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Low Gear-The Black Bear

June 14, 2010

A few years ago my dad and I sat on a park bench on the boardwalk at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers, FL. We watched a male Green Anole flaring its dewlap in the hopes of impressing a female. We spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker excavating a rotting snag where it would soon nest and we watched and listened as a Black Racer slithered between the cypress knees a few feet below. Intermittently people would march down the boardwalk and interrupt the moment. One guest bemoaned to her partner that there was nothing to see and they continued their apparent training for Olympic Speed Walking. Our outing revealed that there is much to see if you slow down, be patient and let the natural world show itself.

The serpentine switchbacks of the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park trace the alpine edges from 7000 feet down into the valley. It’s over fourteen miles of cliff-edged driving at 20 MPH from the largest living tree on the planet to our hotel and despite the late May snow flurries and a setting sun, we were in no hurry to leave the park. Not everyone appreciated our pace but timely pullouts allowed for us to let the speed racers past so we could enjoy the fresh mountain air, laced with a noxious smell of burning brakes.

At one stop, a traveler had overshot the pullout and decided to stop in the road to take a photo of the landscape. A parade of cars stacked up behind it and horns began to blare along with shouts of disgust. We stopped. We waited and eventually the line of cars snaked down the mountainside and out of view.

And then the bear stepped out. This beautiful American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) had waited for the traffic to pass before it crossed the road, flat-footed as they do, walked into a meadow and then sat and relaxed. For 45 minutes we watched the bear eat grass, sniff the air and poop (not in the woods). Immersed in the moment, I later wondered why most of the humans couldn’t just shift into low gear and enjoy one of the most gorgeous nature drives around.

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