I believe in the wilderness. My desire to be safe in this life is never far from my desire to go deeper into the the unknown. I believe it is only then can I really know myself, but the risk is that I will lose myself. The wilderness teaches me this. But it also teaches me humility in the face of that unknown. And that is the key, I believe, to finding my way.
My friend and I were anchored in a little cove far up a distant arm of the Bay of Fidalgo, in Aslaska, one summer morning. We are alone down there. To the west, over the mountains, there was probably no one around for over a hundred miles.
We rose early and set out in the skiff for some clamming beds my freind had found here before. We paddled for about two hours hugging the southeast side of the bay, portaging over islands to save time. As we round the last point a large flock of mergansers scatter at our approach, breaking the stillness. Above them over the crown of a Sitka spruce two bald eagles circle. I feel like we are beyond the edge of civilization, in a land where our rules and our words have no reach.
The mud flats stretch a half mile or more along the shore. The tide has slackened , so we get out of the skiff and walk in knee deep water pulling the boat behind us. I stop to glass the shore ahead. Almost immediately I see him, a long way off, along the banks of a streamlet. He is brownish, and his gait is slow and sultry. He is walking away from us, up the streamlet toward the woods. He looks small to me, and think no that can’t be a bear, it must be a large dog, or a wolf. I hand the glasses to Jmy friend and tell him this, and he says, “No, that’s a grizz, my friend.” I calculate quickly how long it will take us to retreat back into the deep water and get into the boat should the bear come toward us. But the wind is in our favor, and I think it unlikely the bear will sense us. Yet still I fear for my safety. The bear keeps moving and soon is out of sight. I begin to follow my friend toward the clam beds, but stop every few paces and bring the binoculars up, hoping to see him again. I do spot him briefly, one last time, in the tall grass along the creek before he dissapears into the forest. A part of me lingers wanting to follow him back into the mountains. But I never do stray far from the boat. I am torn, wanting my safety on the one hand, but also desiring to go with that bear into an untrammeled land I do not know.
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