that lives on in my mind is "tent life". Sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag on the ground leaves a lingering, even lasting impression. Each night as I now slide into my comfortable bed at home I find myself imagining the places I camped. Last night I went so far as to assemble a mental list of locations. A little crazy...not so fast.
What do I remember from tent life?
- Practicing setting up the tent before the trip. When rain and dark are approaching, you gotta be quick!
- The importance of scouting and finding a good location with a slight incline so I am not sleeping downhill.
- The hope that I wouldn't be near train tracks. I miserably failed. When trains replaced the canal as a primary source of transport in the 1860's, they generally followed waterways which had ruled from ancient times.
- The need to locate the tent with a view of my kayak for security reasons.
- The value of a dry and clean tent. There is nothing worse than packing and later setting up wet gear.
- Whenever possible set up the tent under a pavilion or roof of some sort. This solves the previous problem, although the inside of the rain fly is often still wet from human-produced warm mosture in the tent meeting cold exterior air.
- Are you bored yet?
- Organizing the interior in a sensible manner: flashlight, toiletries, clothes, p-bottle ( I had to mention that...mine is red so I don't lose it)
- All the above are the basics....now for what prompted this blog: "deep thoughts"!
- Tent life really does help me appreciate living in a house with a bed and a shower and a refrigerator, and, and, and....
- On the other hand, tent life reminds me of how much stuff we collect under our roofs which we really don't need. I think of all the people who don't have housing, food, toilet etc and know if we put our minds and hearts to this task, we wouldn't have homelessness and hunger.
- Tent life is a regular reminder of how vulnerable and mortal we humans are. Human ingenuity and creativity are magnificent. But the basic lession I learned while paddling the Mississippi River in 2012 was "We are NOT in control." And equally important "That's a good thing!" Tent life ultimately teaches humility...especially when I set up the tent wrong once again!
Monday, October 17, 2016
We shall not cease from exploration and in the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~T. S. Eliot
Exploring is about seeing new places and people. Eliot reminds us that it is even more about gaining new perspective and vision. St. Paul said, "We see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face." John shares an even bolder image, "I see a new heaven and a new earth....a river of life."
My paddle.pilgrimage has been about both seeing and experiencing new places but even more about seeing old places with new eyes. It has been about being more open to the simple, the beautiful, the terrifying and the mundane.
As I approached New York City and the Statue of Liberty yesterday, I began singing an old Simon and Garfunkel tune which captures the spirit of the journey I have traveled and also the one my great grandparents made from Norway in the 1840's by these same landmarks, up the Hudson, Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes to Wisconsin and Iowa.
"And then I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectantly and I looked back down on me and smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying and high up above my eyes could clearly see the Statue of Liberty.
They've all come to look for America.
All come to look for America.
All come to look for America."
Friday, October 14, 2016
My family lived just a few miles down the Hudson River from a hamlet named Irvington after local author, Washington Irving. I remember school class field trips to his lovely cottage on the banks of river. But what I remember most were the fascinating characters in his stories. Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 100 years to awake to a whole new world upon which the author uses Rip to comment on social change.
My favorite, however, was Ichibod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This gangly, homely and superstitious school teacher falls for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel. His chief competition is the roguish and handsome Brom Bones. At a Halloween party Brom recounts the eerie Legend of Sleepy Hollow about a cavalry officer whose head is blown off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War.
He is said to have been seen riding at night with his head in his hands.
When Ichibod heads home on his horse, he must pass through a dark woods and menacing swamp toward Sleepy Hollow. There he suddenly encounters the huge, menacing cloaked rider without a head. Ichibod flees in terror and is never seen again.
Where did he go? Could Brom Bones have been the horseman? We are left to wonder.
I still get goose bumps when I imagine the tale with thanks to Walt Disney and others who have brought Irving's story to the big screen. I will paddle by Sleepy Hollow today and will keep one eye on shore to see if the horseman still rides.....
The recent best-selling book, The Boys in the Boat, tells the powerful story of a group of young American men who row their way into history defeating the powerful German crew assembled by Adolph Hitler for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. At the heart if this larger story is the coming-of-age tale of Joe Rantz, a young man with a troubled, rough-and-tumble-tumble background who discovers his identity (and wife) when he joins the University of Washington rowing team.
On a team composed of sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, they shock the elite teams from the East Coast and Great Britain and ultimately Hitler's German team to win the Olympic gold medal. As I paddled beneath the railroad bridge in Poughkeepsie, NY where the boys qualified for those Olympics in a stirring race, this boy had a tear in his eye.
Monday, October 10, 2016
I discovered during my paddle down the Mississippi, that "Big Muddy" is the 3rd most visited destination for foreign visitors to the United States behind New York City and the Grand Canyon. Ultimately I came to view the river as a geographic, cultural, commercial and wildlife "backbone" of the North American continent.
As I prepared for and then embarked on my Erie Canal voyage I pondered the important role the canal played historically in the opening of the West to millions of immigrants. It also established NYC as the pre-eminent
port city on the East Coast and the # 1 "must see" for visitors.
My first image of the canal was the "jugular vein" of the 19th century. While hitch hiking on the tug Grand Erie as a guest of the Canal Corp. on their annual inspection tour, one of the crew shared a much better image. He said, "If Upstate New York is a community, the canal is the sidewalk that makes it a neighborhood."
The canal connects big and small towns with a rural and urban mix and rich ethnic diversity. And soon she will celebrate the 200th birthday of her beginning. Happy B-day E.C.! Thanks for welcoming me!
On my rest, reflect and write day after two weeks paddling the Erie Canal, I would like to invite readers to share their responses to this question: HAVE YOU NOTICED....?
To prime the pump here are two examples from my days on the canal....traveling at 3 miles an hour.
1. Have you noticed how quickly and gracefully water fowl take off and land?
2. Have you noticed the complex and curvaceous roots of trees often exposed on a river bank or lake shore?
Monday, October 3, 2016
I had planned to paddle 30 miles each day. I figured that if I had paddled 40 miles a day on my Mississippi River pilgrimage with an assist from the current, my projected canal pace was reasonable.
Furthermore I had to get to New Orleans for a Youth Gathering in a two month window covering 2350 miles, so I had to stay on schedule.
On this journey I wanted to slow down and savor the history, culture and scenery along the canal and Hudson River...30 miles seemed to make sense.
And then reality broke in. After several days of paddling with remarkably favorable weather, my bones and muscles screamed "30 miles are too many..." My slow boat, occasional pauses to enjoy local flavor (food, ale, custard and most of all people) as well as have time and energy to reflect and write, all together were singing a chorus of that song I learned in grade school, "15 miles on the Erie Canal". If it was good enough for a mule named "Sal" it's good enough for paddler named Dave.
Years ago I read a wonderfully provocative book by Kosuke Koyama entitled Three Mile An Hour God. He writes, "Love has its speed. It is spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed than the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depths of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and, therefore, the speed the love of God walks."
My paddle pilgrimage reminds me that I am a "three mile an hour paddler." I know I can paddle faster., but when I do I grow weary and don't notice so many wonders along the way; a glorious sunrise or brilliant sunset, the symphony of ambient, natural sounds, the earthy aromas of autumnal decadence, and the simple acts of human kindness and hospitality. This journey reminds me to slow down and savor the very gift of life itself!
As I paddled out of Fairport the other day I encountered the dreaded "headwind." Even as I hugged the shore to blunt the 20 mile an hour gusts, it felt and even looked like I was paddling uphill!
Suddenly something crashed into the side of my boat. I was startled by what I thought might be a floating log. Discovering no damage I soldiered on. Just as I regained my rhythm, without warning another large fish flew over the bow of my kayak. Again I was freaked out and quickly redirected my course farther from shore toward the channel.
What the heck was going on?
I had asked folks fishing on the banks what they were catching. The common answer was Catfish and Carp.
Eureka and Deja vou! I had similar scares on my Mississippi Kayak journey when an invasive species known as Asian Carp would seemingly out of nowhere jump over and even into my boat. Beyond the fright factor, these fish are voracious eaters and are upsetting the fish ecology in the river with real concern of ultimately reaching the Great Lakes.
Back to the canal...
Thinking I was out of range I powered into the wind. And then it happened...another Carp flew out of the water so close to my face that I could barely see out of my sun glasses because of the spray.
That was it. Wind or Carp? Carp won and with that soggy defeat I headed into the wind tunnel of mid channel. Carp diem horribilis vincit!
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations. Much has been written in recent years about the important contributions 1st Nation's people have made to our larger society.
Here are a few of the gifts we can be thankful for and celebrate.
--Participatory Democracy: The cooperative and egalitarian nature of the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the "founding fathers", particularly Ben Franklin, as they drafted our Constitution.
--Honored and elevated the status of women who chose the sachem or chiefs and had real power including treaty making.
--Environmental "sustainability" stemming from the "7 Generation Principle" which guided all major community decisions by their impact on people, land, water and animals 140 years in the future.
Holy water I am paddling, indeed!
Thanks be for the wisdom of the Iroquois people!
"Fear is not a bad place to begin a spiritual journey." --Kathleen Norris
So counter-intuitive and such alien wisdom to Americans who idolize confidence and certainty. As I paddle I re-realize that I am often traveling upstream against the current in my life. This particular journey is but one more crazy adventure.
People say "you are so brave..." but truthfully I am often fear-filled. Some fears are obvious: storms, heat and cold, tipping and ultimately drowning. I fear them all.
Some fears are less obvious: loneliness, boredom, fatigue and failure. These fears are my daily and hourly companions and acknowledging, even confessing them is the beginning of wisdom.
My traveling coffee mug helps me navigate my very real fears each day. Printed on it in large letters: "TRUST". Good coffee helps too!
As a boy I was fascinated by the curious-sounding names of the towns, lakes and rivers in Upstate New York like Oneida, Onondaga or Cayuga. I learned in school these were Indian words from the tribes who lived there long ago. Years have passed and I now see the words, traditions and people's with new and appreciative eye. I am paddling through the holy waters and ground of what came to be known as the Iroquois Confederacy which
Friday, September 23, 2016
No, it's not Bill! You have likely never heard his name despite the fact he changed the face of America almost 200 years ago. He was the mayor of NYC and governor of NY State. I wouldn't be enjoying another paddle adventure without his tireless efforts over many years to imagine, organize, and raise $ to build the Erie Canal. This 8th Wonder of the world, ridiculed by many as Clinton's Ditch, opened the West to millions of immigrants including my my Ellingson and Halverson great grandparents and ultimately propelled our nation into a leading world power.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Friday, September 9, 2016
|My paddle adventure begins DOWNSTREAM from the Falls....|
|There are 35 locks on the Erie Canal.|
|The Woman's Suffrage Movement began in 1848 in Seneca Falls on the Erie Canal.|
(LRL was also a wonderful book I enjoyed as a child)
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
|Imagine some more....|
|It won't be long.....|
|Destination: Lady Liberty|
For more info. www.dellingson.com
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
|Buffalo on Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson is 363 miles.|
Albany to NYC and the Statue of Liberty is 150 miles,.
|One of 35 locks on the Erie Canal.|
|In the early days mules pulled the barges.|
|Bear Mountain Bridge on the Hudson|
|Hudson River Lighthouse|
(learn more @www.dellingson.com)