Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I have a friend in Pakistan who says, “We have one old saying here that bears fall in love with beautiful women sometimes. So when I think I get worried for you, old stories tell me they take her away and keep her in cave, and they lick her feet all the time until she get hurt. Then she cannot run to escape. This is true story, old story.”
I understand it as a sweet expression of his care, his desire to keep me from harm. People love their old sayings, fairies and angels, ghosts and demons; they give comfort to reality. For me, stark reality is magical, mysterious and sufficiently deadly in its own right. I don’t need to put monster faces on starvation and cruelty, or wings and feathers on hope. Bears are sufficient on their own.
I rose early in the quiet campground at Tuolumne Meadows and walked among the tents, cars, RV’s and tables. Hardly anyone had risen so early. All around, signs warn of bears, and steel boxes are amply placed for food and trash. The instructions are adamant—nothing edible or smellable is to be left out. But I see potato chips on a table, bags of trash hung on trees, and cans of food in a cardboard box.
Inside one tent, a lot of commotion—a lot of love making maybe. Well, from my introduction you know that a bear was in there, and I feared for the well-being of any people inside. I knew it was a bear when the tent ripped open where no door was, and out popped a big black one. I must have been thirty feet away.
Now the proper response to an oncoming bear is simple: do a lot of noise-making and arm waving to make it think you are meaner than you are. So I did this in the quiet morning while the bear stopped and looked at me as if mildly interested. Then it turned and walked away slowly, as if to say, “Why should I bother with such a wimp.” I kept yelling, “Bear! Bear!” A voice from within a tent, “Keep the racket down!” Soon a few bleary-eyed campers emerged, and we watched as the bear climbed a tree. Somebody went into the ruined tent and came out saying nobody was in there. Somebody went for the ranger. I took pictures.
High in the tree where the bear was climbing we saw a smaller black ball of fur. A cub. A mama-bear and a cub! You can see them rejoining in the picture. The ranger came and told everybody to stay back and keep quiet; we would just wait for them to come down. A half-hour later, mother and cub were still up there, and I went to The Grill. It was too disappointing to see them up there confused and unhappy, having only tried to do what is right as they know it. I could be that mama bear climbing that tree. And soon in Pakistan I might be.
Tuolumne is a lovely Meadow, full of flowers and rodents and deer. I stayed there until it was time to catch a bus.
I came to Yosemite Valley, not on foot, but on a bus, and met friends there. I looked up at Glacier Point and remember how I felt at age ten when I learned of the trail to its top and asked my father, “Can I go?” Of course he said no, for mother’s sake. I thought about sneaking out in the early morning, leaving the campsite for the day and coming home to inevitable fury. After the trauma settled, he’d be proud of me, I’d see it in his eyes, but not his words. Years later I hiked to Glacier Point, but it was not the same.
My friends took me to Bass Lake where their boat took us across the lake to a restaurant, a lovely evening. These pictures taken from the boat.
It seems odd, on returning, to think about what I thought. I try to make a call on my hoarded philosophy and find it not answering. After five days on the trail, I feel like a shadow of a former self. In some ways the hike stands in memory as pure as the peak of a snow mountain glowing in the twilight. In other ways it is like evolution; survival is all that matters. I would like to call it a hard hike well done, but I can only say that is was a hard hike.
I came home and stood at the door to my dwelling. All is as I left it, all bright and comforting in the morning sunshine. Sometimes I decide to forget the maze where life seems lost in numbers, and go seeking unity where I’m the only one around. I am sure I will do it again.
For a reason that I couldn’t have phrased, I called to him: Daddy, I tried to cross the High Sierras all the way to Yosemite Valley, but I couldn’t make it. I tried, Daddy, I really did. Are you still proud?