The Glance of a Speechless Animal

In the glance of a speechless animal there is a discourse that only the soul of the wise can really understand.

— An Indian Poet

While in graduate school at Purdue many years ago a friend and I made a road trip to the west coast. Along the way we took the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon with a goal of hiking down to the canyon floor. Although we were experienced hikers, neither of us were in the best of shape, and we were further weakened by the several days we had just spent driving across the country in a Honda Civic. Hiking all the way down to the canyon floor and all the way back up in a single day was strongly discouraged by the park authorities. Since campsites on the canyon floor were reserved far into the future, we were fortunate to snag a reservation for a campsite that was a couple of miles up from the canyon floor on a different trail. Our plan was to hike down one trail all the way to the bottom, take in the grandeur, then hike back up a few miles to camp for the night. The next day we would hike back out and continue our westward journey.

My traveling and hiking partner was obstinate and over-confident to say the least. As we were donning our hiking gear at the start of the first day I cautioned him against his strategy of only wearing a single pair or socks. We were about to hike 7+ miles down a steep trail. Blisters would be torture. He scoffed at the conventional wisdom that a second pair of socks protected against blisters. I was not convinced and dutifully wore a thin hiking liner to wick away moisture underneath a heavy pair of hiking socks. He wore a single pair of athletic socks.

We hadn’t even reached the half-way mark to the bottom when his oversized boots began to shred his under-protected feet. His toes became blistered and bloodied as they were jammed into the front of his boots with every step. I am sure that my “I-told-you-so” attitude was no comfort. The more we walked the more animosity that developed between us until we eventually just continued the hike each on our own. I made it to the bottom, took in the incredible rush of the white water coursing through the canyon for as long as I could, and began the journey back up the canyon to the site where we would camp for the night.

I was fuming and angry that my friend could be such an idiot and allow his obstinacy to cast a shadow over such an amazing experience. I was muttering to myself as I followed the upward trail that tracked along a small stream. As I approached an oasis formed by a small pool in the stream I was stopped dead in my tracks by a dear. She picked up her head from drinking in the stream and cocked it my direction. I could not have been more than eight feet from the face of this beautiful creature that had huge brown eyes the size of tennis balls. We stared at each other in a shared sense of serenity for what seemed like ten minutes. Then, as if to say that our speechless conversation was now complete, we both turned and continued walking; she down the trail towards the canyon, me trudging up towards a waiting campsite.

That silent connection with a creature of nature stays with me. The  memory is as vivid today as it was more than 30 years ago and I continue to have a fond affection for dear. I do not know exactly what transpired that hot summer day under the hellish Arizona sun. But I do know that I have long forgotten the name of the college friend who refused to heed the wisdom of appropriate hiking gear while the memory of the extended glance of a speechless animal remains burned in my memory to this day.

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