The Natural Lands become an entirely different place after the sun has set. Familiar and well trodden paths warp themselves into strange and mysterious passages. The low hum of Big Ole ushers in a quiet calm undisturbed by cross country runners.
St. Olaf, like most colleges, is a place of narcissistic busyness. There is a real chance “I am busy this week” is the most spoken phrase on campus. Busyness is not bad in and of itself, but if you spend too much time in a state of frenetic activity, you can get lost in it. We need to dedicate time to pulling ourselves out from under our own schedule and what is, viewed from above, the smallness of our day-to-day. There are few better ways than wandering the Natural Lands alone at night.
In the fall you can discover wonderful things if you just stop and listen. With all of the leaves on the ground, you can hear animals moving around, surrounding you. On one such occasion, I heard a familiar footstep pattern, placed my flashlight to my chest so as to return to darkness and waited. After about five minutes, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and what I was waiting for happened: the deer stepped out of the woods and out in front of me on the path. It was followed by a fawn. In the ever-silent dark we stared into each other’s eyes. I did not move, worried that even the slightest change in posture could send it back into the woods.
We stood there for what felt like hours. In its eyes I saw curiosity and slight fear, and knew that it saw that in me. In a strange way, I felt understood. After it had finished appraising me, it stepped forward. I did my best to remain pacific, even while amazed and somewhat terrified, as it came right up next to me. Another moment of beautiful and brutal stillness, and it walked away.
I’m going to be entirely honest: I shed a few tears.
In the Natural Lands, I have seen monarchs congregate en masse on their migrating path, I’ve seen a murder of crows play above the whetlands, I’ve seen someone charge at an animal that turned out to be a skunk. There is so much to love.
It is vital that we escape the smallness of classes, exams and extracurriculars and that we find some comfort in the sublime machinations of the natural world around us. Even if just for a few moments, when that deer stared into my eyes, I was not concerned about my midterms. I was not concerned about the election. I was not concerned with myself. All there was in the entire world was me and the deer, there on that path, in that moment.
Everyone deserves to feel that.
Logan Graham ’22 is from Warrenville, IL.
His major is philosophy.