Sacred and Mundane
“Pile of deer, by the big juniper…” whispered Steven from behind his binoculars.
“Yep. There’s at least two bedded above them and to the right.” I whispered back, also glassing the opposite slope.
After a slow start to the morning, we’d spotted this band of deer from a mile down canyon. Through the spotting scope they looked like does and fawns, but with nothing better to go on, we decided to investigate. Now, having closed the distance to 250 yards, we’d settled in across a steep draw to see what was to be seen.
“One… two… three back in the bowl.” I ticked off.
“All does. There’s a fourth and fifth in there somewhere too.” replied Steven.
“Right, got em.”
We went back and forth like this with our running inventory until new sightings slowed, then trickled to a stop. We’d found one small buck, but it was seeming less and less likely that “our buck” was in the crowd. As the anticipatory edge faded, I found myself spending less time looking for hidden critters and more time staring at the ones I’d already spotted.
At 60 power, it felt like the deer were in my lap, like the scope was transporting me across the ravine and into the herd. When the little buck pointed his nose skyward, curled his lip and scented the air, I could see his browse-stained incisors. I scanned to a doe and, as she glanced back at her dawdling fawn, I could see the fur on her shoulder ruffle in the wind. No longer expecting the sacred, I’d relaxed into the mundane and found it nearly as intimate.
That’s when fangs filled the scope.
“Coyote!” I said, jerking back. The lunging, snarling, snapping jaws had appeared and disappeared so quickly that I hadn’t so much seen the predator, as known it in the precognitive, primitive part of my mind. In any case it was enough to spike my heart rate and leave me rattled.
“And another buck” added Steven, so matter-of-factly that you’d have thought he’d been expecting him to turn-up all along. Sure enough there he stood, antlers lowered in challenge, dead center in the scope’s field of view, having materialized like a stage magician from the chaos.
* * *
We left without a deer that day, but not empty-handed. I came off the mountain with a striking reminder that, while I often lose touch with the fundamental facts of living, the deer never forget that they are prey, the coyote never forgets that he’s hungry and the mountain never runs out of magic. Reminders don’t fill the freezer, but sometimes they feed the soul.