Now that the crowds and smoke have lifted, it’s prime time for hiking in the mountains. The larches are just beginning to fade from green to chartreuse as they journey to their golden glory. The mountain blueberries are beginning to rust from green to deep red, and the berries are at their sweet peak.
Lots of bear talk around town. Bear on the road, bear in the beehives, bear in the garden, and bear in the barn. It seems like almost everyone I talk to has a recent bear story or game cam footage.
My sister came to hike over the weekend with some friends. They came upon a group of hunters at Maple Pass who had apparently spotted a grizzly. She and her party spotted dismissed this notion, but once they gazed through the binoculars they also believed it be Ursus arctos horribilis.
My immediate reaction was also dismissive — “no, highly unlikely, just a big brown cinnamon black bear.” But as she told me more about the spotting, and how when she reported it to the ranger at the trailhead who seemed to verify the claim, my skepticism waned.
I know, I know — it’s highly unlikely it was a grizzly, rumors are always flying around about sightings but confirmed sightings are low. Plus, from the few sources I spoke with, there doesn’t seem to be a known grizzly bear rambling around on Maple Pass. The probability is low, but it’s also a real possibility. Therefore, I’d like to stay on the side of possible as opposed to unlikely, improbable, or impossible.
The world of impossible has defied me in recent years, so I’m learning not to cast doubt on anyone’s possibilities anymore. The future is unwritten. What appears unusual today may be commonplace tomorrow.
Take skunks, for example. When we first moved here, we hardly smelled or saw skunks. Now they are aplenty. Also, moose, once very seldom seen, are no longer novel. So, bear with me, here. There’s some simple bear philosophy I must impart.
The natural world seems to work in cycles controlled by forces seen and unseen. Scientists try to explain what we see and reduce these forces to terms like predation, nutrient availability, fecundity, disease and climate because they can measure them. It’s really a beautiful and intricate process to look at patterns and perceive change then have the numbers to tell the story and make predictions. Evidence, it’s what makes this whole thing work.
But we can’t observe the future (well, maybe in some quantum realm we can, but I’m not there yet) and science requires observation and evidence to reveal hidden processes or affirm those we see — it’s satisfying in the least, revolutionary in its best. In this quest of understanding, we will always be chasing the past in order to better understand our future. It’s a worthy pursuit, unravelling the grand mystery.
But there’s also a certain level of chance, of randomness, critical for survival. Evolutionary biologists know about this and depend on it to explain change. But it seems like the state of the world in general, if it can be generalized, is leaning into the chance at a greater scale. Perhaps fueled by climate change and social forces, the impossible seems a little more possible.
For me, the awesomeness of the world is found in these possibilities, the what ifs. What if that was really was a grizzly bear? In this way it, it leaves more room for wonder.