I often daydream and hope that there are limitless creatures on this planet that will never be found by a human, hiding in the ocean depths or thick jungle canopies. And I hope that there is a bear that will never be witnessed, living quietly in the forest that is so familiar to me. While seeing them will always feel special, I tend to prefer the unseen bear, the one leaving tracks, scat, causing the rustling in the night, producing low groans drifting from the forest at dawn. I savor the mystery, a beast floating through the darkness, hovering somewhere between reality and the mythical. I’m not sure the paths of people and bears are supposed to cross; it’s better for the bear to remain a ghost.
We found fresh prints encircling our camp in the morning, wandering up and down the creek and around the remains of our fire and kitchen area. I vaguely remember hearing it, stirring around in our site, the sound of its large pads creeping through pine needles mixing with the sound of wind in the trees.
It’s good to know we are not alone. I would find this world unlivable if surrounded by nothing but humanity and our monuments. That something exists, a creature large and dangerous and uncontrollable, serves to keep my sense of self-importance in check. I can see it in my son as he witnesses the signs; the mix of wonder, fear, and respect as he kneels and places his hand within the large footprint, tracing the claws with a finger. We saw many tracks coming in; I didn’t dwell on the topic, but I know it was on his mind as night fell and we retired to our sleeping bags. I suppose it’s been on the minds of people since the beginning. There may be trails and roads within a day’s walk from here, but evidence of the bear ushers in a feeling of wildness.
I’m increasingly finding that the beauty of hiking with my children lies in the fact that we are family, and as such, we know how and when to leave each other alone. There is no such thing as uncomfortable silence, I am content merely watching, they are content simply being. My son leaves the fire to go read in his sleeping bag and I’m left alone with a pencil and poetry. There is no pressure to entertain or be good company, we intuitively understand each other’s moods and needs. That the trips with my children are slower in nature and require a different sort of work and pace on my part, I’m finding this matters less and less relative to the quality of being out with my kin. There can be no better partners.