The simple act of camping-- pitching a tent, cooking over a fire, carrying water, falling to sleep to night sounds, awakening to bird calls announcing the crack of dawn--puts a new perspective on human survival. Camping in grizzly country where humans are not at the top of the food chain builds on that perspective.
It seems to me that normal everyday existence is pretty sanitized. Our environmentally controlled homes shelter us from the elements, sometimes to the point that we can go a long time before we realize it is snowing, blowing, dripping, or roasting outside. Most of us go to the grocery store for our food supply, purchasing meat in tidily wrapped packages that provide no hint of the animal or the habitat that provided the juicy tidbit in our grocery cart. The produce aisle is a veritable feast for the eyes with artfully arranged carrots, potatoes, apples, and other delectables once again leaving no hint of the earthy home that produced them.
Once we enter grizzly country, that sanitized existence becomes elemental. We are part of the habitat. Signs repeatedly caution campers to take care while performing common daily rituals. Since hunger is the usual draw for the bear, campers are warned to keep food in protected boxes or high out of a bear’s reach. In addition, campers learn it is unwise to sleep in the same clothing in which they cook or eat. In fact, that clothing shouldn’t remain in or near the tent. The simple act of brushing teeth becomes critical because, believe or not, the scents and flavors of modern toothpaste attract bears before and after its use. Campers learn to brush and spit far from their sleeping quarters.
The Park Service provides long lists of survival tips for those visiting griz habitat, but the bottom line is the fact that in grizzly country, life is not sanitized. It is elemental. Humans have to think frequently about the consequences of their actions. For a few, it could be the difference between eating or being eaten. So why is this exciting? Because suddenly, we are more aware of everything around us--sights, sounds, smells--we are in tune with a world we often tune out. All the sudden, we realize how little control we actually have over the world we live in. It is that lack of control, that realization we are a small cog in a big wheel that is going to go on with or without us, that makes us relish every moment breathing in mountain air, listening to the rushing stream, counting uncountable stars.