Monday, August 09, 2010


Yesterday was a magical late-summer morning. Golden light filtered through the last wisps of fog as I walked along a trail through oak savannah along a mostly-dry creek. Now and then a brown leaf would sashay down the still air. The trail leveled out, the ravine on my right, the hill ever more sheer on my left. I had been looking down, watching my step, when the unmistakable sharp bark of a grey fox rasped the air above my head.

I looked up to see the lovely creature standing not twenty feet away on the ledge of an enormous smooth-rock outcropping. She was curious, unafraid; not a hair was out of place. She was the perfect picture of what a grey fox ought to be. She barked again as I gazed, and cocked her head as if with amusement at my astonishment. All the shades of her coat, grey marked with tan, seemed charged with light. A third time she barked and then turned slowly to show me her magnificent brush. She vanished, as only a fox can vanish.

For a fox this den was the equal of a castle on the Rhine or a château on the Loire. No wonder she wanted to call my attention to it —and to her own beauty. She had proprietary rights over an impregnable fortress. It would be near impossible to scale the smooth rock face; she could laugh at me and preen on her patio without any fear of danger. She could see 360 degrees; the creek and its gorge provided an amplifier for sounds any intruder might make; the banks were rich in rodents.

This was the second eldritch encounter I'd had in a week.

Last Wednesday I was walking along the dirt road atop the burm by the river in the slanted evening light. I came across a dead young hare or jackrabbit, as they are called here, along the verge; it had not quite reached the safety of the tall grass and scrub. It lay on its right side, immaculate: every one of its hairs was in place. The only sign of violence was a trickle of blood on the right hind leg. I marveled for a time at its ethereal beauty—the soft grey back, white breast, graceful long ears—then continued my tramp into the gloaming. An hour later as I retraced my steps a bobcat emerged from the brush. He or she looked over his shoulder, then stood broadside to get a better look at me. I slowed my step. We gazed at one another; the bobcat sauntered on ahead, turned; once more our eyes locked. A third time he moved on before me. We had reached the hare, which the bobcat picked up, then stood motionless, considering me for the third time, then slipped into the poison oak out of sight.

The sense that these encounters are omens rise from the gut, as the enormous fish in Alaska was an omen (see post for June 16, 2008), or the whales (see posts in November, 2009), or Raven (see Seasons of Death and Life: A Wilderness Memoir). I must wait now to see what unfolds.

In the meantime, there is a terrific article in today's New York Times on love of neighbour and self. Behold!


Blogger Bo said...

Marvellous. These encounters are always charged with numen.

2:08 pm, August 10, 2010  
Blogger fs said...

Your experiences in nature are a pleasure to read, Maggie. They take me back to a time many years ago when, more physically able, I too felt intensely connected to wilderness and the spiritual vitality therein. It sounds like the animals are reasonably comfortable with your presence, and that too is a wonderful feeling.

Thanks also for the link to professor Critchley's excellent essay, "The Rigor of Love." Though not a professed Christian, he seems to get it :-)

I recently ordered and received your book Pillars of Flame and, having thumbed through it and read the first few pages, am very excited, as it deals with a subject that has been a source of pain for me in recent years. I came to Christianity a few years after a life-changing theophany and gradually realized that I had (I now realize) unrealistic expectations of church and especially of priests. Of course there are good, true priests, but it seems the power players are rarely amongst them, and I’ve wondered many times if the “calling” may be that of ego and not God. I began to despair of organized religion’s ability to understand and reflect the heart and mind I see in Jesus. Have been exploring, with some hope, the emergent church idea but have longed for more spiritual depth and also to see the priestly question addressed. It looks like your book does both those things. It will probably take me awhile to finish it. Anyway, thanks so much for writing this book.

6:07 pm, August 16, 2010  

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