Yellowstone National Park, July 2013
“This…whatever it was…has now been
joined by another…whatever-it-is…and they are now proceeding in company. Would
you mind coming with me, Piglet, in case they turn out to be Hostile
Animals?” ~ Winnie the Pooh
Last week I experienced my first bear jam at Yellowstone National Park.
In the midst of an afternoon thunderstorm and raindrops the size of Godzilla’s
tears, my husband slowed to a rolling stop, inching forward and muttered under
his breath: “bear jam”. Pardon me, what did you say? A what? Oh. OHHHHHH!
Slow down! Slow down!
Having grown up in Southern
California, the term bear jam sounds like a lollapalooza of rock musicians
staged for a long weekend in bear country USA. Not this time.
As you can imagine, it was VERY
difficult to contain my excitement when the cars in front of us finally sped
away on our side of Yellowstone highway, apparently done viewing a bear. Wow, a BEAR! Reality show and internet-induced terror of bears washed away instantly
at the sight of this mass of wet hair ambling silently along the roadside while
grabbing masses of vegetation in his mouth, chomping away, and giving no mind
to the mayhem of tourists stopping both directions of traffic.
Despite being only a few feet away, this creature short circuited my line
of terror that starts at the frontal lobe and connects electrically to
somewhere near the base of the spine. The
only priority was to capture a photo of the first bear
I had ever seen outside of a zoo…or a distant memory of Winnie the Pooh. I
hurriedly snapped off tens of pictures unable to concentrate on f-stop, apertures or lighting. Fortunately, this bear was a cooperative model that
continued to amble on without paying any attention to the fervor churning
and multiplying from the epicenter of this bear jam.
Click, click, click…all the while
trying to keep the rain out of my passenger-side window and off my camera, my
husband finally reminded me that we were on a highway and had to move on to
provide opportunity for the myriad of other gawkers. Agreed.
As our car regained momentum, I sat silently
thumbing through my digital archive of the speedy moment with our bear. I
noticed on camera what I had not noticed with my naked eyes in the heat of the moment: our bear was quite scuffed up…scars and fur missing from various places on his face, two tags in his clipped
or torn ears, and a wide leather collar with a bent piece of metal at the
bottom where something had apparently been torn free in some imagined hostile
confrontation. Thinking back to his walk and demeanor, he just looked sore and
detached from his star-struck paparazzi.
As the day progressed, I couldn’t
help but ponder my bear experience. I thought and thought…and thought some more
about our battered bear. Our bear?
It is literally impossible to
escape the majesty of Yellowstone. In a single day we experienced a showcase of wildlife: wolves, coyote, a bald eagle, a
bear, several dear, moose, and herds of bison. What an opportunity. We had been invited into these animals’ habitat…almost as one of them, I
imagined. I tried to explain this
abstract homage to my husband who looked like he was in his own pensive,
solitary moment. I asked him what he thought of the strife that seems to be a part of bear’s life in this park; in bear’s own habitat.
His response will forever be etched
in my mind…in my heart: “This park is a wonderful place where we have given
sanctuary to these animals to thrive. Unfortunately, we took the land from them
in the first place, and tried to give it back. But, that bear has to carry tags
in his ears, he has to have an undignified collar, and he walks among humans as
if just offering a glimpse of his fleeting greatness.” He further explained that once you’ve taken
nature from the animals, you can never fully give it back…
I looked out my passenger window
and gazed into the screen of pouring rain that seemed to heighten my emotions. Maybe these weren’t Godzilla’s
tears after all; maybe they were bear’s…
((((((LOVE AND LIGHT)))))) to all