Sunday, February 11, 2007

Aura on the Ridge

“I have to go up,” I stated with a finality to dissuade any of my friends from trying to convince me otherwise.

I put my pack down and looked up to where the hunter had seen the bear. The young man had raced down a trail and emerged breathless in the middle of our hiking party.

“Take your camera,” Mike advised.

“No, I won’t need a camera to remember what I see.”
“At least take the pepper spray,” he added.

“Yes, I can do that,” and I removed the canister and stuffed the bulky appliance in my back pocket. Without making eye contact with anyone, I ran up the hill with an unnatural energy. Donna later related that she had never seen me move so fast.

To my dismay, Christine followed. I hadn’t reckoned on exposing her to any danger. Ok for me, but not for her. How could I live with myself if she were hurt? I slowed and started to give voice to this anxiety while I thought about how to reconcile a paternal protective sense with the need to engage my spirit. I decided Christine came first.

“If we can’t see the bear from that break in the trees, we’ll go back.”

I knew we wouldn’t; we didn’t and we turned back.

Back at the trail head, where everyone waited nervously, the hunter asked if he could go up again with me. I think he wanted to make up for running scared down the mountain, but he needed someone to share his courage with. I was willing.

“Great idea,” I responded immediately. “Let’s go.”

Christine followed again and this time I didn’t hesitate. It was impossible for me to tell my daughter not to follow, or not to do anything for that matter. That’s never been my way. I recognized that asking her to stay behind or thinking that she would mindlessly follow me into danger was equally presumptuous. Later I came to consider that perhaps she was there to protect me.

I never felt as if we were in danger. My heart rate never jumped; I didn’t develop a cold sweat; I never felt fear. Odd! The excitement otherwise was enormous. I positively tingled with anticipation. I knew. I knew not only that I would find the bear, but exactly where. I had a wondrous sense of my surroundings, a joyous perception.

The hunter kept up behind me. He was a young man from New Zealand and carried a Winchester 303. He was nervous and I was reassured to note that he wasn’t running with his finger on the trigger, and I hoped that he had the safety on as well, just in case he tripped. I asked questions as we climbed, and although I never slowed down I realized how breathless I was because my words and my breathing were competing.

“What was the bear doing,” I asked?

“Digging things,” he replied.

“Turning over boulders,” I inquired, wondering if the grizzly were looking for insects.

“No, just digging in the ground.”

“Furious digging,” I asked wondering if the bear was chasing down into a marmot or ground squirrel burrow.”

“No. Kind of lazy digging.”

“Looking for tubers then,” I concluded. The slope had likely been home to a field of Yellow Hedysarum, the roots now fat with summer stored energy.

“Did the bear look agitated?”


“Did the bear see you or otherwise sense your presence?”

“I think he did.”

I wondered how the hunter knew the bear was male and decided that he didn’t. Most men would ascribe maleness to something greater than them.

The wind was racing down the mountain so I knew the bear could not smell us. I certainly perked my nose into the air whenever we went through a dense thicket but I never smelled the bear. I talked continuously whenever the trees encroached on the trail; I wanted to see the bear, but I didn’t want to surprise the animal.

We emerged from the tree cover onto a 35 degree slope that reached up to a bluff, beyond which I knew the mountain would continue to climb to further bluffs or a ridge.

“The bear was over there,” advised the hunter who pointed to our left.

“Then the bear will be to our right and walking over towards a sun exposed ridge,” I said as I turned and raced to the right.

I wondered if I should be silent as I approached the bluff since I knew the bear would be somewhere above. I decided to make some noise in case the bear where just over the brow but this proved unnecessary. I burst onto the brow and saw the grizzly about two hundred yards up and to the right, nonchalantly digging in yellowing grass. The bear was alone, looked older, at least ten years I thought, and thin for so late in the summer and so close to hibernation.

The hunter caught up, then Christine, and surprisingly, in due course, everyone else. No one had chosen to stay behind. They were as frightened to remain as they were to come.

We watched the bear for about fifteen minutes. Our presence was evident to the great animal and clearly an unwanted intrusion. The grizzly turned and worked slowly up towards the ridge.

Just before the bear reached the ridge I realized what was about to happen.

“Watch,” I exclaimed excitedly. “Watch as the bear reaches the ridge. The fur on the back will light up.”

Sure enough, the settling sun found the line along the spine and the hollow between the shoulder hump and the rump shone brilliant as if the fur were aflame. The grizzly paused to look back at us and the top of the head and the ears were momentarily encompassed by a golden halo.

Suddenly, I was transformed into a young Indian boy and I stood in awe of the majesty and power on that ridge. I was witness to a mystical spirit, perhaps a shape-shifting shaman. In that moment, close to the heavens, drawing directly on the power of the life-giving sun, the bear was my god. Then, just as suddenly, the bear disappeared over the ridge and onto the western face, and I was myself again.

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