What do you do when you perceive a threat? I spent some time observing Dall Sheep, and this is what I learned from them.
Is it a Dance or a Hike?
“On this disco hike, we’ll get off near a stream and hike uphill towards Cathedral Mountain,” the park ranger told us.
“Disco hike? I didn’t realize we had to dance!” one of the other participants grumbled.
“We call them ‘disco hikes’ because it’s easier than saying ‘discovery hike’ each time,” the ranger said with a grin. “Hopefully we’ll see some Dall Sheep and other wildlife along the way.”
The bus pulled over next to the road and the dozen disco hikers piled out. I settled my camera backpack on my shoulders and adjusted my hiking poles.
“Where’s the trailhead?” one of the other hikers asked.
“No trailhead, and no real trail,” the ranger said. “In Denali, you can hike anywhere. We just ask visitors to spread out when they travel over the tundra ecosystem.”
“Cool!” another hiker enthused. “I’ve never hiked off a trail before.” Others murmured their agreement.
“How do we get back to our camp?” someone asked.
“Good question,” the ranger said. “You can flag down any transit bus and ride back to the park headquarters on a space-available basis. Which is what we’ll do when this disco hike ends.”
When You Perceive Danger
We started up a narrow animal trail next to the creek, and quickly gained elevation. I’d tried getting good photos of Dall Sheep for the past three summers but hadn’t had any success. Maybe this time.
Halfway up, we stopped to catch our breath and take in the views. I heard a rock rattling down the side of the mountain and whipped around to see what made it fall. A small flock of Dall Sheep skittered away.
I pulled out my camera, determined to have everything ready if we saw the sheep again. Because Dall Sheep in Denali aren’t hunted, I hoped they wouldn’t perceive our friendly group of hikers as a serious threat.
We continued uphill, moving from side to side of the creek as the vegetation demanded. Suddenly, we came out next to a rocky outcrop with a green carpet of grass. Not 50 feet away a ewe calmly ripped a mouthful of grass and turned to gaze at me while she chewed it.
Other hikers pointed and looked, and a few stopped to snap photos. Not wanting to get too far behind, I hiked, but stopped to take photos every few yards. After fifteen minutes, I noticed something moving higher up on the ridge.
I grabbed my binoculars to get a closer look and saw a small flock of lambs and medium-sized sheep running down the ridge towards me. The ewes noticed the movement and stood at attention while their lambs came charging towards them.
Evidently, the lambs and sub-adults had escaped higher up when the flock first noticed our movement. Once they categorized us as a non-threat, the ‘babysitters’ brought the lambs back to their mothers.
Spiritual Lessons from Dall Sheep
While this post is about photography, it’s also about spiritual self-care and spiritual wholeness—part of my regular Self-Care Sunday lineup. I’ll never forget the exuberance of the lambs as they dashed towards their mothers. I also learned a few things about how to handle danger.
1. Be alert.
Wild animals must keep vigilant in order to perceive both danger and possible food sources. The Bible warns us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 We need to stay alert because the devil has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve. We might not perceive his innocent-looking hooks as threats. Part of spiritual self-care involves asking God to help us perceive danger.
2. Remain calm (running encourages predators).
The Dall Sheep remained calm when they saw our group instead of immediately rushing off in fright. Likewise, we don’t need to freak out when we perceive an attack from the evil one.
Dall Sheep also understood their capabilities. They can scramble up and down places humans or bears would find difficult to negotiate. While the devil may be out to get us, we can remain calm in God’s capabilities to fight off the attacks for us.
3. Send others to safety.
As soon as they perceive danger, the ewes send the youngsters to higher ground to avoid a threat. When we sense danger to our children, we can redouble our prayers for them. We don’t have to wrap our children in cotton, but we can entrust them to a higher authority—our heavenly Father.
4. Call Out to Others
While the Dall sheep didn’t roar or cause a ruckus, we could hear their quiet bleats as they communicated with each other. When we perceive a spiritual threat, we can call out to each other for support, too. James 5:16 urges us to pray for one another, and Matthew 18:20 assures us when we pray together, God will be with us.
5. Don’t live in fear
A hyper-vigilant sheep ends up malnourished. While aware of the danger, the ewes didn’t stop eating. Once they understood we meant no harm, they called their lambs to them and fed their lambs.
We have a Good Shepherd who will watch over us and guide us. All we have to do is ask.
“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”1 John 4:18 The Message
Take turns resting
I’ve spent hours observing Dall Sheep, both in Denali National Park and near Anchorage at Beluga Point. I’ve noticed how when one ewe lays down to rest, the others keep watch. I’ve never seen an entire flock resting at the same time. But they do rest.
We need to take time to rest as well. While we can capably do just about anything, it doesn’t mean we have to do everything. We can learn to delegate and enlist help from our family members so we, too, can take a turn resting. When danger lurks, we still need to guard our times of rest. If we fail to do this, we might not have the resources to cope.
Schedule some time to observe nature. We have a biblical precedent for observing nature in Proverbs 6:6 and Proverbs 30:25. I’ve discovered I learn more from nature when I have a camera in hand. The learning happens while I shoot, and when I process the photos.
Think about how you currently react to threats and dangers. Can you learn anything from the Dall Sheep?
28 days Behind the Lens
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