Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"I Don't Believe in Bears, So..."

A few years ago I joined a backpacking trip through the Emigrant Wilderness in California. This was a four day trek covering 40 miles of amazing scenery. Our group consisted of sixteen adventurers, one guide, and a bevy of pack horses. Oh, and a yellow lab who belonged to a cook at the resort. This dog loved to join any hiking group going somewhere exciting, and he stuck with us the entire time, begging dinner and a warm place to sleep each night.

Our guide, Colin, was young, only twenty-two years old, yet he was an experienced guide and wrangler. His team of pack horses hauled our tents, sleeping bags, and various comforts from civilization, and we carried day packs with water, food for lunches, cameras, and various other essentials we couldn't do without during daylight hours.

It was an amazing journey. We merely had to follow the trail, and stop when we saw Colin and our packs. He made camp by water sources, so we could filter clean mountain water to drink. Every night we made a campfire, and sat around telling tales, getting to know one another, and sharing spiked cocoa and wine.

The first night, however, several of us had a few questions for Colin. In preparation for this trip, we were dutifully warned that we were hiking in bear country. And these bears weren't like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. They would eat our food, and possibly us, if we happened to be in the same proximity. One of the conditions of joining this trek was to use a bear-proof canister to store anything that had an odor.

I took this seriously. Weeks prior to the hike, I studied the warnings, and watched the videos of bears attempting to open various canisters. I bought one that was highly recommended. It was so bear-proof that I myself had trouble opening it. Perfect! I put my freeze dried meals inside, my snacks, my coffee for the morning, a few candy bars... I was prepared.

Yet, the first night, when I heard someone ask what I dared not – "what about bears?" – I listened intently, feeling my heart race. What if the bear couldn't get in the canister, and decided the human flesh cowering inside the tent would be much easier to access, and almost as tasty as the granola bars?

It was then, when Colin spoke, that I was completely reassured. For this young man who was in charge of our safety and well-being, simply replied, "I don't believe in bears. So they never bother me."

Really? It was that simple? And he backed it up by adding that he actually slept with his food under his bedroll. He didn't even use a tent.

Actually, that was reassuring. I guess because his total belief in his own beliefs helped me feel secure. And perhaps the thought that the bear would go after the easiest food source – you know, the one that wasn't cowering in a tent. Yes, that helped. And I must admit, I was reassured that we had a dog along who would surely let us know if a four-legged, smelly, dangerous intruder entered our camp.

Each night, what did I hear? I heard my camp mates settling down. I heard the dog sniff around until someone opened the tent flap to let him in. I heard the light jingle of bells on the pack horses as they grazed. I heard the sweet rustle of a breeze as it meandered through the trees and bushes. And then, I heard silence. Sweet silence. You really can hear nothing. You just have to listen.

And no bears. Perhaps they found us annoying and chose to stay away. Perhaps they were never close to begin with. Or perhaps, possibly, because one of us truly didn't believe in them, they had no choice but to leave us in peace.

This was an interesting thought. If I believe in something, does that give it life? And conversely, do I have the power to negate something in my life simply by not affirming it? The mind is powerful. And the older I get, the more I believe in my own power. Think good thoughts, good things could happen. Believe the worst, and we better watch out.

Perhaps that's a bit simplistic, but still... I do think I control what is happening in my own life. Even when I don't realize how powerful I am. So now, I choose to not believe in bears...

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