by: Emily Meeks
When I saw her stripping, I started paying attention—the bark peeled off under her claws as easily as I might peel a banana. We didn’t see the mama bear at first, just backpacks scrunched on the trail between rock and moss.
The ranger explained that the bark contained sugars that bears enjoy. He knew she had cubs but they had not been located. He described how this uncertainty could trigger more aggressive behavior should the mama bear feel threatened. Until she came down from the tree and was out of range, no hikers were allowed to pass on either side of the trail.
The ranger’s abundance of caution annoyed me. I wanted to move on. We had already spent too much time waiting. Construction on Route 101 required a lead car to guide us down one lane. The entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center was jammed with traffic—one car in, one car out. Even my in-laws, who were visiting from Atlanta and are not avid hikers, wanted to get moving.
I watched her black fur bobble between trunk and branch. She was strong and agile, holding her body weight up while she focused on the trunk. She was in her element and completely unaware of us humans ready to hike past her to get to the waterfall. I ducked under elbows, squatting with my backpack to get a better view of her positioning. I imagined where her cubs may be and what they were doing: Were they hungry? Did they eat bark too? How big were they?
In the book of Job, Elihu is the youngest of four men who provide Job perspective on personal struggle. Elihu’s approach feels different than Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.” (Job 37:14). I hear Elihu call Job by name and ask to listen, stop and consider a wider view. Could Job, in considering these natural marvels now, be present to God’s greatness without trying to understand or configure?
On the other side of the tree, down trail, another ranger and band of hikers had gathered, too. I put my backpack down. No amount of mental role-playing on my part was going to get me past the ranger. I listened as conversations among backpackers and day hikers braided together. We shared photos and trail recommendations while watching for the mama bear’s next movement. Our collective gaze forged a connection and shared energy that seemed so distant from months quarantined away from people.
Needless to say, we were eventually allowed to move on. As we passed the tree, I saw bark peels on the ground. I picked one up and held the curling end above my waist. I saw how half way up the trunk the bark revealed an inner layer on the right side, her leftovers and scraps from the meal.
“Remember to extol his work,” Elihu says (Job 36:24). I looked up at the green canopy surrounding me, energized by knowing life teemed around me, even in the ways I could not see.
I hiked onward with new anticipation as we made our way to the Mineral Creek Falls. I felt the mist before even seeing the falls and the cool breeze tingled on my skin, mixing with ribbons of sweat. The water layered downward on the rock, but instead of it feeling like the last big moment of our hike, it felt more like a continual unfolding and an invitation: Listen, stop, consider. What of God’s wonders are already around you?
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.