Guidance From a Grouse

by Michael McGinnis

For the last 15 years, each June, I have usually led a group of high school students up Mount Haldane, a local prominent landmark. Haldane is an imposing mountain because it stands by itself and rises about 4000 feet (1200 m) from the valley floor. climbing through the tree line, to the snow and bare rock at the top, to an open view in all directions for dozens of kilometers, leaves a feeling of accomplishment. This is a wild part of the world: there is a trail up the mountain, but leaving the trail could soon find one disoriented and lost.

Each year as I drive out to the mountain for another climb I recall past trips: most were uneventful, but bears have been a concern a few times, minor injuries have happened, and a student got lost one time. I ask Spirit for guidance, especially if I am the only adult on the mountain. But if I ask, I must be watchful for a reply.

This year I took eight students up the mountain. When the climbing becomes strenuous, the group tends to spread out on the trail. Keeping track of them all is a problem. About a quarter of the way up the mountain is a spot called the lookout — a good place for a snack and regrouping. There was some straggling, but everyone made it to that point in reasonable time. From there a series of switchbacks climbs the mountain and crosses the treeline. I told everyone to stay on the trail.

The first switchback is long, about a kilometre, and when I reached the end of it I stopped to make sure no one was left behind. Some students were already there enjoying the scurries and clucks of a mother grouse. She had two baby chicks with her and they had scattered away from her when we came up to them: she was worried about them and was trying to find them, and distract us from them at the same time. Surprisingly, one of the students had caught a chick and was holding it in her hand. The student put the chick back on the ground, and the mother grouse soon found it. Then the mother had to scout through more bush to find the other chick. But this worked out ok too. Soon the family was back together.

While we watched the grouse, more students reached us at the end of the switchback. The last two students hadn't appeared — I was told they were some ways back. The rest of the students carried on up the next switchback. I waited a few minutes for the missing students — no sign of them. I walked a ways back down the trail to see if I could find the students. Not there. Where were they, and what was I going to do about it? I was concerned — one lost student a few years ago was all I wanted to have. Yet I felt that Divine Spirit was sending me a message through the incident with the grouse. The mother was missing her chicks, but she got them back safely. I felt the message for me was the same: the students were safe, I just had to round them up.

I kept walking down the switchback, all the way to the lookout where I had last seen the missing students. Not there. Now I had two missing students who might have walked off the mountain back to the car, or who might have left the trail — even to shortcut between switchbacks to get up the mountain faster. And of course what I definitely had were six students who were half an hour ahead of me on the trail. So I turned uphill and caught up to them. I found that the missing students had left the trail and taken a shortcut between the switchbacks after all!

As I searched for the missing students I thought about my reactions to the situation. Seeing the grouse eased my concern about the safety of the students: Spirit was telling me that this incident would be resolved happily. But it was still up to me to make the best decision I could to find the students without delay, and with a minimum of risk to other students. The feeling of safety did not lessen the sense of responsibility.

The Holy Spirit often uses other living things to send us messages that we can understand more easily in that way. When you have a problem, look around you for help with an answer—maybe in a place you wouldn't expect it to be. Help is often there for the taking, but the responsibility (and the growth from accepting the responsibility) is also yours to enjoy.

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