I have heard many stories of visits by moose and bear, by wild pigs and wolves, and all of the animals we are taught to fear when alone in the wild. I remember the bed of snakes I rested with during my first vision quest. I have heard of encounters and of great teachings. I have also heard of the lessons of death and seen the scars left by attacks. I have heard of those who do not return from their vision, those who remain in the Spirit world. I know my life is now in the hands of the Creator, and for the first time in my existence, I truly appreciate its value. I hope it is not my time to go.
I pray for courage and to be grateful for the opportunity to be visited by what I hope to be an animal. I hope to be one of the brave questers, marked, and then honored through the animal medicine they carry. I do not want to be gored by an animal. To be harmed is not my prayer. I pray this is an animal that has come to mark me and not a man to take me.
I pray for Him to sit with me in my circle and to offer me his protection. I pray for faith in the lesson this moment brings. I pray for faith in my sage and the protection it brings. “Tunkashila, I call to you today and ask you to please come and sit with me in this small circle. I am humble and weak, and I ask for your help today. I feel vulnerable and afraid, Great Father Sky. I pray for you to remind me of your strength, to remind me of your power, and remind me of your protection. I sit in this vision quest circle, and I sit here in a good way. I come to commune with you, Great Spirit, and to hear your message for me. I will not leave. I gave my promise to you that I will stay, and I keep that promise today. Please, help me know I am safe, and that I do your work in a good way. Whatever is beyond the brush, whatever comes from the other side of the leaves, Grandfather, please let it come from You and let it come with Your wisdom. I surrender myself to your teaching Great Spirit, and I know; whatever happens, whatever lesson you have more me today, it is of You, and I will walk in a good way. Ho.”
Slowly, I let go of the fear, and I replace it with faith. The words pour from my soul, and finally, I find my silence. I bow my head. I quiet my heart and my mind, and I find my faith in the Great Spirit. I know His Will is my will. If it is my time to go, it is His Will, and He has His reasons for this plan. There is nothing I can do to overcome the Will of the Great Spirit. So, I stay with my head bowed, and I allow my heart to slow, and I wait for my lesson to come to me.
Complete faith is all I have left to me. I cannot run. I cannot fight and win. I can only surrender. I close my eyes and whisper, “Today is a good day to die.”
Heavy feet land upon the ground in front of me. The sound is like men in work boots, stomping the grass into the ground. Like many men have entered the cove, I hear several steps, and then I hear a snort, and everything stops. There is no more stomping. There is no more sound. It is so quiet the air itself echos. Like the grand cathedral of a church at midnight, the forest is silent around me. My breathing comes back to me from the trees, and with my heart is the only sound for miles.
I sit in this way for several minutes, quiet and patient. I sit afraid to move but holding firm to my faith, and then I hear it; the still, small voice in my head. Quietly, it speaks to me, like someone whispering across the pew, it says, ‘Lift your head child. It is time.’
I do not open my eyes immediately. I am afraid of what I might see or what might now see me. If I cannot see it, maybe it cannot see me. Any movement at this point will inevitably erase the wall and expose me to whatever stands before me. Slowly and with an extreme act of will, I allow my lids to lift. I see my lap and the grass, and I realize the day has passed. Darkness has settled around me. While time stood still in my heart, the world continued to move. It is not so dark I cannot see, but the world has become mostly shadows and void of discernable detail.
It takes all of the strength I have to raise my head. My will is to remain as I am, still and invisible, but I know I must follow the guidance of the Great Spirit and face whatever beast stands now, examining me, wondering who I might be, shocked enough by my presence it too, remains silent.
When my head finally finds its way from my lap to the fading horizon, I am overwhelmed by what I see before me. A large doe and its fawn stand only inches from where I sit. At first, they are utterly oblivious to my presence in their circle, until the doe turns to see me looking at her. Her deep brown eyes lock with mine for a moment, and then she bounds away toward the valley, followed closely by her fawn. I realize now who flattened the grass in the place that is now my Vision Quest circle. I have settled in the bed of a mother and her child.
My mind returns again to my childhood and cartoon mothers inviting the world to meet the new prince. I have taken the safe little alcove that brings security to a prey animal. I imagine she never feels truly secure. They may never return to this place, to feel safe in this sanctuary now that I have been here. I wonder how long the scent of a natural predator remains.
I empathize with this mother and her young child, feeling shame for having taken not just comfort, but safety from the doe. I cannot remember a time in my life when I felt safe. I have tried to convince myself a million times over I have everything under control, but in truth, I have always been a prey animal, trying to find shelter, hiding in places which only offered moments of peace. Living my life with no sanctuary, waiting for the day when the hunter’s bullet was bound to find me.
I watch as the deer travel across the valley and halfway up the hill that borders the other side of our vision quest camp. It is awe-inspiring to see such large and graceful animals so close, and I am honored to have sat in their presence. The perspective of sitting on the ground with them towering above me was both intimidating and breathtaking. It was so beautiful and sad. We are no more than food to the hunters of the world. We are no more than prey to the predator. They have no more regard for our position than I have for the food upon my plate.
I have always believed all people have good in them. I have convinced myself all they need is love. I wonder now, thinking of predators, how they can be anything but what they are. By their very nature, they must disregard their prey. It is key to their survival.
My thoughts are broken by a loud crash of breaking branches further downstream. The sound startles me, and I look from the place where the deer stand on the hill, alerted to the safety of the mother and her fawn. Then, I see him through the trees, just beyond the doe, maybe twenty feet from where I sit. A large buck emerges from the trees and onto the two rut road that leads out of the vision quest camp and back to town. He stands on the road for a moment and considers me. He does not respond like the doe and the fawn. He is fully aware of my presence next to the river. He was always fully aware of my presence next to the river.
We observe one another for what seems like several minutes, and then he turns and leaps across the field and up the hill to where the others wait. He does not stop to communicate with them. He simply continues up and over the mountain until he vanishes from my sight. The doe and fawn follow after.
I sit staring at the place where the deer disappeared over the hill. It is dark now and becoming difficult to tell where the hill ends, and the night sky begins. I can’t believe these animals, so sensitive to anyone who may pose a threat, stood so close to me. They were unaware of me or so comfortable with my presence in their home, they did not immediately flee at the sight of me, and he let them pass. He let them near me. Long ago, I was given deer as part of my animal totem. I know I have been visited by a messenger of the Great Spirit.
I know a lot about deer energy. I associate myself mostly with the healing power possessed by these majestic animals. But, tonight, I think beyond the tenderness I’ve always related to deer and recall the raw power of the mother who stood before me. I remember the strength in their leap. I felt their sensitivity to the world around them, but I also felt the power they use as they move through it. I remember the crashing and thumping I heard in the forest, and the fear it evoked in my heart. I realize the sharp contrast of how they did not use the power against me, but fled, finding their safety in some other cocoon.
Maybe I have always seen this patient, nurturing presence within myself, but I don’t think I have ever realized my strength. I don’t think I have ever recognized the power I have or how I move through the world. I’ve felt misunderstood when others are intimidated by the simple presence of who I am. Maybe it is time for me to become aware of this side of deer within me.
I lay for some time, thinking. I don’t realize I have abandoned any fear of being alone in the forest. I feel peace as I contemplate the meaning of this visit, and eventually, I fall asleep.