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The Deer Story: A Lesson in Living in the Moment

Stop. Look. Listen…Magic Awaits

My husband and I had just returned from a trail run in the mountains of southwest Montana when something unusual happened. You would have thought if magic was going to unfold — one of those moments where time stops and you are fully present and silly with gratitude — it would have been among those towering peaks with the goodness of summer, along a gently climbing path framed by wildflowers.

But instead it happened when I least expected it. I was inside the basement of a friend’s borrowed cabin, thinking about lunch and a shower, when something outside caught my eye.

Just a common deer.

Wait. No, a buck.

In the hierarchy of unusual and exciting wild animal sightings, deer likely rank fairly low, easy to dismiss. But this deer was different. We locked eyes and the deer moved closer. I crept towards the window and instead of retreating, the deer moved closer still.

This. Is. Not. Happening.

I tightened, waited for its predictable retreat, 20 seconds, then 30. Then I exhaled and just sat with it for what felt like minutes, unmoving. I’m not sure I’ve stared into human eyes as intensely as I did that deer. Finally, knowing it would have to end, I broke the spell and called quietly to my husband, “Come see this. Grab your phone.”

It felt like a betrayal of the moment to share it, then try to hold onto it in an image, but I couldn’t help myself.

Discovering Awe in Unexpected Places

I crave that feeling of awe. It’s what drives me to the mountains, to travel, to try new things that scare me a little, and yet I’ve learned I cannot force it to appear at will. I can only create the conditions for it to unfold.

This awe does not always show up in the form of an animal sighting, although I’ve had many I’m grateful for: a similar experience with a mountain goat near Montana’s high point; skiing in Yellowstone in winter and surprising a pack of wolves; snorkeling near sea turtles and nurse sharks; or this past year, running along a foggy trail on the Sonoma Coast when a California Gray Fox and I met then shared a stretch of quiet before continuing on our way.

Just as often, awe shows up when I’m walking somewhere. It could be somewhere spectacular like a beach or in the mountains, but sunrises and sunsets happen free of charge every day in my town (perhaps in yours too?) and are easy miracles to witness when I make time for them. I’ve even experienced it sitting in my backyard, watching some suburban drama unfold between birds or squirrels.

Living in the Moment

While the camera on my phone is a great tool for capturing and sharing these moments, I have a little problem with it, which I am working on. I have become like Pavlov’s dog and it is often master of me, seducing me into a world of apps where I need never be bored and everything and everyone is beautiful or funny, brilliant or enraged all of the time.

Now, when I see or feel a fairy-dust moment coming on I scramble. Where’s my damn phone?! I fumble, hurry to take some video or a photo to post so that everyone can see what an enviable and fabulous life I am living.

This thought, that I must take a photo so I can post it, is quite often death for magic, I am sorry to say. Not because it diminishes how lovely or unique something is, but because it diminishes my ability to focus. My ego has taken the reins and I’ve somehow subconsciously entered a capture-your-spectacular-life competition that I will never win.

Discovering the Quiet Within

I’m not quitting my phone. I’m trying to become more aware of how and when I use it. I’m trying to remember that quiet inside and outside of me is medicine; it’s a prerequisite to those little moments of awe unfolding, because it turns out they rarely happen when I’m distracted.

After the time with the deer, I wrestled with what had happened, what I had really seen. “So tell me about that deer,” I said casually to my friend whose family owned the cabin and spent considerable time there.

“What deer?” he asked.

Surely they’d seen a beautiful buck hanging around, perhaps fed him or noticed that he was habituated to people?

He assured me they’d never seen him, and as it turns out, they never did which somehow made me feel better. Not because I don’t want everyone to experience wonder and awe, but because I want to believe that if I stop, look, listen, lay distractions aside, there are still surprises in this world waiting for me.

Megan Regnerus is a 50 year old writer living in Montana.

Megan Regnerus
Megan Regnerus
Megan Regnerus turned 50 this year and loves to Nordic ski, trail run, bike and seize the day in Bozeman, Montana. Her published writing can be found in a dusty box under her stairs and also at www.meganregnerus.com.
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