Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grizzly Bears and Art

Last summer I had a grizzly bear encounter.   It's only significance to this blog is how it relates to my life and my art.  As is my habit, I want to share the metaphors with you.
The short version is that while in Montana visiting our son in Glacier National Park I had a very close call with a grizzly bear.  In case you don't know, Grizzly's are mean and very unpredictable.  They are the last type of bear you want to meet!
My sister in law and I took a very short trail to the hotel to return a room key.  The trail was a horse trail we had just seen traversed by four riders.  We thought it a short trip and the guy's needed the bear spray for their trek to the river to fish.  I figured it was safer than the narrow highway with little or no room for pedestrians and a blind curve by the hotel.  Surely all the bear hype was just that - hype? These parts were so full of people and bears tend to shy away from the more populated areas.  But I was wrong.  Lesson number one:  it's not the first time I've been wrong...
So down the trail we go.  Getting further in, the path becomes dense with brush and trees.  I was more uncomfortable now.  Talking loudly and walking quickly to alert any bears we were on our way, I noticed movement out of the side of my eye.  Turning to see what it was, up on hind legs popped a young bear not ten feet away!!  I looked him full in the eye and we stared at each other for a beat; long enough for me to register some real fear.  (Note: You are not supposed to look a bear in the eye!) 
Now you might think this a stretch, but how often has your art gotten you into any real danger?  My guess is, not often!  So what are you afraid of?  Why are you not doing more with your passion?  The answer is that you looked the bear in the eyes and you are afraid!  He's big.  He's powerful.  He could consume you and your life or at least change it forever!  It's risky to walk down that path even with bear spray!  If you really pursue this art thing, it could be a huge failure.  It could take all your savings if you quit your day job.  You could find you are a no talent hack and you were just deluding yourself all along!  It could be a huge disaster!  Or...
The young bear then came out of the brush at us!!   We screamed and ran-- hearts beating outside our chests!!  Yes ran.  (and no you are never supposed to run).  Your odds are thin to nil you'll ever out run a bear.  So why did we run?  In short, instinct took over.  And there's the next lesson.  We all have that same instinct.  My sister-in-law lives in Montana and is married to the director of Parks for the state.  She knows better.  We both did.  And yet, we ran!  We ran because there was imminent danger and we let our fear dictate our actions.  Bears that pop up out of nowhere give you no time to think!  The lesson here?  Practice so you are prepared when the bear pops up!!  What is the bear you fear?  Figure that out and then prepare and rehearse so that when you meet him, and you will if you wander around in the forest long enough, you are prepared to live through it!!
Luckily, the bear ran straight as we ran forward and he disappeared into the dense cover on the other side.  The lesson?  Most of the time you just see a bear at a distance.  But if it gets as close as ten feet, or even appears to charge at you, and if you can run faster than your sister-in-law, your odds of survival are better!  (Just kidding!)  My thought is that while I don't take unnecessary risks, I have learned that taking calculated risk usually does not kill me.  So, while you might see a bear on your path, it's highly unlikely it will be as bad as you think it will-- if it even happens!!  You must take some risks in your art to get any further.
Recounting my trauma to my son later, I was still very shaken.  I had cheated death!  And my heart still raced when I thought about it.  In this very deep way he said "Mom, you are more alive now than you were before!"  He knew what I felt having had a similar experience himself.  But what he didn't know, was how profound that statement was for me.  I was indeed more alive for having that experience.  Do I want another one?  Not on your life!  Yet it reaffirmed some things.  One, my understanding that the here and now is all we really have.  Two, what I worry about is seldom if ever as bad as I fear.  Three, keeping my eyes open and being prepared help keep the fear and self-doubt at bay. 
 I want to live with more intention now.  I do have a greater sense of urgency to experience life more fully.  And I don't want to waste another moment with the unnecessary.  I want to live my life and do my art more fully.  
And I have to thank a bear for that.  


  1. I saw your note at Brenda Swenson's. I'm looking forward to reading your posts & seeing your work! It looks lovely.

  2. Ink! So great to meet you! (sort of!) --I put your blog in my favorites list to read also! Love your work as well--looking forward to seeing your work and blogs going forward!