Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Bears II

Fr. Dale Matson

“For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” (Job 3:25, KJV)

In a previous posting, I discussed the topic of lions and tigers and bears.

I was backpacking this week out of Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. My plan was to connect with the John Muir Trail (JMT), go north, and complete the Rae Lakes Loop in two days. Out bound, about two miles from the trailhead at “Roads End” I crossed a footbridge.  I exited the wooded part of the trail and began climbing a series of steep switchbacks on an exposed slope that ascended 1,000’ over the next 1.5 miles.

Although there are views on the ascent, most of the time I was watching my steps to avoid stumbling on rocks, roots and loose scree that acts like marbles under your feet. I was glad to be hiking this section in the morning when it was cooler. I reflected on past experiences on this section of trail, where I had seen a few mule deer on the inbound descent. Generally, animals create their own “use trails” but frequently follow human trails for ease of travel. I once followed a pair of coyotes for miles on the Glacier Point (Yosemite) cross country ski trail. They were both quite upset with me, turning occasionally to bark at me and were reluctant to eventually abandon the easy travel of the packed trail.

As I was finishing my climb this week, I looked up to see a large male black bear standing in the middle of the trail. He had been descending and stopped when he saw me. I stopped and the first thing that came to my mind was denial. I thought, “That is not a bear that I see in front of me.” Well… yes, it was a bear. I quickly realized that there was not enough room on the narrow switchback for the bear and me to pass each other. To my left was a sheer wall and to my right was a steep embankment.  It was not a Mexican standoff since the bear had all of the logistical advantages over me with his size, speed and power. Not sure of what to do next, I decided to take his photograph. While I was aiming the camera, he took one last look at me and ambled over the steep side of the trail. He walked past me and got back on the trail below me, continuing his journey.

I have seen bears before in my years if trail running, hiking and backpacking but the distance between me and the bears provided a comfort zone. Sometimes I have come across fresh bear scat and that has caused me more concern than actually seeing them in the distance. This time was different. He was close enough that I could see the flies on his head and there was no exit.  It did not occur to me to try and scare him away. I was once “bluff charged” by a bear near Devil’s Postpile, in a campground. Fortunately this was not a “campground savvy” bear.

The amazing thing for me was that I was not fearful at all. After a lifetime of dreams about being chased by bears and the ongoing anxiety of a close bear encounter, I was not afraid. I honestly believe the bear sensed my demeanor and was not alarmed by anything I did. Even later, upon reflection, I was not concerned about the experience. I don’t mean to diminish the potential danger here but torturing ourselves with anxiety about possible scenarios is not the substance of faith. Fear and anxiety are a reverse faith. In fact, God may provide a feared reality to show us how shallow and empty our fears are much of the time. I did complete the loop and the link to the photographs is here.  Thank You Lord for this opportunity!


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