I live in a wild, remote and beautiful place where opportunities for enchantment come thick and fast. But sometimes, still, there are unexpected moments that take my breath away.
Late yesterday afternoon, just before dusk, I took a brief solitary walk out onto our headland. Mist coated the entire land. The mountains behind were invisible, and the presence of the sea ahead was apparent only from the sound of water slapping against jagged rock (no matter how still the air, on these sharp island edges the Atlantic is never truly quiet).
As I approached the small hillock where I like to stand to look out to the isle of Scarp, the Monachs, and (if the day is clear) the St Kilda archipelago, the shadowy shapes I noticed just ahead of me began to resolve into a group of stags. In this part of the world, red deer are so plentiful that they can be a nuisance, and some years we’ve seen gangs of stags thirty-strong roaming the township, grazing on the crofts that aren’t deer-fenced. I slowed down, but not before a couple of the stags closest to me had noticed my approach. They didn’t run; you need to have a dog in tow or to be moving pretty quickly to spook these deer — they’re surprisingly resilient. They simply moved, re-arranged themselves, and as I came to a complete halt I saw that this group of nineteen stags were now ranged in a semi-circle at the bottom of the hillock in front of me. They were part-animal, part-shadow in the thickening mist. And then a stag with a particularly impressive set of horns (a Royal, for sure) broke out of the semi-circle and took a few steps forward towards me. I stood completely still. He took a few steps back. Then a few more forward. The others stayed where they were, motionless. For a moment, no more, it felt like a threat, and I felt a sudden sharp lurch of atavistic fear, a curious reversal of the normal pattern of hunter and hunted. But it passed as suddenly as it had arrived, and I was overcome with wonder at what I was seeing.
This elder stag’s strangely choreographed movement lasted for a good five minutes, and I stood there entranced, awe-struck, until I inadvertently set them free by moving forward a step myself, as if longing to join the dance with him — at which point they finally turned and ran — nineteen shadows skimming the land through the fog, along the ridge that leads north.
It would be all too easy to read more into this than it was — to look for ‘signs’, or to read into it some other significance. But here is the thing about enchantment: it doesn’t require magic; it simply requires attention. Enchantment isn’t about magical thinking; it is about being fully present in the world. And so it is enchantment enough simply to say that for five minutes, maybe a little bit more, in a foggy out-of-time encounter with nineteen stags, I was fully in that moment, and fully aware of myself simply as one animal facing another.