Natural Life Magazine

Saint Francis and the Hunter

Saint Francis and the Hunter
By Gene Sager

As I drove through the early morning fog on the road to the forest for a walk, I was struck by a strange sight: A monk was thumbing a ride! He wore a dark brown habit and a white braided rope for a belt. I stopped to get a closer look and recognized Francesco Bernardone di Assisi. He had appeared to me several times before, always unexpectedly, shaking up my tidy little world. He opened my car door with a cheery, “Buongiorno.” I figured a walk in the woods would suit him well, and, barring unforeseen circumstances, this would make for a smooth trip. He said he would “get a kick out of a walk in the forest.”

Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi was a Franciscan monk who was made a Roman Catholic saint after his death in 1226. He is considered the patron saint of animals and ecology.
On the drive to the woods, I explained to Francis that being in the woods is for me like a therapy. “No wonder!” said Francis. “Nature is God’s original therapy. In Nature you can take a deep breath and let stress go. This is because we are from the earth – we are made from the earth and it is our primal home. Just so for non-religious people too. We are more at home in Nature than in a house, a box on the street.” I mentioned that we now have many and various therapies like psychotherapy, art therapy, and aromatherapy. “But these take place in a box,” said Francis. “Your problems and stresses are bouncing back at you from the walls.”

Francis said the sounds of the forest make a deeper silence than no sounds at all. “The tweeting of the birds creates a lovely silence.” I told him I would think about that one, and I asked him if he knew about electronic tweeting, as in Twitter. He said e-tweeting often goes negative or bitter, but the tweeting of the birds is never negative.

We arrived at the woods just as the fog was clearing. It is a pine and aspen forest adjacent to a series of rocky hills. I often encounter deer and an occasional mountain lion there. Francis hopped jauntily from the car, saying, “Paradiso. This is God’s garden.” We sauntered through the trees for a good hour. When we reached the depth of the forest, we saw a hunter over to our left, heading towards us. When he saw us, he instinctively pointed his rifle at us, then quickly lowered it. “Oh hello,” he said. “You are wearing brown clothes, and you know… Well, anyhow, I’m Robert.” The hunter was drawn to Francis’ habit, saying, “By your robes I can tell you are one of those bird men.” Francis replied simply, “I love all of Nature.” Wanting to impress, the hunter boasted that he had never shot a bird.

Suddenly, we saw an animal running among the trees some 50 meters ahead of us. On impulse, Robert fired quickly. The animal faltered but kept running, and we all gave chase after his quarry. A bloody trail guided us until we caught up with the exhausted animal and discovered it was a mountain lion. He lay on his side, groaning, his breathing sporadic. Soon his breathing stopped.

What were we going to do with a dead mountain lion in the depths of the forest, some five kilometers from civilization? No one wanted to carry home the body of a dead mountain lion, least of all Saint Francis of Assisi. Robert pulled a fold-up shovel from his backpack. He said, “We have to bury him here.” When the body was covered with earth, Francis said, “We feel sad to return our brother’s body to the earth. It was fratricide. He didn’t do anything to us. We have caused injury and suffering and we need pardon. And now we hope we can be instruments of peace, instruments of life, not instruments of death.” I saw the hunter’s eyes tear up. He coughed a muffled cough that masked his emotion. After an awkward silence, we started the long walk back to the car.

No one wanted to speak, but Francis spoke gently: “Before I leave, I want to tell you about my dream. Once, a long time ago, I dreamed that God had created a vast and beautiful garden and many, many creatures to live in it. All from the same source, all one family. No one is dispensable, no one is lower than any other. One type of creature, called human beings, are the caretakers of the garden and the protectors of all who live in it. In my dream, all lived in harmony. No one caused needless suffering or death to any other creature. I had this dream 800 years ago. May it come true soon.”

Francis bid each of us goodbye, placing his hands on our shoulders. Then he walked into the woods, disappearing among the trees.

Gene Sager is Professor of Environmental Ethics at Palomar College in San Marcos, California. He is a prolific and thoughtful writer on environmental and philosophical issues. Saint Francis has appeared in a number of his articles in Natural Life Magazine, including this one about cell phones, this one about deep car culture, this one about shopping malls, this one about dishwashers, and this one about urban Nature.


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