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Strangers in Camp


The mountains are unpredictable; you never know what might come creeping into camp. Just a few days ago, my family and I were deep in the mountains at Spring Canyon, one of our favorite spots on Earth. I rolled over in bed to check the time, and it was still early, but the birds were chirping outside and the sunshine was just starting to hit Sheep Mountain. It was all beckoning me to get out there.

The trail to the ponds was wide but rocky, and as I walked through the cool fresh air, I ran into Colton. Actually, he almost ran into me. He’s only 9, and his little body was moving, probably to tell his mom the news that he yelled out to me as he passed. “Moose!!” he said in between breaths. “There’s a moose!!” His eyes were wide with excitement, and I caught a glimpse of something beautiful—WONDER!

My heart started beating, and I picked up my pace. Every turn of the trail, I held my breath, thinking maybe that turn might reveal what Colton was so excited to see. The gravel crunched under the footsteps of someone else coming. This time, it was Kenzie. She was older and walking. “There are three young moose over there,” she whispered, trying not to disturb whatever was right around the corner. A smile lit up her face as she pointed, and I walked carefully around the bend in the trail.

My hands were clumsy with adrenaline as I reached into my backpack for my phone, and there they were! They were huge, bow-legged and brown, pulling at the tall grass along the far side of the ponds. They stared at us as they chewed. Dean, the kids’ dad, and his other daughter Summer were there, and we crept like ninjas, hunched over and taking slow, careful steps. It was so quiet. Only the sounds of the trickling creek feeding the ponds and the chirping birds dared interrupt a moment that seemed so sacred. The young moose chased each other through the grass as the morning sun began to flicker and dance off the water. Candy, the kids’ mom, caught up with us, and snuck up on a bridge to get a better look. “They won’t chase me on the bridge,” she whispered. We laughed and kept watching.

My mind went back to another early morning with a moose during a backpacking trip. After a sleepless night outside in a downpour of rain, with doubt seeping into my heart like the rain through my clothes, God used a moose to offer a glimmer of hope. He likes to surprise us with His grace, moments that wake us up to His goodness and leave us standing in silence.

We all stood for a good while watching. In that moment, there was nowhere else anyone wanted to be. More than Disney World, more than my couch watching the Rockies, more than the beds we just left, we all wanted to be right there in that morning sunshine watching three clumsy moose play. Anxious thoughts about a virus and what school will look like in the fall seemed distant, like the sounds of the cars driving through the valley a couple miles away.

The moose were smart. They crashed through some thick trees and over a river until we couldn’t watch them anymore, and the four of us moose stalkers left the scene, thankful for the gift-wrapped moment God had provided.

I thought of maybe heading down the Colorado trail. It wasn’t too far away, so I threw my phone in my pack and headed in that direction. Then, I remembered Deb. She was sleeping back in the chalet, but the sun breaking through the trees and the freshness of the air were too magical to miss. My teenagers could sleep, but whether she liked it or not, my wife was waking up.

I crept into the cabin, creaking across the floor with each step, and when I got to Deb’s side of the bed, I tapped her on the shoulder. “Good morning,” I whispered with a smile. “It’s time to wake up.” The smile and peppy voice were probably a bit much. She rolled over and looked at me, peering through half-opened eyes. “You wanna go on a walk with me?” I asked. She wasn’t smiling and checked the time as if to say, “Isn’t it a little early?”

“Sure,” she finally said, stretching her arms, trying to get her bearings.

After a few minutes and a few more creaking steps across the floor, we were on the trail, and I told her about the moose. We crossed a bridge over a very full Cottonwood Creek and just stood there, watching the water run underneath us.

The morning dew was sparkling in the trees, and as we took it all in, Deb broke the silence with a thought running through her head. “You know that book I’ve been reading called Get Out of Your Head?” I nodded. “The author makes a really good point about wonder.”

We leaned over the railing of the bridge, making ourselves comfortable, and Deb described how the author, Jennie Allen, challenges her readers to look for moments of wonder every day. It could come from looking at a leaf, being warmed in some sunshine, or even just staring at your toes. We left the bridge and passed some wildflowers and then a beaver dam. “It’s in moments like these,” she said, gesturing at all we were seeing on the trail, “that our hearts fill up with gratitude and we stop focusing so much on ourselves.”

We talked more as we walked, and on our way back, we stopped again at the bridge. We stood there, watching the water rush over the rocks and under our feet, and in the silence, we let go. Like the creek carrying away pine needles and dead leaves, God provided a moose and a walk to carry away the troubles screaming in my head. The three moose walking into camp were new to me. In all my years there, I’d never seen one, but the wonder they brought was like an old friend, lifting my eyes off me and finally giving my heart the freedom to worship.

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© 2020 by That They May See Erin Ahnfeldt

Colorado Springs