I walk in the woods behind my house to connect with nature and find peace in the loneliest year I've ever experienced. It's a small plot of land, perhaps one square mile, but it is wild and free. Sometimes I catch birds hunting, see squirrels frolicking, and on rare occasions - I see deer.
But for the most part, it's as lonely as I am. I walk in there to watch the sunset, and capture the changing light on the trees. Bright at first, then a blaze of gold graces only the tallest trees. Sometimes that light splashes beautiful displays of pinks and reds before finally fading out, and I bid farewell to another day and greet the oncoming night.
Lately I've been taking my journal out there and challenging myself to write a haiku every day, just to stimulate my imagination. Often my little haikus are inspired by how the woods talk to me that day, like this one:
"A Raven Bellows
Distantly, Letting Us Know
He Was Here. Watching."
In fact, the day I wrote that haiku (dated 11/25/20) I had a deer sighting!
As I mentioned, these woods are quite lonely. By that I mean, I never see anyone in there. It's almost as though the entire neighborhood has forgotten that paths remain, and though traffic honks around the perimeters, for the most part it's silent.
But not that day. That day, for the first time ever, a man and his dog entered the woods. I tensed at first, alarmed. I've never encountered another human there, no matter how small my woods may be. I watched them, maybe twenty feet from where he stood. He had a little dachshund with him, bounding up and down and around. I happened to be perched on a rock, and as I remained perfectly still I wondered... would they notice me?
I watched on. The man had his back towards me, only having eyes for his canine companion, who was happily snuffling in the leaves and debris. Steadily I watched, feeling a bit like a creeper as I hadn't announced myself. Nor did I plan to! The woods are beautiful but isolated and no place for "making friends" - ESPECIALLY in a pandemic year.
I began to wonder if I should slip away or stay, when movement caught my eye. A buck was moving through the woods, sleek and close! I was in awe - It is truly rare to see deer in such a small patch of woods, and to catch sight of one on the same day as that man soothed me.
Deer represent peace, healing, and nobility. They are animals of the dawn and the dusk, and to me, seeing that deer meant the man and his dog were no threat at all. For all of us to share space that day was truly magical.
The buck slipped away out of sight, and eventually so did the man and his dog. Soon only I remained, hastily scribbling my experience in my journal as the light waned. I appreciate these dusks but I don't ever plan on being in the woods alone at night.
I left that day feeling bright and cheerful. What a beautiful encounter!
Two days ago, I went back into the woods. This time, I was carrying an offering. I occasionally bring vegetables and seeds that are going to waste in my house, so that the woods may claim them and perhaps feed the animals.
I was thinking of the deer, specifically. I never know how often they actually appear since I don't go every day, but I was carrying an entire cabbage head that I hoped he would find and appreciate.
I was also thinking of my family. The Woods are a marvelous place to be sad and still find appreciation, to pray and to meditate. So I crunched leaves and stepped over logs until my mind said - "There. Put it there."
It wasn't where I had planned on depositing the cabbage - I wanted to bring it to the spot I had seen it last. But I've been making it a practice to follow my intuition lately, so instead of arguing with myself I simply walked over to the fallen tree that caught my eye, and planted the cabbage in the nook of some branches. I said a small prayer of gratitude to the woods and to the animals and spirits that live there, and hoped it would be found.
Above me the wind swayed the trees. It felt like they were waving and dancing. The waning sun was red on their bark. I thought of my family, I felt sad, wistful.
Finally I decided it was time to go, and turned to make my exit. And there he stood - not thirty feet away from me.
He was exactly in my path, and watching me. We stood there, frozen. I placed my hands in prayer position and bowed to him slowly, in awe and as a gesture of peace. I rose just as slowly, hands over heart. He was still watching me, antlers gleaming in the last sparks of sun. He twitched an ear. I smiled, not that he could see it behind my mask.
We stood there, frozen in time for a beautiful moment. Sizing each other up. Wondering what our next moves would be. Finally, after more than a minute, he moved on.
I watched him until he was out of sight. Geese swam overhead, honking out their arrival and passing. I see the same flock at sunset most days, and it made my heart soar to hear them once again.
Finally, once the buck was gone, I moved forward to the same spot where he had stood. It happens to be a favorite spot of mine, a grove of rocks and boulders that feel ancient and sacred.
I placed my feet where he had stood and marveled in that moment. Nature is always speaking to those of us who listen. I bowed again in reverence to my woods, my sanctuary, my holy place in this crazy world, and then left.
My heart felt so much lighter, there was a spring in my step, and I was thinking my thank you's to the deer - When what should I see but a man and his dog exiting the woods!
I stopped dead in my tracks. I hadn't seen them while I was in the woods, and he was exiting a shallow side that has a thicket of thorns hard to pass through, so he couldn't have been there long. Nonetheless, I made the connection of seeing a buck, a man, and his dog in my woods all in the same day again.
The symmetry was astounding.
Mind you, it was not the same man and dog. This was a much bigger breed, looking closer to a husky than a wee dachshund. I smiled again. This is the magic of the mundane. Things that may not seem to matter to others hold great meaning for me. When we slow down and allow ourselves to quiet our minds, beautiful little signs appear.
A Buck is a male deer that can be recognized by their antlers, which may fall off seasonally before growing again.
Their antlers represent touching the divine, since they grow at the crown of the head and reach towards the heavens. Divine Masculine presence was with me that day, and I didn't feel alone. I felt watched over.
I made my way home, much happier than when I had left. Dusk had well and truly fallen. My Come Home ritual is to greet my trees before I check my mailbox for late deliveries. That day, a single piece of mail lay in there, a small brown envelope. I flipped it and saw my name written in festive red and green pen. My heart warmed to see it was a Christmas Card from a friend.
I brought it inside to sanitize before opening (we are quite meticulous in my house, to keep outside things coming in as safe as possible.)
When I broke the seal and pulled out the card, the sight was that of a buck, drawn in leaves and branches. I felt so loved in that moment, so aware that life is mysterious and beautiful and loves to say hello from time to time.
This Particular Hello felt like it came from Beyond. It arrived exactly when I needed it most - and perfectly matched the language of the day.