When people ask me to interpret animal omens I typically get asked, “what does it mean when I see ‘insert animal name here’?” Well, it depends. My first hand experience with a California Black Bear is a perfect example where you can’t just say “a bear means this”.
I went to bed around 10 PM on a muggy Sunday evening in August 2015 just hoping to get a decent night of sleep. I had a fan on to attempt to move some air around but I was not sleeping well that night. I was very restless and having dreams that I couldn’t recall; but that I knew were uncomfortable in some way. I woke up at one point and the sound of the fan was bothering me so I turned it off. The temperature had cooled enough to where it was much better sleeping weather. I didn’t look at the clock and eventually fell back asleep.
I was startled awake some time after. My heart was racing and I just attributed it to whatever dream I was having. I laid there for a minute to let my heart rate get back to normal when I heard something outside. It sounded like my neighbor was throwing something in the trash. Maybe I got up a few minutes before my alarm went off? Then I heard something I couldn’t recognize, a scraping sound. I checked the time and it was 3:15 AM. There was no way my neighbors were messing with their trash can at that hour. It was then that it hit me. Could it be a bear? Living close to the mountain, I’d heard plenty of locals talk of the bears raiding trash cans at the end of the Summer when food gets scarce. My heart was immediately racing and I was so excited I couldn’t stand it.
I went to the living room, opened the drapes and I clearly saw the side of a big black bear next to the knocked over trash can no more than 5 feet away across the fence. I couldn’t believe it! I don’t even remember what I did next but I eventually got my wits back enough to get my camera together and find my flashlight. A fence and some thick brush separated me from the bear but I still carefully walked onto my front porch with my flashlight leading the way. He wasn’t in the trash can any more and I had no idea where he went. I carefully walked out into my front yard, shining the flashlight in front of me.
It was a pitch dark, crisp starry night with no Moon and I live far enough from the city that there was near dead silence. I listened intently for any sound but didn’t hear anything. I carefully stepped towards the sidewalk and got the courage to look past my yard. I saw him walking away from me a few houses down. I couldn’t believe it! He was as wide as the sidewalk and probably higher than my waist as he walked on all fours. I carefully crossed the street and watched him knock over another trash can and then turn the corner to head down the hill. I snapped a few photos and then he stopped and looked back at me. It was then that I decided it would be best to not follow him any further. He didn’t make any aggressive moves, but he definitely noticed me. And as this was the first time I was that close to a bear, I didn’t know what to expect.
I went back inside the house and was still in shock at what had occurred. My first couple photo attempts were unsuccessful as I was too far away in pitch darkness. I wanted photos so bad, but this was a big bear and I didn’t want to push my luck. But what if this was my one opportunity to REALLY see a bear? And now that I was up in the middle of the night with the adrenaline pumping I did what any crazy person would do. I got in my car and went looking for him! He wasn’t hard to find and I managed to get several videos and photos of him. It was such a magical experience following a bear around my neighborhood.
It wasn’t just luck that brought this bear to the exact spot where he could awaken me. There was a message in this visit, as there is with any animal omen. When I reflected back on the experience, I wasn’t so much in awe of his size, power or the normal things you’d associate with a bear. It was more about his calm yet intense focus, the fact that he never stopped moving and his means of making a graceful and final exit.
A bear of this size is the top of the food chain. Bears are hunted for sport to some extent, but from what I’ve read the state of California makes an effort to minimize it. Where I live the bears are accepted just like you’d accept that there are squirrels in your neighborhood. He is sovereign and king of his territory and he knows it. As a result, he stayed 100% focused on what he sets out to do, find food. Even when he’d get annoyed by me shining my flashlight on him he would just keep an eye on me but check every trash can that smelled interesting along the way. He was alert of the various sounds around him, noticing when a dog would start barking or I’d drive closer to him. But he never lost focus. And he never lost his cool.
He’d stop momentarily to sniff the air or to raid a trash can but for the most part, he kept moving. Everything was done in a methodical and deliberate manner. He would alter his course at times, whether it was to avoid me or go around a car or fence. But he did it so naturally and effortlessly and he never stopped moving for more than a second.
The Graceful Exit
Another amazing moment was when he decided that the show was over. I had already taken the photos and shot the video and decided I should notify the police, just so they could make sure he doesn’t scare the crap out of someone coming out of their house to head to work in the early morning hours. He walked down a driveway towards me and then stopped to watch me. He turned around and casually just leaped into the air, grabbed the top of a 7 foot tall fence and tossed the rest of his massive body over. It reminded me of when you see a cat leap up onto something and then just launch themselves over. It was so effortless and graceful, I had to remind myself that he was at least 300 lbs. Imagine being on the other side of that fence! That was the last I saw of him. When the police arrived and I told them where he went, none of us could find him after that. A big black bear disappeared into thin air.
If I was in Alaska immersed in the wilderness and walked down a trail to see a bear hunting fish in a river, its unlikely that I’d come away with the same message. That’s the key. It’s not about the particular animal so much as it is the experience and the emotions that you feel. I was in such a state of euphoric awe, but I was totally present. At one point I remember having to remind myself that I had my car pointed to where my headlights were likely shining directly into someone’s living room at 4:00 AM on a Monday morning. But I was so in the moment I didn’t care.
It is moments of sheer joy such as this that open the door to the unseen world so inspiration can pour forth. A few nights after this first encounter, I received a text from a neighbor alerting me that the bear was back. Like little kids we ran down the street looking for him. When we spotted him, we probably just kept saying, “cool, awesome, wow!” It was yet another moment of pure joy where anything else that was “important” in our lives prior was now totally unimportant.
These themes and lessons were incredibly relevant to me at that exact time. Someone else might have looked outside, saw a bear and immediately been consumed by fear. I had none of that. I respected the bear and gave him the distance he required. But there was never a moment where there was even an ounce of fear in me. And at times, I was no more than 20 feet from him. Sure if he decided to charge me, I’m sure I would have had no shortage of fear! But he didn’t. And deep down I knew he wouldn’t.
I share these stories so that you can better understand your own animal omens by seeing how this works for me. Not every animal encounter qualifies as an omen. But if you allow yourself be open, you’ll know when one is. And you’ll get exactly what you need from the experience.