This is the 4th article in a summer series on the life lessons that traveling has to teach us.
By the time I was four years old, I knew that part of Dad’s role was to take me and my siblings on hiking adventures. Those days were happiest for me because we’d shift our focus from edged humor and bickering to exploring the great outdoors.
For the first mile of every trek, Dad would keep us close to instruct us on forest safety. He gave a much longer list in Yellowstone National Park:
When in bear country, make lots of noise. Watch for footprints in the mud alongside the trail. Spy out logs that have been torn apart, where bears scrambled for ants. Examine trees for a series of scratches where a bear sharpened their claws in the bark.
Dad assigned us responsibilities and set us free. If I had been big, I could have gone fast and seen everything, but my job was to stay with Mom. She couldn’t keep up with every one else, Dad said. I walked with Mom examining each log, tree trunk and bit of mud.
“Come here,” Mom said. I obeyed, and she squished my hand in her grasp. “We are turning around.”
“What? Why? I’m not even tired.”
“Dean?” she called for my father, who always managed to stay within earshot. “Get everyone. We’re going back now! I have a bad feeling.”
Dad stared at her as my siblings trampled to his side. “We haven’t made it to …” he said. My siblings chimed in. Nobody wanted to turn around.
Mom didn’t wait to hear any more arguments. “Now,” she said. She snagged my next oldest sister, and dragged the two of us on a retreat back to camp. Moments later, my remaining siblings and father raced ahead of us, out of sight.
As we rounded the next corner, we discovered my siblings gathered and hunched in a circle. I wrenched myself free of Mom’s fingers and ran towards them.
“What?” I asked.
“Bear scat,” my father said. “It’s still hot. It wasn’t here before.” Had it only been a few minutes since we’d passed this spot?
“Let me feel!” I said.
But I didn’t have to feel it, to see the steam rising and to smell the fresh odors. A bear had been shadowing us on the trail. It was probably watching us from a hiding place in the forest, right now!
We collectively stared into the darkness between the tangled boughs for one long breath.
“Bears bite children. You should stay close to Mom,” my brother said. He was always saying things to scare me, that bordered on truth.
“Do not!” I said. Mom yanked my sister and me closer to her. My other siblings, as tall as my mom, chatted with each other, just outside of arm’s reach.
When in bear country, make loud noises to keep the bears away.
“Well an Austrian went yodeling on a mountain so high …,” my sister sang. We jogged back to the campground, as a single horde, yodeling.
The ranger stopped by our campsite later that evening to tell us a story. Someone had just been hospitalized after trying to separate their dog from a bear. The trail we had hiked was to be closed, until the bear was no longer a concern.
Everyone interpreted different lessons from that day. The park system eventually stopped allowing dogs on that trail. My family had further proof that Mom’s feelings were spot on, for we had safely returned, where others hadn’t.
I learned to always be curious and aware in life’s journey, because one never knew what would happen next. Sometimes, success can be measured by the extent one engages, safely survives and learns from life’s adventures.
Engaging in the journey can be just as valuable as reaching the destination.
Here’s to engaging in life’s journey.
-Wendy K Moments
Wendy K Moments is an Occupational Therapist & Writer whose stories spotlight moments of valuing the undervalued – of Laughter & Wow! You can visit her on Twitter @wekup2me.