Swimming Upstream

Brown Bear searching for food

Confession: I enjoy watching bears on television.

Not just any bears. Brown bears in Alaska catching salmon in the river. My husband thinks I am crazy, but my mom was watching the live cam from Katmai National Park and Preserve one night. It was intriguing. 

First of all, I love water. Listening to it calms my mind. Second, I love the thought of Alaska. One day I will go and see the Northern lights and the beautiful land. Third, I love considering God’s creation. The intricacies and creativity found if we take time to look for them are astounding!

So back to the bears…

They have much more patience than I do, standing in icy cold water for hours on end just waiting for one salmon to jump out of the water on its way upstream. If they are successful in catching one, the bear carries the salmon off in its mouth. It does not give the fish a chance to protest, before eating the salmon for a tasty lunch.

Watching this in amazement, I would jump in my seat every time a salmon would literally fly out of the water on its way over the waterfall. I began to ponder: there must be a spiritual application here. (I can make a spiritual application out of almost anything if I look deep enough!)

You may already see where I am going with this, but stay with me. 

Let’s first discover a few things about this scene:


  • Salmon spend most of their lives growing and eating in bodies of water away from their birth place. At first this is in freshwater lakes and then they move out to the open ocean. When the time comes to return to the place of beginnings, the salmon stop eating and use all their energy to swim back across the ocean and into the freshwater rivers and lakes. They move upstream, against the current all the way. If the salmon make it all the way and manage to avoid the bears, they will produce another generation of salmon and then die. 


  • Runoff from rain and melting snow and glaciers continually fill the rivers and lakes in Katmai. In the summer and fall, waters are highest, as much as seven feet higher than the lowest levels of winter.[1]
  • Talk about cold! Between the water sources and the average park temperature of 35-40oF, it is not somewhere I want to dangle my toes for relaxation! Yet God created the bears and salmon to be well-adapted to their environment. Every detail is carefully laid out to meet the needs of each species.
  • Not only is it cold, but remember I mentioned the salmon are swimming upstream? This water is rushing in some areas and in others very calm. The calm spots do not require much energy,, but in the spot where we watch the bears (okay, where the camera watches the bears), the water rushes at great speed over an outcropping of rocks (Brooks Falls). Not only do the salmon have to swim against the current, here they must make a flying leap out of the water and over the tops of the rocks to continue their journey up the river. It truly is amazing to see those tails flipping with great exuberance in an attempt to fulfill their God-given plan.


  • The brown bears found in Katmai are some of the largest in the world. Males grow to weigh as much as 900 pounds! In the early part of salmon migration, the bears will gather at Brooks Falls daily to catch fish. The falls is one of the first obstacles the salmon face on their upstream travels, and the bears instinctively know this. On an average day, the average adult bear can catch about 30 fish at the falls.[2]
  • What is extremely amazing is that each bear may have multiple and different methods for catching the salmon. The bears may learn the techniques from their mother or may learn them on their own:
    1. Stand and wait
    2. Sit and wait
    3. Dash and grab
    4. Diving or snorkeling
    5. Begging
  • The bears use both their eyesight and sense of smell to help them catch their prey. When the salmon reach the end of their journey, the bears track their location very easily, gathering from the bottom of the water.[3]
Salmon swimming upstream

Now on to the analogy and application. I promised if you’d stick with me… 


  • We can view three analogies from the bears and the salmon (I told you I can make an analogy from just about anything):
    1. Salmon – They represent the Christian.
    2. Water – This is the world, the lives we live, and all the things that surround us on a day-to-day basis.
    3. Bears – They represent Satan and his angels. 

The Christian is in a constant fight with her surroundings. Just as the salmon is in constant movement and in a state of growth from birth to death, the Christian must do as she is created to do. Staying in stagnant waters or not producing growth is sure death. Swimming requires energy; the salmon constantly eats from beginning in order to have energy to support its life. When we do not consistently apply ourselves and spend time in God’s Word, we do not have the energy to grow and produce fruit. 

But what about those waters? The world is rushing against us. It does its best to undermine our journeys, our growth, to hinder our progress, to dampen our witness. And it is cold! The world does not have the Holy Spirit. They do not understand why we believe what we do. Their response tends to be harsh and uncaring at times. We can feel shut off from everything and everyone around us when we are truly living for the Lord and fulfilling His calling for our lives. 

And the bears. Watch them standing there – face toward the water, standing over the waterfall, occasionally roaming to a new spot, patiently waiting for one fish to jump into their grasp. One verse came to mind: “…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8b, NKJV). Just as the world wants to hinder us from reaching our God-given potential and doing His will, Satan is focused on hindering us, on destroying our testimony. 


So what does God teach us through Peter’s writing that we are to do? Are we all salmon that will inevitably be consumed by Satan? No! Not all the fish get caught! Some of those salmon jump right out of the water and go on their merry way. They are ready for the next obstacle and know instinctively where their home base is.

Before reminding us about Satan, Peter writes, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks around…” (I Peter 5:8a). He goes on in verse 9, “Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” We are all facing the same enemy, but of course in different ways. Satan knows exactly what method to use to catch us off guard, just like those bears. That is why we must be constantly on guard, never distracted, always seeking to follow God’s ways for us. Will we get caught? As humans with a sinner’s nature, there will be times Satan may derail our progress. Unlike the salmon who do not finish their journey when caught by the bears, the Christian still has the hope of reaching home.

I don’t know about you, but I am thankful for the depth of the love of God I find in a seemingly common occurrence in the Katmai National                                                                                                                                                                                                Park and Preserve. I appreciate you, dear Reader, for staying with me and discovering the joy that can be found in trusting God for each day. 

“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” – I Peter 5:10, NKJV

[1] National Park Service, “Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska: Learn About the Park: Nature: Environmental Factors: Water”, https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/nature/water.htm, accessed 8 July 2022.

[2] National Park Service, “Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska: Learn About the Park: Photos & Multimedia: Webcams: Bearcam FAQ: Brown Bear Frequently Asked Questions”,  https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/photosmultimedia/brown-bear-frequently-asked-questions.htm#3, accessed 8 July 2022.

[3] Ibid.

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