Close Encounters

I walk my Golden Retriever, Wylie, every afternoon. We know every inch of our neighborhood as well as the enjoining community. Creatures of habit, we stop at the same places and know every tree, succulent, rosebush, and home improvement. I try to be surprised by the little subtleties of the changing seasons, but I admit I am often listening to music or audiobooks while I walk which can be distracting. I find this curiously paradoxical because I am always praying to find the inspiration to be more mindful and to luxuriate in the present moment. Creatures of dissonance, that is, doing the opposite of what we say we desire, we sometimes have to be shaken out of our routine to get our focus back. Close encounters with wildlife did it for me recently!

Our neighborhood in Dana Point is on the edge of a canyon. It was a lot wilder years ago when families of skunks freely scampered over the sidewalks, possums did tightrope walks on fences at night, and garden snakes coiled on our front doorstep. Nowadays, urban sprawl has changed the habitats of so many native creatures. Some wildlife have disappeared and some have become more urbanized, giving rise to new fears. Snapshots of coyotes scaling backyard fences and leering at us from behind bushes, augment our frenzy for the safety of small animals. When cats and small dogs disapper, we are quick to blame even though we both share the survival instinct.

I have encountered many coyotes over the years but never like last week when one suddenly came nose-to-nose with my four-legged companion during our daily stroll on the edge of the canyon. It was such a sudden close encounter, I did exactly what I knew NOT to do, I yanked the leash and we ran. Then I learned why we are cautioned never to run from a coyote because he followed us down the sidewalk, head down, definitely tracking our every move. I stopped running but not my quickened pace toward the busy intersection just ahead. I knew coyotes are skittish of traffic. Fight or flight? Well, I found out which one is more instinctual as shots of adrenal coursed through my veins. It occurred to me later that I should have probably been more afraid of the cars.

Fear, the predator that stalks literally every human being in one form or another, both motivates and paralyzes even the most stalwart of us. Perhaps the most common topic of conversation during spiritiual direction, anxiety, fear’s first cousin, lies barely beneath the surface of our consciousness. The horror of the pandemic, civil rights unrest, the war in Ukraine, political divisions, health issues, etc., make serenity a serious chore these days. Although I have spent a fair amount of time cultivating meditation, deep breathing, and resting in God, my close enounter with that coyote reminded me that I am still a work in progress. Surrender into the arms of a loving God remains intermittentlly elusive and the object of my deepest longing.

Two days after my close encounter with the coyote, I was visiting my grandchildren in Rancho Santa Margarita when we were graced with the presence of a California Condor, in all his vulture-like glory, perched on their backyard fence. Awed by the sheer size and “otherness” of this magnificent predator, we gazed at it for a long time until he spread his enormous wings, took off like a stealth bomber, and floated on the wind, searching for lunch in the canyon wilderness they share. I felt no fear then, only wonder and awe. Inspired again by the Creator, my heart cried out, and I fled into the arms of mystery.

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