The “Bear” Facts

9 11 2010

One of the activities our family has enjoyed is trail hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains during vacation time.  We hold a distinction of being probably one of the few groups to ever visit Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and not take in the tourism features of the region.  We have never gone to one of the many country shows located there; have eaten at any of the restaurants a handful of times; never stayed at any of the fancy hotels and have never stopped at any of the side attractions such as the museums or the rides.  We generally stay in a rented cabin set on a hilltop just outside one of these communities, with our main trip into town done to buy groceries.  The kids never seemed to mind that we didn’t visit the attractions that I mentioned since cabins in recent times are not the same as they were years ago now sporting such luxuries as a Jacuzzi and satellite television.  Cathy and I have our own favorite entertainment there; a couple of rocking chairs on the porch, a flat top guitar and a panoramic view of the mountains.  The cabin itself is used sparingly on our visits.  Being an early riser, I’m always the first to get up so I take on the function of breakfast cook and for me; that’s Showtime!  Eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, blueberry silver dollars pancakes, potatoes and of course; biscuits and gravy, I do it all.   The kids have brought friends with them before on our excursions and I would get a kick out of seeing their faces the first time they get up to come down for breakfast with enough food sitting on the table to feed a small army.  My children would tell the newcomers; “You’ll get used to it in a couple of days.”  Early morning in the Smoky Mountains is always the best time, when the sun is beginning to peak over the mountain tops and you can almost hear a voice gently command you to take in the still and serenity with the reverence that is due.

One morning my moment of meditation was interrupted by a crashing sound on the other side of the cabin.  I made my way around to see what was going on just in time to catch glimpse of a little kid; all black and furry make his getaway into the woods after raiding our trashcans.  After breakfast comes the packing of sandwiches, fruit, granola bars and water. Then it’s jump into the cars and head off to the trailhead that has been picked for the day’s adventure.  There are a number of trails in the Smoky’s that the park service maintains, but most of them are well traveled with people coming and going constantly.  These are nice trails and quite scenic, but something about paths where you see so many people seems to distract from the whole experience of being in the mountains.  We try to seek out directions that are a little more off the beaten path, where around every bend and up over each rock the surroundings seem to shout out, ‘We’ve been here waiting just for you.’

We found out that one of those treks led to a large waterfall some three hours hike back in the mountains.  A hike that’s going to be three hours in and three hours back out makes for a long day so you have to keep close track of time while you’re back in the mountains.  As beautiful as the mountains are in the daylight, they are almost impossible to maneuver at nightfall. Once nightfall sets in a person finds themselves in almost complete darkness.  The climb over rock and rugged terrain was a strenuous one that day with me probably holding back the rest of the group the most.  I was still a two-pack-a-day smoker at that time and there were a few moments that I didn’t think I was going to make it.  But at the end of the three-hour hike, covered in sweat, heart pounding like it was going to explode and exhausted, all thoughts of fatigue vanished.  Before us was the waterfall, spanning 100 yards across and at least 75 yards high.  The mist from the water made natural air conditioning that cooled the atmosphere around us by at least twenty degrees. The rock wall that the water cascaded over was layered in colors of purple, red, black and white.  It was simply inspiring to behold.  We ate lunch there, then spent time frolicking in the icy cold water and exploring the area around and on top of the falls.  My sons, Jeremy and Justin, decided to continue on up the path past the waterfall to see where it led.  The rest of us were too worn out to climb any further so we stayed behind to wait for them.  Over an hour passed and they did not come back.  More time passed and we were starting to get just a little nervous, wondering where they were.  I wasn’t too worried, knowing the boys could take care of themselves and were smart enough to stay on the path.  But time was passing and it was now late afternoon.  If we didn’t start back down soon, we would be caught up there when night fell in.  Cathy and I told the rest to head back down and wait for us by the cars.  Another half hour went by and I sent Cathy back also.  I stayed there for some time and then finally had to tell God, “They’re in your hands, please bring them back safely.”  I took hold of my walking stick and  headed down the mountain.  Walking alone with shadows appearing from the late day sun made the return trip a little apprehensive.  I was about half way back, my ears were keying in on every sound. Suddenly, I heard loud rustling of something through the trees and brush at a dead run.  My mind told me it was a bear.  I looked around to see if maybe I had gotten between a cub and its mother, but I couldn’t see a thing.  The noise was getting louder as it drew closer; my heart began beating harder!  I heard a woman let out an earth shattering scream down below me.  The trail was winding and I could not see a young couple that was about fifty yards ahead of me.  I heard a man say, “Its okay, it kept going!” It must have crossed right in front of them and now was heading right at me!  I was sure it was a bear now and I knew running wasn’t going to do any good. I griped my walking stick in both hands and braced myself for the attack.  Maybe I wasn’t going to get passed the first round with this bad boy I heard coming for me, but I was going to at least do all I could to put a knot on his head!  The noise was almost on top of me now; I raised my stick over my head thinking “this is it!”  An explosion of fur, antlers, and hooves came crashing out of the brush, on to the trail and then back into the growth on the other side as I stood there frozen like a statue, inches away from where it passed; the stick still over my head–it was a deer!

Isaiah 41:13 – “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

In that brief moment of self-induced anxiety, I thought for sure my life was about to end.  Just a few miles back I had told the Lord that I trusted Him to watch over my boys, but when it came to my own life I completely forgot His love, concern and promise to watch over me and that He would never forsake me.  In the verse that I chose tonight, the point I wished to get across refers to taking hold of our right hand.  What the literal interpretation of this means is to strengthen you and keep you from stumbling.  Whether it was a bear, deer, rabbit or hippo, God was there with me saying, “I’m here; I will help you,” if I would have just listened.  When I reached the bottom, Cathy and the others were there waiting.  Fifteen minutes later the boys came bouncing down the path, laughing and joking all the way.  We had gotten out of the mountains about a half hour before sundown and returned to the cabin where the conversation turned to what we did and saw that day.  I chose not to say anything about my near deadly encounter with a wild eyed, rip snorting; deer.  Only now as I write this is my family discovering what went on that day.  What can I say; macho still reigns a little in this old man.  After dinner the kids went into town and my lady and I took up positions on the porch relaxing and watching the mountains silhouette in the distance until they finally disappeared in the twilight.  My mind went back to my fear on the trail and I silently thanked God for watching over me.  Then it hit me; the worst thing that could have happened today was that I ended up going home to my Heavenly Father be it from bear attack or heart attack.  With a smile I thought, if that’s the worst I’ve got to look forward to, I’ve got no complaints.  Cathy looked over at me and said, “What are you grinning about?”  I took hold of her right hand and said, “I just realized I couldn’t be happier.”


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