Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

Selected Blog from the Returning to Wonder Series – 2012 to 2017


I believe there are moments when we are effortlessly connected to the world around us. In such special moments, the world dreams us and gives us the gift of sight to appreciate the beauty, mystery and wonder in all things.

So it was on a recent walk in my native Laghey area of south Donegal. On this particular morning, I decided to divert my two feet from a local road into uncultivated fields. The tilly hillside land had reverted back to a semi-wild state of overgrown meadow, thickly wooded hedgerows and brambles; providing ample cover for animals, insects and bird life. Even the air smelt wild.

The mucky ground sucked slightly at my boots, compelling me to thread with increased awareness. While slowly choosing my next footstep, I noticed a large frog on the ground ahead of me and was mightily grateful for not having stepped on it with my big boots! Squatting down to get a closer look, I marveled at the black commando-like camouflage streaks on either side of its brownish green head and how its whole body seemed to contract and expand with each breath taken.

We parted company on good terms as I spied a gap entrance which lead to an upper field. I then watched with heightened alertness as a small bird of prey took flight from the top branch of a tall ivy-clad Ash tree, its wings slicing the air with silent precision. This upper field was full of green and rusty brown knee-high rushes. Suddenly I was startled by a cock pheasant, which rose up from its hiding spot in a noisy burst of flapping energy. I had just moments to catch his magificent bright colours and flamboyant tail feathers, which reflected an exotic metallic sheen in the bright, late morning light.

I reached a third gap closer to the hill summit, and now wished I had brought my hazel walking staff for a tangled maze of barbed brambles blocked my way. A more carefully plotted advance was required; carefully lifting my legs theatrically above the brambles and stepping on them to make a temporary, springy foot space. The rushes on this high field were matted down in places and I wondered did badgers, deer or the wind cause it. I soon got my answer. From the corner of my eye I noticed a large brown shape suddenly stirring from beneath a gorse bush, where it had been obviously basking in the sun. It was a large stag deer with a magnificent full set of antlers. My heart missed several beats as I stood fixed to the spot. I caught his eye or he caught mine as he trotted right past me before springing clean over a high earthen embankment and out of sight. It was an unforgettable moment.

I felt like I had walked into a Celtic Dreamtime on that blue sky morning, and scarcely a mile from my own cottage in Trummon. I continued exploring a shaded grove of undisturbed, ancient whitethorn trees, draped in deep green ivy. Later that evening, I sought out the words of that great American sage and lifelong walker, Henry David Thoreau. He believed there was a subtle magnetism in Nature, which if we yield to it, can make us whole again and direct us on the right path.

“I enter a swamp as a sacred place, – a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow, of Nature. The wildwood covers the virgin mould, – and the same soil is good for men and for trees. A man’s health requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect as his farm does loads of muck.”

The Returning to Wonder continues…