It finally happened! After hoping and praying for, well, my whole life to see a bear in the wild, on Tuesday morning while driving through Grand Teton National Park, my husband and I saw a mama bear with her two cubs frolicking in a pasture. I couldn’t stop smiling, and yet…
Just a few days prior, this happened when my husband and I were driving through Custer State Park in the Black Hills, South Dakota.
And the day before while driving through Badlands National Park, we saw our first bison
Which was preceded by bighorn sheep,
prong horn antelope (at least I think that’s what they are),
and the cutest prairie dogs you ever did see!
Then there are ALL THE DOGS, I’ve met so far since leaving Illinois:
Plus, Oompa Loompa!
And one of the cutest kids I’ve ever met in my whole life, who seemed in awe of my husband and his feet.
In all of these situations, I felt feelings of wonder and joy. I laughed a lot and even teared up a little at some of them, especially the bison because of how close they were to us and Lucy the dog because of how much she reminds me of Smudge, one of the dogs that we care for long-term in Norfolk, CT, during the fall and winter. Also, because she carries her blankie with her everywhere and makes the cutest rumbly noises while doing so.
Something, however, felt less than joyful with my bear sighting. Don’t get me wrong – I loved every minute of it and I even put down my phone because I wanted to stay in the moment, and I couldn’t get a good picture, anyway. So, I let myself watch those bears run, and romp, and play.
Then, we drove away and I became aware of a small sense of disappointment that was gnawing at my brain. I couldn’t understand why I had these feelings.
As a psychologist, I know about the pitfalls of having expectations and how the brain can too easily adapt to surroundings so that a novelty wears off quickly, and, in fact, I’m reading a book right now called The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, which explains how our brains can be our own worst enemies on vacation (very useful reading for a three-and-a-half-month road trip.)
Yet, none of those reasons seemed to ring true for what I was experiencing in that moment.
Then, an a-ha moment came out of nowhere! Or, in my case, it poked its head out of the woods and looked right at me as my husband drove us down the road.
“WOLF!” I cried. “HEATH, THERE’S A WOLF!”
We both saw this majestic, white creature with grey trim stare at us as we drove the stretch of road between Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
By the time we turned around, the wolf had disappeared. And, then, I knew.
I knew exactly why my bear experience had felt less spectacular than seeing all the other creatures, great and small, on our road trip so far.
As we drove into Grand Teton, I asked a ranger where to see the best wildlife. “Oh, pretty much anywhere,” she replied. “The North end of the park is especially good. We already had a bear sighting this morning.”
We drove further and further North, until finally we were greeted with a flashing sign: Proceed with caution. Bear with cubs crossing road next 6 miles.
Not three miles later we saw her. Along with maybe a hundred other people and several park rangers checking in to make sure everyone stayed safe, including the bears.
All along the way, I had been told about THIS MOMENT. Then it happened. And then it was over.
There had been no element of surprise whatsoever, no random spotting of a creature in the wild or discovery of a silly characteristic from one of my domesticated friends as I spend time with them.
One of the reasons I love adventure so much is the discovery of the unknown and pretty much everything about my first bear in the wild experience had been made known to me in advance.
But as I type this post, my feelings of disappointment are disappearing. Because, it’s hitting me again. I. Saw. A. Bear. In. The. Wild. That’s a fact, not a feeling. And, I know the difference. Looks like my PhD paid off after all!
Happy Travels, everyone.