But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands. Psalms 31:15 NIV

Everyone who’s been to the Park has their share of “foolish tourist stories.”

One of my favorites wasn’t in Yellowstone but in Glacier 60 years ago. Two irritating preteen boys in our campground were busy amusing themselves by throwing an axe at every tree within range. Fortunately, their strength was as weak as their father’s discipline; the trees survived without serious damage. Then they found a new game. At the end of our campground loop was one of those old culvert-style bear traps, baited with a big piece of meat at the far end. The boys began throwing rocks at the bait, leaning into the trap waist-deep in their fruitless attempts to hit it–apparently unaware they could have triggered a door capable of containing hundreds of pounds of angry bear–or slicing up a foolish boy in one blow.

I got a new perspective recently, though, when I read “Yellowstone Ranger” by Jerry Mernin, a man who was in the thick of things during those bear-fraught summers of the 60’s and 70’s.

Mernin recounted following a 600-pound grizzly one night until it came within 10 yards of a wall tent while its occupants were sitting inside, playing cards. There was a chihuahua-sized dog tied outside, yapping and yapping, until the bear finally had enough, walked up and stood nose to nose with the now-terrified (and quiet!) dog. Then, for reasons known only to the bear, it simply walked away. Mernin heard the people inside the tent attribute the silence to the toughness of the dog–while he was praying no one would stick their head out and discover what really happened.

And I, who’ve spent many a night in the mountains in a tent, found myself wondering how many times a bear had walked by our camp while we slept on, unaware. Or why that culvert trap was in our campground in the first place. I realized it wasn’t routine, as I had always assumed–not baited and ready, like that. There must have been a bear in camp…

And yes–more than one foolish tourist in the picture.

We escaped damage, injury and even death all those years by the mercy of God and the wild creatures, not by our own expertise or cleverness. In this season of thankfulness, I’m moved to thank God for all the disasters that didn’t happen—the few we knew about, the many more we didn’t.

I recognize anew that our times are, indeed, in His hands. What can I do but trust and thank Him for His loving protection?

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 23, 2022.