I have always found the lone stag to be a spiritual signal of connection of some sorts, never quite working it out, but as we enter 2021, maybe this connection is now becoming clearer to me.
As a child growing up in the north of England, I had my first encounter hiking through the countryside in the Lake District and stumbling across the lone stag, or in hindsight, did he stumble across me? I was struck by not just the sheer majestic beauty of the encounter but the moment that he stopped and stared, looking me what seemed straight in the eye, considering me before him, grunts, snorts, taps his hoof, turns slowly, then disappeared back into the bracken.
"This first encounter left an imprint on my soul that still remains with me to this very day."
Over the years I have had several similar encounters around the world in the cold forests of Germany, the Alps of Austria, the foothills of the Andes in Chile, and in California.
I recall going to my best friends mothers funeral in the Scottish Highlands. It was a long trek, even from the north of England where I lived at the time. I was about 2 hours north of Inverness on my way into Sutherland, a single track road, all the way up to the north coast and my destination of Tongue, the ancestral home to my friends family for centuries.
"I came across the monument, in the middle of nowhere by the side of the road. The simple inscription, "failte duthaich mhic aoidh" and beneath it, "Welcome to Mackay Country."
As the sunset was waning in the background, I paused and imagined a Highlander standing there before me, kilt, claymore in hand, and then behind the monument a lone stag appeared. Was I imagining that too?
He stood with his antlers deflecting the setting sun behind him, staring down at me, seemingly assessing my worthiness to enter, and with a nod of his head, a snort, and a kick of the hooves, went back over the horizon and out of sight. I was deeply moved, it was as though somehow, my ancestors were talking to me, the wise old stag had granted me access to his ancient lands.
"As I think about the past year and how so many people around the planet have been impacted in the wake of the global pandemic, I think about some of the bigger, most important issues that I am sure our ancestors would have questioned."
The tragedy of the virus, the loss of life, the economic devastation, millions unemployed nearing to poverty with each and every day. I think about our oceans and how we continue to rape and pillage them of their bounty, yet at the same time pump all that pollution into the very pot that feeds us. I think about the raging wildfires across the world, the melting ice caps, floods, the flagrant denial by some that our pollution and ruination of the planet has nothing to do with how the worlds climate is changing.
I see reports of mass deforestation and fear the impact that will have on us. Islands of plastic in our oceans, huge glaciers drifting off from the north and the south pole, even our bee population depleting, never mind other species around the world.
"It strikes me that if we are not careful, just like Easter Island, the pyramids, there will be nothing left that exists apart from our buildings and folly's as our only legacy."
From afar, I have witnessed the divisions in the UK over staying in the European Union or leaving, and the last minute deal for the latter and approval of BREXIT - an act of devolution, not evolution - surely now is a time of unity, not separation and isolation.
I have watched the president of the most powerful nation in the world sowing division between a nation, its citizens, and the rest of the world taking his presidential powers to the extreme, testing the tenets of truth and integrity to their very boundaries. The election campaign at times sounding more like that of the 1930s with the build up of hatred, division, and blame.
The original source of COVID-19 has largely kept silent on the matter - lamely blaming a fish market in the same province that happens to be home of a biological research lab. Messing around with the very same viruses that are devastating the world today.
I see despots in pursuit of nuclear capability in defiance of world peace, and I see bad actors meddling where they shouldn't and have no right in their attempts to unduly influence the world stage from behind their iron curtains.
"There are just too many signs of reversal in todays world, reversal of all the good things we have achieved and it reminds me of the Gaelic inscription on the Mackay monument those years earlier."
It is three score and three years since I left MacKay's country. Where are the young lads I loved And the so beautiful young girls? First Duke of Sutherland, with your dirty tricks and with your friendship with the foreigners what you deserve is in Hell I'd prefer Judas beside me. Duchess of Sutherland, are you needy, where are your silk dresses? Did they keep you from the terror and the strife which today is recorded in the media? My curse on the big sheep. Where are they now, the decent people's children who parted from me when I was young before MacKay's country was a desert?
"Perhaps the lone stag was not just granting me access but maybe he and his own ancestors had witnessed this decline in Mackay Country many centuries before, maybe this poem, "failte duthaich mhic aoidh" had a meaning that translated to today, 800 years later?"
Just yesterday, on New Years Eve, 2020, it happened to me once more. I was trekking around Northern California, and I once again came across a lone stag. Just me and him, the by now almost familiar stare into my eyes, just for a moment, or two, then the flick of the head, the scrape of the hoof, and the retreat from whence he came.
I think about how over history, seemingly sophisticated and advanced civilizations have grown, waned and in many cases self-destructed. I wonder if this is the ultimate self-destruction of not just a micro-civilization but global civilization as we know it.
"I wonder if the lone stag has the wisdom to see this when we cannot see it ourselves?"
In 2021, I wish for Peace, Love, and Happiness, but most of all of Hope.
I hope that humanity can together see through these frailties of our society, return to a path of evolution, not devolution, and steer clear of self-destruction, division, of hatred, the relentless search for power and greed over the wellbeing of others and our planet.
I hope that we can settle our differences, concentrate on the things that really matter, and work together to live a more harmonious, caring, supporting life, together, as one, and make sure that we leave this planet at the end of our lives, in good enough shape that our children, grand children and ancestors can not only survive, but live and prosper for many millenniums to come.
"I believe that the lone stag is telling me something, I have listened, and I hope that the world one day listens too."
Willy Mitchell is an indie author, writer, and storyteller. His first title was Operation ARGUS, and then the sequel Bikini BRAVO where a group of former Special Air Service operatives enter the dark and murky world of maskirovka and discover the lengths that some people will go for power and greed. Cold COURAGE tells the epic tale of Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition and all that was happening in those extraordinary times. Book four, Northern ECHO tells the story of two boys growing up during the punk rock revolution in the north of England, and how a dark secret keeps them apart until the end. Mitchell's latest installment, is Gipsy MOTH about his Aunt Nikki, her friend, and fellow Aviatrix, Amy Johnson, and Amelia Earhart on the other side of the pond during the golden age of aviation.
Up next? SS Indigo is the story of an eclectic mix of guests mysteriously invited to a cruise on a luxury steamship around the Caribbean. The only thing they have in common is their lust for power, advancement, and wealth.
All of Mitchell's books so far are novels, works of fiction, blended with real events. For further information or how to buy his books, visit his author website: