Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Presence of Bears

I used to work with large animals at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Day in, day out, good weather, horrible weather, weekends, holidays--animals need clean pens, food and water, and some of them need milking twice a day. I would often have the early shift, dragging myself in to tend to the cows before being fully awake, and I grew to appreciate their quiet presence. They have a clean smell. They stand there in the pen, patient and massive, radiating their body heat and stirring the air with their breath.

Years later, I was taking one of my long directionless walks while on retreat at Warnersville. Hiking through a pasture at dusk, I passed near a dozen cows, almost motionless in the warm night air. As it grew rapidly darker, I stood there, once again in the presence of cows. I closed my eyes and could smell them. I could hear the soft, rhythmic whoosh of their breathing. I could feel their massiveness, the way can you sense someone standing next to you even if they are completely silent. Those minutes of calm stillness, surrounded by warmth and life and earth smells, that is all I remember of that retreat.

Yesterday, Nancy called up from Arts and Crafts to tell us there were bears on the basketball court. Siena and I ran out the cenacle and began walking down the parking lot to get a look. But by then, the bears had come up the other side of the pavilion and rounded the corner. We were walking toward each other. I halted in amazement, and even took a few steps back as the bears continued toward me unaware. Then they saw us and halted, just as amazed. We were perhaps ten or fifteen paces apart.

And in that brief moment, I found myself in the presence of bears. A mother and two large cubs, with beautiful black glossy coats. The fur seemed so soft and shiny I wished I could touch it. It riffed in the breeze. They regarded me briefly, then turned and padded quietly away.

When they turned, the spell was broken, and while they crossed under Cabin 1 and into the grotto, I ran for my camera. I got them running across the baseball field and crossing Town Hill Road. Traffic, including a school bus, stopped to admire the sight. I wonder, I wonder, did the bear, in that brief moment, experience the presence of humans? What is the presence we bring to others?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunset Alert

It's the end of a nice, normal weekend at Trinita. We had a group of Catholic college students here from three different area colleges. They spread out and used the place as it was intended to be used: prayer, fellowship, and fun.

Part of the fun was the making of a few hundred jars of "artisan jam" which they plan to sell as a fundraiser. Our huge antique rice pot (aka Big Bertha) was full of strawberries, bubbling away all afternoon. Diane had to work around them to prepare supper, but she clearly enjoyed having them around. The money they raise is for their spring break trip to do construction work in New Orleans, my still-devastated homeland.

It rained virtually all day and all night yesterday, but I had to go slouching around in the dark looking for some switch to throw which would restore electricity to Cabins 3 and 4 and parts of the Lodge. No luck. So I had to call in the power company. A guy named Greg in a fancy huge truck with flashing lights pulled up by the Lodge and figured out one of our switch boxes is going bad and we should replace it soon. Dang. Anyway, it works for now.

So, today is a much nicer day. Sunny, mild, in the 70's, fresh air like spring. I cleaned out another flower bed while a half dozen scouts finished rebuilding our fire pit. Wait til you see it! Almost too fancy for us! While I was clearing out the bed in front of the meeting room, our poor pathetic cat began yowling by the front door. "Francisco, are you crazy??? It's a beautiful afternoon! How can you possibly want to go in?" But he did. He sounded pitiful, but I did not let him in. I did at least scratch his ears.

Now, I am at my desk, preparing to make invitations to our upcoming Centennial celebration. A fun job. I just looked out the window. OOOOoooooooo! We have the world's most beautiful sunsets here. When it looks like this, we get on the loudspeaker and say, "Sunset Alert!" So that is life at Trinita on an ordinary Fall weekend.