They worked their way across the slope, around and between the boulders of the Alaskan Wilderness, bow hunting for caribou. They first saw the grizzly, upwind and upslope of them, from nearly a half-mile away. They knew right away it had seen them, too. Even though they tried flattening out against the rocks, the bear had already recognized invaders in its hunting ground.
Dan told me, “It started coming toward us in kind of a lope. Then, it stopped for a moment about a quarter mile away, sniffing the air and looking. Then, it started toward us at a dead run.”
I cannot imagine and do not ever want to know what that was like.
“That thing was the size of a car. It was covering fifteen feet with each bound; it covered that quarter-mile in less than thirty seconds.” He paused, re-living the experience. “Its claws were as long as my fingers and they were just gleaming like pearls.”
“We threw down our packs with our sandwiches and snacks in them and tried to move away from them. It was like every second was a minute long and yet the whole thing was going by in an instant. I kept thinking about how much my wife and kids were going to miss me. ‘This isn’t how I want my life to end.’ We were praying out loud.”
In the desolation of that area, in its remoteness, it would have been days, at least, before anyone found the evidence of what had happened. The other hunters were miles away from them; their own vehicle was a mile away. There was no cover, no refuge, no trees to climb, even if they’d had time. They did the only thing they could do. “We stood side by side, a few feet apart, waving our arms, holding our bows above our heads, screaming as loud as we could and jumping up and down. And still praying.”
After thinking for what seemed an eternity that the grizzly was going to just keep coming at a full charge, they saw it pull up to a stop about thirty yards away. “I kept thinking about how powerful they are. We had our bows and Ben had a can of bear mace. I had an arrow notched in my bow. But we knew that there was nothing we could do that would stop it. Nothing. Even without claws they are so powerful they can break your neck with a single swipe.” A grizzly’s canine teeth are two inches long and its jaws so strong that it can pierce or even crush a human skull with a single bite.
Knowing that you are helpless against a formidable foe is humbling, to say the least. Actually, it’s terrifying.
“He stopped, looking at us, and then started sidling around us, like he was looking for our vulnerable spot, getting ready to come in for the kill. We kept yelling and jumping and waving our arms, making as much noise as we possibly could as he moved downwind of us.”
During this whole episode of time frozen and yet whipping by like the wind in a gale, the sky had been darkening more and more. “These clouds were moving in fast. We knew that in a little while visibility was going to drop to just about zero.” The thought of an aroused grizzly waiting in the dark added even more horror to their circumstance.
“Then, just when it looked like he was ready to make his final charge, all of a sudden he froze as if he had just seen something right beside us. Then, he spun around and took off as if he was as terrified as we were. I mean he looked like he was running for his life.”
For those so inclined, this would seem the time to speculate about angels and spirits and divine intervention. For others, such speculation is nothing more than fanciful imagination, the projection of desired belief onto a situation. I do know that for these two outdoorsman brothers from Kentucky, there was no doubt that God himself had come to their defense; by whatever means did not particularly matter to them. Explanations are always secondary in the aftermath of deliverance.
“As that bear was tearing off down the long slope away from us, it seemed like one of those clouds moved right over him. When he was maybe three hundred yards away from us, all at once this rainbow shows up, just framing him in perfectly.”
It was not the first time that God provided a rainbow as a sign of deliverance, a sparing from destruction, a reminder in the skies of a divine promise. I can more than imagine the poignancy that my son Dan felt in the touch of his wife and his children as he kissed them in their beds late that night.