Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What the Blazes? Reflections on my TAG, part 4

So there I was, hiking the Paisley Trail through the Ocala National Forest, about four miles from Lake Clearwater and not a soul around. Only an inch or two of water still sloshed in the bottom of my bottle, the windbreaker tied around my waist was covered with sandspurs, and my back had begun to throb with each step I took through the loose sand of the elusive path. Nevertheless, my spirits were high, as was my voice: inspired by the tracks of a large carnivore, I'd been singing at the top of my lungs for about half an hour, mostly in Hebrew.

A digression...

The Lord's Prayer is something I memorized as a child in catechism class; it is familiar to many people. I am not a fan of rote prayer, and even as a child I thought it ironic that the words Jesus used as an example of heartfelt, spontaneous conversation with God (see Matthew 6:7-13) had become the standardized text of the very thing Jesus was speaking against. In spite of this, I was moved last year to memorize these Bible verses in Hebrew. (If you would like to do the same, I recommend the tutorial on the Hebrew for Christians website:
For reasons I can only guess, the act of praying in Hebrew focuses my attention on God like nothing else I know. Although Aramaic was probably the most commonly-spoken language among Jesus and his disciples, Hebrew was (and still is) the official prayer language of the Jews. One interesting fact about saying the Lord's Prayer in Hebrew: it rhymes. Which makes it great for singing on a trail hike, especially when surrounded by large carnivores.

Which brings me back to my story...

So there I was, eyes peeled for bear as I belted out the Lord's Prayer (rhyming version) over and over, using a tune I'd made up on the spot:
"Vay AL tev-ee-YAY-noo
lee-DAY ma-SAH
kee-EEM hat-see-LAY-noo 
MEEN ha-RAH..."
This, by the way, is the part of the prayer that asks God to deliver us from evil. I thought it was appropriate under the circumstances...not that I believe bears are evil, mind you. I just didn't want to be led into their paws. I saw a few more big tracks about then, and I smelled something dead. The smell got pretty strong, and I wondered what had died and where the carcass was. That's when I heard the flapping of many wings, and a bunch of vultures (actually, with vultures the term is wake, which certainly makes sense) took off from the grass twenty feet or so to my left.

Where the body is, the vultures will gather, I thought, remembering Luke 17:37.  Flipping that around, I had the answer to my question. (I've seen some pretty convoluted literalist interpretations of that scripture, incidentally. Why do we always make things so complicated?) God was certainly being conversational with me today, responding immediately to almost every question I asked. I wish he made everything in my life so clear!

Another half mile. Another half inch of water. Another uphill slope.

Tired, I'd stopped singing a while ago. The only sound in the woods was the soft thud of my feet plodding along the trail and an occasional distant bird call. Off to my right, a break in the landscape caught my attention. Looks like a sinkhole. Sure enough, about fifty feet to my right, the ground abruptly plunged down at least that far, forming a large bowl with a small pool of greenish water at the bottom. I'm not that thirsty. I'll just stay on the path. 

Suddenly, the silence was broken as a large animal burst out of the grass ahead of me, racing away from the sinkhole. It crossed the path and continued up the hill. At first I thought it was a fox, but it was the size of a German Shepherd. It was a coyote... a big one! I had surprised it at the water hole, apparently. The tracks now made perfect sense to me. I'd thought they had a canine look to them, but I'd forgotten (if I ever knew it) that Ocala is full of coyotes. (Truthfully, I thought it was a gray fox on steroids until I got home and did some research. The gray fox and coyote are almost identical from behind, but the coyote has longer legs and a shorter tail than the fox. I had definitely encountered a coyote.)

"Well, Father, thank you. That was a blessing." The animal was beautiful, it was at a distance (about thirty feet), and it was running away from me... all just as I had specified. Best of all, no protective mother was escorting it.

Not too long afterward, the path widened again, and I realized I was coming near to the section I had hiked earlier in the week, the part that looped close to Lake Clearwater. I was exhausted. I'd been hiking nearly four hours, and my water was all but gone. I resolved to keep my eyes sharp for the shortcut that led directly into the campground (the one posted with "No Trespassing" signs and blocked by barbed wire).

I might have missed the turnoff, but a distant sound of heavy equipment—the northern loop of the campground was undergoing construction—alerted me to the right road and fifteen minutes later I was sprawled in my hammock guzzling down water. My Paisley Trail adventure was over.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like I went hiking with you! Thank you for that. Thankfully, coyotes are fairly skittish :)