One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the back seat of the car with my siblings while we handed oranges out the windows to the waiting black bears on the way into Crater Lake National Park. These days, we wouldn't dream of doing such a thing, but I'll never forget the bear reaching upward to accept the fruit.
Then when I was seventeen, while walking from the campsite through the woods to the beach, I rounded a corner in the path and discovered a black bear twenty feet away. We stared at one another for a split second, then the bear quickly disappeared in Manzanita trees clinging to the sand dune. I went on to the beach marveling at the close encounter.
In my thirties, in the Sawtooth Mountains, on a hike not far from Ketchum, Idaho, I lagged behind a friend and reveled in the crispness of the mountain river flowing under the footbridge beneath my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement and looked up to see a brown bear cub clumsily forging the river. I gasped and quickly scanned the area for the mother, the hair on the back of my neck rising at the possibility of her being in the vicinity. Despite seeing no sign of her and despite how amazing it was to watch the cub, I knew better than to linger.
Bear, water, and trees have always played a role in the stories and events of my life. And lately, I've found myself returning to these images and elements as if on a journey to pay homage. To the brown and black bear. To the forest and dens where the bear and I both make a home, the bear’s den a hole or hollowed out tree and my home made of Douglas Fir lumber so old there are no knots. To the translucent aquamarine of the rushing water.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest provided endless opportunities to be outdoors near the animals and plants of our natural world. During my childhood, in the 60s and 70s, the trees seemed endless, the fish seemed endless, and the natural resources seemed endless. Fifty years later, we know the idea of resources being endless is the thing we tell ourselves so we don't have to find new ways to do things.
For our personal stories, the same is true. We have resources within us that must be renewed to be sustained but most of us grew up learning to work until we were so depleted we simply couldn’t move. We moved against our own nature and forced ourselves onward, only to have to step back because we were injured, certainly before we were ready. We squandered our energy, our time, and our attention. We even squandered our personal health.
Some of us eventually open our eyes and awaken to our finite existence. At some point we see our old ways are no longer working and we'll have to access our deepest internal resources, the attention and intelligence to grow our awareness even greater. At some point we begin to listen to the internal self that will foster sovereignty and self-responsibility. We begin looking to ourselves to solve our own problems, having grown tired of others telling us what to do or treating us as if they know what is best for us.
That’s where education and learning come in. Getting down into the foundations of paying close attention to movement and behavior and the way we move throughout our day.
We can look to nature to know what is best for us. We can take the cue from the bear and slow down. Nothing slows down quite like a female bear in hibernation, with her reduced metabolism even as she creates new life. Nothing slows down quite like a stream flowing into a lake where the water then sits deeply and darkly and animals and humans feed off the lake and what is in it. And, nothing is slower than the Douglas Fir trees that stand guard overhead in the forest lending shelter and the foundations for a home.
It is in there, inside you, when you slow down
you’ll hear it. It’s inside the den of your self.
We’ll shine the light in there and you will find
what you need to know
about yourself and your comfort.
Your way of working with yourself
will grow more respectful and accepting,
stronger and more life giving.