Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tent Life

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 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

Paddle Pilgrim meets Headless Horseman

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.....

Boy in the Boat

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

Sensory Journey

On the water
In the moment
Not living
In the past
Or future
Hearing birdsong
Feeling the breeze
Smelling the earth
Tasting an apple
Beholding Fall colors
Coming alive

Canal metaphor

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!

Have you noticed?

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?
Your turn....

Monday, October 3, 2016

15 miles

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.

3 miles an hour

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!

Carp diem horribilis

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

Native Wisdom (continued)

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!

Positive Fear

"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!

Native American Wisdom

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

The Other Clinton

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

Paddle Pilgrim: 2 days to launch

Do you think he will make it?

363 miles on the Erie Canal and 150 on the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty

Paddle with me....

Friday, September 9, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim: Did you know?

My paddle adventure begins DOWNSTREAM from the Falls....

There are 35 locks on the Erie Canal.
A section of the original canal was an aqueduct over the Mohawk River

One of my heroes, Pete Seeger: songwriter, activist, humanitarian, and on his sailing sloop, the Clear Water, led the fight to clean up the Hudson River.   You will be in my "cloud of witnesses" as I paddle and we can sing together your anthem: "If I had a hammer!"
The Woman's Suffrage Movement began in 1848 in Seneca Falls on the Erie Canal.

The Hudson School brought a "romantic" artistic lens to the river valley.

The Little Red Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge
(LRL was also a wonderful book I enjoyed as a child)

Truer than ever....

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Erie Canal and Hudson River Pilgrimage

Why Paddle the Erie Canal/Hudson River?

Huck Finn and his friend Jim floating downstream on a raft inspired my Mississippi “adventure” in 2012.  In this case it begins with a “girl, her name was Sal.”  In my grade school classroom in Dobbs Ferry, NY, on the banks of the Hudson River, I met “Sal” in a song I couldn’t get out of my head;

“I know a gal, her name is Sal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal, she’s a good ol’ worker and a good ol’ pal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal. She’s towed some barges in her day, filled with lumber, coal and hay, and every inch of the way we go from Albany to Buffalo”.

60 years later, Sal, like Huck, has called me to another adventure;

“Low bridge everybody down, low bridge for we’re going through a town, and you always know your neighbor, you always know your pal, if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal”.

Join me on this paddle pilgrimage which will begin around September 23.  If you want to sing along, here’s a link to a favorite youtube version of the song covered by Bruce Springsteen.


Imagine some more....


Loading truck

It won't be long.....
Destination: Lady Liberty
For more info. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Erie Canal to the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty (Preview)

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

Lady Liberty
(learn more

Monday, August 8, 2016

Erie Canal and Hudson River Pilgrimage

In late September I will launch my kayak down the Erie Canal and Hudson River arriving at the Statue of Liberty by

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks…

What a strange sounding image to our modern ears when the prophet Isaiah (2:4) casts a vision of God’s preferred future when wars will be no more and a reign of true justice will prevail.  I only recently learned that because of a scarcity of metal in biblical times of war, a farmer’s plow or pruning hook would be transformed into a sword for battle and returned to agricultural use when hostilities ceased.  Nearly 30% of our nation’s budget goes to the military and if you include “benefits” almost 50%. While I believe in an adequate “defense” and taking care of our service men and women, what if our country were inspired by Isaiah’s vision to guide our spending and addressed the root causes of violence: poverty, racism, substandard housing, inadequate care for mental illness.  What if we bent our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and fed a hungry world, built bridges of understanding between races and religions, trained people for jobs with livable wages, and created affordable housing for the homeless. What if?  Perhaps then we might experience Jesus prayer, “thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven…”          
What if?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Namaste and the Image of God

My dad had an annoying habit that bugged me as a teen.  He was almost always “positive”.  He seemed to see a silver-lining when I only saw clouds.  While I either liked someone or not, he would see something good, a redemptive quality, even in the worst people.  My mother would add, “If you can’t say something positive….” to make sure I got the message.  Slowly I began to understand the wisdom in this attitude.  The Indian greeting “Namaste” which means “the God in me greets the God in you” invites us to not just look for the positive but for the “spark of the divine” in each of us.  Even more compelling is the passage in the Genesis 1 creation story which declares that humans are made “in the image and likeness of God”. 

Too often we enter relationships with a prejudice based on appearance and socioeconomic status rather than with an openness, a sense of wonder and a curiosity to discover how God will be revealed in that person.  Think of the amazing collection of people that Jesus hung out with (prostitutes, the sick, tax-collectors, lepers, outcasts) and we get a beautiful picture of what this way of life, that we are called to, looks like. This fruit of the spirit was abundant in my parents and in the scores of people who loved them and called them friends!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Deep Remembering  

Today is Memorial Day and we remember all those who served our country to insure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Traditionally we do this with parades, placing of flowers on graves, and various patriotic rituals.  And this is an honorable practice.
I would like to suggest several ways to deepen this remembering.  The Greek philosopher Plato developed a concept called “anamnesis” which believed that the human soul through reflection and contemplation “recalls” what it already knows on a deeper level.  Put simply, it’s that moment when we don’t rush to judgement and think carefully and we can say “Oh, I knew that….”  It’s that “Ah-ha” intuition when we realize what is true and can echo Jesus “the truth will set you free”.  This truth is more than just intellectual knowledge, however, and once again Jesus adds his wisdom in his Last Supper when he instructs his followers to share his body and blood “for the remembrance of me”.  Not simply a memorial meal, this deep remembering takes on physical form each time it is celebrated and the Risen Christ becomes present to nourish his disciples for the sake of the world.  His scattered people come together and like the physical “members” of the body, are re-membered.  ELCA Lutherans proclaim it this way, “God’s work, our hands”.   We confess that this remembering includes the mystical “communion of saints” which gathers a vast “cloud of witnesses” throughout history whose lives bear witness to God’s vision of peace and justice for the world.  

So today as I remember the sacrifices of American service men and women, I also remember and am inspired by Pope Francis, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Elie Wiesel, Mother Theresa, and Daniel Berrigan.  

Who do you remember?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim's photo.
I am not in control...
As a boy I read the poem “Invictus” by William Henley. The only line I remember was “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” These stirring words spoke to my adolescent longing to do something heroic in my life. I suppose we all aspire to greatness in some manner. The American dream feeds that hope with the promise of freedom accompanied by success in many forms. One mundane form this quest takes in my life is a rather incessant creation of “to do” lists and the accompanying joy as tasks are checked off upon completion. In some small way I feel like I have control over a part of my life…I am the master of my list.
In the summer of 2012 I had an amazing adventure kayaking the entire 2300 miles of the Mississippi River. The most frequent question I am asked about this epic journey is “what is the most important lesson you learned?” My answer is short and simple, “I am not in control….and that is a good thing!” Over the months I spent on the Mighty Mississippi I could plan a few elements like when I would rise in the morning or what I would eat, but for the most part I was at the mercy of the elements. And while I the conditions could be extreme, I also experienced “traveling mercies” extended by countless people I called “river angels” as well as the truth of Mark Twain’s dictum, “One cannot see too many sunrises on the Mississippi”. I rediscovered grace means “going with the flow”, letting go, and being completely present in the moment. As I captained my craft I learned that grace is not being in control and it touched my soul.