Photos: From Grand Teton National Park
Photos: From Grand Teton National Park
The Torrent can take many forms. It can be the day-to-day grind. It can be the Mitote (MIH-TO-TAY)* in our minds. It can be the loss of a loved one, or the betrayal by a loved one. It may be an overall feeling of being lost.
Or it may be an actual physical event, with spiritual ramifications. Such is this story from many circles of the sun ago.
The water was rising faster than we could climb on the smooth granite boulders that lined the steep gorge we had descended. Just one of the many hundreds of tributaries feeding the Colorado River below.
We had only seconds. And if we failed to get out of this gulch, we were destined to be mixed with the other rocks and sediments that eternally grind and cut this steep channel. Only we wouldn’t be the grinder, we’d be cut and smashed to pieces in the grinder. Only our remains would reach the water course some half a mile below.
My brother and I were soaked from the abrupt downpour and my hiking boots were slipping on the polished stone. The quartz, feldspar, mica, and hornblende of the granite, now wet, were glistening as if they’d been given a coat of mineral oil. Beautiful, yet deadly in this situation. I hung on as best I could.
There wasn’t enough of a ledge to get around the last boulder I was clinging to. Safety was just out of reach. I was frozen, and the water was now completely over my feet. I yelled back to my brother, who was perched behind me frantically yelling at me to move on . . .
The day had started out uneventful.
My brother and I were hiking the Grand Canyon for the second time. Like the first time, we had chosen the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim because there were water stations about a mile and half apart part before you got to the Indian Garden campsite. That meant less weight to carry and better hydration.
Of course, we wouldn’t be camping at Indian Garden.
The bottom of the canyon would be about 20 degrees hotter than the rim’s 91 degrees, and that arid draft around us evaporated our perspiration so fast that we didn’t even appear to sweat. Our clothes were as dry as our mouths, and we lost more fluid with each exhalation. The water stations were a must.
Unlike the first time, where we had planned and prepared for a month prior to the descent, this was a spur-of-the-moment adventure. We were traveling light, over-confident. We knew what we were doing, or so we thought.
Joining the only 1% of the visitors that actually traverse into the canyon, hiking there is essentially mountain climbing in reverse. Steep switchbacks down can appear to provide an easy stroll, but you must remember, you’re going to have to make that rugged climb back out. On our first trip, we made two-thirds of the climb out at night when it was coolest. Slept on the trail for a couple of hours and pushed the rest of the way out at dawn.
But just going down is tough enough. You better have the right gear. On the first trip, I was wearing steel-toed boots. A big mistake as my toes were crammed over and over again into those leather-covered steel plates on that sloping gradient. Fortunately, I had brought a first aid kit on that trek and my blisters were padded for the climb out.
The “developed mule trail” had about an inch or two of powered dirt above the hard surface and if you stepped on a loose rock hidden in that dirt it was like stepping on marbles. Better learn to keep your balance quick.
An omen perhaps this trip, they had just helicoptered a woman out who had been bucked from a mule and hit her head against the rock wall where the trail had been cut by miners a century ago. Had she gone the other way it would have been over a cliff to the switchback below. She was taken by mule further down to a landing zone as that was faster than trying to pack out.
Mule trains have the right of way. If you’re hiking and one comes upon you, you have to move to the edge of the precipice. They get the inside lane. And you hold still as you wouldn’t want to have a mule startle and bump into you, sending you over the edge.
While it’s about a mile straight down on a plumb line from the rim to the Colorado at the bottom, it’s 7.8 miles of winding trail to get to the river. We would bed-down the first night a little past Indian Garden at a place we discovered on our first hike – some 5 miles or so down and then off the trail. Some Native American ruins on the back side of a low mountain peak protruding up from that part of the canyon’s varying elevations.
Terraced floors. Each one lower, another step back in time. Isolated peaks at different elevations created from the differential erosion as veins from the watershed spread out like a spider’s web before cutting through and finally exposing the bottom surface from a billion years ago.
Respect. That’s what you better have before taking on this challenge. That’s what you better have before entering sacred native grounds. Places where our ancestors lived in harmony with Mother Earth. What they built seems to be a simple design, but it’s one of perfection. Semi-circular stone masonry in front of cave-like depressions in the mountain. Shaded from the sun in daylight, remaining cool. And with the surrounding rock and the walls heated by the sun all day long, you have radiant heat throughout the night.
We offered our respects upon entering. Never lifted a stone. Left without leaving a trace of our passage in the morning. You pay homage to the spirits or maybe they’ll decide to keep you.
Maybe we weren’t respectful enough. Maybe we were just too arrogant.
We had intended to head straight down for the river once we returned to the trail. But we spied something out of place in a wadi. A normally dry water course. There was a sparkle in the distance and we were intrigued.
Off trail again, but this time walking down a dry ravine bed, we saw a trickle of ground water emerging. It carried for a short distance widening out and then dropped over a crag. Just below that rock face, about twenty feet down, was a carved-out basin. A natural stone bath tub about four feet deep to receive that shower of water from above. Water that fanned out into an opaque curtain of white.
We were hot and covered in trail dust and that clear blue pool at the bottom of that thin wall of water sure looked inviting. We would have to climb down some massive granite boulders to get to that level, but that was doable with our light gear.
On the way down, I foreshadowed what was about to happen.
As we hugged the rock, I noticed how smoothly worn these boulders were. A millennium’s worth of rapid water carrying stones and sediment had polished these surfaces smooth. And in the distance, maybe a week away, was a spotting of clouds. I remarked to my brother that if it rained and those boulders were wet, we’d be screwed. Too slippery to navigate, we’d be trapped below. And the gorge would fill and sweep everything out of it.
What we didn’t understand then about this desert weather, was that spotting of a few clouds were actually major thunderheads. And those storms were not a week away, more like an hour.
Having succeeded in reaching the pool, we stripped down. I pulled a bar of soap from my half-pack and we thoroughly enjoyed a nice bath. A good thirty minutes or so passed, but then I felt the first rain drops. Realizing my observation had turned into a prediction, I yelled at my brother to MOVE! He was puzzled by my outcry at first but then he realized it too.
We dressed, packed up our gear and were scrambling in mere minutes. But it was still too late.
Later we would call these storms “thunder-boomers,” but to the residents who knew the region these were monsoon rains. Intense cloudbursts that may rain one or two inches of water over several square miles in a matter of minutes.
The desert sand that is baked hard like concrete cannot soak up water quickly. There is little vegetation to help. So a dry waterbed can become a raging torrent, sometimes creating a wall of water ten to thirty feet high. In just minutes. As it turns out, more people drown in this desert than die of thirst.
We didn’t face a wall of water, but we were about to be overtaken by a rising torrent. Raging water. Water forced into a narrow and deep gorge. The power and speed of which we had never witnessed. The same ancient forces that carved this masterpiece of a canyon were now threatening to end our lives.
. . . I yelled back to my brother than I couldn’t move any further. Thinking quickly, and realizing we had no traction with our hiking boots, my brother took his off, handed me all of his gear and his boots. His hands and bare feet now like that of a frog, he could cling to that slick, wet surface, and he climbed around me and that final boulder. He was safely out of the path of the rising, rushing water.
He then took his belt off and threw one end to me. I gabbed tight with one hand, wrapped that belt around my wrist while clutching our gear with the other hand and draping my brother’s boots around my shoulders. I took that leap of faith and my brother swung me around that final boulder. Both of us sitting now, safely out of the gorge, and gasping for breath, we gave thanks for having survived.
We asked for forgiveness for any offense, and we knew we had to leave the canyon as fast as we could. So it wouldn’t keep us.
As we sat there breathing a sigh of relief, we looked back up to the not-so-distant trail. A small crowd of people had gathered and were watching us from afar. We just sort of looked at each other dazed as they now tuned away and walked off. I guess the show was over. No one had offered help or stayed around to see if we were injured. It’s not that we were anyone else’s responsibility. We had made the decision and took the risk. Knowingly or not. It was just an odd feeling of us having been their momentary spectacle that was weird.
There was no longer any idea of continuing down to the river. It was time to begin the hike out. We just knew it. That five plus mile climb lay before us. My brother called cadence as we walked, and we not only made it out, we passed other hikers on the trail with a rejuvenated energy. We were young men then.
And I still wouldn’t trade the experience.
It is said that humans resist life. That the greatest fear is risking living. One may take many breaths, but never have lived. To be caged or restrained or hide is not life.
I’ve learned. I’ve returned. I’ve hiked. I’ve prayed. I’ve given thanks each and every day.
I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice. To pay attention to a greater sense of awareness. A spiritual radar. And I’ve never felt so alive knowing every moment is to be lived. Every heartbeat cherished. Every love is the love of a lifetime . . .
For you never know when the spirits may keep you.
* The “Mitote” is the word used by the ancient Toltecs to describe the fog in one’s mind. The human mind is essentially in a state similar to “a dream where a thousand people talk at the same time, and nobody understands each other.” It is basically part of the illusion produced from our domestication. It can prevent us from discovering who we really are.
Photo: This photo is of a portion of a river in the northwest, but it is a reasonable depiction of the conditions we were facing that day.
Nature is by far my most favorite place to be. It is there I feel like I belong. Like I am myself.
But there is beauty in everything if we choose to see it. This photo is of the city-scape of San Diego from when I visited. And it is mesmerizing in its own way.
I awoke for my usual start to the day, at sunrise. But the sun doesn’t exactly rise in San Diego. It’s a bit disorienting. That thick haze. You think it might rain, but it burns off around ten in the morning. That mix of smog and humidity. Then you can see the sun.
By the time I could see the sun, I had been at the zoo for almost two hours.
I have always loved going to the Zoo. And the San Diego Zoo has been on my bucket list for a while. It’s definitely worth the visit.
It’s really more than a zoo – it’s multiple zoos and it’s a botanical garden in its own right.
You have to admit there is a bit of irony in the concept of a zoo. People, who are animals, are placing other animals into captivity to view them, enjoy them, and protect them from annihilation by the human animals that put them there. There are some animals that are extinct in the world now and only exist in zoos being run by other animals. Us animals.
Humans seem to want to divorce themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. Without truly understanding the animals they put in cages, humans may pass judgment believing their relatives are inferior, have limited brain capacity, and have no spirits.
I, and obviously many others, would disagree with those presumptions. Most of us are probably happy that we’ve recognized our destructive abilities and are at least trying to preserve these beautiful spirits.
I have never seen a child fail to smile at some point during a visit to see the wondrous animals at the zoo.
Our society has been changing though. When I was growing up, we were taught a sense of community first. Then we were encouraged to develop our individuality. Today that’s reversed and the concept of community may not be emphasized at all.
So I witnessed a big transition at this visit to the Zoo. What were people taking pictures of – themselves. Oh yeah, they might put an animal or two in the background, but the central idea appears to be wanting to document the humans’ existence at a particular place or time. It is not “Look at the beautiful Giraffe!” It is “Hey, look at me! See what I’m doing. I’m at the zoo. The Giraffe proves it.”
Sorry if that sounds a bit cynical, but that seems to be a lot of what I witnessed in terms of the human animal at the zoo. I could challenge many of the animals with cameras to show me a picture of just the animals. Many would meet that challenge. Others, perhaps not.
I saw an incredible amount of self-absorption and technological absorption out there. It’s not healthy. Many didn’t know how to react when a friendly stranger would say hi, or agree with a comment they made admiring the rhino. They would stare at me in shock because they had actually been spoken too. Maybe if I had texted 🙂
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these folks are bad. I just may have a few different priorities or a different orientation, and I think it would help pull people together to have a broad concept of community – including all of the animal community.
To have a community bond, we must communicate. Look each other in the eye and not be afraid to speak. To share.
That’s just a little food for thought as I weave in the theme of contrasts. And we’ll come back to that theme in a different context in another chapter.
For now, I’m going to post a gallery of pictures. I’m not in any of them 🙂
Not every pic is crystal clear. The animals didn’t always face me or pose for me. Sometimes I moved the camera. One technique I tried to use when possible was blurring out bars and cages and fences. It doesn’t always work though.
I included the Guam Kingfisher, even though the cage blurred the pic. Because it’s extinct in the wild, this may be the only way to see it.
I hope there are a few you enjoy.
It was time to come down out the high-desert mountains and head back to “civilization.” So, what should one do along the way? Why be a tourist of course.
For months I had lived in an amazing little oasis, hiked in beautiful spaces, and found peace being on my own and in the company of a few very special people and very special wild animals. Simply put, Nature. But it was time to move on and prepare a winter base.
I picked a few target sites and turned this into a bit of a winding path. West, Northwest, Plains, Midwest. I knew I would be encountering volumes of people, but there are many good ones out there. What I saw, quite by accident, was some very interesting behavior. The blacks and whites and the grays of social discourse. And the rainbows of course.
One place I always wanted to visit was the San Diego Zoo. I headed west through Yuma, Arizona – a hot, stifling, industrial and farming zone. The contrasts there are incredible.
Bleached, beige sand with ribbons of blue water.
It was 108 degrees, surrounded by barren desert that normally receives a little over three inches of rain annually, and yet there was lush farming. All because of a 53-mile system of irrigation canals that divert water from the Colorado river.
Not a place I would want to stay.
I was a little apprehensive as I headed into California. A small-town boy, I had images of massive, intertwining freeway systems choked with a bazillion cars bellowing out vast amounts of toxic fumes. Road rage nightmares. Dirty inner-city avenues. Muggings in poorly-lit alleyways . . .
I was packing my 9 mm.*
But I also had the contrasting images of deep blue ocean waters, sailboats at sunset, deep green valleys in the shadows of rolling mountains. Heavy forests. And palm trees, contrasting the desert scrub I’d become accustomed to.
And all of those visions did indeed come into view as I entered parts of the Cleveland National Forest. The Pine Creek Wilderness. Then the busy highways of San Diego. And then, the Bay.
A couple of differences. The forested areas seemed to me to be very dry, ripe for those California wildfires. A layer of brown smog filled the air. But the traffic was comparable to that of St. Louis – a mess, but not as much of a mess as I had anticipated. I reached my destination in the center of the city without incident.
It was a cute rehab of an old stately home divided into condos. The neighborhood was picture perfect. Palm trees swayed among gingerbread homes on terraced streets. Local businesses within walking distance perfumed the air with taste-bud delicacies. Jazz resonated from three blocks down while neighbors across the boulevard gathered for a barbecue.
I divided my short days to visiting the Zoo, hiking around Cabrillo National Monument, strolling through the Museums of Art and Natural History at Balboa Park, and relaxing on a sunset sailboat ride in the bay.
And it turns out, I was a bit of an attraction myself. I looked out of place. Wearing long pants and hiking boots. My Aussie-style, wide-brimmed, bush hat. Still shaking off a bit of desert sand and dust with each marching stride.
I was surrounded by short pants, pastel Becker-style T-shirts, retro bowling shirts, sun dresses, bikini tops, and sandals. Designer everything. Several people looked me up and down, and when their eyes reached my boots they visibly laughed out loud.
I was an outsider in a city where multicultural diversity thrived. Many tourists blended in, but me, not so much.
But I was fine with that.
Next Chapter of “Contrasts” – The Zoo.
Photo: San Diego Cityscape at night.
*Don’t worry, I had trained and had my permit for it. Besides, one can’t travel alone these days without considering some form of self-protection. Highway robbery has never died out.
As writers we are continually on the hunt for words. Words drive us. Words are our souls. And a couple of days ago I found one. This one is from the Sioux language and I think it is absolutely beautiful.
It means to place and hold in one’s heart.
It can be used to describe a special place or person or persons or, for that matter, any soul or anything where ever you might encounter it.
I just recently left a place and souls I have placed in my heart. Of course, there is already a collection of souls and places that occupy my heart too. My heart is filling up. It feels good. Warm and glowing. And even better to have a word to describe it.
Do you have a favorite word?
Photo: A lake shore from up in the north country. There are so many pictures I could choose of locations and special persons and animal friends that I really couldn’t decide which to use for this post. I might have to add an entire gallery under this same title 🙂
If you had the chance to read my last post you probably noticed that I mentioned I was gearing up for travel again. Consequently, I won’t always have the time I desire, at a given moment, to write out some of my stories. At least not until I am settled long enough to hammer out some lines.
Also, there is a direct relationship, which could be graphed, between having adventures and writing about them. Have to have them first in order to have something to write about 🙂
So I thought I would launch another category in the blog today – Photo Journal. When I don’t quite have that next story put together, I can at least post a nice pic for the day. Some positive energy. Beauty without words.
I’ve noticed other blogs doing the same and they use the theme of being “Wordless.” Makes sense and sometimes, as the old expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I have many pics of wildflowers that I haven’t had the chance to identify and this is one of them. Maybe someday I circle back with a name for this one. In the mean time, enjoy 🙂
Photo: While I try to use all of my own photos for all of my posts there are times that I must seek out others to match the theme, but every post in this category will be one of my own. I took this one on the trail yesterday 🙂
I’ll be gearing up soon. Time to cut roots, pick another dot on the map, and drive. As the time dwindles in my current resting place, urgency grows to take in all the sights and sounds possible in this oasis.
I study maps and locate a pristine spot that holds great promise. A place where perennial streams meander through desert canyons. A place bursting with life. But I discover you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. Such are many places here. Primitive roads where only a bulldozer has preceded you. Signs warn that you’re driving at your own risk, and being out of cell range you want to be sure that car is up to the task. It could take a day or more to hike out if stranded and returning with a tow truck may even be difficult depending on where and how you get trapped.
Forty years ago, I off-roaded in an old 1970 Plymouth Satellite. It did ok for the most part. I knocked the muffler off once and a while bottoming out, but I’d just reattach it and move on.
It would have been quite the sight, if anyone had been there, to see me driving that car right through the middle of forests, across open grasslands, or over rocky flats. In search of the mythical Escalante.
Freedom then was being surrounded by Ponderosa Pine with fifty cents in my pocket, half a tank of gas, and some food to cook over an open fire. Most probably food I had caught that day after making the proper offerings.
But the world has changed and I’m outfitted quite a bit differently now. I’m driving a Prius with about 8 inches of ground clearance. Smooth ride on the highways, but cautious trolling on the back roads. I’ve had to turn around many times where the rains have washed out gullies big enough to swallow this car.
With one destination scratched from the list, I search out another. It’s not far away from the original target and promises a good hike through the mountains. Unusual mountains. They look like some giant had fun rearranging and piling boulders to the sky in very unnatural configurations. I wonder what this terrain must look like from the Eagle’s point of view.
How did this mountain range form? Was it volcanic? Was it upheaval? Metamorphic stone smoothen by the rains and bleached by the sun over millennium.
I have good road most of the way, but the last five miles are primitive washboard. I creep along at 10 miles an hour. Any faster and the Prius shakes violently. I bridge cattle guards in this open range country and cross four low-water washes. They dip gently enough to cross, and a few inches of water reflects the recent rains. If it rains again, they’ll fill rapidly. Flash flooding is common during this season.
It is the Monsoons.
As I reach the base of the mountains, I discover the road is gated. This segment of national parkland is “closed for the season.” The sign doesn’t say what season, but I’m here and so I park on the road.
I check my gear, settle my backpack. Essential to fit it correctly to avoid strained shoulders, neck or back. But as I head towards the trail dark clouds start rolling in. They appeared so distant on the horizon only moments before. What appeared to be days away now envelops the area.
The temperature drops rapidly from the 80s to the 60s. And as the rain drops begin to fall, I scramble back to the car. This is not a time to hesitate. I have to make it past those low-water crossings and can’t speed to do it.
As I splash through the first one, I glance back and the sight is amazing. The mountains have virtually vanished in the veil of heavy rain. Like a magic trick of monstrous proportions, the Monsoon rains have made the mountains disappear.
No time to gaze, I creep back the way I came and I’m grateful to make it across the last wash intact. Now I can pause and reflect. Marvel at what I’m witnessing. But I can’t pause for too long. Time to finish finding my way back to that paved road.
Once back on solid ground, and with hiking out of the question, it’s time to pick a new destination. The rain forces me east, and I find an old historic town with the navigator. The navigator wants to save me time, but I choose the backroads.
As I streak out on that gray ribbon and back into the warm sunshine, I notice I’m in a valley, a flat plain between 4 different mountain ranges. The Monsoons blanket the north and the west, and I’m treated to a wonderful display of wrap-around lightening from the Thunderbeings.
This dessert grassland has been brought to life with water. Water that hides in underground streams. I’m driving through orchards, and pecan farms. Corn fields and pistachio trees.
Vineyards and wineries dot the horizon. The soil here perfect for developing the favor and sugar the grapes need for their fermentation.
Hawks ride on the trusses of the center-point irrigation systems that pull water from the buried aquifer. The perfect vantage point for any prey attracted by both the water and cultivation.
I pass a gin factory and a bean plantation. A cattle feedlot appears, surrounded by planted pines – an attempt to hide the final forced growth before the trip to the slaughterhouse.
Dust Devils spring up in the cultivated fields. Mini tornados spawned by the Monsoon winds not far behind.
Herded out of the mountains, I find myself in an almost two centuries old town. I park on the street next to the railroad tracks and soon a freight train rumbles through town.
First stop, a cowboy museum. Not where I expected to be, but the storm brought me here so I explore the town the same way I explore the mountain trails. I walk the streets and feel where my body is pulled.
Of all things, I find a bar of old-fashioned lye soap to purchase. Something suggested to me to avoid modern soaps and detergents to which I now have chemical reactions to. I didn’t know where I might find some, and wasn’t looking for it today. But here it is.
Next stop, an antique store. Now the Monsoon catches up with my retreat and as the high winds blow and torrential rain pours, I take my time in this shelter of shiny objects. Glassware, military medals, old clothing, hats and rocks and minerals.
The proprietor turns out to be a Cheyanne Indian and she gifts me with a beautiful feather.
The symbolism associated with feathers refers to ascension and spiritual evolution. A flight to other realms, Shamanic Journeying to gain knowledge. Feathers also represent the Thunderbeings, along with the power of the wind. Both clearly present today.
Feathers are also used ceremonially, fanning the smoke from sacred tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar. A way to carry prayers to the heavens.
The proprietor and I talk and trade stories of life as historic figures might have traded coffee and sugar for furs. It never ceases to amaze me how we meet kindred spirits on our paths. In the middle of nowhere. Some 1500 miles away from where I call home and a hundred miles away from where I’m currently based, my soul recognizes a familiar soul. Had we walked together before, a different time and place perhaps. Had I gifted her with a power object in that past life time, a gift now returned?
As we talk, she shows me many treasures in her shop. I elect to add one to my collection. A piece of rutilated quartz. Quartz with inclusions of Titanium Dioxide – golden filaments. This stone has also been called as the “Venus Hair Stone.” It is said to be an energy amplifier to aid meditation and intuition. To help free one from the feelings of suffocation or strangulation. It is also said to connect the physical and spiritual realms and to aid in bringing out one’s true spirit. It is an illuminator for the soul. An interesting mirror image as the heavens touch the earth with life-giving water and electrical charges.
I am gifted again with a medicine bag for the stone.
The rain, thunder and lightening now paused, I give my thanks and say my goodbyes. I make one final stop. The retail shop of one of the local wineries. A glass of wine to top off the day’s unplanned adventures. As it turns out, the store’s owner, the only person in the shop, is a displaced mid-westerner from my home area. So, we remanence of familiar times and places we walked before our consciousnesses had connected in this distant town of less than a thousand households.
What are the odds of any of these encounters? These gifts – all cleansing, physical and spiritual connections, healing and growth.
Such is life in free-flow. Chance occurrences. Chance connections. Compelling feelings to head into the mountains, to drive to an ancient town, to walk inside certain buildings, to converse with complete strangers whom we’ve seem to have known for lifetimes.
But is anything truly by chance?
The storm cloaks the mountains I sought, chases me out of that remote natural world to a place with spiritual gifts, kind words, and communion.
It was a good day.
Photos: All captured in the moment. Below, a couple of shots before the rains.
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on September 12, 2018, under the title “Surrender Control & Let The Wind Take You To A New Adventure.”
Photo: The crescent moon, one beautiful night 🙂
Safety can be Stifling.
Sometimes we need to take risks, to be exposed to the elements, and to leave our comfort zones in order to learn and grow . . .
I was hiking up into a beautiful canyon. The transition from chaparral to tree line with over 4000 feet of elevation contrasts three completely different worlds. From scrub oak and mesquite, to cottonwood, sycamore and willow, to ponderosa pine and alligator juniper. All at finely demarcated lines of altitude or water course. The canyon’s green armies of pines climbing beyond the highest point I would reach today.
It was hot and there was a dry breeze channeling through the mountain passes. I stopped at an overlook, a cliff perched midway into the canyon. I was taking in all that surrounded me. It’s a mystical sort of beauty. It draws you in. Captures all of your senses. Takes you on another journey. An infinite landscape.
And then I “heard” something. Maybe “sensed” is a better word, because I just knew I needed to turn around for a moment. Turn my back to the captivating view because something else was happening. Or was about to happen.
The feelings of curiosity, excitement, and fear all hit simultaneously when I saw it. Bounding down the trail behind me and coming right towards me was a Black Bear!
I quickly stood on the rocks, and waved my arms to try to make myself look bigger and more menacing than I am – not easy to do. And we exchanged growls. Fortunately, the bear was just as startled as I was and it turned and ran off into the woods. I continued to yell out and heard it scrambling further away.
This had all happened in the blink of an eye, so I replayed what I saw in my mind. Over and over again. It was a bear all right. It seemed to me that it was in an almost playful stride. Happy to be facing another day in this peaceful forest. Its forest. Until it saw me jump up.
This was the first time I had a close encounter with a bear. Fortunately, it was a black bear and not so aggressive.
As you may know from my prior writings, I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Nature is constantly giving us messages, if we take the time to read them. So what meaning could I derive from this encounter? Regardless of how brief it was.
The bear’s symbolism is rich. While awake it has been portrayed as having strength, courage and male energy. It is also said to be a teacher of boundaries, for itself and others. But it seems it greatest powers lie in its ability to sleep through the winter.
The bear doesn’t go into a true hibernation, rather its metabolism slows way down and it enters a state called “torpor.” It can still wake easily, and the females can even give birth in this semi-conscious state. The bear draws upon its fat reserves for nourishment during this time of prolonged rest.
While in torpor, the bear is said to be in a receptive state. This energy of introspection is said to be female in nature.
The ability to go deep within to find resources necessary for survival mirrors a state of deep meditation. Go deep within your soul’s den, draw upon your inner stores of energy and essence. A time to awaken your personal power during this solitude to bring it out in the Spring. Spring itself symbolizes birth and renewal. Resurrection.
The bear is considered to be a messenger of the forest spirits. It demonstrates more than just strength, but a supernatural power. Fortitude. The whirlwind. The will.
It’s been immortalized in the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater She-Bear, more commonly known as the Big Dipper. According to Iroquois legend, the quadrangle of the dipper forms the bear that is being pursued by seven hunters. The three hunters who are closest form the handle of the dipper. The four farthest hunters drop below the horizon in autumn and abandon the hunt. At the same time, the bear rises to stand on its hind legs and one of the hunters wounds the bear with an arrow. The bear sprays blood back on the hunter and blood falls on the forest to turn the trees red. The bear is eaten but its skeleton remains, traveling on its back during the winter. But in the spring, a new bear leaves the den and the hunt begins anew.
In Chi Gong, the bear is one of the five frolicking animals. The exercise practiced mimicking the bear is believed to aid the stomach and spleen. And these are considered the energy centers for applied thinking, for generating ideas, and for aiding memorization and concentration. The digestion of knowledge.
To the Seneca tribe, the bear is a symbol associated with the West Shield. Again, it relates to the pathways of attaining knowledge. Entering torpor represents entering sacred space to be receptive of information. This information is digested and integrated to discern truth. And once we tap into our personal truth, we can seek out our desired goals.
So, what message can I derive from this brief meeting in the woods?
While many would think this encounter had little meaning, other than being glad the bear didn’t maul or eat them, examining the symbolism carries a major life lesson. Recurring themes of introspection, digestion of knowledge, and attainment of truth span multiple cultures. Once attaining truth and direction, one then should seek out their goals with strength and fortitude.
Recent times have been a period of solitude for me. Other than contacts on social media, I have been pretty much resting in a somewhat semi-conscious state. Waiting to be awakened.
In torpor, I examine myself, my life, my successes, my failures, my goals. I must integrate this knowledge into action.
The appearance of the Bear marks a metaphysical inquiry. Is your judgment or the judgment of those surrounding you in error? Do you fail to see the beneficial things happening in your life? Are you being too critical, or not discerning enough?
Time to venture inward and awaken potential. And then emerge from the den. Personal power must be brought out in the open to taste the fruits of such labor.
Whether you believe these messengers are sent by the Source, or that this is just mystical thinking, lessons can still be drawn. Introspection is always good. An examined life. The integration of truth. Acceptance of what has been. Strength to face what will be.
To hibernate, or cut oneself off, to simply achieve safety is ultimately a sacrifice of living. But hitting the pause button to gain knowledge, insight, and truth for a later emergence can lead to powerful growth.
Be the whirlwind. Hit the trails. Face the bear.
Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain. The link tracked back to a web publication called Cool Green Science. The article was titled: “When is a Black Bear Actually a Blue Bear?” Black bears exhibit a whole range of coloration from black, brown, blonde, and even cinnamon. I found a pic that closely resembles the one I saw.
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 20, 2018, under the title “Bear Wisdom — Venture, Awaken & Emerge From The Den.”
Building on a theme I have going on brain development, I wanted to explore rule 3 of the book “Brain Rules” written by John Medina. You might recall my previous two posts on this, Move Your Body, Move Your Mind, and Writing to Survive. Well today, we’re looking at “wiring.” While we might think generally that men and women are wired differently, for example, fact is, all of us are wired differently.
To understand how we’re all wired differently, we first have to look at the cells that compose our bodies. Billions of cells, that are all acting independently from our thought processes. Thank goodness. Our minds are jumbled enough without us having to consciously think and direct the activities of all of the complex and differentiated cells in our bodies. Can you imagine having to think about absolutely every body function at the microscopic cellular level. Not to mention the macro-level of organ function. Come on, breathe body breathe, beat you silly heart . . .
And each of our cells become specialized when the 6 feet of DNA in each cell is folded in a particular way to fit in the microns-sized nucleus. For perspective, this has been compared to taking 30 miles of fishing line and cramming it inside an object the size of a blueberry.
While we could talk for days about all of the differentiated cells in our bodies and all of their unique functions, since we are looking at our brains, let’s talk neurons. These are, of course, the tiny structures firing off electrical charges like lightning bolts at 250 miles per hour and causing chemical neurotransmitters to be released that bridge the gaps between neurons called synapses and carry that signal forward somewhere into our gray matter where we interpret it. We are basically electro-chemical machines.
That always makes me wonder how all of the electronic pollution we are dumping into the airways affects us. Maybe that’s how we end up with mass shooters, who knows?
Turns out that as we learn, the neurons are shifting and solidifying pathways for communication to each other. We can relearn things too and reshape our neural wiring. That’s called neuroplasticity. What we do and experience actually physically changes our brains. And the more activity we make our brains perform, the larger and more complex they can become.
The author identifies three types of brain wiring:
Experience Independent wiring = controlling breathing, heart rate, proprioceptive sensations, etc.;
Experience Expectant wiring = things like visual acuity and language acquisition; and
Experience-Dependent wiring = hard-wired not be hard-wired = flexible, sensitive to external inputs and thus cultural programing.
The latter two forms of wiring explain how we are acculturated or assimilated into any particular culture or social structure. We must beware of our programming. Especially that programming that starts in early childhood. We should continually question everything and rewire our brains as needed 😊
No two brains are alike, not even identical twins, because every brain experiences the same phenomena differently creating different memories and the resulting changes in the physical structure to the brain. This is why neurosurgeons have to do brain mapping on each and every one of their patients before slicing and dicing. They can’t know ahead of time which precise areas of the brain are tied to which functions because each person is unique.
It also turns out that the brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than their tame domestic counterparts. So, it would seem that living in the wild requires constant learning and adapting. A different intelligence, perhaps, is required for survival.
That might make one wonder if we become less intelligent the more we become domesticated and sedentary??? Or perhaps we’re just more specialized. This makes the concept of intelligence a bit more nuanced, which leads researchers to hypothesize about different types of intelligence – verbal, musical, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Such brain differences can be detected when comparing brains of say musicians to athletes.
Since all of our brains develop at different rates and develop completely differently because we all experience things differently, wiring can predict performance. And education systems, with one set of standards fits all, end up mismatching performance expectations to linear age.
The implications are that smaller class size and individual attention results in, not only improved learning but, more equalized learning. Teachers with smaller numbers of students can make use of the Theory of Mind I brought up in my last posting on the brain. They can assess their individual students and gear instruction to improve individual performance. I guess we have an argument to support home schooling here.
Where does all of this brain talk lead to today? Well, if we are all wired differently, and if no one experiences any singular event in the same way, then are the images any of us try to convey with words the ones the reader or hearer receives? Or do each of us have a completely different experience filled with visions, tastes, touches, smells that the storyteller never imagined?
I’ve always said communication is difficult even on a good day.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Keep on firing neurons !
Photo: Not only are lightning bolts demonstrative of the way neurons work, they are actually similar in structure. I imagine a giant electrical storm going on in our minds constantly 🙂
We live in a spiritual world. Every part and parcel of it is imbued with particles of awareness from the spiritual source. So why not tune in and receive unfiltered spiritual guidance . . .
You may have noticed in some of my other posts, especially in the spirituality section of my blog, that I talk about communing with nature. About being in the natural world and learning to perceive the messages that come to us through native signs and symbols. And I refer to the natural world as being the “real world.” Not an artificial or illusory construct by humans. Not temporary physical structures that will revert to dust. Mother Earth remains eternal.
People have changed the ways that they experience their worlds. They have a tendency to think that they have “tamed” the natural world, when in fact, they have simply walled themselves off from it. I think it’s better to open up and see what’s really out there. Experience it firsthand.
I realize that many people do not believe in such things. How can a coyote deliver a message about how to live, or awaken you to an inner calling? I get it, and no one has to agree with the things I’ve come to believe. That’s ok.
It may even seem counterintuitive that I would entertain such beliefs given that my educational background has largely been in either the sciences or in analytical reasoning. But I also believe there are many things beyond what science can explain, at least for the moment. And why write off such things and discount them simply because there is no logical explanation for them?
You can define your own reality in any terms you wish, but I encourage you not to deny what your senses perceive, especially your sense of intuition.
If it helps, a scientific way to look at this is that we are electro-chemical machines and we emit energy fields. So does everything else. And if our fields encounter one another there will be a communication of some type. A relaying of signals that may not require a spoken language or physical touch. Now you have to figure out what the signals you are receiving mean.
So, since this is becoming a recurring theme in my posts, I thought I would take a moment to elaborate a little more on just what animal “totems” or “familiars” are. They have also been referred to as “Spirit” or “Power” animals.
Spirit beings have been a part of every major religion and culture. Whether it be the serpent, said to be the devil, in the story of Adam and Eve, or the Greeks speaking to their gods through oracles, or aboriginal tribes taking on the forms of animals through symbolic dress and engaging in ritual dance to connect with the spirit realm. The symbolism of ties between the natural world and spirit world are universal, and many of the “messengers” of “God” are depicted as being surrounded by various animals. Why so, except for the symbolism they convey?
A totem can be defined as any natural object or animal or being where you connect with its associated energy or life force. A totem has also been described as a spirit being, or a sacred or power object, or a symbol associated with a clan or an individual. Once such a connection is recognized and accepted, the spirit within it can serve as a guide throughout one’s life. More commonly than not, the spiritual totem takes the form of an animal.
One definition I found on the Net equates animal totems with “archetypes that work with the subconscious mind, tapping into the energy that is present in all things” . . . that “can be seen as channels or frequencies on a radio with many levels of understanding.”
And just what is an “archetype?” An archetype is said to be a typical example of a certain person or thing. Although I never look at things as being “typical,” nor do I like that word. I find things living and inanimate, to be magical and unique, not typical. In Jungian psychology, an archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from our human ancestors that is supposed to reside in the collective unconscious.
However you wish to parse the words, I think we can derive that a totem, or symbolic representation of a spiritual entity or guide, can be said to have certain characteristics. A Bear strength. An Owl Wisdom. A Deer gentleness. A Fox invisibility. I’m using one-word descriptions for this example, but the symbolism for each is far more intricate.
As a guide, an animal totem can convey many different messages. An affirmation or a warning. Or you may be able to tap into that spirit’s energy at a time of need. A totem is said to be a life-long spiritual partner and it will appear in both your physical world and your spiritual world.
Another term you may have heard is that of an “animal familiar.” In its basic origins, this referred to a non-physical being, a thought-form or spiritual entity. But over time, the term has been applied to living animals. Familiars can be physical or non-physical, you can have more than one at any given time, and they can change over time.
How do we learn if we have a Spirit Animal?
Well, you don’t learn it from a “How Stuff Works” Internet quiz. One commonality across cultures that applies to totems and familiars is that they choose you. Not the other way around. And the way such a totem enters your life can vary. You might be visited in a dream. Or have a vision while you are awake. Or it may continually appear to you in the physical form, over and over again. If you do have such a totem, once you’ve identified it, you can start being observant for any messages it may send you.
In my case, it appeared to me in a vision when I was 15, announced its presence, and told me it would be with me. I then discovered its presence everywhere in various forms and I learned to interpret what its presence in certain situations meant.
Encountering an animal doesn’t necessarily mean it is one of your guides. Or if it is you guide, its presence doesn’t always mean something metaphysical is in the works. As Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” There are no meanings to unravel. No symbolism being communicated.
So how do you tune into to your spiritual allies? See connections and messages beyond the ordinary?
Well, I recently read an article by Lissa Rankin titled: “How Can You Tell If You’re Being Spiritually Guided?” where Rankin lays out what she terms as being “15 Discernment Tools.” She provides a list of 15 questions you can ask yourself to attempt to answer this question honestly.
1–Does it feel like shackles on or shackles off?
2–Is it kind?
3–Is there Aliveness here?
4–Does it exhaust me or fill me with dread?
5–Does it nourish or deplete me?
6–Does it feel natural, efficient, easeful, peaceful and graceful?
7–Does it make sense?
8–Will it hurt anyone?
9–Would love do this?
10–How does this feel in my body?
11–Am I rushing?
12–Is it coercive or controlling?
13–Is it ethical and aligned with my core values?
14–Will this cultivate the stillness in me?
15–What’s true and not true about this situation?
I don’t think these questions are all required for every given instance in which you feel pulled or directed to take some course of action. I also think you need to begin with the symbolism of the totem. If you do feel you are being given some guidance, you have to know what that guidance is in relation to. And I don’t believe you can accurately assess what the guidance is unless you know what the totem represents.
You’ll also have to learn to trust your inner voice because you’ll have to interpret the message and how it applies to you at that given moment in time.
I know I’ll have future posts on this topic that may help illustrate specific nuances. I’m working a piece right now where I encountered a bear in the wild. Close up for the first time. It certainly got my attention, but did it carry any specific meanings other than “HOLY SHIT!?” We’ll see 😊
Photo: A Western Screech Owl, a father on guard. It is intensely watching a rattle snake that is too close to his chicks. Nothing could break this Owl’s gaze. This could have turned into an epic physical battle, but this father won a spiritual fight. Energy fields collided. And while this snake may have been too large for this small predator, its intense energy sent the snake on its way.
To be able to complete someone’s thoughts,
dance together in their mind,
caress their heart,
and see their soul through their eyes.
This is truly knowing someone.
Have you ever known someone?
Feature Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain. I could find no proper attribution for it.
Butterfly Photo: A couple of Painted Lady butterflies nectaring-up in the Midwest. I added the butterfly image for a couple of reasons. One is that is shows a “couple” like the feature image and duality is the theme. But intertwined duality – two becoming one.
With duality, we’ve moved beyond a singularity. It is the quality of having two parts to the whole. Metaphysically speaking, it is the contrasts – negative versus positive; good versus evil; light versus dark; material versus spiritual; consciousness versus unconsciousness; Ying versus Yang; male versus female.
Numerologically speaking, the number 2 represents feminine, dreams and cooperation.
The butterflies, symbolically, represent transition, shapeshifting, and the dance of joy.
When two hearts come together as one the polarities merge. A beautiful transition occurs as each half brings out the beauty in the whole. Making that true connection is a rare thing and it results in a dance of joy. Bonds that cannot be broken. Not over space, time, or even lifetimes.