a deer in the sunlight

The sun rose just enough above the horizon that morning to obscure my vision. My morning walk through a path in the woods was brisk in pace and in weather as I carried a load of thoughts from the weeks of stuffing bags with my mother’s clothes to be given to the church, a plastic bin with photographs of her from a toddler to a bride, a crucifix with a single palm threaded through it, and small notebooks with her journal-like entries. My thoughts were heavy with the memories of my mother’s recent death, and they begged for their release. With a head down and watching the passing of gravel underfoot, I came to a curve, one that I knew would bring a promise of light, of air, of openness, as I had traveled this route many times.

Just before I came to the curve, I looked up, and when I did, a young buck was standing in the middle of the path, so very close. I suddenly stopped, startled at first, but then whispered, “And where did you come from?” I had a good look at him, and he at me, clouds of fog puffing from his nostrils and his shiny black eyes locking onto mine. His short antlers never swayed from his steady head.

I chastised myself for not keeping a head up as I wondered what else I may have missed, sunken in the fields of once yellow mustard weed, now turned to soft pewter, a blue heron in flight above, perhaps, or ducks upended looking for tidbits in the earth’s riverbed.

I thought of what Thoreau had said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

After the buck ambled away into the woods, the image of him remained. It wasn’t a deer who blocked my path, but a force of nature to focus on and away from where my thoughts were held. It wouldn’t be a pair of fawns in the fields but reminders of innocence and kindness, or not a circling bird but a heron’s flight of release and freedom, nor a paddling of ducks, but the earth’s bounty providing for upended fowl.

I thought of how we take comfort in what we know, the familiar, from what is at our feet. But we can’t free our minds from heavy thoughts that bind them unless the focus shifts to allow for the unexpected.

Otherwise, the unexpected will elude you, and a chance to discover what you can really see.

We assessed each other, me studying his bulk in silhouette as the sun crept up from behind him, his nose twitching to catch the unexplained scent of me. There was nothing more important than that moment when the heavy thoughts of the past I carried shattered, leaving behind their weight of memories, of a death, to grant me a shift in focus, of looking ahead and not what had trodden behind me.

I don’t know what made me look up at that very moment, but I do know what I saw was indeed a promise of light, of air and openness.

And when I looked ahead where the sun had risen, when a buck had greeted me in the start of a new day, it was the joy of the unexpected that allowed me to see better tomorrows.  

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