Southern California has a big rattlesnake population, especially in spring. Each year the warnings go out to watch your steps, keep brush trimmed and pets on leashes. 2015 was no different. But I wasn’t about to let that stop my training for the longest hike of my life. You see, in May 2015 I was planning to fly to Spain and spend 6 weeks walking a 500 mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.
Lots of training needed to be done to prepare my body for the long walk that lie ahead. So on this particular day in February we had planned to tackle our very first 10 mile “training” trek. I knew the trail. I had walked it before. The back country of San Clemente, her rugged peaks reach up to the clear blue skies. Dusty trails through vistas of sage brush and dry arid hills stretch out as far as the eye can see. Far off the main road we walked. Hiking sticks prodding the ground in front of us, we kept the conversation going and the music playing if only to let the desert creatures know we were there. These dry hills made a barren contrast to the beautiful blue Pacific to our backs and the distant pine covered mountains that loomed far off in front of us. The rugged desert terrain is home to all sorts of creatures, from bob cats to Mountain lions and everything else in between.
The morning was cool and crisp and growing warmer as we pressed on. As we crested a high peak we turned back to take one more look at the shining blue pacific now several miles away. Her azure color and white capped waves gave us comfort knowing we were only a short distance from home even though it felt like we were in another country. The hard packed trail was well beaten down and rocky for most of the hike and then suddenly, it wasn’t. Walking along, we realized the trail had turned from hard clay to a light powdery dust. So light, was this powder that with every step puffs of dust would waft into the air, raining down lightly on our shoes. As we walked along our shoes turned powdery white. Three inches deep, our feet would sink in and disappear.
“It must be high noon by now,” I thought to myself. No trees to shade our walk were anywhere in sight. The sun beat down and we began to sweat. We had come 5 miles in and it was beginning to feel like time to rest, refuel, rehydrate…(The rules when you are hiking). We began to look for a place to sit awhile. As we thought about stopping I had a very eerie feeling come over me. Something just wasn’t right. I said, “Let’s not stop here in this dust. Let’s get over this ridge and stop on the other side.” I took a few more steps, took hold of my surroundings and was suddenly shocked by what I was seeing.
In front of us…everywhere we looked were hundreds of snake imprints in the dust. Like super highways crisscrossing this way and that, in front, behind and all around us we stood smack dab in the middle. The diamond imprints of the rattlers were visible in every single track. Nothing moved. No sound came from the bushes. No wind blew. The hot air suddenly felt like a fiery furnace with fresh coals thrown on it. So as not to alarm my friend I casually said, “Desiree, look at the imprints on the ground. Let’s move out of here quick.” We pressed on and came out of the maze of snake trails in what felt like an eternity.
As we came over the ridge the ground turned solid and rocky again and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We drudged down the slope, pounding our feet to shake off the dust as if to leave it all behind. Down the hill we found a flat spot, spread out our head covers and after taking a good stretch, sat down to rest. We ate fruit and cheese and protein bars. We gulped down water and sipped away at our energy drinks. We were talking and laughing when something caught my eye. Something was moving up the trail from where we had just come. As I tried to focus my eyes on this peculiar sight I could see a small, white creature walking along the trail, straight toward us. I brought this to my companion’s attention and we both watched at what I was convinced was some sort of bird walking down the trail. Maybe 100 yards away it progressed, walking back and forth, steadily downward… walking the entire way. At one point I thought, “Maybe this is a duck because what other white bird walks along the ground for that distance?” Then, when it was about 25 feet away, it gave flight. As it soared into the blue sky we could see it was a beautiful white dove. It proceeded to fly one large circle around us. Then again and again it circled us as if to triumphantly proclaim itself. We sat still in utter amazement. Here, in the middle of nowhere… no trees or shade and dry arid ground was the loveliest white dove greeting us in its entire splendor.
Suddenly we felt the most amazing joy come over us. Our delight was more than the sight of this beautiful dove. The presence of the Holy Spirit was immediately known and felt right there in this dazzling moment. It was as if He was saying, “Do not be afraid…I was with you then and I am with you now. You were not alone in the dusty snake den. I am with you, always with you. I was behind you watching. Nothing will harm you. Be of good cheer!” A rush of love and joy came over us like a bubbling brook running over giggling stones on its way. We looked at each other and laughed and laugh. He was with us and He wanted us to know! We were about to head off to Spain and walk with 20lb backpacks, over mountains and valleys, in pouring rain and hot humid days. But now we knew He was with us. We would not be afraid. Nothing would harm us!
The snakes of life may slither around but He is with us! In John 14 Jesus said, “Do not be afraid for I will send you another comforter… And He will be with you and He will be IN you!” The Holy Spirit comes in the form of the dove all throughout scripture and Satan (the devil) comes as a slithering snake. The reminder for us could not be more clear. Our God is such a creative Father and He loves to delight His kids with His presence. He loves to commune with us and give us Hope for our future.
In May, 2015 we did indeed walk our Camino in Spain and now it is a distant memory. But we will never forget the day we had this amazing spiritual encounter… the day the supernatural became the natural and spoke to us loud and clear. We will never be the same.