Do you ever feel as if you are…watched over? Protected? I did, last week.
I went hiking on a new trail. It’s what Sedona people do. It’s also what people all over the world come here to do, not only because it is ravishingly beautiful and awe-inspiring, but you can enter a trail and in a few minutes, be in wilderness. Sometimes the silence (if nobody else is on the trail) is, as they say, deafening. I’m a city girl, and until I entered a wilderness, I don’t think I’ve ever “heard” true silence before. It is quite an experience. Oh, occasionally, you will get the sound of a bird, or the wind rustling a tree, but if no one is on the trail, there are no human sounds. That kind of silence can put you in an altered state, the state you reach for in meditation. That’s why a lot of us do it. You can feel something in that silence you can’t name, but it feels like God.
At the entrance to some trails, there are signs that warn hikers to watch out for snakes and bears. These signs never stopped me. Maybe I didn’t really believe them (you should). The trails I usually hike are popular (by that I mean you meet humans now and then), and I figure the wild life avoid them. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen any wildlife on a trail except once – two gorgeous mule deer, a doe and a fawn, once looked down on me from a shelf above, and that was all. Well, until last week.
As I said, I was on a trail I’d never been on before. I’d read about it in our local paper. I also went on a weekday when the tourists are scarce. The trail was exquisite – not too steep as trails here go, and dotted with the most beautiful cacti and wildflowers I think I’ve ever seen. It was also shaded – lots of trees. Ideal. And I was alone in the blessed silence. Had the God place all to myself.
But when you’re in the wilderness all by yourself, something kicks in. Awareness, maybe? Some kind of survival mechanism? A little ways in, I became acutely aware of my surroundings. I watched where I put my feet. I stopped every now and then and looked around me. I felt the wild life there, even though I couldn’t see it. I began to feel a little wary, a little uncomfortable. This trail felt different. It wasn’t the challenging climbing trail sought by tourists. This was a walking trail, a trail for the locals. People who know what they’re doing. Not city girls.
At some point, I saw a dog, making his way toward me, and behind him, two couples, aged like myself. One couple was obviously showing the trail to the other – visitors, and it seemed, city people like myself. I began to feel a little better.
“I thought the dog would have noticed,” I heard the taller of the two men say. I came closer to the four of them, and they were stopped, looking at something. “Don’t worry,” the man said, looking at me, it’s just a king snake.” And I got a look at my first snake in the wild. He was a beautiful creature, not too large, decorated in green and black diamond-like patterns. We all stood still while he slithered across the trail, calm as could be, as if he were used to seeing people on his trail all the time. The thing that surprised me the most about all that is that I wasn’t afraid. “That looks like a pack-rat’s nest,” the knowledgeable man said, pointing toward a tree, “and I guess he’s going in for lunch.” Now that stopped me. A harmless snake is one thing. Rats are another. I couldn’t see it, thank you God. I wouldn’t know a pack-rat’s nest from a hole in the ground (that isn’t a pun, but excuse it anyway), and there are some things I don’t want to know.
As the two couples made their way past me and back to the trail’s entrance, one of the women stopped, looked back and said, “Don’t worry. King snakes are harmless, but if you see a snake with a diamond head, they’re the ones to stay away from. But,” and here’s where she got me, “isn’t it nice that we were along when you got to the snake?”
And there’s the miracle. Out of all time and space, I was to meet these people at exactly the point and at exactly the instant a snake was about to cross my path. I wouldn’t have known that it was a king snake, or that it was harmless. I would have freaked out, for sure. Maybe I would have stumbled and broken my ankle, like a friend of mine did on a trail. I saw nobody else on the trail that day, coming or going. I had to look after those people to make sure they weren’t angels. Or were they?
This kind of thing happens to me too often for me to just dismiss it, or chalk it up to coincidence. Something or someone is always put in my path when I need help, and the timing is always perfect. It may be something I’ve “lost,” like records for my tax return. It may be stopping in traffic, not knowing why, just before another vehicle appears out of nowhere. Did God, did my angels, put these people in my path at just the right time? What do you think?
I went on my way, as far as my strength would take me on the trail and came back, back across the place where I saw the snake. The snake was gone. And I was unafraid.
I embarked upon a spiritual path years ago. The death of my son left me with nowhere else to go. After years of study and experience, I am now aware of small and large miracles, “coincidences” that were overlooked in the everyday busyness of my earlier life. I see angels where there were none before. Sometimes, they meet me on the trail and tell me not to be afraid.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.