Encounters: Earth

Please read Part One:  Water


“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a 1977 film, written and directed by Steven Spielberg.  The title is derived from classification of close encounters in which the third kind denotes human observations of “animate beings.”  Wikipedia

It was a late summer day in the Scottish Highlands, early morning, and the mists hadn’t risen from the valleys yet.  Our van dropped us off at a crossroads near the foot of the mountain we were about to climb.  We were well into our hiking week in one of the most remote places in Scotland.

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A neat white stone cottage showed its shoulders over the top of a small hill and a wisp of smoke drifted from its chimney.  Otherwise, there were no signs of life as far as we could see.  As we stood, rearranging our back packs, putting on gaiters, shrugging on rain gear, I happened to look up towards the hillside.  No more than thirty feet away, I saw a huge stag with a giant rack of antlers looking down on us.  At any distance, a stag looks majestic, but this animal was closer than I had ever seen a stag come to humans.  And unlike most deer, who paw the ground and sniff the wind and then move skittishly away from people, he just stood there.

And then, very slowly, very gracefully, he walked straight towards us.  We happened to be standing on one side of a small pool—a lochan, the Scots call it—formed by a fall of rocks that dammed the burn which tumbled down the hill.  The stag made his way down the slope straight towards us, to the other side of the lochan, lowered his head, and drank.

“There’s something wrong with this animal,” I said, astonished.  I was with six other people, but they hardly looked up from their hiking preparations.  They were hard core walking enthusiasts.

“Look!” I said. “No wild animal behaves in this way!  Maybe he’s sick.”

And then, in the distance, I saw a boy, about twelve years old.  He had obviously come out of the cottage and was walking towards us.  He had an apple in his hand.  As he approached I called out to him:  “Have you ever seen anything like this?” I said.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s Hector…..he comes every day.”

“Every day!” I said.

“Yes,” said the boy.  “My grandfather tamed him—he’s been coming now for years.”  And the boy sidled up to the stag, reached out and gave him the apple.

“Can I touch him?” I said, hardly believing the wonder of it.

“Sure,” he said.  “He’ll let you”.  I jumped over the burn and approached the huge stag slowly.  He lowered his head and I put both arms around his neck.  We stood there together like that for a few absolutely magical minutes.  And then he arched his head back up and I stepped away.

This happened years ago, but the enchantment of the moment still lives with me:  the mist, the singing brook, the heathered moor, the stag, and me.

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