Checking the time on my cell phone I knew I had been hiking close to an hour. The trail to Hieroglyphic Canyon grew steeper with each step and jojobas on either side narrowed the trail so only one person could pass. Despite the steady incline from the start, as I looked forward it seemed I would never reach the mountains until I took a sharp left and suddenly the desert dropped below me on the right and angular rock rose on my left. Stopping I did a slow turn. At last I was in – really in! — the Superstition Mountains and although I knew thousands of feet, both human and animal, had passed this way before I had the feeling I was the first to see this land, at least through my eyes.
Clouds dulled the sky. I should have hurried along but I didn’t, preferring instead to savor each step and look at the landscape with wide eyes. The trail wended through larger and larger rocks and as I climbed around yet another turn I nearly slipped in amazement. Forty yards up the mountain six bighorn sheep pawed anxiously, unnerved by my presence. One ram and three ewes tightened a protective circle around two young lambs. The young ones, curious about the two legged creature that ventured so near, poked their heads between the legs of the adults only to be quickly nosed back into the circle by their mothers. Their brown bodies melted into the mountainside and I might have walked right past if it weren’t for the creamy white flash of their tails. I didn’t move. I barely breathed. The ram stood in profile positioning himself between me and the herd. His horns were magnificent, the curve a perfect crown for his kingly head.
Aravaipa, where I recently lived, is bighorn sheep country. At the beginning of the hunting season it was reported that the herd was close to two hundred strong and sheep were spotted on both sides of the creek throughout the Galiuro Mountains. Guests to the ranch were always excited whenever they spotted the sheep high on the mountain or making their way down to the creek to drink. Sightings, though exhilarating, were routine except for me. Only once did I come across a ram and once he spied me he turned tail and ran, leaping delicately up the mountain. On moving day, I drove slowly on the ten miles of Aravaipa Road hoping against hope that I might spy one of these magical animals on my way out of the canyon but they remained hidden from my view. And now here I stood, in the middle of the Superstitions, under the watchful eye of this regal ram and his flock.
Slowly I raised my hands to waist height and formed the symbols for distant Reiki. Holding my palms out toward the flock I expressed my intent to send a wave of peace to the animals. The energy flowed softly, so softly I thought the sheep might not receive it until the ram turned. Locking eyes with me he held his head high and stood facing me without threat. One by one the other sheep turned to face me as well, allowing the little ones to move into line next to their mothers. Six pairs of eyes stared and rooted me to my spot but my connection was with the ram, his energy overwhelmed me and drew me into his circle.
Perhaps a butterfly or bird flew close by, I’ll never know what exactly distracted the lamb but curious it turned with excitement as any youngster would do and it was enough to break the connection. The ram signaled the mothers and they began to move off heading up an unseen trail deep into the rocks. I watched them for a time then resumed my own trek to the hieroglyphics. After spending time exploring and viewing the sacred rock art the darkening sky prompted me to begin my return down the trail. For once I had my cell phone with me, a habit I am trying to cultivate now that I am back in civilization. About halfway down my signal kicked in and I excitedly sent Tom a text message telling him about my encounter.
“Wow! You’re kidding! No one has seen sheep in the Supers for years and certainly not at that elevation.”
My sense of wonder grew exponentially at that response. Did the sheep form a welcoming party for me? Silly, of course, but I’d like to think so. At least this I know: our encounter made me feel at home.