If you go down to the woods today…

Photos: From the woods

So there I was with my camera set up for a great shot when I saw the leaves in the lower left corner of the frame move.

I stopped and watched.

They moved again. They definitely moved, and whatever it was that caused the bushes down by the edge of the water to shake was much larger than a cat, or beaver, or even a coyote.

Quietly I replaced the lens cap, picked up my camera case and stepped back.

Then I heard it. A growl.

Considering the amount of time I spend wandering around in the woods, it’s quite remarkable I had only run into bears three times before (other than the side-of-the-road tourist stoppers in the National Parks) On one encounter my husband was hiking with me and twice I was alone.

The first time I heard that growl, which is definitely not a cow’s, on the other side of a huge boulder I made a hasty retreat. Say what you like about playing dead or walking slowly, I moved –and my plump little arthritic cocker-poo flew past me and jumped through the car window with speed and agility she hadn’t demonstrated in years. Fortunately the car was close by, and the window was open.

The second time a concerned armed man greeted us at the end of the trail and asked if we had seen the wounded bear. We had been talking about smelling something very strong, just like the bear cage at the zoo, that seemed to come from under a little foot bridge as we crossed over it, but thank God, he must have been too wounded or frightened to come after us.

The third time I was shooting waterfalls from a narrow guardrail-less wooden bridge and had just returned to my car at the end of the bridge when a silver tip grizzly came charging out of the trees. He seemed as surprised as I was and took off running into the bush on the other side. From the safety of the car I could appreciate his speed (as fast as a galloping horse) and his glistening fur in the evening light. (My camera was already zipped in the case, of course.)

Last October, on that day in the woods, I was, again, alone.

We live in bear country. We all have bear stories, and some of us even have cougar stories. (I’ve only seen tracks –in front of our house.) In the autumn the bears are desperate to put on weight before the snow falls and can be more aggressive, but most of the time if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Most of the time.

I headed back to the car, about half a kilometer away, pacing each step deliberately and calmly, willing my breathing to slow down.

More growling.

I considered throwing my camera equipment down to distract it and to give me time to run to the car –then I remembered my car keys were deep inside the bag.

More growling. Very, very close by.

I rummaged in the bag and felt some nail clippers. I suppose I could have offered it a trim or maybe asked if it had any thorns needing removal.  I rummaged some more –as I walked with great self-control toward the road– and felt the edge of the tiny wound-up metal measuring tape I keep on my key chain. A meter later the jangling keys followed.

More growling. It sounded like it was right beside me and I saw the bushes shake again.

“Ah, forget it!” I said and ran.

I clicked the door opener the whole way to the car and when I finally got there jumped in and locked the doors –because everybody knows a grizzly can open an unlocked door, right?

I didn’t see anything.

My heart was pounding, but I could still hear it. The growl was louder than ever…

That‘s when I realized it was my own stomach making all the noise. I should have eaten breakfast.

A deer stepped into the clearing from behind a trembling bush. I laughed all the way home, but I didn’t go back into the woods that day, or the next.

Some pretty scary posts have been showing up on Facebook and blogs and emails lately. I can’t even vote in that big election to the south (which seems only to mark the beginning of the next campaign) and yet up here in the Canadian Rockies I still receive a barrage of fear-based propaganda. Some of the comments are from very frightened people who have bought the message that the country is on the brink of disaster. They were ready to run a lot of conscience-based red lights to free themselves from this “certain threat” including restricting other people’s freedom. Fear does strange things to otherwise nice people.

It was as though they are willing to throw away a very expensive camera case full of gear to save themselves from a growling stomach.

Is the threat real? It sometimes is. (Maybe it would be wise to examine the motives of the people publishing this stuff?)

On the other hand, I have a delightful little grandson who could do with a bit more fear in his life. When he yells, “Catch it!” I have a split second to turn and get my arms in position before he flings himself off stairs and concrete walls or any other prominent high place. His daddy is a strong athletic man with lightning-quick reflexes who delights in this Pink Panther game with his two-year old Cato. His granny? Not so much. Is his trust in his father a beautiful thing?  Yeah. Should that trust be transferable? Not always.

Life without proper fear can also endanger us. Fear is a strange thing. Misplaced, it makes us run from growling stomachs; ignored, it leaves us unprepared for an encounter with an actual wounded bear on the trail.

Bears are real. Every year we hear stories that didn’t turn out so well. Loss of freedom and the existence of hidden corruption is real. Every year we hear of countries where people are imprisoned or slaughtered for their beliefs or otherwise treated unjustly by those who hunger for power.

I read an odd scripture verse today: Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)

Don’t be afraid because the point of this exercise is to make you afraid. Huh?

Again I find myself caught in the crossfire between camps. One side says fear is a sin and perfect love casts out fear. The other says the fear of the Lord is a necessity because it is the beginning of wisdom. Online concordances list page after page of verses each side can lob at the other. Study of original Hebrew and Greek words doesn’t even help. They are used interchangeably.

Fear God/Fear not

Both are true.

This conversation written by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia story helps me (a bit):

…Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” (Aslan symbolizes Jesus Christ in the books)

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we have access to the very throne of God, but it means cuddling up to some extremely high voltage, a privilege never to be taken lightly.

Because God is good we can dare to fling ourselves into his arms fearlessly. We need not be in dread that He will drop us. We don’t need to violate his ways to attempt to fix things by our own desperate efforts. But a good healthy respect of the dangers of flinging ourselves anywhere outside of his ways and his priorities also protects us from the consequences of  ill-conceived plans.

There are bears out there. But there is also a good King right here.


12 thoughts on “If you go down to the woods today…

  1. tedgriffith

    What a grea story! Fear freezes the heart and steals your peace, but perfect love cast out all fear. I can give in to the fear mongers (those in the world and those in my head/heart) or I can give in to His peace. It is always my choice.


  2. Valerie Harris

    Wow!! I missed that one first time round. Awesome story!! And such an apparent 180 in the middle, winding it’s way back to make complete the truth of paradox. Well done!!!!


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