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The Bear Truth

Gordon Cherr, November 2016

"In the kingdom of spirit animals, the bear is emblematic of grounding forces and strength. This animal has been worshiped throughout time as a powerful totem, inspiring those who need it the courage to stand up against adversity. As a spirit animal in touch with the earth and the cycles of nature, it is a powerful guide to support physical and emotional healing."

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Speaking in hushed tones on this quiet morning. We haven't run together in months after an intense year of running the mountain trails and city streets together countless times, usually before dawn. Catching up with best friends, the miles pass effortlessly, and all too quickly. We started under the remnants of the Super Moon, now followed by a perfect sunrise. The sky has gone from near black to a fiery red as the clouds are lit from beneath by the rising sun, to a deep blue. Only in the Blue Ridge.

Kate (very quietly): A bear.
Me: Where?
Kate: There...and she tilts her head calmly and points slowly and deliberately to the right.

But I am looking left and at a very robust black bear on the other side of us. He isn't much perturbed or maybe not at all. He is ambling away, but maybe I should say that he is lumbering away. He has really packed it on for the winter. It is too warm for hibernation and the residents of Sunset Mountain haven't yet learned how to lock out their trash cans. Trash day is a mobile buffet for these guys.

I should not be surprised to see him, we often see bears up here. I have seen momma bears and cubs, a very bad combination for runners to encounter. Momma bears are infamous for their lack of a sense of humor. I have run into large solitary males up here, I had one rise upon all fours and look down at me with eyes glaring, and suffice it to say I never retreated so quickly in my life and never want to feel that way again. Naked prey.

I once ran headlong into one on Patton Mountain Road, who had another runner, a young woman, pinned up against the embankment, and I screamed and yelled and raced towards him and he left out of there, but unhurried and at his pace. And when it was over both she and I cried a little in relief, and in retrospect that was pretty scary too.

Now we are in between two bears and we both grasp the immediacy of the situation. In truth, the bear to Kate's right is running away. But the one to our left, well..he is a bit more deliberate like he is weighing his options. I don't like that and I yell as loud as I can at him, "Hey, get out of here, you better just keep moving." Which, of course, brings him to a complete halt. My bad...

While the stop is temporary and short, he shoots me a look that freezes me in my tracks. My mind flies instantaneously to a scene in "The Revenant," where Leonardo DiCaprio is attacked and literally torn apart by an attacking grizzly bear. I know in my head that the scene is computer generated, but that did little to assuage the fear I felt in my heart when I saw it for the first time. And the second. And the third.

Now I am getting that look. I can't outrun him, I can't out climb him. Time stands very still...

Kate touches my arm and I am shocked back into the present., "Come on....NOW."

We continue down the hill, he continues off into the woods. We talk like old times. I notice that the birds are singing, the sun is bright, the sky is blue, the clouds are very white. Indeed.

Every day and every run is what you make it.