Moving On – The Medicine of the Deer by Harold Stearley
I was unlacing my boots at the end of a long day. As I zig-zagged the laces in reverse to free them from their hooks down towards my ankles, I could feel the heat escaping, the pressure lifting.
Loosening the remaining half of the laces that extended through the half dozen grommets to the boot’s toe, I then lifted them, one at a time, off my feet and let them drop to the floor with an oh-so familiar thud.
My right ankle throbbed.
Ten hours on the road wasn’t that bad because I love being in motion, but I was in Bear country now. Absolutely everything had to be emptied out of my car and carried to my room. And I had packed for four months. More than I needed on a daily basis, but I was prepared. As were the Bears.
Bears are smart.
They’ll tear up a car trying to get to a cooler, even if it’s empty. Nothing that emits an odor can be left behind. Leave a tube of sunscreen in the glove compartment and you’ll awaken to one ugly mess of an automobile.
COVID had limited the number of allowed guests, and we were spaced throughout the Lodge’s multiple buildings to encourage social distancing. Me, I ended up in the farthest building from the parking lot and at the farthest corner of it that was half below ground. That meant stairs. No elevator. No luggage cart.
With short breaks, it took me an hour to unload.
Normally this wouldn’t be any big deal and it would have gone much quicker, but my injuries were readily apparent as I tried to walk gingerly on my sprained ankle carrying backpacks, coolers, suit cases and storage totes. I couldn’t just throw my packs on as usual either or I would be hit with a jolt of searing pain when my ribs popped as they floated freely on my left side. Collapsing when I inhaled instead of expanding.
Stepping lightly, and focusing on deep breathing with pain, does shock the conscious back to the present moment. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four, exhale for six. Turing pain into a meditation.
Here and now. Pay attention. Here and now.
There would be no housekeeping, no communal coffee, no ice machine, no gift shop, no visitor’s center, and only intermittent Wi-Fi. But this was all ok. In fact, it was perfect. I wasn’t here to stay in the room. I was here for the vertical horizons.
A total contradiction in terms, perhaps.
Where one would usually gaze out over expansive and never-ending vistas as Grandfather Sun rose and set, here I’d be looking up.
And looking up a lot.
I had five stops to make in California during the month of July, and this was my first. Sequoia, with neighboring Kings Canyon.
The Standing People, the most massive of the most massive of them, had been named after Civil War Generals and other so-called “note-worthy people,” such as American Presidents. A bit of sadistic irony there. At least one of those generals went on to fight in the Indian Wars. Destroying the People, their homes, their food, their children, their language, their culture, and their spiritual beliefs. Their very souls. As ferociously as they could.
I’ll not mention their names.
Destroying. A steady theme in the European Expansion. So much destruction that what remains requires protection – a National Park. In fact, Sequoia was the Country’s second national park and the first national park so designated with the express purpose of saving one particular species from extinction at the hands of humans.
The tree for which the park is named. The tree itself being named, at least in part, in honor of the Native American, Sequoyah. If you’ve not heard of Sequoyah, I’m not surprised. I’ve never heard of him until I began writing this post.*
I won’t dive down the rabbit hole of Sequoyah’s extensive biography too far except to mention that he created the “Cherokee Syllabary” making it possible for the Indigenous People of his tribe to read and write in Cherokee. His Syllabary not only helped unite the Cherokee Nation, but it spread World-Wide and is said to have inspired the development of twenty-one different writing systems used in sixty-five languages.
Sequoyah’s writing system allowed the Cherokee Nation’s literacy rate to surpass that of the European Alien Immigrants who would soon occupy their lands, suppress their culture, and subject them to a 1200-mile Death March that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
That sort of says it all, doesn’t it. (Rhetorical questions don’t need question marks.)
Sequoyah has a tree named after him, the “Chief Sequoyah,” that is the 27th largest in the Park, standing at 228 feet tall with a circumference at its base of a little over ninety feet!
And getting back to the Standing People’s Park . . .
It was here that I began really noticing a pattern of animal messengers for the four-plus months of my journey this past year. Searching, always searching. I should have noticed it sooner, but Mother Earth and the Universe made it increasingly impossible to ignore. I was hit in all directions by the Medicine of the Deer.
They stealthfully stalked me here. Appearing at all times and in all the places I tread. And they would fearlessly approach and stand only feet away from me. I was continuously snapped back to the here and now by their countless appearances. And coupled with my injuries, I lost track of that continual hum of the Mitote. I no longer drifted into that space of looking behind or projecting forward hearing those thousand voices all speaking at once.
I was consumed with the moment.
The Deer have a vast history of symbolism in many cultures. In modernity, at least in my cultural time-space neighborhood, they symbolize the “Hunt.” A little bit morbid perhaps, but the idea intertwined the provision of food, sustenance of the physical body at its most basic level, and the so-called “First Kill” mentality that represented the passage into adulthood.***
I remember reading a description of the Hunt, and about how such a Kill struck the hunter because of what he felt was the “Permanence” of the Act. Hunters are often gripped with the power of taking a Life, but at the same time they feel justified with this taking because they believe the Human Animal is somehow superior to the “non-sentient” Deer.
I find such a person to be very constrained in their views. For one, I believe, as many other cultures do, that this is a very sentient being. Also, while shedding the skin of a singular physical body may be construed as being “Permanent,” Souls are Eternal.
And the Soul-Fire in a Deer will carry on in a different plane of existence, unless reborn again.
Leaving my country’s vision of Life and looking much further back in time, the Deer have evocative representations in many cultures including the Chinese where they represent wealth and longevity. To the Celts, Deers are living in the fairy world where they are Divine Messengers. They are sacred to the Egyptian and Greek Gods. And to the Japanese, they represent longevity as well as solitariness and melancholy.
In Buddhism, the Deer is one of the “Three Senseless Creatures.” The Tiger representing anger and rage, the Monkey greed, and the (unconscious) Deer lovesickness. But while cast as “unconscious” or “senseless,” they are still recognized as being sentient and they are not to be hunted or eaten except for medicinal purposes and, even then, only if the Deer died in accordance with Darma.
And these most beautiful and gentle creatures would not be hunted here in Sequoia.
Now, there is so great a legacy of the Deer that it would serve no purpose for me to try to condense it all. So, I will wrap up with the sentiment that these Divine Messengers were delivering to me the message to be gentle towards myself and towards others. I would be reminded of this almost daily as I moved about in my many Wilderness hikes. And these reminders appeared at the most appropriate times whenever my Mind wandered into the realm of the critical Judge.
The Dawn was upon me as I pulled tight the loose laces of my boots. Tight through those half-a-dozen grommets above the toe. Zig-zagging their way up through the hooks around and above my ankles. I sinched them tight, a double bow-knot to take up the slack of the long laces.
Another day, and it was time to enter the High Sierras.
My eyes would track the enormous Sequoia Trees up to the heavens. To Father Sky. With Mount Whitney at its majestic 14,494 feet “elevation” in the background.
“Elevation” would take on a new meaning in this home of gigantic growth. “Elevation” not only captures the height of the Standing People and the Stone Spirits; this vastness of vertical expanse, of endless altitude, would seize my senses and return them to the filter of innocence. I would go gentle on myself and the Souls surrounding me. Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually, it was time to ease into the Forest, to climb the trails to sublime Waterfalls, to look out over those never-ending Valleys. To breathe in gentleness. To lose all judgment.
Opening in Maestoso, the hands of Great Mystery directing this Orchestra of Life.
Postscript – I could have droned on about the Park, but I am trying to resist sounding like travel brochures. But you can find that type of description on the National Park Service’s Web Page.
Photos: Clearly, we have a couple of my Deer Messengers. The Sequoias and High Sierras need no further description. But the final pic is one of those many gifts I received. On my final hike here, I would stumble upon this little beauty. One of my absolute favorites. A member of the Mariposa Lily family. Often found solitary, as myself . . .
* It’s not uncommon for the texts of American History books to omit references to the First Nations’ Peoples. And when mentioned, they are cast as being illiterate, unsophisticated savages, when in fact, it was the invaders who exhibited the greatest savagery. I made mention of this “white-washing” in my last post Reculer Pour Mieux Sauter.
With this as a reference point, I will also take this opportunity to mention one of my experiences in my Community Nursing Clinicals in 1980’s America. I was making rural visits in the county and paid a visit to a “family” living in a “home” with a dirt floor. It had three rooms. One big open room that encompassed the kitchen, dining room, and nursery (two cribs), one bedroom, and one room reserved for trash. The two teenage daughters were “home” having skipped school. Each had mothered a child as a product of incest, one from their father and one by their grandfather. One baby was deaf and the other blind, but the girls believed these conditions were the type that would be “out grown.” Yes, this was in rural America in the 1980s – the great, advanced civilization.
** I thought this would be a good place to add a note on the Deer representing wealth. When I was able to go on a Central American Agricultural Tour as part of my Ag School education, it was made abundantly apparent when we visited the large farms and haciendas that the wealthiest families kept Deer as pets. This was a great sign of wealth, power, and influence.
*** BTW, Deer hunting in America is not just a male activity, and the gun manufacturers try their best to appeal to young girls with the marketing of pink colored firearms. You see, indoctrination in this culture of killing begins at an early age for both boys and girls.
Sadly, a nursing school colleague of mine would lose her life as a result of an accidental shooting. An event that occurred as a result of putting too large of a firearm into the hands of her six-year-old son on a shooting range. Becoming a victim of this early indoctrination. And I cannot imagine the trauma that will follow her child around for the remainder of his life.
I’ve never hunted what could be called “large game.” Never saw the point nor wished to destroy such beauty. Small animals, such as rabbits and squirrel had their place in my diet in times past. When semi-living off the land. But a singular event brought even that minute activity to a complete end. But that is another story for another day . . .
References and Further Reading:
An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols by J. C. Cooper
Animal-Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews
Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson
The Illustrated Signs and Symbols Sourcebook: An A to Z Compendium of Over 1000 Designs
The word Maestoso: an Italian musical term used when directing musicians to play a certain passage of music in a stately, dignified, and majestic fashion and/or used to describe such music.