Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Parable of The Watcher

These are observations from a morning at Radnor Lake a few weeks ago:

One morning in the early fall not long ago, I decided to spend some time seeking God and seeking respite in the quiet abundance of a local nature preserve known for its gentle trails along the shores of a small lake. At one point along the backside of the lake, I came upon three fellow hikers stopped on the path eagerly observing something in the near foliage. I could just make out a large barred owl sitting not 10 feet off the trail, perched about 10 feet above the forest floor with nothing hindering the observers view. As I approached, the owl leapt and flew from her perch with the heavy grace only such a creature can muster, landing on a slightly higher branch a few yards further from the trail than the first.

As soon as the bird alit, the first observer continued his journey around the lake. Perhaps he knew that his view would not again match the detail and beauty he could initially observe for the brief moments he’d already spent. As such, he would have the memory and desired nothing more for his journey. Surely a man such as him had a schedule to keep anyhow.

The other two initial observers were young and in the obvious throes of developing love. They stayed near each other, never letting one stray too far away and a certain spark electrified their beings when they were close enough to touch. The girl was enamoured by the avian muse. Even though the young man had gotten his fill, he couldn’t help but crack a gentle smile as he stood both near her or sat just a few paces behind her as the moments passed. They stayed with us for several minutes, giggling and whispering softly while the woman attempted to capture that sanguine moment on her phone and stood, carefully taking a note of all that this time had to provide. As she realized that perhaps she was lingering in the moment just a touch too long, she grasped the arm of her lover, leaned her head on his shoulder, and continued on her way. They soon passed over the next rise holding tightly and practically skipping along.

Meanwhile the Watcher and I locked eyes and observed each other. Save the occasional distant animal call, our eyes never left one another’s. My respect for her kept me restrained to the path, but I felt as though I were a child at a zoo, pressing my face against the cage to get as close as I possibly could, leaning into the barrier of her personal boundary to inhabit as much of her world as she would allow. My heart yearned for a deeper connection with this kindred spirit, for the Watcher to come and perch on my arm, to teach me how to see the world as it really is and peer with sight keener than my human eyes could muster. We stayed locked in this distant embrace for some time.

Others began to come along that section of the trail, but I stayed observing, looking with far off eyes at a magnificent creature just along the path. The walkers came in many forms, some intentionally ignored me so as to avoid any unpleasant interaction. Others offered the courteous head nod or quiet grunt and meager smilethat any who frequent such places understand to be a tacit acknowledgement of existence, or friendship even, that will only last for the 10 paces or so you’re both confronted with the life of another human being. Still others were either so preoccupied with the noise of their own companions or the sounds of their ear buds that they scarcely noticed another creature there at all, much less that I was human. All in all, most paid me little mind. Those that did notice that I was clearly observing something might take a quick glance over their shoulder, but would inevitably avert their eyes back to some nebulous area beyond me so as to avoid any conversation that might burst forth in glorious awkwardness among us.

One of the others that happened along was heavy laden with a SLR camera, a couple of lenses, and a bag tossed over his shoulder. He peered intently into the forest, but only saw the waters edge 20 or 30 yards off trail. He was so focused in his hunt for something at that prime spot where our world meets the water’s that he never even glanced up at those around him, much less draw his sight back and observe the creature that was so determinedly observing him.

There were a few though, that were seeking. These pleasant folk were not afraid to offer a sincere and hearty hello accompanied with a broad smile. Their pace was gentle and their sight was not fixed, but constantly scanning their surroundings for any and all signs of beauty and interest. These blessed few would pause for a moment and allow me to introduce them to the Watcher. They would take a moment, however brief, and marvel at her staid beauty before thanking me and moving along in their happy journey all the more excited by what they’d seen..

Not a soul that walked that path noticed the Watcher, but she observed them all. Her eyes would catch them at the softest approaching sound and track them until beyond her sight. She taught me much in those moments, but after about a good long while it was time for me too to continue my journey. Much else happened that day from an obnoxious woman who practically tripped over a wild turkey that her friends, unable to interrupt the din pouring from her lips, had been frantically pointing to, a naturalist singling me out to observe some rare, beautiful, migratory ducks, and even being able to share that new knowledge with a couple eagerly trying to figure out just kind of ducks they were seeing further along the trail. The lessons of the Watcher, though, are the ones that I’ll carry along.

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