I got home from school and really did not want to run. I was frazzled and fried and wanted nothing more than to crash on the couch and stare at a wall for an hour or two. Preferably with a glass of Cabernet in my hand. However, I also felt the need to run some of the stress of the day out of my system, and I knew I needed to establish my new afternoon running routine. So, aware of sunset’s early arrival, after dragging my feet for a moment (or two or three), off I went.
The light was already starting to dim and infuse with that evening glow when I headed out. That quality of light always reminds me of deer hunting, and as I ran, my thoughts time-traveled back decades to childhood visits with my grandparents in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. At least once or twice during our frequent stays, my grandmother would suggest, “Let’s go deer hunting tonight!” When the shadows lengthened and daylight began to fade, we’d all pile into the big station wagon, and Ganny would head out to drive the local winding roads. Whenever we approached a likely field, she’d slow down. Our bodies would twist and turn as we peered around each other and through the windows, eager to spot the first deer.
“Do you see anything?”
“Is that one over there?”
“Oh! Look! Look! Over there! What’s that?”
My brother, Jamie, usually spotted them first. “There’s one!”
We’d all look where he pointed, straining to see. Then, as if by magic, their shapes would slowly emerge from the dim light. Long legs, flickering tails, small spotted pelts.
“Oh, there are three of them! Right by the trees!”
“No, there’s another. That’s four!”
“Do you see the babies?!”
My grandmother would put her blinker on and pull further over to the side of the road, and we’d watch and count while evening pooled about us. Sometimes the deer stopped grazing and looked at us. Sometimes they’d take flight, a sudden whirl of long legs and white tail banners. Sometimes more deer would emerge from the shadowed trees to join them in the fields. After watching for a while, we’d head on to the next likely spot and repeat the process. On a good evening we’d spot dozens of deer.
When we finally arrived back at the house, we’d jump out of the car and race each other inside, trying to be first to get to the study to announce the evening’s deer count to my grandfather.
As I ran, late on this beautiful fall afternoon, I lingered in those treasured memories of my grandparents and those cocooned car moments with my family– remembering the excitement, the camaraderie and the simple joy of that time. Lost in these memories, I ran around a bend. As the road opened up before me, I saw, by the side of the road, a large deer. “Oh…” the soft sound escaped my lips and my feet slowed. The deer turned its head toward me, standing still, its large ears cupped forward. Our eyes met. A second passed. And then another. Then, with a swift movement, the deer turned and raced across the road, bounding over the second lane with a graceful leap and a flash of white tail.
I continued running along the road, hugging the moment to myself. Then a heartbeat later, another deer emerged from the woods, following in the first one’s path. My face burst into a huge grin. Another soft “Oh…” escaped. Then a third deer emerged. Followed quickly by a fourth. And finally a fifth. Each bounded across the road and disappeared into the woods. Suddenly, while the grin was still wide on my face, my eyes filled with stinging tears, and a sob caught in my throat. It felt as though an arrow had pierced through time, linking together those Ligonier moments and this one, reconnecting me to the girl I was then, to my grandparents, to my family, to my childhood. To long ago days when counting deer from within the warm confines of the car was a thrill. I felt the blessing and the loss simultaneously. I continued running, deeply moved, and the passage of the years and the chaos of the day faded temporarily into insignificance.
Wiping a tear from my cheek, I whispered aloud, to no one in particular, “Thank you.”