Sitting out in my sit spot at the far edge of our field, as summer was slowly beginning its transformation into fall, Dennis and I discovered a family of red squirrels living in our hickory tree. Four young ones hanging out in various places on the lower branches above our heads.
A brave one curiously observing us from the side of a lower branch; a shy one resting on the branch above, only its tail visible; a playful one scampering around another branch, playing with a leaf; and eventually a timid one peaking out from a hole in the branch the brave one watched us from.
We sat on our bench looking up with our own sense of curious observation. And excitement! I eventually leaned back on the bench, my head resting on Dennis’ thigh, so I could watch with more stillness and ease.
Squirrels remind us to hold a balance between preparedness and play. This is something I need help remembering. We need play to balance our work, so that our work does not become stifling and less fruitful. And it makes me giggle to watch the antics of these little ones!
Mama squirrel eventually returned, chattering and scolding. I wondered if she was scolding us for being there or her little ones for being a bit too bold in our presence. The answer became apparent as hickory nut hulls began dropping around us, causing us to protect our heads and faces from the barrage of “bombs” raining down on us.
I’ve been back to the sit spot a few times since then, only finding one little and the mama. The little seemingly at ease with my presence, sitting on a branch or on the stone wall observing me. And the mama being a little more aggressive, scolding me from the stone wall less than 6 feet away.
Flash forward to the beginning of November. It’s a beautiful Sunday and I head outside to walk our labyrinth. There’s a gentle breeze of crisp cool air that sweeps over my skin as I turn my face upwards to receive the warmth of the sun. This time of year holds such a familiar quality of feeling to that of early spring. Cold air and warm sun. A contrast that my body loves to soak up.
The woods surrounding our field have now taken on a new look. Much like early spring, the trees are bare of leaves and I can see more deeply into the woods. I can hear the small critters scurrying around in the dried leaves that have accumulated on the ground at the tree line. The Korean Evodia tree at the center of the labyrinth stands bare as well.
As I begin the walk up one of the outer rings of the labyrinth, my eye catches movement at the tree line. I pause, my hands on my heart, as a red fox trots out from the woods just before my sit spot, it’s bushy tail extended horizontally out from its body. When it reaches the small clearing just beyond the sit spot, it turns to look at me. For 20 seconds, time stands still as we just gaze at each other.
The naturalist Craig Childs, in describing an encounter with a wild animal, is quoted as saying:
“You want to ask questions now…but you can’t. You can’t get a word out. You just stare for as long as you can because suddenly it will all be over, you will get your name back and life will begin again…[Later] the experiences are translated, now made of words, like trying to build the sky out of sticks.”
That’s what it feels like! Everything falls away, every sense of yourself and the world. All that exists in that moment is the relationship between you and that animal. You hold it for as long as it lasts. Words don’t seem to do it justice. And forget a picture. Trying to take a picture will surely destroy the sacredness of that moment. Maybe if I were an artist, I would eventually try to paint it.
The beauty of it is that the imprint a wild animal encounter leaves on your soul is an image your heart will not soon forget. It’s a wholistic image, one that stirs your heart and your senses as you recreate the experience in your mind later on.
I sit for a while in my sit spot before I return to my labyrinth walk. It’s eerily quiet. No birds chirping, no squirrels chattering or gnawing through hickory shells. Nothing. Eventually the birds begin to return. And as much awe and wonder I experienced encountering the fox, I’m also experiencing a bit of concern for my squirrels.
I eventually return to the labyrinth, walking my way into the center and sitting at the base of the Evodia tree. I’m still absorbing the feeling of my wild animal encounter when suddenly I hear the loud scolding chatter of mama red squirrel and the echoing response of one of her little ones. Yay!