Last weekend I was in southwestern Pennsylvania for some planning meetings at Holy Ground Retreat Center. Friday morning I took a walk through the misty woods and startled three deer who ran ahead of me down this path. One stopped to look back. Can you see her in the photo below?
Other gifts from the woods included forest floor scenes, the tracings of insects and the curlicues of grape vines, a fog-soaked caterpillar, a spider-made design and a man-made design..
Looking back through my photos of Colorado trees, I can't help but think of Mary Oliver's poem, When I Am Among the Trees:
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
Our foundational class in Gestalt Pastoral Care had our final sessions this weekend at A Quiet Place, a retreat house on the edge of Camp Mack. Saturday afternoon we had some free time, so I went into the camp woods to check on the wildflowers Sure enough, there was a carpet of trillium, may-apples and other spring flowers.
As I wandered along the woods' path and then across to the paths through the thickets and meadows of reclaimed farm land, I kept seeing signs of deer -- tracks in soft ground, a path of flattened grasses. I kept watching, but didn't see the deer themselves.
Dusk or dawn would be better, I thought, but we were busy learning about addictions and GPC as dusk came. I didn't commit myself to getting up at dawn, but as it happened I woke about then and when I saw how clear it looked over the lake, I decided to go out, camera in hand.
I crossed the road to the gate leading to the camp woods, and there, just down the path to my left, a doe stood watching me, legs stiff, ready to bolt. She froze long enough for me to take a fuzzy photo or two, and then ran off towards the camp's labyrinth.
I followed her, and made my way to the center of the labyrinth. She didn't wait for me, but there were three or four deer off in the brush nearby. I'd hear a loud snort, or the thump of hooves,see movement through the undergrowth and the flash of white tails.
I went on then, enjoying the morning light streaming over the meadows. It's obviously perfect habitat for the deer and I saw a couple cross the path ahead of me, and then their white tails flashing as they ran off into the safety of the woods. At another point, I saw a doe keeping a careful eye on me through the brush and brambles.
For some of you deer sightings are common, and perhaps you look on them primarily as large, four-legged rodents, a challenge to gardening. My contacts with deer are rare, and it is a surprise and a delight to catch a glimpse.
I'm reminded of a sermon by Karl Shelly not so long ago, when he told of learning from his neighbors how much they enjoyed seeing deer in the Shelly backyard at dawn. There is a small woods there, but there is housing on the other side of it, and all around. The Shellys had never seen any signs of deer in their dozen years in that house, and Karl was pretty skeptical. But he couldn't stop glancing that way at odd moments, wondering what he might see. He went on to link our keeping watch for deer with our search for, and our opening ourselves to, the possibility of seeing the Holy.
We can't force God-encounters, any more that we can force deer sightings. But we can open ourselves to the Holy, put ourselves in times and places when we are more likely to have those glimpses. I'm glad I didn't crawl back into my warm bed this past Sunday, opening myself instead to the opportunity to hear the birds' morning chorus, to see the sun lighting meadows and may-apples, to have several sightings of deer, and to enjoy the gift of God's creation.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"