A steady wind through tall evergreens makes a loud shushing noise. Though it's spring, we're still blanketed in white at high altitude. However, the Forest Service warns that black bears are awakening in Summit County, grouchy with hunger, foraging for food still scarce because of the snow. So, with the constant wind blocking other sounds, I'm hyper-vigilent navigating through wilderness.
Years ago, in the summertime, I was walking on the trail behind our house. Suddenly, I was aware of a hulking form walking beside me not 6' away. A black bear had approached me from behind and was strolling through the woods with me. When I stopped, the bear stopped. Each of its thousands of glossy black-tipped hairs seemed to register separately in my brain. Time stood still, and my focus narrowed: The bear turned to face me. Unblinking caramel eyes stared. A wet black nose quivered in my direction.
My heart hammered in my ears. Slowly, I began backing away, inch by inch, aware that I could trip and fall backward if I wasn't very careful. I consciously made myself unthreatening, keeping my gaze averted. Surely, my vulnerability was communicated to the bear, who outweighed me by at least 300 pounds.
Meanwhile, Bear stood quietly, sniffing the air, watching with interest, but showing no aggression. Finally, after a couple minutes which seemed an eternity, he turned away from me and continued on the same journey through the forest that was interrupted by our meeting. Barely breathing, I waited until he was out of sight before moving quickly and quietly in the opposite direction.
I was absolutely powerless in the bear's presence. He decided to let me live. Even now, remembering the experience, my adrenaline surges. For no discernible reason, I was spared. I'm thankful to that bear. I'm not particularly wanting another close encounter, though I'm aware that a chance meeting could occur at any time. Meanwhile, I'm alert to my surroundings.
In spring, the Earth awakes from winter slumber - and so does Bear.