KNOWING OUR PLACE
February 6, 2012
By Audrey Fraizer
A close up look at a black bear while hiking at Yosemite National Park pushes aside other memories taking up space in my brain’s limited filing cabinet.
And there the image will remain, even if the same luck happens to cross my path sometime in the future.
My husband and I saw the bear while hiking along a trail in backcountry that to me, a city dweller, should be ideal “bear country.” We chose the trail for that reason.
A dot of black moving toward a break of meadow scrub in the alpine forest caught my attention. We kept walking, but at a faster pace, nearly bumping into the bear standing on all fours and casually looking in our direction.
OK, so the bear was a good 25 feet from where we stopped—which was close enough for my comfort level, but, true to my word, the bear was nonchalant about the strangers interrupting his wilderness space.
“He’s thumbing his nose at us,” my husband said.
I had to agree. If bears could manipulate their paws and claws like we use our thumbs and fingers, that’s exactly what he would have been doing: putting his paw at the end of his snout and waving his claws at us.
The bear obviously did not care about us anymore than he would a lingering paper wasp in a nest clawed open for a mid-afternoon meal of wasp grubs. We were merely an annoyance and one that, fortunately, he didn’t want to waste his time pursuing.
The bear turned his head and ambling straight ahead, continued through the meadow scrub undoubtedly on his way to greener pastures. This was late September and food for the long winter haul ahead rightfully took priority to the bumbling tourists frozen in a fit of awe.
In one last act of ambivalence, the bear stopped in a clump of evergreens and yawned. I’m sure I did something insipid, like wave a friendly “Hello” to the bear, while my husband attempted to adjust his camera and nudge me out the way. The bear was gone before he was able to focus.
Although I regret missing the photo op, the picture of the black bear (and it was black) is burned into memory. For that single spectacular moment, we were honored by the presence of a black bear going about his ritual search for food.
The bear knew his place and he reminded us of ours. Nearly 95% of the 1,169-square-mile park is designated wilderness, which in the words of the Wilderness Act, protects “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Wallace Stegner: National parks are the best idea we ever had and ever followed. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
They make us whole.