The Scent of a Stag

It was only for a moment!

But I knew instantly what I had caught a whiff of – it was a prehistoric scent…

It was the pungent aroma of the male Sambar Deer (stag) that caught my nostrils - a musk odour unlike any other in the wilderness. And it is intoxicating to someone like myself who loves the taste of venison! That scent is a sure sign that you are in very close proximity to these rather large and beautiful beasts.

At the time I noticed the scent, I just happened to be racing down the Beloka Range on my road bicycle in the Snowy Mountains region at over 90kmh! I did consider for a split-second skidding to a halt in the hope of gaining a glimpse of this magnificent creature. However, common sense prevailed, and I remained focused on arriving safely at the bottom of that range!

I rarely get to see these majestic animals. They are sometimes referred to as the ‘ghosts of the forest’, primarily because they are exceptionally good at vanishing into thick forest and bushland and are very difficult to track. But it lifted my spirits to know they are on the move, as the annual Rut begins around this time of year – The Rut is when all of the adult female deer come into oestrus, their period of fertility, and all of the big males start to be less concerned for their safety, and more focused on chasing the girls!

That very brief encounter was a welcome distraction from my epic cycling adventure. I had set out from Jindabyne over the recent Easter break, on a big loop that would take me the better part of five hours to complete. It was a 100km-plus journey over quiet, picturesque back-country roads.

But as I kept my cadence up on the pedals, my heart had become distracted. That prehistoric scent was stirring much more in me than I was able to identify or articulate. I knew it was time to stop and invite Father God into the picture. There was no escaping the discontent that was surfacing in me and I could not work out why.

So, I pulled over under the shade of a snowgum by a small flowing stream, and brought my questions to Abba: -

“Father, what is going on here? Why has the smell of that stag rattled me?”

“Why am I unsettled? And what are you intentionally surfacing here?”

As I sat quietly, trying to be still, Father responded to my prayer by bringing back memories of times in the outdoors with my earthly dad. Times of riding mini bikes on large grazing holdings; fishing adventures; and shooting trips. They all began to flood back to me with my earthly dad’s presence at the epicentre of each memory.

These were very fond times with my dad. He was not around for a lot of my early formative years, but these holiday adventures with him were a gift for a young boy’s heart.

To provide a little more backdrop here… my dad was raised during the Great Depression. When he was just seven years of age, his own father would go off looking for work, or line-up for food parcels. Before leaving each day he would say these words to my dad:- “If I don’t get any work today, or the food parcels run out before I get to the front of the line, then all we might eat tonight is whatever game you can shoot and bring home for the family.” Then he’d place just two or three .22 calibre bullets into my young father’s pocket, and hand him an old Anschutz single-shot rifle with iron sights before walking out the door.

Talk about putting some pressure on a young boy to bring home the bacon!

But invariably, my dad learned to become a crack shot with that old rifle. He shared with me that his first few rabbits were destroyed because of a poorly placed bullet. Initially, he would hit key meat areas and ruin the flesh, so it was no good to eat. But after a while he learned to head-shoot his game, the most humane method and thereby ensuring all the meat was useable for the table. My dad knew many ways to cook up a feast with these little critters - rabbit pie, rabbit stew, slow roasted rabbit, rabbit casserole, rabbit soup … the list rolled on!

Needless to say, it was no surprise that my dad would take my brother and I out on shooting trips, teaching us to hunt. He would insist on spending time with us 
first and foremost, practising at targets to help us become more accurate. I still recall him drumming into us this mantra: “One shot. One kill”. Only after we reached a certain degree of accuracy would he then release us to hunt real game. To qualify for that privilege we had to place five consecutive shots inside a bullseye the size of a 50 cent piece at 50 metres – I still can hear him yelling over our shoulders as we practiced:- “I’m not going to let you cruelly injure animals that we’ll then have to chase all over the countryside to despatch!”.

Once ‘qualified’ to go hunting, the thrill of successfully shooting my first rabbit and hearing my dad shout with a cheer of celebration is still an endearing memory for me.

He would then show me how to skin, gut, clean and prepare the carcass for consumption. He would spend time showing us how to sharpen our knives at an angle over a whet stone. Dad was incessant about ensuring we learn to butcher in an effective way so that there was very little wastage of meat. It revealed to me the effect that living through the Great Depression had upon him, and many others of that generation. Interestingly, I still have a knife today given to me by father when I was a young boy – it remains to this day a prized possession.

I allowed these precious memories to wash over me as I sat under that tree by that stream, and it occurred to me to ask Father God why He was bringing such memories to my recall.

His answer both surprised and startled me.

He revealed there were a few issues in my heart that needed to be tackled, stemming from plans for this month’s hunt in the Rut having to be cancelled.

Every year for as many as I can remember, we have gone away camping, fishing and hunting around the Easter/April School holiday break. These trips have provided me with opportunities to invest into my own children in ways my dad had invested into me, all with the rugged beauty of the outback as the backdrop to these most precious of family memories.

But as my older sons have left home, moved overseas, gotten married and started their own families, or just become busy with different interests and pursuits, these family hunting and outdoor adventure holidays have become increasingly harder to organise – even with far fewer Ryan children involved.

2019 was our most recent trip away that saw only a very limited party get away for that hunting adventure. In 2020, the pandemic struck and we experienced the very first ‘Lock-Down’, effectively derailing last year’s trip away.

This year, we had torrential rain just before Easter which made our regular hunting property a quagmire. The property owner requested we not come, due to the very high likelihood that our 4wd would get bogged. Even if we didn’t get bogged, landowners don’t take too kindly to deep 4wd drive tracks being left in the soil everywhere you go. Such tracks become a nuisance to drive on after the land has dried out.

After receiving that bad news regarding this year’s trip, I broke the news to my two remaining teenage children still living at home. To my shock, both exhaled with relief as they shared with me that they didn’t really want to go … they each had other more favoured plans with friends.

To hear that kind of hit me hard. But I pushed it away, failing to wrestle out what was really going on in my heart. However, the same agitation had begun to surface within minutes of picking-up the musk scent of that male deer. It was being used by God to reveal a sense of loss in my heart that I did not know how to identify or articulate.

I knew it was time to deal with it.

So, sitting by the roadside, I began to pour out my heart to Abba Father regarding all my fears that this season of investing in my children was coming to a close. I was also able to tell Him how I felt helpless to do anything about it!

I’d also come to the realisation that this wasn’t just about me mourning the loss of not being able to connect and invest into my children. To my surprise, this was just as much about me still searching for my own father’s approval on those hunting trips.

Father God showed me there were still places within me that needed His healing. These unhealed ‘innermost’ places were driving me out into the wilderness, still searching for my earthly dad’s approval in ways I had not recognised.

This precious time by the side of the road with my True Father also brought me to the realisation there were pockets of grief that still needed to be expressed from my earthly father’s passing. I had to perform CPR on him in 1993 after he’d collapsed from a heart attack. Sadly, he did not make it. But, the trauma of having to perform CPR on my own father had trapped some tears that still needed to be shed.

By the time I got back on my bicycle that day to complete my journey, the Lord had taken me to some deep places. There were some hard questions asked; gracious answers provided; and a good deal of tears flowed. I pedalled away, amazed at how He alone knew just the right way to get my attention – utilizing the scent of a stag to call to His precious son.

This is one seriously good Father we serve!

A PRAYER:

“Abba, only you know the innermost places of my heart where truth does not yet exist. I give you permission to continue to sift me, in ways that I must be sifted. I welcome how You lovingly surprise me in ways that reveal how you’ve intricately walked with me throughout my life. I choose to thank You for the disruption You bring - it always brings more life once on other side - once I have let You have your way.

In the words of Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

‘‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”

AMEN.

Until next time,