Forest Bathing International Magazine, Issue 1 - Page 30

The substrate of the forest road was unyielding and there was nothing much to indicate the passing of anything but ATV’s. We had found the spot where the bear had stepped on to the road after coming up from the wetlands and crossing the highway. Preston was in search mode. He assumed that the bear had walked the road some distance and then headed up hill. Preston quickly gave several passes up and down the road examining the hillside for loose dirt and duff disturbed by the large bear’s movements.

I let Preston do the big sweep and I focused instead on finding the next track on the hardpan road surface. Standing at bear’s last known track I scanned immediately in front of me then farther out in ever widening circles about the length of a bear’s stride. There was not much to see. I felt into my body. I imagined big bear stepping onto this road, feeling the ease of its grade after the small climb up, sniffing the air. I, too, breathed the sweet scent of spring into my nose. I observed the flowers on the far side of the road. I noticed one bent and crumpled. I moved toward it and found bear’s tracks in soil made soft by water collecting in an ATV track. I saw his footfalls move over the flower and up the hillside pushing the duff into little cups as it struggled to find repose on the slope again. I called Preston back. It was his turn to take point and we were back on the trail.

Preston is much bigger, stronger and faster than me. He tracks faster too. I prefer to become enamored with the revelation of the animal’s every movement as its trail unfolds, and to get lost in the wondering of what it senses; to imagine the feel of this world as it passes or the scent of the plant as it muzzles its nose in for a taste. Preston is driven to find the trail’s end and to witness the being that has left this sinewy communication across the landscape. So when Preston is in the lead it is easy for me to get pulled along from one significant find to the next as I try to absorb the story my body is telling me about this place and this animal.

It was in this manner, Preston’s pace pulling me along, that we continued up the hillside passing up and over large hummocks that at moments gave me pause as doubts floated across my mind that I could surmount these obstacles and find my way safely down the other side. There was hours of this up and down climbing punctuated by moments of investigating bear’s beds ringed with fresh scat or sudden turns that temporarily threw us off the direction of bear’s travel.

Ultimately we found ourselves high on the hillside. We stood on an old skid road that was overgrown with ferns rising well above my head. I couldn’t see much beyond the ferns and Preston’s wide shoulders but presumably he was following the interlacing of the fern fronds where they had twined together after bear pushed past.

Eventually we pressed through the fern thicket to an open gully that gave us a wide view of the open-forested hillside beyond us. We stopped here and scanned since it was the first moment in a while that afforded us any kind of view at all.

Then Preston said, “Is that a bear?” He was pointing to a dark shape about 80 yards away up slope. It was the same black brown as all the other stumps and wood around us. I stared at it for a long moment but I could not tell for sure. I pulled out my binoculars and we focused in on the shape. It was bear! He was fast asleep, lying on his back on the ground using a log as a pillow. I was certain that he must be snoring, so complete was his expression of absolute oblivion. We laughed quietly and then backed out of the place so as not to disturb the big boy sleeping in the deep intimacy of his forest bed.

It felt good. I was pleased to have found Preston his birthday bear and delighted by the comically vulnerable position we had found him in. I was also pleased that we had not disturbed him; that the sanctity and safety of his deep forest home had not been perturbed by our presence. We had come into his world, followed him deep on his private trails and through his private wanderings. It would have felt a sacrilege to betray his simple trust in the world by disturbing him in his bed so deep in the non-human world.