The Power Of Death
Glacier National Park, Montana
(click for larger image)
Last summer, I went on a two week road trip that took me through eight national parks. I started in Glacier National Park in Montana for a few days. I then drove down through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and into Utah. In Utah, I hit no less than four national parks--Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion. I also took a day to head into Arizona and see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The plan--and it went beautifully--was to hike in all of the parks, except for Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, since I was just driving through those. Over the course of the trip, I hiked about 85 miles through some truly gorgeous areas.
The parks in Utah were awesome. The landscape down there is just incredible and varied--surely some of the most unique landscapes in the world. The terrain has influenced many an artist and I can certainly understand why now that I've been there and seen it myself. The rock formations alone are fascinating and at times breathtaking. However, for my money, no point during the trip ever surpassed the first few days I spent in Glacier National Park. It is simply astounding and gorgeous--terribly inspiring and majestic. A mere drive along the Going to the Sun Highway will leave you in awe. A few days spent truly exploring the park and hiking some of its many, many trails will leave you enthralled.
The thing with hiking in Glacier, however, is that there are bears. It's not a guarantee that you will run into one, but there is certainly that chance. Warnings are prolific and hikers are given a variety of precautions to follow to help minimize the chances of stumbling upon a bear and possibly being, you know, eviscerated.
When telling my brother about the trip, I mentioned that bears are common in the park. Now, my brother owns guns. Lots of guns--handguns and rifles--a ridiculous amount of firearms that he showers much love upon. I don't own any guns, as I'm completely uninterested in them. I have gone shooting with my brother a few times and it was enjoyable enough, but there was no thrill. There was no great desire to regularly go shooting. There was certainly no urge, on my part, to run out and purchase a gun. They make me a bit nervous, frankly, but I'm not opposed to handling one, either, if warranted by the situation.
My brother suggested I take a gun with me on the trip. Extra protection for the bears. I suspect this isn't actually a grand idea, but I also kind of liked the thought of having a gun on hand just in case I did stumble upon a bear. Would it help me? I didn't know for sure and, considering my limited experience, it would most likely not help me. Yet, the thought of having a firearm just in case left me feeling comforted. So I took him up on the idea.
Thus, I was equipped with a handgun (I want to say it was a snub-nosed .38 caliber, but I can't remember for sure) and a fanny pack specifically designed for it. I put it in the trunk, unloaded, along with luggage and various food and drinks. I don't know how many laws I may have broken, carrying it without a license, across state lines and into national parks. It hardly matters now, though, as I was never caught with it during the trip.
When I went hiking in Glacier, I took it with me. As I said, I had a fanny pack that it stayed in, snug in a holder. The pack was designed specifically for the gun and had a looped cord that stuck out from the inside of the pack. With one quick pull, the zippered front would be fully opened, allowing for easy access to the gun. I imagined ripping open the pack, yanking out the gun and aiming it at the head of a charging bear, should I find myself in a such a situation. I knew even as I imagined it that it was an unlikely, overhyped scenario. Even if I did stumble upon a bear, the notion that I would simply and fluidly open that pack, pull out the gun and stop the bear dead with a well placed shot was ridiculous. Most likely, I would fumble and stumble, either unable to get the gun out of its holder or unable to properly fire it. It would take a well placed shot, I surmised, to stop an angry bear. I doubted I was that good of a shot.
Yet, I took the gun with me while hiking. Even with the knowledge that the likelihood of it offering me any real protection was slim, it still brought me a small amount of comfort. Which is not to say that I took every step on those hikes with the terror of being mauled to death. I did not fear the bears all that much, as coming across bears while hiking is rare and being attacked by one is rarer still, especially if you are following the recommended hiking procedures. It was nice to have that aura of protection, though.
The funny thing about carrying a gun is that it changes how you think. Having that gun on me was having a strange power. In reality, the gun didn't have its greatest effect on me when I thought of bears, but rather when I thought of humans. It struck me when I came across fellow hikers the first time I carried the gun. Two women were hiking the opposite direction of myself. We passed, said hello, were short and friendly with each other. But I had a gun. I had easy access to this gun and, even more compelling, these two other hikers--these strangers--had no idea I had a gun. I literally could have killed them, murdered them, and they knew nothing about it. I was just a guy out for a hike, same as them. Except I had this power strapped to me--this tool that could be used for such destruction.
It was strange and disturbing. God knows I would never shoot anyone--I can't bring myself to kill spiders--but I had the capabilities. I held power over their lives, even though I would never use that power. We were in the middle of nowhere and I had a gun. Perhaps they did as well, but probably not. I could have killed them, both of them, without any way for them to retaliate or protect themselves. How strange a thought it was, to have that kind of potential power over other people. Over their very lives.
I found it fascinating and kind of sickening. Surely this must have been one of the draws of owning guns--that sense of power. Which is not to say that I think that is the only reason why people own guns, to have that sense of being able to kill another person. But as someone who was carrying a gun for the first time, it shocked and intrigued me to realize what kind of thoughts and emotions it could create. Perhaps others don't feel this way--I don't know. But for me, there was power in that pack. There was a sense of control over other people's lives. Everything about it made me uneasy, uncomfortable.
I carried the gun with me a second time, but not on the third hike. The pack was uncomfortable, frankly, and I decided the gun would probably not do me much good anyway. Besides, after two hikes without seeing any bears, I felt more comfortable about the situation. Making noise was good enough for me. I trusted I wouldn't be mauled.
The gun stayed in the trunk, unloaded, the rest of the trip. I returned it to my brother when I came home. Later in the year, last September, I went to Glacier again with my roommate and we did more hiking. I didn't take the gun that time. I didn't want it.