Last week, Patti and I were in Missoula, Montana, visiting her brother, Jim; our sister-in-law, Nina; and our niece, Ciara.

Upsata Lake when we first arrived

With some trepidation, I am declaring that we collectively had a “special magic moment” during our visit. The trepidation comes because I am usually reluctant to make too much of a simple event, or an experience, to imply there was much more to it than it actually was.

Not in this case.

Here’s what I mean. For most of us, if asked, we could easily rattle off a few, if not a number, of special moments. Some that easily come to mind include our weddings, births of our children, a special anniversary, a special birthday. See what I mean?

Others of us may include luminous and, perhaps, inspiring events, such as the landing of the astronauts on the moon, a speech by Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or the heroism of passengers on Flight 93 over Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

What is special and magical depends on each of us, I believe.

One day last week, Jim suggested we go kayaking on Upsata Lake, about 40 miles east of Missoula in the mountains. As we went through the day, we ran some errands, had some lunch and did a number of odd jobs around the house. I kept wondering when we were going to find the time for kayaking, but certainly didn’t push it.

Mid-afternoon, we loaded five kayaks in the back of Jim’s truck and headed off to the lake. Once there, while Jim and Nina were unloading the kayaks and building a small fire, Patti and I took the camera nearby to an old wooden covered wagon that stood guard in a golden field glistening in the late afternoon sun. We took some pictures of Ciara for her senior year. She was a beautiful model and cooperative. Makes the photographer’s job a lot easier, I must tell you.

After the pictures, we had some smores before we took off in the kayaks.

The western setting sun over Upsata Lake. What you may not notice is that there are two people in kayaks in the photo

In the early evening, everything was still. There were no ripples on the lake, no wind or breeze in the air, not a cloud in the sky. With the sun setting over the mountains, we were in the channel of the lake, dodging lilypad fields on the left and right of our kayaks. All five of us celebrated this tranquility by gently using the paddles so they made the least amount of noise propelling the kayaks through the water quietly and slowly.

At this point, ducks began circling over the lake, looking for a safe water landing site for the evening. Patti and I had seen this pattern before when we lived on the lake in Ohio. Towards evening roosting time, ducks come in low over the lake and circle. They’re looking for a perfect place to hit the water. From our kayaks, we could hear the quacks and sounds of flapping wings as the ducks circled. Certainly, as the ducks came into the western sky, we could see the ducks silhouetted low over the water with the setting sun behind them. They were pretty easy to follow as they skidded into the water.

The two swans that came in from the East

Soon, we saw something we had not expected to see — two large white swans coming out of the east, looking for a place to land in the water. The two swans circled in the same pattern as the ducks and landed on the east-side of the lake. With an occasional honk, they made the only sound on the lake.

We continued to move quietly and effortlessly, very relaxed through the still water.

As I wandered aimlessly through the water, I noticed that pairs of dragonflies were keeping me company. Never was it one dragonfly, but always two. And, their wings made a distinctive fluttering sound that didn’t carry very far, probably no further than the end of my paddles. But I could tell when the dragonflies were close by, the unique sound of these small wings fluttering identified them as dragonflies.

By now, it was getting fairly dark and the magic was soon to happen.

You may think the scene I  just described above was magical enough, but it does not compare to what happened next.

At this point in the evening, it became impossible for us to see ducks or other fowl against the western setting sun. But evening bats began dodging and darting about us.  Bats feed in the evening and tonight was no different. Bats don’t fly in customary patterns; they dart up and down, back and forth, very erratically. Also, they are very quiet.

So, at this point in the evening, all we could hear were the sounds of fluttering wings all around us. One moment, the sounds of the bat wings were on the left, then immediately on the right, then in front, and, at the same time, right behind us. And, what was most profound was that we could not see them at all.

The quiet stillness, fluttering dragonflies and "invisible" bats made for a special magical moment

It was as if the bats were providing 360 degrees of protection for us. Quiet, soft but clear, the sounds of bat wings were impressive as they moved about us left and right, front and back, and we could not see in any way the origins of these sounds.

Jim and I were within a few feet of each other, just floating on the water. I  asked him if he heard the bats. He whispered that he had.

At this point, it was completely dark. We all started moving toward shore. Jim and I were last and the flapping of the bat wings continued to surround us as we got closer to the shoreline.

While the bats were fluttering around us, as I soaked up the subtle but powerful emotional impact these animals were having on me, all I could hear in the back of my mind was the following:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night. 

Psalm 91 has been an important Biblical passage that I read often, particularly since my diagnosis. In those moments, I connect the simple, uneventful behavior of natural things to the promise that God has for us all. For me, His presence is subtle and simple.

Thank you, Lord, for your presence. Who would have thought bats were a gift?