Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.” Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature. Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children. The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises. Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up. As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean. That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.
Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth. Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature. I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you. In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons. There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons! Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway. There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain. The type of mist in which magic lurks.
And bears. In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.” It is associated with the season of Winter. Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense. Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible. Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road. He had a nightly bear visitor. To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away. There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear. It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!
Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping. Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation. The back of the property where I live is open to an alley. In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor. He’s very low profile as he comes in the night. The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat! The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.
Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea. I have done it a few times. Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail. A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike. They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away. I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there. Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat. And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real. However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.
I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live. One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore. The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear. Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me. I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me. Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment. Then the bear continued on its journey. A jogger came along shortly. He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in. I said yes. And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear. There had been no reason for fear to be triggered. The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.
“That is why we live here,” he said. And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.
I doubt the bear was in awe of us. There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special. To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.