Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Griz" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Lowell Jaeger

"Grizzly" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

Narrow trail twists through neck-high thickets
of alders and hellebore, climbs onward around a blind turn,
and there he is: big hunk of shaggy brown griz, stopped
in his tracks, nose in the air, sniffing
intruders’ sweat wafting suddenly too near.

Three of us and one of him, sufficient heft on his bones
to bulldoze forward if he chooses, mulling this over
as he rocks on his forelegs, his hulking shoulders
flexing side to side.  
                                    Nothing to rescue us but precious little 
time, as we step back, slowly, the way we came,
savvy enough to not stare at him head-on.
Careful not to shuffle wrong and stumble.  Outcome
could be one account or another.  

And now he’s looming above us, continuing past, as we
wait meekly, downhill side, scant yards off-trail.
He’s god of where he wants to go. Our silence
is a kind of weak-kneed prayer.

Poet’s Notes:  There’s more to each of us than we can know.  We can be insightful in examining ourselves and we can be absolutely blind.  

I have a poster-sized “Johari Window” (see Editor's Note) in my classroom at Flathead Valley Community College. The poster generates a lot of thinking and hours of useful talk.  It resembles a large window frame containing four quadrants: 1) The public self -- what we know and show of ourselves. 2) The private self -- what we know we are hiding from others. 3) The blind self -- what others see in us that we can’t see.  4)  The undiscovered self – what no one knows of us, not even ourselves.

The fourth quadrant – the undiscovered self – is most intriguing. There’s a vast unexplored horizon in each of us.  When a crisis thrusts itself into my life, I’m lost in the wilderness, face-to-face with the undiscovered self.  Combat vets know this.  I’ve had vets in class who just shake their heads with dismay when younger students boast about being brave and fearless.  “Just wait,” they say, “you might be surprised.”  Life can corner you in places you never dreamt you’d be.  Then what?  You might find reserves you never knew you contained, or you might crumble.

I love the grizzly bear.  I hate the grizzly bear.  Hiking the Montana backcountry means risking an encounter with a hairy giant.  He’s beautiful in the same way watching a tornado rip up a hillside of corn is awesome and thrilling. He’s also earth-shaking. He can outrun, out climb, out swim, out arm wrestle all of us.  Grizzlies maul hikers every spring, summer, and fall. Mostly the bears don’t set out to do us in, but it happens.  One swipe of his paw can rip your flesh open like the ax of a barbarian warrior. Worst of all, he’s unpredictable, peevish, and difficult to read.  Just don’t come too near, make no eye contact, and make no sudden moves. Don’t carry bacon in your backpack.  Don’t assume you will handle yourself with dignity and resolve.

The poem “Griz” comes from an actual encounter with Ursus horribilis in Glacier National Park.  The poem is less than half the story.  After my two friends and I backed off the trail and Mr. Griz had continued on his way, we spied a solo hiker rounding the next blind switchback, heading dead-on toward confrontation with the same beast. When we signaled and hollered, he thought we were just being neighborly, I guess.  We were horror-struck to see he was eating a sandwich as he trekked along.

Editor’s Note:  Those interested in understanding the Johari Window model will find a helpful article here

“Griz” was previously published in Barking Sycamores, Earth-blood & Star-shineThe Whitefish Review, and Wilderness Walks Anthology.

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