I saw it again this morning, that humped shape lying just off the trail, something dark and heavy like a body. A deer, maybe? Or, as I always think, unreasonably and with a leap in my blood, a wolf. (A wolf!) I have seen it enough times now to know it is nothing but a pile of dirt and a fortuitously placed stick, but still, every time, there is the first glance, the jerk in my step and the concentrated look to be sure. I am always expecting, I realize, a glimpse of something wild; always waiting for the curtain to draw back and reveal something of the holy. Perhaps today it is only dirt and twigs, but tomorrow God may have something to say. Tomorrow He may leave a sign, a message only my soul will know.
This weekend we traveled south, left behind the dark green fairy forests of home for the open skies and gold-brown hills of the high desert. We moved our daughter into her new apartment and visited our son and his wife. It's a great gift to me that they will all be in the same town together for this next year. No matter how right and good the going is, it is never easy for a mama.
After the unpacking, we took a drive through the farm fields, out past the small towns to the site of an Indian battlefield. Out there under the sun, the "renegade" Modocs made their last stand against the U.S. Army. We found a makeshift memorial, banners and beads, old scraps from headbands and bits of paper carried in pockets, all wrapped around a long wood pole and tucked among the rocks. We quietly left what little we had with us - a quarter, a decorated bit of someone's business card - and retreated to our cars.
We wound our way through the hills and down into the fields again and I felt sobered. I thought of the struggle between native peoples and pioneers, thought of mothers and fathers who watched their children go out across the country in covered wagons with no assurance they'd ever see each other again, thought of how everything has changed and nothing has. A dark loneliness yawned up at me from my own spirit.
Then my husband whispered, "Look!" and we pulled the car to a stop and eased open the doors. There, almost as if they were waiting for us, were six full grown bucks standing just off the road. I fumbled with my phone, tried to get a picture. They watched us, flicked their tails, casually took mouthfulls of grass. Deer have always been particularly significant to me as indicators of God's grace and presence. At nearly every major junction in my life, spiritually or physically, a deer has appeared somewhere. I was speechless at the sight of six bucks together. Such an extravagant gift. Peace began to replace the loneliness.
By the time we left our kids behind and drove home, we had seen thirteen deer. Six does waited just up the road, huddled in someone's yard; two fawns looked out from a hedge. And across the street from our son and his wife's apartment, five deer napped in the shadow of an abandoned house. My soul heard the message: I may not be with my children, but God is.
I know there are plenty of people who would say there is nothing extraordinary about seeing deer in an environment where they naturally live and thrive; and there is nothing extraordinary about healthy, grown children moving out and moving on. It is the supposed duty of our time to strip life of its possible magic. We could all choose to live with only rationality to guide us, but I think most of us want to know we are made of more than just flesh and intellect. There is a soul in us that craves wonder and that longs to believe.
I have grown past the age of reason and into the age of mystery. I believe God strews our paths with signs and symbols, that He wants to speak to our souls in many ways, including the language of the earth, the seas, and the skies.
That is why I am always so quick to see a wolf in the dark mound on the path. Every day I am hoping that He will seek me out, lift the veil and send a word of his presence, of his accompanying grace. Today it was just twigs and grass, but tomorrow it may be a fawn, or a fairy ring, or a nest of sparrows. I am just waiting to hear.