AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

15 January 2017

Humility.


As the night wore on we talked about various things until, at one point, I asked, “Why grizzlies?”

He explained that after returning from the war he began doing a lot of camping in wild places. One of those places was the backcountry of Yellowstone and it was there that he started finding himself in the company of bears. During one of his very first encounters he had been soaking in a thermal pool when he was startled by a sow and her cub. The bear had treed him and Peacock had ended up naked and shivering up in the tree for over an hour.

Gradually, grizzlies became not the natural byproduct of his trips into the backcountry but the goal. Though he didn’t like the word, it was hard to say there wasn’t a spiritual aspect to his trips into grizzly country. He came to believe that many of our basic religious archetypes grew out of observing bears. After all, what better animal to embody resurrection, the death of a winter’s hibernation followed by the rebirth of spring’s emergence from the den?

Peacock loved guns and owned many but he refused to bring them along when he knew he would encounter the bears.

“That would defeat the purpose,” he said.

And what was the purpose? The purpose was to feel real humility, to be taken off the usual human pedestal. Which was easy enough when you were in the presence of an animal that might suddenly decide to eat you. Humility, Peacock came to believe, was the proper emotional backdrop for reason, and in the wilderness Peacock became at once more reasonable and more wild. He was always amazed at the way his senses grew sharper after only a few days out in it, the way he could see better and smell other animals. It was as if he clicked into being an older, more primal self. But manners were also important. At one point in the “American Sportsman” clip, he tells Arnold that he doesn’t bring guns into bear country because “it would be in poor taste.” Poor taste! I was reminded of something that Jack Turner said about Peacock in his essay. He wrote: “…his manners, as a guest in the wild, are impeccable.” (FN:102 AW) That too would be a result of the necessary humility of living near bears. This seemed fascinating to me: the man who was the model for Hayduke, one of the most famously rude of fictional characters, had actually learned to be polite in the wild.

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