A second beautiful fall morning allowed me yet another walk through my nearby woodlands and creek. It was Sunday and I’m sure I made an odd attraction walking along the sidewalk in my hiking clothes and carrying my binoculars, camera and camera bag. Several drivers and families on their way to church gave me a glance as they drove past. I’m not sure they would understand that I was on the way to my own church.
Turning off the pathway, I entered the stand of trees and started meandering my way down the old creek. With Fall quickly turning to winter, the thorns and gorse had died back and passage was easy. Never knowing what you might find, I stopped to kick around on some sand and rock bars. I was still in shadow as the woods and creek run directly against a steep bluff and the morning light was still behind it. As I moved along, a ray of light shot through a cut in the ridge up ahead and illuminated a single tree along the creek bank. Kneeling down, in the middle of the creek with one foot on a precarious stone and the other on a more steady triangle of rocks, I got to work trying to capture it.
As I was adjusting the camera and changing a lens, I heard the sound of a thick branch cracking directly in front of me. I know you hear this so often in stories and books. “…and then the rifle crack of a broken branch alerted him to the fact he was not alone.” However, since I’ve had this happen to me more than once, let me tell you how startling and elemental of a feeling it can be. One minute you think you are alone and then CRACK you realize you are not. Your hairs on your arm go up, time slows and very primitive thoughts sing in your mind. I froze and looked, verrrry slowly, towards the sound.
There, at the edge of the creek and directly in the spot where I was taking a picture, stood a Whitetail buck. We were probably fifteen apart and I was more than aware of the fact I was squatting in the middle of a creek with no where to go. If he decided to move down the side of the creek, he’s pass within four feet of me. If he came directly down the middle, well, that was going to get interesting. If he became aggressive, I was in what you might call a “predicament.” (The first two weeks of November are rutting season around here and bucks can get a bit, uhm, unpredictable.) He looked right at me and I at him. He seemed to wonder what the Hell I was doing there but the only annoyance he showed was a flick of a tail.
I don’t think I’ve ever risen my camera to the shot any slower than I did at that moment. I knew I didn’t have enough time to change my lens from the wide angle I’d just twisted onto the camera. Even if I had time, the excess movement would have startled the buck for sure. I had to make do with what I had.
As I took the first shot I was sure the sound of my shutter would spook him. I was too close. As it fired, he took a drink, looked around one more time, and stared at me. I got a little nervous thinking I might see him paw the ground, lower or toss his head. His tail flicked a bit more but he stayed put a moment longer. My only mistake in that moment was to not take more shots. Instead, I lowered the camera slightly and drank it all in.
It’s a firm belief I hold that magic lies in synchronicity. The amalgam of all those events which could trail back to when I awoke and first decided to go for walk that morning. Two souls crossing paths at a creek in a sacred combination of light, timing, and symmetry.
The moment passed. He looked over his shoulder, took another drink and then slowly eased into the creek. He crossed the waterway, walking directly in front of me in the process and, I noticed, keeping one eye on me as he went. In moments, he ghosted into the bush on the other side of the creek and moved up the draw. Gone. Five minutes was all the time that had passed. Five minutes and it was if he had never been there.
I think you can understand I took another five minutes and stayed put simply saying, “Thank you.”
I spent the rest of the time that morning in something akin to a dream state. The initial adrenaline burst had dissipated and the wonderful feeling of interconnectedness rose to the fore. I moved slowly and took my time drinking in the sights around me. I explored a few more sections of exposed creek bed, watching and listening to the birds wake up, exploring the gravel bars as I went. A squadron of Canadian Geese flew over in formation, calling to one another. Another twenty yards down the creek, I noticed yet another buck moving through the bush. I watched him through the zoom lens for awhile but felt no urge to get closer. It was good enough for me to know he was there. I wondered if he felt the same? I had the feeling he had other thoughts on his mind.
Exploring the creek further, I decided that instead of continuing to fill my pockets with tiny trinkets, I’d start collecting images of the fossils. Think of it as another version of Found on the Ground I started earlier this year. If nothing else, they’d be easy to store once I got them home.
I found a natural beauty in the way the pieces lay in their surroundings which could never be matched by sitting upon a shelf or a mantle. I was moving so slowly and in such a wonderful state of grace I lost complete track of time. I’d only traveled about half the distance I had intended but I no longer cared. Details like the fossils, patterns in the water, the tiniest bit of dried leaf blown into the remnants of a spiderweb, they all stood out to me.
I’d not taken some long trip for this encounter. I was a little more than a mile away from a large mall and rural sprawl shopping area. No special plans, no extra budget concerns. I’d done what I’ve always done, kept my eyes open to natural places only a short distance away and then made my way out my front door. I think that’s the real key, getting out so you can have these experiences. Nature and all its vibrant originality is, like magic, only as close as you choose to look for it.