BOWEN COLUMN: Part 23: Lost in Yellowstone

Published 10:30 am Friday, November 5, 2021

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Thursday, July 15

Day 5, 6 p.m.

There will be a moment or two in life you never get over. We visited there when the Grizzly came out of nowhere and shared our path around 6 p.m. on that Thursday, July 15.

I think the bear shared more than a physical path that day. We said earlier that we became brothers, and that is true. We established a bond that cannot be broken. That may sound as if it belongs to a poem or something, but that’s not it. I am not sure I can even explain all the bonds that are forged due to such moments.

Even you – or especially you, I should say – have become part of these connections in the wild because you chose to lace up your hiking boots with us and be immersed in this compelling journey.

You become part of it not only because we are sharing together the dangers of a tale from the wild, but also because we are sharing a faith. As so many of you fellow-travelers read and absorb these events and thoughts, and as you share your own feelings and thankfulness along the way, the key attribute I have seen in you is a common faith. That, to me, is a remarkable thing. You have climbed into the book and become part of it.

Not everyone can do what you are doing here. Those who are not searching for a faith to build their lives on can scarcely identify with our view of these events because they do not see faith as the eternal bond that cements it all together. Mr. Emerson or Thoreau would embrace the marvel of nature were they to tell the story, but they could not see the Lord that we know weaving his hand throughout.

It is a marvel how kindred minds form friendships, so much so that should I tell the tale ‘ages and ages hence,’ as we have said along the way, I should only tell it to one I consider a friend, and that even if it be someone we never met, or even someone a hundred years from now.

Ah, read this tale, and you will know the men well who walked this Yellowstone trail. And friends you will be.

The beautiful blonde Grizzly stood there so nobly that Thursday evening and looked eye to eye with me. He had run away from me as he heard my slow footsteps coming toward him just a few feet over the hill. I do not understand why he ran. He ran with as much purpose as if he were running toward an intruder, a foe. He ran with the frightening intent of our unseen bear friend from two nights before who had approached our tent with a menacing, threatening charge. Only, this time, our friend here ran away from a confrontation, not into one, even though it is one he could win a hundred times over.

Todd’s wife, Staci, wrote me during the writing and recounting of this five-day memoir, and her words hit the mark,

“Glad the bear made the decision he did. Or was the bear guided by a more powerful being?” she wrote, then added,

“No one will ever convince me that God did not protect the two of you on your journey.”

Ms. Staci hit on something there. I guess she realized even before we emerged from that wilderness that this story was more than an adventure. It ran swift, like the Snake River, but it ran deep, too.

Of course, what most do not know is that she and the amazin’ blonde had to wrestle for days with the ominous question “Will they make it out alive?” starting on that Tuesday and lasting until a couple of emotional phone calls on Friday evening.

For the rest of the world, they only knew of these dangers after the storms had passed us by. But, still, the wives had to wait until now for the many details to realize how precarious every day was.

Prayers went up from our two households, and from our children, and others, because they had to hold onto something that you cannot touch. They had to hold firmly to an unchanging hand and trust it to guide and arrange events in ways that would result in the protection of the ones they love.

A belief in prayer demands the faith that God arranges and rearranging things in his own way. Truth is, when a Grizzly springs out of the wilderness on you and starts running at full speed, somebody should thank the Lord he ran the other way, not your way. I say, don’t pray for the Lord to protect you from such dangers if you don’t believe the Lord can and will sway events by his power in an answer to those prayers.

I know, it is true the Lord may not spare you or your loved ones from those dangers. He may choose otherwise. He may call you on home right there on that trail. I stood down the Snake River that Wednesday morning, looking out over life, and I had to come face to face with that very thought. But even if things go awry, it is not because the Lord failed to hear, or he failed to care. And it certainly is not because ge failed to see, for our Lord sees all. He is God, and he will choose His response. And we’ll praise him for it just the same.

That’s all because of a little thing called faith.

There stood an eight-hundred-pound Grizzly up ahead on the path a hundred feet, standing, staring at me, as I talked to him so he would identify me as human, if he had not already. He, no doubt, was as curious of me as I was of him. I do think it is puzzling that he stopped and stared for so long. I could have understood a glance back and then proceeding on into his wilderness. But the half-a-minute stare—that’s puzzling. I wonder if others have had the same experience. To me, that’s another marvel.

It could be that he was deciding if he wanted to confront his new intruder, or not.

I just don’t know.

There’s something else curious about it all: Mr. Lyons and Mr. DiMaggio had passed that way before me; and they reported to Todd later that evening that they had seen a blonde bear out in the wild a few miles back. Of course, Mr. Lyons was calling out ‘Hey bear’ with every few steps; so, they did not surprise him, nor did they come into a face-to-face encounter. Had they not alerted him that humans were near, I wonder if I might have walked up on him unknowingly and surprised him. During this very summer, there were more than a few accounts of savage bear attacks — in the Smokies, some in Glacier National Park up in Montana, and, yes, a week before our auspicious trip there was one in Yellowstone.

A bear had dragged a woman out of her tent to her death.

The threat of death out there was real. Bears just like the great blonde Grizzly with whom I stared eye to eye had killed that summer.

But something stood in the way of such an outcome on Thursday evening, July 15, 2021.

After a while, the Grizzly was satisfied, and he walked quietly into the woods. Why had he run up that path, then walked quietly away? We will ponder that for a very long time. I eventually found my bear spray in my bag and held it in my hand when I felt it was safe to walk right through the spot the Grizzly had stood so gallantly moments earlier. Oh, how I had wanted to move closer to him when I saw him, to stand and see him in his beauty from close up! But that moment was no time for sightseeing. I still hold his memory firmly in my mind and also, interestingly, in my heart.

I walked on past that momentous spot on the trail and at that key juncture in a life that evening.  I held the spray, in case, but I did something else, too. In my mind, what I did when I crossed the path where my friend had stood was one of the best things I would do.