The visitor at dawn

The visitor at dawn

The evening brought a story book ending to a day punctuated with silences, spaces and picture-perfect views of distant blue hills, towering pines and open sky. Watching a crackling fire, I slipped into slumberland under a quilt of dreams. The next thing I knew I was being pummelled and poked by an excited husband who had already woken the children. I hummed and hawed as I opened one eye to look for my slippers and dragged myself through the front door.

The blast of chill air drove out the last flush of sleep as I squinted in the half light of a breaking dawn to focus on the object of my family’s rapt attention. What I saw next had me covered in goose bumps. We had a most unexpected visitor by the porch of our holiday cottage.

Standing there by the porch, dreamily gormandising on nasturtiums was a bison. Fear, curiosity and wonder coursed through me. Although the family was huddled together close on the porch, we were oblivious of each other. Collectively, we must have looked like a family of catatonic lemurs, all stiff, stunned and staring. The beast had this beatific look on its face, studying us, as it ruminated on the colourful blossoms. It meandered to the azalea bush, looking as harmless as an absent-minded grandmother. I was now directly in the crosshairs of its dark, beady gaze. It snorted and I froze.

I might have laughed at another time at the incongruity of the situation. In front of me stood a dark and dangerous creature with its low threatening forehead and the meanest looking pair of horns, swinging its dewlaps as it daintily picked the most delicate pink and purple flowers to feast on. The thought that this humungous creature could flatten me in a second had me instinctively stepping back. I could have sworn that I saw a glimmer of amusement in its black, beady eyes at the picture I made in my strawberry pink flannel pyjamas and fluffy socks.

Even as I embraced the moment, I felt a jab in my ribs and a whispered, ‘camera’! I scurried into the room and scrambled in the dark for one. By the time I could ‘point’ and get my numb fingers to ‘shoot’, the bison switched its tail and turned its expansive rump in my camera’s face. This bison with a wicked sense of humour had snootily turned its back on me. As it rambled down the garden slope, I noticed the distinct, white markings on its legs, like socks. The lord of the wild looked resplendent in his regalia and I, the city dweller, felt frumpy by contrast.

When we shared our excitement with the caretaker over breakfast, he told us that a herd of 14 bisons visited the Retreat centre everyday at dawn and dusk. The social animals and the wild ones kept a respectful distance but happily shared the same Edenic state. It seemed time had stood still at an age where the circle of life was still a religion. I must confess how I liked him, my visitor at dawn. “How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet. And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless”. I felt like Lawrence when he met his ‘snake’ … honoured and humbled by this ‘king in exile’.