Bear Bells and Binoculars

The store was closed when we arrived, so we couldn’t buy our little girl a bear bell. The rest of us had bear bells and it was time for her to get one, too. Our plan to remedy that in the morning failed when morning found us up and ready to go before the store opened. We would have to pick one up later in the day.

“But how will we find any bears?” she wailed.

Clearly, she didn’t understand the point of a bear bell, which is to help hikers create noise as they traverse the trail. Bears will supposedly move away to avoid the noise, so bear bells do not attract bears. They repel them.

She wanted to see a bear.

Later that day, before we hiked a spectacular trail with a sad name, the Yellowstone Picnic Area Trail, we had a picnic lunch. J and I made lunch while the kids played and climbed rocks. They told us about their adventures as we ate. Our daughter was particularly excited to tell us about a stick they found that was perfect for fighting bears.

As we set off, we instructed them to stay close because we were in the wilderness and there might be bears. Our daughter looked at us incredulously and informed us in her sing-song voice, “We have our stick.” Meaning, of course, that they would be perfectly safe without us because she could obviously fight a bear off with her stick.

Clearly, she knew nothing about bears and had not read the hiking books which advise against hitting or kicking them.

Bear Bells, Bear Stick, and Binoculars

Bear Bells, Bear Stick, and Binoculars


We managed to get to our destination and back without needing the bear-fighting stick, but we did later pull over into an area that a ranger said might reward us with a glimpse of a bear. And there he was, foraging at the foot of the sharp roadside drop-off. We hadn’t seen many bears before this so we settled in to watch him. My daughter and I sat side by side, legs dangling over the ledge that led down to the meadow where the bear was nosing his way through the grass.

“When are we going down?” she asked. “Down there, to the bear.”

Clearly, she didn’t understand about bears. At all. She was, however, willing to settle for binoculars.

She is our nature girl, our animal girl, and she’s brave. It’s not that she’s never afraid. I’ve seen her scared. She was scared about her proximity to the RV that my dad was turning around in our yard, so she silently reached out for her brother’s hand. She was scared about starting her new preschool when we moved, but accepted an invitation to stay for the morning when she had only planned to stop in for a visit. She’s courageous according to John Wayne’s definition. “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

She’s courageous, but too young to grasp the nature of a bear. I understand her difficulty. Occupying the wild space near bears is hard to deal with mentally. I want bears to be there and I want to see them, but I want to see them where I want to see them, which is from the road, where I am close to the safety of my car.

I want to see bears in the same way I want adventure of all types: my way, my terms,  my timing. Adventure doesn’t operate that way. It will never consider my terms, my calendar, or the location of my car.

“Adventure,” according to adventure travel writer Tim Cahill, “is never an adventure when it’s happening. Challenging experiences need time to ferment, and an adventure is simply physical or emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility.”

Adventure is life, meant to be lived; watching for the bear, carrying the stick, sometimes looking through binoculars when you’d rather be up close, reaching for the hand of your companions, and staying when it would be so much easier to go.

What’s your perspective on adventure?

2 thoughts on “Bear Bells and Binoculars

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