“It’s time to turn around,” my husband said.
Relieved, I pivoted on the spot.
J and I were in Yellowstone’s Bechler Region, a remote area with no roads, plenty of waterfalls, and its share of bears. It took the morning just to drive there. After spending the rest of the day exploring and hiking to Cave Falls, we were heading back to our campsite. Because we wanted a little more time on the trail, we turned in at the Terraced Falls parking lot. It was almost sunset, so we planned to hike for thirty minutes, turn around, and hike back out. As we got out of the vehicle, the sky let loose with a sudden September snow so we grabbed our hats and gloves and set off down the path.
Moments later, I stopped at the largest trailhead sign I had ever seen, one that informed us of many things, among them: One: We were entering Yellowstone National Park–on foot, which was new. Two: We were in bear country, which is something I need regular reminders of. Three: We needed to be off the trail by dark, which we also knew, hence the thirty-minute-each-way hiking plan.
We continued into the woods at a quick pace. Between the sign, the rapidly sinking sun, and the sound-muffling snow, our presence in the forest felt a little fraught, so I was comforted when it came time to turn around.
When We Walk in the Wilderness
It’s easy to slip into silence on the trail.
This is especially true when my body is tired or my mind is busy with thoughts of bears. This is a problem because when it comes to bears, one thing we don’t want to do is surprise them, and the best way to keep from surprising them is to make noise. Typically, bears will turn and walk away from the sound of human activity. Silence is something to be avoided.
That evening, with darkness falling fast and bears on my mind, I was more focused on getting back to the vehicle than keeping up a conversation. Picking up on the increasingly long stretches of silence, J suggested we switch from talking to singing. We started with Amazing Grace. Even though I’m a singer, it took effort to make music. Silence felt more natural than song. Still, I was a grateful recipient of the sound of our voices spreading into the surrounding wilderness.
Because I’m prone to tripping over tiny things, I walked as I always do—focusing on the path ahead and regularly scanning the forest to both sides. Usually, I’m just trying to stay upright. That night, though, I was on high alert for the bears whose hot breath I imagined I felt on my neck. We were within sight of the giant trailhead sign when I saw it—not a bear, but recent evidence of one. Right there, in the middle of the snowy path, sat a heap of fresh bear scat.
The bear was nowhere in sight.
Yellowstone is bear country. Life is lion territory. In either case, we need to be prepared. We can help ourselves by attending to the message of the park’s sign: Bear Attack: Are You Prepared To Avoid One?
What’s true on the trail is often true in life.
Whether we want to avoid a wandering bear or a prowling lion, we need to make some noise. To change the trajectory of a bear, all manner of noise—clapping, singing, conversing, and even clacking sticks together—will do the trick. But when it comes to lion territory, the nature of the noise matters. The noise we make has the power to set the direction of our minds. We have influence, not only over our destination but also over how we get there. Complaints, anger, and bitterness will put us on one course. Gratitude, kindness, and praise will put us on another.
More often than I want to admit, I succumb to the natural ease of autopilot—daily life’s version of silence. But navigating by faith—whether we’re talking about bears or lions or anything else, isn’t about doing what comes naturally. It’s about walking in a way that’s wise—watchful and alert, ready to respond to whatever it is we’re walking through.
Here’s the thing about making the effort to do what doesn’t come naturally: We strengthen spiritual muscle every time we use spiritual muscle. And we use spiritual muscle every single time we take even a small step in a faith-filled way. Whether we’re walking through a hard day, a long season, or a full-on trial, every time we choose to think or speak words of hope and truth, it corrects our course. It sets our trajectory. And it strengthens our faith muscles to keep on keeping on.
Something to ponder: How do you set your trajectory or correct your course—whether you’re just walking through a typical day or going through some tough terrain?
happy trails ~ Natalie 🥾
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