Wrestling With the Spirit Bear to Escape a Watery Underground Grave

It’s fun, they said. Just get in the boat and travel down the river. It’s on Indian protected land, you can connect with nature. Some friends did it drunk in high school, you’ll be fine. I was better than fine at the end although there was quite a journey to get there.

We had to sign a release before starting. Our Indian guide explained that there is a place where the water is clear like glass and the current is strong like a suction cup. If you end up in the current, you will be sucked through a hole in the rocks that looks like an alternate path which leads to an underwater cave that none have escaped. Cave of the Spirit Bear, they called it. After so many deaths, one of their tribe was posted on the opposite bank to document the dead. If he stood, you’re in trouble. If he waved, better move fast. If he raised his camera, you’re as good as dead.

Our group paired people off according to perceived ability. They thought it would be funny to put me with one of the kids from our urban church, I’ll call her B. B had never experienced nature before and had no knowledge of rafting. I am a disaster in the water. Once I had to be towed in from the bay to shore while fruitlessly paddling a row boat.

We fared better than some of our groups in the beginning. A husband and wife were unable to stay in the raft over any bump in the course and ended up with a variety of scrapes, bruises and back strain. Two friends and siblings in Christ stood in their raft and yelled at each other the entire trip. Some of their language was far from godly. B and I took water at every turn and had to jump out of the boat after each dip to empty our boat.

About three hours, or halfway through our trip, the water stilled to a glass-like smoothness. Where the sun hit, you could see right to the bottom. Members of our group ahead of us kept yelling, but I didn’t hear what they said. Then I saw Brother Shoots-the-Dead standing on the opposite bank. Even the arguing pair were silent as they watched.

I saw the space between the rocks. It was just big enough to fit a raft. Someone had spray painted Keep on one side and Out on the other in bright red paint as if you had a choice by the time you could see it. I briefly wondered if it was a victim’s family who did this as this was protected, unaltered land. We hit Keep and I threw my oar up to prevent us from going through the chute. Pushing the oar against the rock wasn’t getting us anywhere, which was good and bad at the same time. The Indian with camera looked like he was doing some kind of tribal dance as he went through a hopeful cycle of jumping, waving, and holding up the camera. It felt like he cared more for us than our own “tribe.” He was just far more demonstrative, that’s all. WASPs worry in silence, I suppose.

I jumped out of the boat. B, who had been alternately screaming and waving her oar, wanted to follow. I screamed back that I intended to save her, myself and the boat and to just sit still. Except for the oar waving. That was a big help as she had given the boundaries a couple of good whacks that kept us above ground. The water level that year was lower than normal and my feet easily touched the bottom, allowing me to walk the boat to the safe zone. We rejoined our group and  easily navigated to the lunch area, where we switched boats.

Instead of understanding the powerful woman of faith who stood among the rapids fighting against the current that threatened to pull her to her death in a watery underground unreachable grave, I look at the possibility that all of me somehow did not make it back. That the mighty spirit bear robbed me of something and dragged me spiritually into his watery dungeon. But God is bigger and has no boundaries so could easily have protected me and even regained what I had lost.

A quick survey of Native American symbolism gives a more encouraging outcome. Consider that I had battled with the mighty spirit bear and won. With this, I gladly accept the bear’s blessing.

Whats-Your-Sign.Com at http://www.whats-your-sign.com/native-american-bear-meaning.html defines the bear symbol:
Because the bear is cautious, it encourages discernment to humankind.
Because of a fierce spirit, the bear signals bravery to those who require it.
Because of its mass and physical power, the bear stands for confidence and victory.
Because it prefers peace and tranquility (in spite of its size), Bear calls for harmony and balance.


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