Henry Cowell State Park
Forced by nightfall I slept in unimproved Henry Cowell Forest sitting against sequoia and woke in darkness to the taps of hooves against a forest trail. I could see three does with a trailing fawn heading straight at me in the strips of moonlight the sequoias allowed, a meteor shower in the moonlight. The deer came nearly close enough for me to touch their noses and stopped.
The lead doe looked this way and then that, as if an old woman wearing trifocals trying to find the right perspective in which to view the unsuspected, her nostrils flared and firing. She drew within two feet of me. She froze. I could not breathe. My gut began orbiting and my throat swallowed a cry, but before my lips exploded I took a breath and let the bright torch of wonder in, and touched the searching face of nature.
For once nature had stood naked and I concealed, and I had to choose to be revealed. I touched her nose.
Sunrise on Empire Grade, a slithering road in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a surprised buck slipped from the left flank of rocks a few yards in front of my feet. I hit my brakes and came to a halt, and watched him attempt time after time to leap up the right side of stone, failing to have his hooves grip the wet granite.
Finally, he stood head bowed forty feet from me. I talked. He did not move. I yelled. He stood. When I walked toward him, he broke and bounded down the road in leaps both clown-like and graceful.
When he left the imprisoning corridor with an amazing spring, I stood off the road and watched him zigzag through scrub ponderosa and the red madrone until he stood at the top of a ridge swallowed by the rising sun, his lungs heaving with exertion.
Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California. He has work in Atticus Review, Per Contra, Clare Literary, and Clerestory.
Photo by Bruce MacQueen