“Fresh Meat!”

I could almost hear him whisper it as he circled for a moment, calling out to two others to join him for the prospective meal.  Since I was still moving and considerably larger than any of them, they glided off but returned on occasion to check me out from a greater distance.  They were, of course, Turkey Vultures.

I am writing this while at St. Francis of the Woods in north central Oklahoma.  I have often written posts about SFW.  It is a Center for Spiritual Renewal with an Orthodox chapel (lots of Icons and ornate furnishings), a library, an education building, a few cottages all situated on a 500 acre working farm.  I always spend most of my time here walking the woods and the fields.

This time I had a number of deer sightings.  A couple of them seemed to be checking me out for a while.  Another unseen buck snorted at me from the woods.  I startled a Raccoon.  Surprisingly there were no Armadillo sightings this time.  I saw a snapping turtle large enough to take off a hand.   There was an unfortunate encounter with a small snake – unfortunate for the snake.  I must have stepped on it as I was walking.  I didn’t see it until too late.  Sorry, little fellow.  I am glad Mom or Dad was not nearby.

There were lots of birds.  I heard the loud tapping and the distinctive call of a Pileated woodpecker (17” from head to tail).  There were hundreds of swallows in the air, since it was filled with tiny barely visible flying bugs of some sort.  There was a Baltimore oriole, Titmouse, a Kingbird, Bluebirds, Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Lark Sparrows (I think) and lots of others.  I was not able to identify very many of the birds.  I only know the most common birds and lament that I don’t know more.  There were the sounds of lots of others that any birder worth his/her salt would recognize.  I didn’t.

At one point while sitting on my three-legged stool for a while, I provided a place for butterflies to land and sun themselves for a moment.  The pond had a number of very large Bullfrogs as well as hundreds of smaller ones.  There were many turtles other than the snapper.  One turtle about ten inches long walked across the road in front of me.  A pair of very unusual looking ducks walked into the pond, swam across it and came up on the other side.  I hope to identify them when I get home.  I have never seen ducks with such complex patterns of color.  [I just looked it up.  I have seen them before but I thought a Wood Duck was smaller.  The colors are a perfect match to what I saw.  Google them – they are strikingly beautiful.]

It was a special treat to see good friend John who was a member of my parish in the Oklahoma City area.  He came up to SFW bringing a sandwich from Subway for us to share.  We grew very close during the time his wife was dying of Cancer.  We felt a connection since both of our spouses were struggling with serious health issues. He has since married again and I had the privilege of participating in their wedding some fifteen or so years ago.  They are wonderful people!

When I come to SFW, I always manage to sleep for hours as well as walk for hours.  It helps that there is no Internet here nor is there television.  There are no nearby coffee shops or restaurants.  Cereal, fruit, granola bars and PB&J are the staples.  As always, I watched the sun set as I listened to and checked out the birds this evening.  There is a wonderful serenity here.  When I walk, I do so at a pace that allows me to stop and watch butterflies or flying insects of one sort or another, look at flowers, no matter how tiny the blossoms, celebrate the interaction of the shades of green and muted violet of the grasses with the bright and showy blossoms of some of the more dramatic wildflowers.  I watched a caterpillar negotiate an area around a very active ant hill.  A few ants tried to get a taste, but his spines kept their mandibles from reaching his tender flesh.

I am home now.  Before I left this morning I dispatched the small scorpion that apparently planned to share my shower.  I preferred showering alone.  This noon was the Wednesday Staff lunch to which guests are always welcome.  I have come to feel very much at home with those who serve here.  In addition to the good company, the food is always healthful and very tasty.  Tim made a hearty vegetarian chili that any meat eater would insist was fit for a carnivore.  I have not had better chili with or without meat.  There was jalapeno corn bread warm from the oven, cucumber and onion salad, marinated tomatoes, cantaloupe (I got to help by slicing it), lots of home canned pickles along with much more.  If you tell anyone I said this, I will deny it:  I ate some Okra that Eugene pickled and I liked it!  Last fall I talked with Bob (a retired Professor) about Quantum Physics.  He lost his wife of forty years just two months ago.  We talked a bit about our experiences.  Director Chris is the one who I believe first told me about the The Pilgrimage, a 1987 novel by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho.  It is a recollection of Paulo’s experiences as he made his way across northern Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.  Chris planted that seed when I was still in the planning stages of my trip to New Zealand and Australia.   The seed continues to grow.  Along with others at the meal was Kay, an elegant and gentle presence who along with her husband, now deceased, shaped Saint Francis of the Woods into a place that nurtures the spirit of all who spend time in its embrace.

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