Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oh, Deer

Driving the bus gives me plenty of time to think in a detached sort of way. Most of my attention is on driving--as it ought to be--but there is another layer that is sifting through and responding to all the various inputs I receive: things I see along the road, things passengers say, things I hear on the 2-way radio. All that blends in with the rest of the "thought compost" in my brain. From that rich blend, interesting connections, concepts, and realizations arise.

Any little thing can form the seed for this crystallization process.

Today, I saw a deer. Not the first I've seen on the northern end of my route, which is quite rural in an Industrial Park sort of way. But this wasn't grazing in a distant field, nor bounding across the road in front of the bus. No. It was standing smack in the middle of a side road, burnished russett-red like a fox in the late afternoon, late August sunlight, impossibly long-legged, looking perplexed.

I commented on this odd sighting to one of the other drivers on layover. He asked if I had deer on my farm. I responded with the story of a recent sighting, not on my farm but on the neighbor's pasture.

On a full-moon night, I had taken the dogs and the head lamp and walked out to the far edges of the farm to check electric fences...a good excuse for a moonlit walk when I'm too busy.

In the Old Grove overlooking Spencer's Pasture and Maple Grove Tributary, there is a swing of board and rope in a huge mulberry tree. It is Beth's prayer swing, for meditating on being a child of God. It is a lovely place to retreat from everything for a little while.

As I sat there gently swaying in the quiet, living night, hearing the distant swirling of traffic and trains all around, I cast my view over the fields before me. The headlamp was still on, forgotten, because it was so bright out that at any distance the moonlight overshadowed it.

On the other side of the ditch, near the culvert, four points of light blazed back at me, reflecting the headlamp. At first I thought it was eyes. I glanced the light away from them, then back. They stayed steady, unchanging. I got up from the swing and walked around. They still stayed the same. I made noise. No change. The dog rummaged around in the near edge of the pasture, but no response from the "eyes".

Maybe they weren't eyes. Maybe they were reflectors on a trailer or farm implement. It seemed a strange place to leave such a thing, but who knows what the neighbor is up to? I whooped, moved around some MUST be a trailer or something, they neither budge nor blink.

I began walking towards whatever it was. As I reached the crossing, suddenly they stood up and silently slipped away, shadows darker than the shadows cast by the full moon. It WAS deer. Later I returned to that spot and saw their dark forms grazing on the pasture.

But as I drove on, I kept returning to the driver's question: Do I have deer on my farm?

Maybe he actually asked, "Do you see deer where you live?" or "Are there deer at your farm?", and my mind turned it into a slightly different question.

Do I "have" deer on "my" farm?

After a couple more methodical loops around the town, it really started to settle in.

I simply don't much use those words any more, at least in my head. I'm sure I say "my farm" from habit. But in my mind, the possession is quite the opposite: I belong to the farm, not it to me. I think and speak of "the farm." I "have" no deer: they have themselves, and allow me to see them from time to time.

The deer I saw on the road belonged only to God and to itself.

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