Grizzly bears make black bears look like lapdogs. Which is why when Bruce and I backpacked the Grand Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming, where grizzly bear sightings are common, we were more than a little concerned. We only became terrified when, upon setting up camp on the first night, a woman ran by at twilight and yelled to us, “Two people were mauled here last night by a bear,” and then promptly disappeared.
At that precise moment we noticed that the soy sauce packages that I’d so cleverly thought to bring along to season our food had burst at high altitude. We weren’t just in grizzly country, we now smelled like their dinner.
Bruce went into action. We carried hiking poles and bear bells, which he set up outside our tent and linked with a trip wire. The idea: if a grizzly came lumbering around, he’d trigger the bells and Bruce, awakened and armed with pepper spray, would squirt him the heck away. Testosterone rose like the ashen moon as we contemplated our defenses. The only trouble was the high mountain wind.
All night long the bells rang out with every gust. I panicked, Bruce gripped his pepper spray. No bears appeared, nor did any sleep. Exhausted, we arose in the morning only to discover that while we’d been obsessing about bears, rodents had eaten the laces on our hiking boots just inches from our head. If we hadn’t carried duct tape, we’d have been forced to end our trip there and then.
And I can’t help thinking about this, as we confront this grizzly bear of a pandemic. It’s as if we, too, are learning that amid so much primal fear, it’s important to pay attention to the small things as well. Slowing down, we notice the clarity of the air, the quiet that surrounds us, the way spring, regardless of the human drama, insists on arriving in our back yards, parks, and hillsides.
Little things, attended to, can make a difference even in the midst of so much suffering. People are sewing masks, volunteering, delivering food, making meals from scratch. In my valley, a neighbor takes it upon himself to inform us about what’s going on and what measures we need to take. Nightly, at 8:00 p.m. we stand on our balconies and howl our appreciation for the medics and healthcare workers and others on the front lines. The howls echo back and forth across the valley so that at times the dogs, and even coyote, join in.
It’s easy to get lost in the fear of that big, scary thing. But you can’t move forward without your shoelaces.
What are the small, everyday things you are doing to take care of your self, family, and community? What are you giving your attention to each wild and precious day?
This article originally appeared on Mary Reynold Thompson’s website.
MARY REYNOLDS THOMPSON
is the author of Embrace Your Inner Wild and Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness. She is also an instructor for the non-profit TreeSisters, a facilitator of poetry therapy and journal therapy, and a certified life coach who has helped thousands of people discover and live their Wild Soul Story. She is the founder of Write The Damn Book, a program that guides writers on the heroic journey from procrastination to publication, and is a core faculty member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.