I have been an avid hiker and backpacker (those days were sadly over after my reconstructive foot surgery) for the last 45 years. My favorite hiking has always been in the rugged mountains of the North Cascades. I have always wanted to see a bear in the wilderness, but never had. I always imagined watching a black bear from about 200 yards trotting away from me.
Last weekend, my wife and I were hiking in the Stehekin Valley, some 51 miles up lake from Chelan. I turned a corner in the trail and I heard big sounds from the brush about 75 feet from where I stood. And there I saw my first black bear chewing up a ripe blueberry bush! I was downwind from this bear, so he couldn’t smell my presence. I started yelling at the bear to leave (I knew that announcing my presence would suggest that he find another place to dine). But instead of ambling off, he stood up on his hind legs, leaned against a tree and turned and looked directly at me! He was huge! My heart started pounding and we slowly walked backwards as he dropped down to the ground. We retreated about 500 yards away while we made a racket, singing and banging our steel water bottles, hoping that he would mosey on down the hill. There was no way to get past him, as he was about 25 feet away from the trail. We had no other way to go. So we waited, making as much noise as we could! We wondered if he was going to come towards us or leave.
When I saw the bear stand up and look at me, my body said run (the fight or flight response)! But I had read that running makes you look like prey, which could ignite the bears prey instinct. So we slowly walked backwards, looking toward the bear. Diane wanted to be silent (“Hoping that the bear thinks you aren’t there any more!”), but the books say to make a racket. The noise kindles the bear’s flight response. Walking backwards slowly and making noise are all strategies that are counter to what our bodies wanted us to do!
The bear and I have something in common other than loving blueberries! (At least I don’t eat the branches and leaves too). We both have sympathetic nervous systems that awaken the flight or fight response when confronted by a potential threat. After about 15 minutes we slowly walked forward, making noise, and thankfully, Mr. or Ms. Bear decided to eat blueberry bushes somewhere else. Phew!
The moral of the story—There are many situations in life where it makes good sense to override the wisdom of your body and use the knowledge and insight of your head. Fortunately, in modern life, a bear rarely confronts us. More commonly, an angry spouse, a difficult co-worker, an irritated customer, a demanding supervisor, an impolite driver, or a grumpy neighbor challenges us.
Your body is wired to react. But your brain can also employ good judgment, by using past experience, learned strategies, knowledge, and wisdom. All of those facets of our mind help us to pick a better path.
They help us do the right thing. They help us choose wisely.
Yes, it is important to listen to your intuition (that will be another post) and your emotional response. But, when facing a modern challenge or potential conflict, use your head.
Lets hear about your wildlife encounters in the rugged Northwest!