Seeing neither danger nor beauty

Excerpt from “The Vision” by Tom Brown Jr. –

A big doe slipped from the cover, drifting along a well-worn deer trail. I had seen this trail and many like it, worn deep into the earth, winding through the landscape, creating the labyrinth of roadways through the pines and scrub oaks. She walked with a determination, obviously heading back to her day bed. There was no uneasiness in her step or hesitation as would be normal for a deer.  Instead she paid no attention to her surroundings or to the light brushy area along the trail where we sat. I wondered for a moment if this deer had any senses at all, especially to have entered an area like this, where human scent was heavy and where there were now “stumps” that never had been there before. She walked past Rick, within a few feet of his shoulder, to stop momentarily to urinate, before going on.

She moved forward; there was a blur of motion that I caught out of the corner of my eye but no sound of brush, only the thud and crunch of Grandfather’s arrow hitting flesh. The deer took a few stumbling steps, half twisted  around as if to change direction, then collapsed in front of me. A sound rushed forward like a concentric ring from where she lay, emanating outward to the local crows sounding their warning as they flew off. The little deer took flight from a distant bush, other birds gave their alarm, then as suddenly as it began,  there was complete silence again. Grandfather slowly arose from his place and walked to the deer. Kneeling beside her and stroking her face, he fell into silent prayer. I could feel the sense of loss he felt, but I also knew and felt the necessity of the hunt, its place in the celebration of thanksgiving for life.

My mind was full of why’s. Questions of all sorts filled my head, and I wanted to burst out with them all at once. Most of all I could not understand why the kill and the hunt had been so easy, especially with all the elements of the hunt going against us. We had not made proper preparations, the air wafted our scent in all directions, and in my mind we had chosen a poor place to sit and wait. With all this going against us, we should not have even seen a deer, far less had one come so close to us as to almost rub against Rick and to allow Grandfather such a clean and quick kill. In my mind, I went through all the possible reasons why it worked so well, but none even seemed even close to logical. As Grandfather gutted the deer, I asked him why it had been such an easy hunt, and if the tracks told him that there was something wrong with the deer’s senses when he had found them the previous day.

Grandfather answered very slowly, taking care to choose the proper words. I knew that whenever Grandfather spoke in this manner the lessons were important for both our physical and spiritual development. Beyond his words, I could sense a deep emotion in his voice , a sense of sorrow and pity about which he spoke. “Animals, like humans, make in life the mistakes that will ultimately lead to their death, either physically or on a spiritual and emotional level, as with this deer. People and animals that stay on the same paths in life will eventually wear themselves into ruts – a complacency to life born of the false security, comfort, and monotony of that path. Soon the ruts become so deep that they can no longer see over the sides. They see neither danger nor beauty, only the path before them, nor do they abandon the path so often traveled, for fear of losing their security and entering the land of the unknown.”

I was stunned at what he said. The words cut like a knife deep into my world. I thought of all my friends at school, how they would take the same routes to school and how they follow the same  paths and routines in their everyday lives, how I knew  exactly where each friend would be by the time of day. I even saw in the adult world, only with more routines, some oppressive and overbearing, like taskmasters driving them blindly toward some elusive goal along the same over traveled pathways that everyone else was on. That is why it had been so easy for me to watch them unobserved, even though many times I had stood in the open. I realized that new people in town were harder to watch than the natives were because they had not yet established a routine. I saw how many things people really missed, things going on all about them, life itself, unobserved and unlived. I could understand the pity in Grandfather’s voice, and felt remorse for the people who would never really know the treasures of life because of their ruts.

I looked into my own life and found there too many patterns and ruts. I thought  myself through a typical day and discovered the many things I did in the same way at the same time so often as to become unconscious of them. I regretted all the lost time and everything I had failed to see or feel and knew that I had, in a very real sense, lost a bit of my life. I knew also that I had come to this loss lured by the security and comfort that such a routine offered. My quest had been driven by an impersonal goal dictated by society’s external shoulds – my path had become a rut worn in by the masses in their search for conformity. In keeping to the rut I had become numb to the possibilities of life; when I had wandered I was dead to the vitality around me. I saw with fear that such a mindless, unaware existence would only lead to the sensory and spiritual destruction of mankind. I vowed then to break every rut and routine in my life.  I was not going to end up like that deer, or for that matter anyone else. I wanted desperately  to savor every moment, every nuance, of life. I could not afford to give myself over, even for a moment, to the deadening routine.

– Excerpt from “The Vision” by Tom Brown Jr.