(What in the world is that?!!)
A couple of months ago, as I was hiking on the Fern Moss Trail, I came across a big 8-point buck lying about 10 feet from the trail. It was dead. I first thought it had been shot, then wandered onto the property injured, and finally succumbed to its wounds. But, there was no visible sign of trauma to the body. No bullet wound. No evidence of attack from predators. In fact, the buck looked perfectly healthy and robust, other than the obvious fact it was no longer alive. Its body had not started decomposing. There were no flies or other insects, no scent of decay. This was a recent death, and by all accounts, a peaceful death – not the usual kind of death I envision for a deer. I stared at the body for a long while as if I had stumbled upon some sort of holy moment, as if I was a witness to a key turning in the wheel of life. It spoke of a natural occurrence: life giving in to death which would give in to another kind of life as fuel/food to the species that would consume it.
I looked at the antlers and admired them. I’d started collecting antlers I found in the woods, placing them in various places on the Doorways Meditative Path. These antlers would be a valuable addition. I knew I would not dishonor the body by taking them now. They were not mine to take; rather, they belonged to the cosmos, the natural universe which viewed ownership as a useless label utilized by the insecure. The deer wasn’t mine. The land wasn’t mine either, though somewhere on a government property website, you could find a deed that had my name on it. I was only a guest, a witness, and that day, kneeling beside a magnificent animal, not moving, not breathing, but still bearing the magnificence of its life within the body, I was a spectator with a glimpse of the eternal. I felt an emotion I was not prepared to feel. I tried to give it a name. Wonder? Awe? Yes, those, but also something else. Humility.
And then, this thought came: How do you embody humility? A strange thought, yes? How can you give tangible form to an idea or feeling, especially one so foreign in our culture today? I have thought myself important at times, thought of myself as attempting to put good into the world by offering writers a space to write. Yet, here I was standing beside a dead buck and I felt small, unimportant. I felt it in my heart, in my body.
How do you embody humility? I’m not sure, but I know it requires silence and space. I gave the deer a nod and went back to the farm.
I couldn’t let it go. I had to keep checking on it to see if the predators had found it, to see if it was doing its job in the circle of life. For a week, it wasn’t touched. And then it was. And then, one late cold afternoon, as the sun sank towards the western hills, I rounded the turn of the trail and looked for the deer in its accustomed spot. It was gone, completely, except for a few small tufts of fur. No bones, no flesh. It was just gone.
I looked around, confused. It was a big deer. It would take some doing to move it very far from where it lay, but there was no sign of it anywhere nearby. Buried? Perhaps, I thought. If it was, the diggers had done a fine job covering their tracks.
I went back several times to examine the scene. Every time, I reached the same confused conclusion. I had no clue what happened to the body of the deer. Two months passed. One day, I rounded the corner of the trail and something white caught my attention. I nearly gasped aloud. There, about 5 feet from the original place the deer had died, was the skull complete with antlers.
How do you embody humility? How do you embody awe?
I don’t know what natural magic occurred in that space near one section of the Fern Moss Trail, but I do know there was something pivotal happening in me. I was no longer so concerned about understanding as I was delighting in the gift of witness. And then, somehow, it made sense. Embodying any emotion or idea has to do with standing in its center and taking on its translucence, its spirit, and allowing yourself to be changed.
I’ve often thought about living inside a poem or a piece of writing, taking on its form and message, until the lines that separate me from the writing become blurred. That’s when I know it matters, and when I feel the truest sense of belonging. If embodying is a type of belonging which is a type of soul connection which is a type of freakin’ miracle, then let us step outside of logic and into what lives inside the words. That’s what I wish for you and your writing: that kind of embodiment.
The buck’s skull and antlers now grace the start of the Doorways Meditative Path. Every time I see it, I think about its journey from body to fuel to gift.
Now, I’m contemplating how to embody gratitude.