The bush plane descends and the pilot directs our attention to the ground through the right windows.
“Those black dots down there are bears,” Glen tells the three of us traveling to Geographic Harbor, a remote spot on the coast of Alaska. We learn that people come from all around the globe to this exact spot hoping to have a close yet safe encounter with the world’s largest bear species. The only way into this place of wonder is by bush plane or boat and guided tours are quite expensive. Consequently, very few have such an opportunity to experience untamed and potential danger so close. I feel immensely blessed and want to share my photos with you!
The white and red plane lands gently on the tidal flat’s edge. Glen assists each of us as we exit the plane and step into the cold saltwater, outfitted in hip boots to keep us dry. A bright yellow bush plane lands on the water behind and more from our traveling group join us. We all wade through to land, then cross rushing streams filled with salmon swimming hard against the water’s current to their final destination—spawning beds where they will lay their eggs and die.
Death surrounds life here. Carcasses of rotting fish—some submerged, some lying on land remind of our flesh destiny. Salmon line the streams with empty sockets, eyes pecked clean by screaming seagulls hunting for delicacies. Salmon decaying saved their best for last, pushing forward against strong current trying to pull them out to the sea of many. They struggle to the end, propelled—compelled—by the necessity to spawn something, to release something, to give, to create.
Don’t we humans do the same?
How many of us wait till the last chapter of our lives to give our last thrust, daring finally to swim against the current and leave something behind so that we too can give up our lives knowing we’ve spilled ourselves out for greater good? When we come to the end of our streams, to the end of our days, will we be able to say, “It is finished,” whatever “it” is? Will we have accomplished the task ordained for us from the beginning? Will a brave few live each day in such a way as to struggle through the pain of the hard, along paths less traveled, for a greater good, though it cost us everything? Will we hold nothing back because of fear? Because facing what we most fear might be the key to freedom for us, for all. What if we could live fully free from all our inner plagues that peck away at our vitality, leaving us thrashing raw, dying while living?
Death is only good when it brings life. But how many unnecessary deaths do we suffer each day by fearing to live fully? How many opportunities to love are lost because we’re so spent on protecting ourselves, holding back pieces of ourselves we fear others might reject or condemn, covered in fig leaves of our own growing?
With each step closer to the bears, the hush of our group is palpable. We are in a holy place and we know it. One new friend stops and sighs in her delightful Virginian drawl, “I can die and go to heaven now.” I want to hug her. As we stand watching one of earth’s most powerful predators, one that can turn us into prey with one lunge, with one swipe of its massive clawed paw just a few yards from us, we are in awe.
And yet, these creatures go about their business of feeding, aware of our presence but unconcerned, undeterred. They focus. They do what they’re instinctively wired to do. Do we? Do we focus our attention and energies on what we’re created by God to do? Do we feed on God and His word and let the nourishment saturate our souls until we are full, able to supply others with life-giving love?
A sow enters the stream beside us, beginning a hunt for fish after a brief snooze on the bank. We click away with cameras and I forget to breathe. Telephoto lens fully extended, the sow heads straight for us. A twinge of fear comes over me momentarily. My new friend asks,
“Should we move?”
I stand still. Our guide stands still with us and says reassuringly, “No. We’re alright.” I sense his calm and I calm with him.
We’re alright. I trust him. I have to back my telephoto lens even more to capture the whole body of the bear, she’s so close. And she keeps coming toward us. My eyes are on her eyes which I can see plainly. She is looking for fish, not for human. It doesn’t matter. Something visceral causes me to fear, yet something calming about the reassurance of our guide causes me to stay where I am. I feel the fear but face it directly, looking it straight in the eyes. My guide says we are safe. Stay. Face. Feel the fear and experience the awe—the juxtaposition of the two.
I have lived in this place of fear and awe most intensely during the past sixteen years since adopting our three children from Russia, all with invisible, multiple special needs stemming from suspected prenatal exposure to alcohol. My husband and I were no saints looking for challenge. We were just hoping to become a couple with children—a family—a normal, average family—one we couldn’t conceive with our bodies no matter how we tried. So we decided to adopt, specifically asking for children with no disabilities, though knowing all orphans deal with developmental delays due to early and sometimes prolonged deprivation depending on length of institutional stay. But given my training in clinical psychology, I felt able to manage the expected challenges and my husband and I believed our kids’ challenges would dissipate with time. They have not. In fact, as most parents of children with no disabilities watch their children grow, becoming more and more independent, we have seen our children’s growth slow and stop, inhibiting their ability to grow toward independence. As the years pass, we see more clearly our young adult children’s need for extended, probably life-long guidance and support to live even semi-independent lives. But no one would know. They look normal.
Is there fear? Absolutely. I am no saint. But I choose to trust the calm, reassuring voice of my guide, my God, who is our Jehovah Jireh, our God who provides. I have watched God provide every need for every moment of my life thus far. Can’t I trust Him for the rest of my days—for the rest of our kids’ days? Yes. I can. We all can trust God to go about His business of loving and nurturing, guiding and providing without lunging at us and ripping us apart with a swipe of His almighty hand. His will is to bless, not to harm.
I stand in awe of God’s creation as I stand not more than 20 feet from this Alaskan Brown Bear in the wild. Even more, I stand in awe of the God who created the bear and me and you. He is awesome. And He is safe, approachable, of good-intent. Always with God, there is no need to fear when we walk along with Him on His ground.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10