Saturday, August 25, 2012

I always loved the word "penultimate" which is a fancy way of saying these are "final"  thoughts or reflections, but not really.......there may be more to come.  This seems particularly fitting when speaking of a "pilgrimage" because it never ends.  Like a river there is always something or someone around the next bend.  And even as the river flows into the sea, or in my case the Gulf of Mexico, there is now an ocean of paddling ahead.  One more pen-penultimate thought:  A number of you good folks who have followed my blog have asked if I would be writing a book about my journey.

Initially I thought I wouldn't, because I am finishing another book that I began early in my sabbatical.  I thought the blog would tell the story with more immediacy and, frankly, would be easier to accomplish "in real time".  A blog would also help me keep track of the blurring of days and experiences on the river.  Since I have returned home to Seattle, I have found my mind continuing to remember "stories" which I didn't tell in the blog.  But would anyone other than my 96 year old mother be interested?  So I tested out some of the stories with friends here and they encouraged me to write them down. All this to say that I plan to "noodle" and "fill in the gaps" in my tale and perhaps at some point in the coming months/years publish something. 

So here are some "Penultimate Reflections" from the Paddle Pilgrim:
As you recall from the blog one of my "headings" which addressed my reasons for paddling the Mississippi River was entitled WHY?   I am glad that I did this "pre-flection" before I embarked because it gave me a "frame" through which to view and ultimately organize my experience.  I guess that's the professor in me trying to rationalize and make sense of what I would be doing. My answer to WHY was threefold:  Adventure, Learning, and Pilgrimage. I suspect I may organize the "book" around these headings.

As a boy growing up near the Mississippi River I was fascinated by this little stream that I could walk across at its headwaters but I could barely see across at its widest expanse.  My turtle friend, Minn, (Minn of the Mississippi by H.C. Holling) was my guide down the river introducing me to the sounds, sights, smells, and feel of this watery world.  The "Huck Finn" in me delighted in the variety of "characters" I met along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.  They became "river angels" who provided food, housing, transportation, encouragement, and a multitude of stories.   Big cities (Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis) and small towns (Osceola, St. Francisville, New Madrid) came to life and became neighborhoods populated by family and friends.

As a "professor" on sabbatical, my river journey focused on "Creation Care: Environmental Ethics".  Studying  history  I learned that the Anishinabe people (Ojibwe Indian) called the river "Mee-zee-see-bee" which means "Big River" or "Father of Waters".  The wisdom of their name became apparent as I encountered the birds (326 species) and fish (241 species) who now uneasily share their polluted home with thousands of boats, barges and ships which ply the waters transporting grain, coal, and hazardous cargo (oil, benzine).  Keeping the water "clean" for fish and fowl and "clear" for barges and business requires a delicate balance much like a kayaker carefully navigating the human "debris" flowing inexorably to the sea.

As a "pilgrim" my journey was in search of the One who created this garden planet and whose "heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1)  With few distractions and lots of time to "listen" and "pay attention", God used the river to teach me both how powerful and regenerative the natural environment is and also how fragile and in need of wise care and stewardship.  My kinship with all creation now resonates more deeply with St. Francis' "brother Sun and sister Moon".  Each morning just before dawn a symphony of birds began their musical wake-up call and invited me to launch my boat in the dark and paddle toward the light.  They called me to a new day, to a new beginning, a new life and to pray.  Thanks be to the God revealed by Mother Earth and the Father of Waters!

Finally....(almost)....thanks to all of you who followed my journey and supported me with their prayers, words of encouragement, and even your occasional, "You're doing what?&#??

If you would like to make a donation to the "cause" my pilgrimage supported, go to the blog and the Donate heading where there is more information about The Cedar Tree Institute.

I plan to keep the Paddle Pilgrim blog as an ongoing place for place for reflection.  If you would like to subscribe to the blog and get notifications of "posts" there is a link at the bottom of the home page.

Blessings to each of you on your "pilgrimage"!