The re-appearance of bears in our wilderness areas are a sign that spring is well on its way here in British Columbia. In our community, the lawn mowers are already making themselves heard, whilst the blossom trees and daffodils are bursting forth with energy and life. Many of us are planning, or taking, our first hike or camping trip. Nature is waking up!
However, it is not just nature that is awakening. Over the last few decades, we have been waking up to a radically different way of seeing the world. For the last few hundred years, we’ve viewed our natural resources only as something of value because we could “use” them to sustain or enhance our lives. Wildlife was food or sport for hunters and fishermen, vacant lands had value only for developers, and rivers and oceans were useful for food and to transport goods. Bears were often easy targets for hunters looking for an easy target.
But increasingly, views are shifting and there is greater awareness and understanding of the need to preserve and regenerate the resources that provide food, water and fiber for our basic sustenance. We now know that each living creature has an inherent value in the larger scheme of nature, separate from what it might provide to humans. And we are told that being out in nature itself is good for our health.
A milestone in this shift of thinking came in the late 1950s when Rachel Carson published her seminal work Silent Spring. Carson was a thinker whose deep, connected love of nature was the transformative influence in her life. Her premise that all living things were connected seriously challenged the western mechanistic and consumptive culture. And, since then, progress has been made on numerous environmental fronts.
But, that is just a start. There remain serious warnings about many aspects of our natural world, as well and regarding increasingly dangerous human-wildlife encounters, which are becoming more common, and are often disastrous for the wildlife involved. Every year in BC there are encounters with bears, and the animals never fare well in these clashes. Could it be that we need to have a profoundly different view of the environment that we currently entertain?
I had a small insight into this while hiking in the Okanagan Valley with my husband. We were returning to our car, when, just yards in front of us a mother bear and two cubs stumbled onto the path. Startled, the mama bear was definitely not happy to see us. The cubs scrambled up a tree, as she reared up on her hind legs to face us. We obeyed the standard advice to stay perfectly still. In that moment of stillness I saw something pivotal to the situation. As a mother, I understood her anxiety for her babies; for at times I have felt that same mama bear protectiveness. I felt respect for her concern as I realized we were both mothers.
Standing quietly, I reached out in a prayer of love to God, the Creator of all creation. As I did so, I felt the protective, mothering influence of the Divine encircling and governing all of us. It was a remarkable moment of feeling a spiritual unity with all nature. The charged, fearful atmosphere changed. Mama bear calmed down and returned to her cubs. Not wishing to disturb her, we quietly backed up the path and tried to find another route to our car. This gave my husband and me time to talk about the situation. He had been praying also. We discovered we had both been thinking and feeling that same spiritual connection and protection for all of us.
After about 30 minutes of unsuccessfully trying other routes, we had no option but to return to the same path. The mother bear was still there, just off the pathway, calmly feeding her cubs. She watched us as we quietly walked past, but made no attempt to even get up.
Many others, no doubt, have had similar experiences. For me it was a profound moment of feeling, not so much that I was connected to the mother bear, but that we were all connected to the one divine Love, and in such a way that there was no reason to feel fearful of one another.
Instead of searching for, and cultivating a connection with nature itself to resolve these problems, what if we first found a closer relationship to the divine source of nature?
Awakening to a deeper, more spiritual view of nature, in which we are all the expressions of one Creator that governs all creation, changes our perspective of what it is we are all connected to. And, this provides answers and solutions that limited human thinking cannot see, no matter how earnest and well-meaning.
Rachel Carson understood the essential need for humanity to feel connection with all life. Seeing the Divine as the unlimited source of all life can offer us new and practical answers to many of the environmental challenges we face, and could bring about a healthier planet for every living thing, including the bears of British Columbia.