Heat brought me down to the tributary that works through a cove of cottonwood and non-descript scrub that perpetually drinks from the shore of round rocks walking root to root toward the clear Yellowstone River a couple of miles north, the same Yellowstone I had just broke camp on. It is the same pass that holds bragging rights to Lewis and Clark having ridden their 49 horses through 201 years ago...and one month. I read the sign this morning mentioning Lewis on horseback chased a grizzly through the fields just for fun.
From where I caught the shine and sparkle of creek water in my titanium pot to filter into drink I can see black mud banked twenty feet down stream. Thinking that I should go check for bear sign in the damp mud I grab my camera and bear spray, safety off. I crossed a fallen tree and there beside my feet in the sucking sand that takes in my foot are grizzly tracks with water just now moving in. The bear, approx. 250-300 lbs. just left the tracks of a fawn it was following and the creek as I climbed down the bank. This is when I should have gathered up my tack and found the road 500 yards back. This is not what I did. It is funny how what we fear is just what the heart curiously beats toward. I tell myself I just wanted a picture. I do not. I put the camera in my pocket and the bear spray I slide into my back pocket. I want to move over fear and own it again, always it is the first time. Slowly my feet are moving on blades making sound, without my need to tell them. It is silly really, worrying about sound. The bear knows full well I was in his water, in his wood line, and now passing through his field to where the apples fall to earth on there own accord. Thump, thump, thump. I walk until I fell the slow rise of down hair on the back of my neck lift away from the sweat and trail grime of my neck. I walk until I heard a voice inside my head, and signs outside say stop, and now it is reasonable, not fear alone. A bush to my left was circled back to. I fell it. There is no noise to be heard. Only breathing. It is the only place that is silent as birds flicked everywhere but to my left. It is where I would have waited. Slowly I give a nod and backtrack to the creek without turning my eyes away from the brush, backtrack until my feet are wet and I can easily smell the heat coming off the blacktop above. Here I take pictures of bear claws that sank in the black earth and know very clearly I had traveled to Yellowstone, and off the map.
"Yep, I'd say your gonna see a few more grizz before you get yourself out of these mountains. Plan on it." (Farmer standing in his field offering up advice on my chances of running into bears as head west into Idaho.)