Forest Bathing International Magazine, Issue 1 - Page 29

The day is warm, the water pleasantly cool and still. In some places it is up to my chest. The skunk cabbage is high and blooming with tall yellow spires that have a faint sweet scent. I am following the gentle caressing folds of its leaves where it yielded just hours before to the passing of a bear, who had been, as I am, feeling the ripples of its own movement coming back to it after bouncing off the plants and the alders.

This part of the trail fills me with an innocent joy. I am swimming with bear. I am walking where bear walks. I see what he sees. I feel what he feels. I imagine that bear loves this place. That he feels the safety and simple joy

of its touch; the gentle rocking of water against his furry skin and the sweet smell of skunk cabbage flowers.

Eventually bear decides to leave behind swimming and meanders out along the river through a series of lawn like openings in the canopy. He nibbles here and there on grasses. Preston is convinced that bear is going to cross the river and asks periodically as we come close to the banks if the trail has crossed.

I am still enraptured by the little details of bear’s life: the smell of the plants and the water; the feel of the soil and leaves as they press against the foot into his tracks; how it feels to part the grass, to step on its roots and feel it sweep past the body. I am wondering how his foot injury feels in his body. I am watching the gait, absorbing the subtleties of individual tracks. I am feeling into the body

of the bear, feeling into my own body, feeling into the body of the forest.

Preston notices me examining the space in front of me on the bank and asks again if the trail crossed the river. “No,” I reply, “He sat his ass down”. At the base of an alder is the clear and distinct print of a large furry butt sitting with its back leaned against the tree. Preston and I got a lot of amusement out of this (bear’s butt was enormous) and we giggled at its lackadaisical character. Bear did not cross the river but stopped to enjoy a gentle repast at the river’s edge.

The trail showed that bear eventually stood and returned the way he had come. As we meandered back through the dry sunny meadow it dawned on me vaguely that we are trailing this bear as a scouting mission for Preston’s upcoming hunting season. In that moment I am clear: I do not want to eat this bear, or any bear. Preston and I have been close for almost two decades and I have shared in a lot of what he has harvested from the forest, including bear.

I am enthusiastic about wild foods. I support hunters who cultivate a deep and intimate relationship with their quarry: those who view hunting as sacred, a covenant between man and animal. I believe Preston to be such a hunter. I know the animal has been respected and I am happy to have the meat. But this was not about my relationship to hunting.

This sudden and surprising clarity that I would never eat bear meat again was distinctly between bear and me. Somehow, in the hours of sending my mind out to trace his passing on the landscape, reaching my heart out to the experience of the bear, I had absorbed some essential bear-ness. Some fundamental connection to its life, a sense of joy and pleasure that would make it impossible for

me ever to consume bear again. I was in its body, the center of its world, and the center

of the forest. Bear was inside me now, forever. I didn’t need to eat him. I had fallen in love.

II. We continued to follow his trail leading us ultimately out onto the paved forest road where we had originally entered the forest.

It seemed bear had crossed the busy highway leaving the easy trailing of the wet lowlands behind and heading up into the dry mountainsides.

It had been a good day. We were pleased to have found the fresh trail and spent a few hours trailing it. But we were not ready to give up. So Preston scouted a large private meadow on the far side of the highway where it would be easy to see if bear had moved through the grasses. Finding nothing definitive we decided to hike a forest road above the property that paralleled the highway to see if we could find bear again.