In the morning, I lace up my sneakers and head out to get some air in my lungs and begin the day outside, in the beauty of creation. It is an instinct that I have had all my life- to breathe in the morning air, out-of-doors- instead of stumbling from bed to shower or from bed to study or from bed to coffee pot. In some places where I have lived, this yearning has been easy to satisfy and in other places, it's called for some creativity: in our house on Dyer Avenue I spent many mornings perched on our cement back steps watching the bunnies in the backyard; in one apartment where we lived in Hartford, I was left to crawl out of our 3rd floor the living room window and onto the astro-turfed roof in order to get a breath of the morning's fresh air; and in recent years, I have taken the opportunity to make this "morning breath" an occasion for exercise, turning it into a walk or run.
These days, in our condo in Linglestown, there's an easy slip out the back sliding door to our 10X10 cement slab patio where I can sit at my little K-Mart "cafe set" table and chair and wait for the coffee to drip. It's dark, now, as I rise in the morning at the end of summer, and there is the added joy of watching the sky shift from black to navy to various shades of electric orange, salmon and milky white, as the sun takes its place on high. This "patio-sitting" becomes the "bullpen" for whatever walk or run I'm going to take once the caffeine kicks in.
Most mornings, I can hear the neighbor's rooster. There are birds, too- chickadees, robins, blue jays, sparrows and crows- but the rooster is the unmistakable harbinger of the new day. This particular rooster who takes up residence on the farm at the bottom of our driveway is lusty and loud and relentless. "We get it, already," I tell him, "It's time to get up and get on with the day. We get it. Thank you."
Besides the rooster, there are other companions who join me on my outing. These companions are silent. I find them at the edge of the woods, in the meadow that is mostly clover, and in the field the lies beyond the hedge of bamboo. They are deer. There is a herd of them that, depending on the morning, ranges in number from 2 or 3 to 11 or 12. They are does, and there are two spotted fawns among them. I had been looking to find a buck in the herd, but learned, recently, that during the summer months while bucks are busy growing their antlers, they separate themselves from the larger group and don't move around very much. One source that I have consulted says that the bucks gather in "reclusive bachelor groups."
So it's just me, that noisy rooster, and the lady deer.
As I make my way up the ridge, the deer are wary of me. My sneakers announce my position: they have an annoying squeak that, no matter how I lace them up, they "talk." The deer are usually grazing when I come upon them, and when they first spot me, they lift their heads up and freeze. The fawns are less alert. Their radar is not yet so finely tuned, and, many times, they keep at it, pushing the ground with their noses, while their moms and aunts play a game of "statue" as I squeak my way up the hill.
These are big animals. The does probably measure 4 feet from the ground to the top of their backs, and maybe 5 or more feet tall, all told. My guess is that they weigh well over 100 lbs; my research source tells me northern does range between 105-120 lbs.
Here's what I love about them: they are solid and silent.
They don't run away in a panic when I show up, but move with me- up the hill, along the ridge, down into the little pocket of coolness where the road dips down to meet a tiny creek.
They are watchful, careful and present.
They are a force.
They make me think about my relationship with the One who made me, and whose presence I seek- for guidance, grounding and courage.
If I were a bad cinematographer, I could make a movie about a late middle-aged woman's quest for spiritual connection and how each morning as she prays her way through her run asking for a sign of God's presence, she misses it completely, in the herd of deer moving slowly and carefully at her side.
It would be corny. But true.