The confluence of creeks and ocean were roiling with salmon. It was fun standing in muck boots in the middle of the creeks as the salmon encircled the boots. I might have been able to catch one with my hands if I had non-slip gloves.
The sun was setting in the warm Alaska wilderness night. It was a dewy dusk. The others in the photo group had left tired of standing and waiting for a bear to come, happy with their non-stop afternoon chase of grizzlies from ocean to creek, digitally tapping off thousands of pictures in an afternoon, eyes behind their lenses, senseless to the majesty before them.
I felt if the others left, the bears would hear the roiling salmon. It was our last night in the Lake Charles wilderness and I was content to stand in the creek surrounded by salmon. Four of us remained. Tim and the other guys were up the creek a way. They had inspected the bear sit Tim found a day earlier and were on their way back. I glanced down the creek toward the ocean and racing through the water like a runaway train came the grizzly.
Bear coming, I said to the guys. Don’t panic, don’t run I said to myself. I moved slowly ten steps to my left as he would have run me over. There is safety in numbers as we gathered in a group, I had my iPhone on video. As I raised it to my eyes, he steamed past us so close we could have touched him. My heart was pounding, it was a pant-wetting, intimidating experience to watch five hundred pounds of predatory power charging toward you. Yet, it was as if we were ghosts. He galloped past us; eyes totally focused on the roiling salmon. He pounced into the creek like a young kid free on summer vacation.
There were five or six maybe seven schools of salmon swimming haphazardly and randomly from creek entrance to the next and our bear was a kid at Christmas. Which pile do I jump on? He jumped on one, turned quickly to the next and ran up creek to the salmon almost flying out of the water. He was focused but unfocused at the same time hungry for a fish and overwhelmed by the abundance. He rushed across the creek to the other side pouncing and splashing. We were sure he had one. But no – he sat up in the water and uttered a squeal of frustration then charged up the creek again pouncing and splashing. After several spins of pouncing fury, he got one. Putting his muzzle in the creek, he came up with a big salmon. We applauded.
Not content with just one, he again was seduced by the salmon frenzy and lunged helter-skelter after each roiling pod. We implored him quietly from the sidelines – don’t drop the one you have. He seemed to get that as he lumbered up the creek, salmon firmly in his mouth venturing off a path into the woods. As he did, a bald eagle came swooping into the creek area, landing on the top of a tree, hoping perhaps for what might be left. He came down once more to the creek, turned again and took another path up the creek to wherever grizzlies go to eat.
It was one of the greatest sacred moments I have experienced in nature. It was made even more sacred as there were only 4 of us invited to witness the majesty and comedic strivings of one of natures last remaining great wild animals.
If he noticed us at all, we couldn’t tell. At that moment nature’s abundance was on full display for all the grizzlies and people were of no concern. They aren’t hunted in the Lake Charles wilderness, so they have no inherent fear of humans.
That moment has stayed with me. I call the bear my bear. Intuitively I felt something special would happen that night. There were more salmon than previous nights, it was a warm evening, it was late and there were only four of us. I try to pay closer attention to my intuitions these days as extraordinary moments occur when I do. In the bustle of everyday life, moments are lost. Moments that could enrich a day with meaning are shunted aside for deadlines and obligations. My bear moment revealed a simple truth, just as Luna’s dying moments had, that a meaningful life is a tangle of beautiful moments when noticed and savored.