Chronicles of a Modern Pict

July 10, 2000


Lilies, lizards, and a musky mule deer

I don't remember how long ago it was when my internal clock became synchronized by the changes in nature, but I am just glad it did. I suppose it started during my summers as a park ranger, living in a tent from June to September high up on the slopes of Mount San Jacinto. It took a few summers before the patterns and processes of our mountain seasons and species became second nature, when by looking at the herbs or the soil or the water flow I could hike to any particular location and predict what plants would be in flower, what insects I might see, or animals whose young will have emerged. Today I was scolded by a teenage grey squirrel (amazing little foot stomping dance they have to tell me that this is his place and I should bug off!), serenaded by a melodious Hermit Thrush, and dazzled by the brilliance of the intensely blue Granite Spiny Lizard who was defining his territory by a furious set of push ups!

The Cahuilla have a famous legend about this Blue Lizard, it goes something like this... There was a great wailing among all the tribes of the Cahuilla. The children were sick; they were dying, and none of the charms known to the medicine men of the tribe seemed of any avail. The tribes prayed to the Great Spirit and received an answer. There was a remedy, but in all the tents of Heaven there was no messenger to send to the Cahuilla. At length the Great Spirit tore a strip of blue sky from the heavens and rolled it into a lizard-and gave the lizard magic to take to the Cahuilla. The blue lizard traveled on a sunbeam to the Earth and the children of the tribe were healed. But the sunbeams were always traveling to the Earth, not from it, so there was no way for the blue lizard to get back to his home in Heaven. So the homesick blue lizard climbed upward on San Jacinto mountain as high as he could get toward his home. And there he has remained to this day, sacred to the Cahuilla. He is never found below two or three thousand feet and more often above five thousand, where he is still waiting for an opportunity to return to his home.

I used to tell this story around the campfire in Round Valley, and teach them to sing the Cahuilla Bird Songs. And if they were lucky, I'd gently pull a Granite Spiny Lizard out of a bag so the backpackers could see the gift of the Great Spirit first hand. As you know, teaching and theatrics go hand in hand. Further up the trail I could smell a pungent (but not unpleasant) aroma of wild musk in the still air. Within seconds I came upon a young male Mule Deer, whom I startled into a quick but short run from me. He slowed then stopped at a distance of about 30 feet, and we both did the silent stare for about a minute, then off he bounded. I see their tracks every day, and catch a glimpse about once a week, but today's incident brought me back to a time when I spent the night at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram after attending a black tie party to celebrate the burning of the bonds that originally financed this monstrosity (another story). Anyway, I slept in the San Jacinto Wilderness under a nearly full moon, and in the morning began hiking over the mountains to my home (which is about 12 miles away by trail).

It was early when I started walking, and so incredibly still that I could hear woodpeckers drumming more than 1/2 a mile away. My mind was very clear and soaking in the unique energy of this special place when I heard the snap of a twig breaking. I stopped, and 25 feet in front of me was a beautiful male mule deer staring right at me, with his body twitching like a spring ready to let go. I wasn't startled and so immediately began projecting thoughts of calm and trust. Then I specifically focused on wanting to be closer to him, and within seconds the great buck began walking towards me! This was not a typical situation, nor are our western mule deer semi-tame like the little white-tails I encountered all over upstate New York while in graduate school. Our deer are chased daily by mountain lion and are ordinarily very wild in their behavior. He approached to within 10 feet, flaring his moist nostrils to gather my smell, his taught muscles quivering under a shiny tawny-colored coat. His antlers were short as they were in the growing stage and covered by a thick felt-like velvet. I tried to feel what he was feeling and I sensed excitement and curiosity, but not fear. In a moment he turned 90 degrees and began bounding away, but only for a few dozen feet when he stopped abruptly and looked beyond me to my right. I turned my gaze in the same direction only to see a mature doe walking in my direction. She also came within a few feet and continued past to catch up with the buck. As soon as they let go of our connection, their entire body language changed back to the spring-loaded ready to run state that I observed when the encounter began. The last bit of empathic message I felt was like respect and urgency mixed together...these were very energetic animals.

In knew, in these short moments, that the connection I had made with this animal would not be my last.


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