I hugged a tree today. It was a giant, old ponderosa pine with a burn scar at the base, peeling, multi-hued bark, and bear scratches. The branches, way up above me, were loaded with neon-green lichens that glowed against the blue sky and the billowing thunderclouds.
A couple of days ago I camped on a forest service road above the Cascade River. As I followed the river back to the highway a shiny black bear strolled into the road ahead of me. His belly was so big that his legs looked short and only a tiny curve of his ears stood above the great, round head. He stopped broadside to me; like a child crossing the road, he looked to his right and then to his left. He hesitated when he saw me then bolted over the side of the road, down the bank to the river. Gone.
Yesterday I saw a mama bear with a second-year cub. I heard them all afternoon on the slope above the camper, branches breaking, leaves rustling, now and then chuffing. Finally, after several hours, a scruffy-looking, milk chocolate-colored cub rambled into sight. He sauntered past, only 60 feet from the camper, confident in his youthful long-legged-ness. A minute or so later, the dark chocolate-colored mama bear followed. Apparently, they were on a mission, neither so much as looked at the camper.
Today, there was the bear scratching-tree. It’s been years since I last saw a bear; now three bears and a bear tree in three days. What gives?
Two weeks later: I dreamed about grizzly bears last night. I camped on a slope in a sea of sagebrush with a 360º view of hills and a handful of rocky peaks standing above the rim. I awoke just before moonrise while the sky was still awash with stars, the Milky Way a full arc across the sky. Big Bear, Ursa major, was vivid. When I returned to sleep I dreamed of a grizzly sow with two cubs. I’m not sure what happened but, in the end, the sow had me pinned and was roaring with a mouthful of teeth in my face. I know not to run from a grizzly; it is better to play dead. Instead, I looked at the fury in her face and the power in her jaw with awe and I invited her to lunch. Not on me, obviously, but, you know, a civilized sit-down lunch with the ladies, sort of thing.
Bears symbolize introspection. The bears had no agenda for me, of course; they were just doing their own bear things. Nonetheless, I am on The Road not Taken Enough, that includes the mental and emotional journeys that tend to be neglected and avoided. Taking time out of my regularly scheduled life to reflect on what was, what is, and what will be, seems like the ultimate in introspection. I may, like a child or a bear crossing the road, look right, look left, and bolt, but I don’t think so. Not this time. You definitely don’t recant once you have invited a grizzly bear to lunch.