I live in a wild, remote and beautiful place where opportunities for enchantment come thick and fast. But sometimes, still, there are moments that take my breath away. Late yesterday afternoon, just before dusk, I took a brief solitary walk out onto our headland. Mist was everywhere; the mountains behind were invisible and the presence of the sea ahead was apparent in nothing more than the sound of water washing against jagged rock (the Atlantic is never truly quiet). As I slowly approached the small hillock where usually I like to stand to look out across the land, I began to make out the shadowy shapes of a group of stags just ahead of me. 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 even more, 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 be moving pretty quickly to spook these deer; they’re surprisingly resilient. They just moved, each one of them to a different side of the group. The others took their lead and each of them also moved a few steps away from where they’d previously been standing. I came to a complete halt, with this group of nineteen stags now ranged in a semi-circle at the bottom of the hillock in front of me. They were part-animal, part-shadow in the mist, but a stag with a particularly grand set of horns (a Royal, for sure) broke from 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, with a sudden sharp lurch of atavistic fear, a curious reversal of the normal pattern of hunter and hunted. The ‘dance’ of this elder stag lasted a good five minutes, until I set them free by lifting my hand and moving forward, at which point they finally turned to flee – nineteen shadows running 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. 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.