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All About Listening

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in the Kootenay National Park, from the Hawk's Nest

A Christmas present from some close friends turned out to be a package of Idaho Bear Poop. I was impressed. The gathering alone must have been quite a project and the labeling is very professional. To my surprise, it tastes just like chocolate nut toffee. 

The gift comes after several months of having bears present in my life. Last summer it became very clear very early in the season we needed to take in the bird feeders and the suet every night. We came to that conclusion after two suet cages and a feeder disappeared in April.  

One night in August we got home late; as I started out the back door to get the feeders I heard metal rattling, some snorts, and fast running for the woods, followed by crashing through the trees. I waited on the deck next to the open door for my eyes to adjust. When I felt safe to wander out, I found a few parts of an empty feeder on the ground, the iron rod that had been its hanger pretzled around it. Another metal, squirrel proof—not bear proof—feeder destroyed.  

While hiking in the Canadian Rockies last July a black bear stepped out on the trail 60 to 70 feet ahead of us. He looked our way and charged the other, staying on the trail for a few hundred yards before heading into the forest. I was in the front of the line and got a good look, first at his face and then at his big, round rump after it turned away. I watched as it retreated, throwing bits of dirt with each step. 

Nature is an important source of my spiritual nourishment.  In many native cultures, animals have a particular quality they represent. As I have learned about them, I know it is about balance. Whenever I have an encounter, it is an opportunity to look at the balance of that quality in my life. 

Bear represents introspection.  As I began to think about that, I was aware that I had not been consistent with my meditation times, nor listening for that still small voice I know is so powerful—inner guidance.  

In October, I had planned a solo trip into Canada to look for caribou. I also knew it would be a personal and spiritual search. 

I knew I would be in both grizzly and black bear country again, but I hoped to avoid them. 

I drove to Kootenay National Park in British Columbia on a Sunday afternoon and spent the night in our Element. Heading for Jasper the next morning, my search for the big animals was about to begin. Driving up the Vermillion River toward the pass, I kept seeing places that seemed to need my attention, but ignored them to get farther north. 

 Stopping at Numa Falls to use the privy, that voice urged me to take the short hike to the falls. In those mountains, water falls way too frequently to stop for all of them.

I am glad I listened to this one. On the footbridge, I felt the power of water as it sanded out round, smooth bowls in the rock on both sides of the noisy cascade, just below the span where I took a respite from driving. 

Back at the car, the biggest raven I have ever seen landed beside me. I know these mysterious black birds are used to people and get handouts whenever possible, but this guy was big. I grabbed the camera, snapped off a couple shots, and got ready to drive. The unfed raven hopped onto the hood and tried to convince me he needed payment for the pictures. His antics were amusing. I started the motor. He flew. 

I felt I had wasted some time.  However, while driving, I heard again the intended use of this trip was a personal and spiritual journey, thus listen to that inner voice. It is about the journey. Hmm, is that some sort of life lesson?

In a few miles, a sign beckoned to another roadside attraction, this time Marble Canyon. Now in these rugged hills beautiful, dramatic canyons are as common as waterfalls, which are often coupled together. 

The call was strong. I stopped. 

Marble Canyon is a short, deep slot created by Tokumm Creek flowing through an ancient terminal moraine. 

There is an interpretive trail with bridges criss-crossing the gorge. 

It looks like a fissure, carved by aqua-colored, glacial water through limestone and dolomite, usually white dolomite giving it the look of marble—thus the name. 

Boulders have fallen and been wedged into the narrow crack sometimes a hundred feet from the bottom. Vegetation, fed by the mist of the torrents below, now grows on them. 

Natural bridges straddle the chasm where the water had first flowed over, until the rasping of the till in the surging melt excavated a channel in a weak place under the lip, blasting out a hole and leaving an arch. 

It was a short hike, less then a mile. Back at the car, it felt good to have fresh air in my lungs and the enjoyment of another exceptional geological feature. Still I wanted to be going. 

There was very light traffic while climbing along the river toward Vermillion Pass. I kept thinking about getting to Jasper, wondering why I had been so easily distracted. However, the clock said it was still early in the morning and the light was good if a photo-op was presented. 

Alone on the road and nearing the top, I saw something walking on the pavement, maybe a half mile ahead. I slowed a little but kept going, curiosity starting to pique. I rolled on until I could see the grizzly angling across the road looking directly at me. Not huge, but full-grown, I think a female. I stopped. She walked toward me a few steps before heading off the road to my right. I powered down the right side window hoping for a shot without getting out. 

The brush did not allow a picture so I cautiously got out on the left side of the car, camera in hand, and leaned on the hood where the raven had earlier scolded me. She looked at me and wandered toward the river. Thoroughly enjoying the encounter, I was still alone with her. She looked at me again but it wasn’t a clear shot, the lens I had on accentuated the brush between us even when I manually focused on her. 

Walking into the river, she sat down. A car stopped and the passenger asked what was up. I said I thought there was a grizzly in the river. They asked if I could see her and I said not very well. They looked and then moved on. I was alone with her again—good. 

After a short sit in the water, she crawled up the steep bank on the opposite side. It brought her back up to my elevation. As soon as I had a clear shot, I reset the auto focus and started snapping away. With only a hundred feet between us, my three hundred millimeter lens was perfect, a straight clear shot. 

She stopped and looked back. I know it sounds odd but it looked to me like she was posing. Stopping, moving slowly, stepping onto a log and waiting. I let the shutter open dozens of times, taking advantage whenever she took a position and held it. 

After some time alone together, a few more folks stopped. One fellow started toward the river with his smart phone. I said that could be dangerous. He commented that I have a long lens, he doesn’t, so he has to get closer. Again, I warned him, but he kept moving forward—he wanted that shot.

Miss Griz across the way seemed to be uninterested and headed up the hill into some scrub. 

I breathed a sigh of relief. He acted indignant and stomped back to his car.  

The bear moved in and out of sight for a while and was gone. The last time I saw her I thanked her for the time she had given me. I also thanked her for ignoring the ignoramus with the smart phone, which I think is smarter than its owner.

Back in the car, introspection was in the front of my mind. It had been a morning of listening to my inner voice. The reward had been communion time alone with a grizzly, a refreshing walk on the lip of a deep ravine and an entertaining visit with a raven.  

After several days, there were no caribou sightings. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredibly successful trip with meaningful personal time in the spirit of the mountains.

Now I have good memories and a few photos. Looking at one of the photos it looks like she is leaving some bear poop next to the river.  Little did I know I could have started my Christmas shopping right there. 

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

bears, nature, grizzly, Ernie Hawks, Idaho bear poop, Canadian Rockies, Kootenay National Park, Vermillion River, Numa Falls, Marble Canyon, The Hawk's Nest

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