Jeanette and I arrived back in GR yesterday after a glorious 2 week vacation that took us to northern Michigan for a Yoga Fest and then to Canada for 40 miles of intense backpacking at Pukaskwa National Park. Both were phenomenal experiences.
Among the trip highlights were: seeing a black bear and a moose in the wild, sharing gin martinis with a generous kayaker friend on the beach, eating m&m’s after a long day of backpacking, swimming in Superior, hiking a suspension bridge spanning the gorge of a rushing, roaring waterfall, accomplishing our hiking goals, and arriving back to the normalcy of everyday life.
These were the external highlights. One of the ultimate highlights, though, wasn’t something that I witnessed or ate or did. It was internal. During the trip, I noticed subtle shifts in the sounds that I made and the feelings that I had.
We began the trip rather loudly as a precaution against startling or surprising a bear, which you never want to do. We attached blue bear bells to our trekking poles, made frequent “clicking” noises by tapping out trekking poles together, and consistently let out a “Whoop-whoop!” to alert bears we were in the area. I was also well-read in bear safety. Finally, we were expending a lot of energy on staying alert, our eyes constantly scanning the woods for the bears, moose, and wolves–the wildlife we were told we may likely encounter.
By the first night, I asked J if all of this fear and worrying was worth it and whether or not we should just head back in the morning instead of continuing on. I was 50/50. I could stay or go.
The next morning, we decided to continue. By the end of day 2, after we had hiked over purple piles of bear poop (they love berries), and buried our footprints in wet sand next to bear tracks on the beach, I was a little less fearful. We were so deep into the woods at this point, with only 1 way in and out, and still hiking farther from home, having not reached our halfway point yet, that it dawned on me there wasn’t much I could control. What would happen, would happen.
The third morning I awoke and as we set out for a 9 mile hike, I didn’t let out my usual “Whoop-whoop!”; instead, what came out of me was “Peace, peace.”
About 3 hours after our first passing of the “Peace” had dissipated into the forest, we stumbled upon a black bear! It was on our path and we had been following its tracks for a while. When it heard us, it ran ahead a bit, stopped, turned around to look at us for a brief moment, and carried on its way.
People have asked, “Were you scared?!” Honestly, no. We didn’t really have time to be scared and (surprisingly!) what came over both of us in that moment was the same peace that we had been giving to the forest all morning long.
After a successful bear encounter, the stress and fear that came with encountering something wild, dissipated even further.
Shortly after that, we silenced our bear bells, stopped clicking our poles together, and if we said anything, we sang a song, told a story, or called out “Peace” as a blessing, instead of as a warning.
We had moved from fear to peace in four days. In my journal, I wrote, “Day 4. We feel no need to call out to the bears to signal our arrival. We silence the bells.”
In the end, I realize that, Yes!, it is always worth it to set out on a difficult journey, especially if it scares you. It really does make you stronger, less paranoid (maybe), and if nothing else, more peaceful. Being in a context like the vast, raw, rugged wilderness–in a place that moves you out of your comfort zone–is a great practice in letting go of power and control, because the truth is, you don’t really have any. You learn to trust the elements, the animals, the spirit in the hollow of every pine, the caw of each crow and the crashing of every wave onto driftwood shorelines.
Perhaps it wasn’t so much my fear of being confronted by the wild as it was my fear of being reunited with it, because I know every time I enter the woods or the waves, I belong there and always have.