The Spirit Bear – A Tale from the Woods
The woods were different at the time…
. Trees grew to towering heights. Their canopy nearly blocking sunlight from reaching the ground. Rivers were very clean. Streams would run as clear looking as drinking water. One could cup hands to satisfy thirst, direct from a stream. Blue skies were pure, unpolluted as man would later contaminate his own world.
Life itself was in abundant quantities in the ancient forest. Mountains climbed to thousands of feet. Hill and dale country preceded the vast mountain range. Animals were connected to the land. An amazing tapestry of wildlife had existed there for thousands of years. Small squirrels and red foxes were common. Deer, Elk and Moose roamed the territory. Ever watchful, a vast array of birds oversaw all of the daily activities in the woods.
Wolves were there as well. Each species fulfilling it’s designed purpose. The role of a wolf was to keep the other species strong. By preying on the weaker members, the healthiest deer survived. The balance of nature was wondrous to behold.
Most powerful of all the forest inhabitants, was an almost spiritual creature. They were the bears. Black or Brown, sheer size made any bear a force. Strong, clever and fierce opponents to engage. A forest bear had no natural enemy. For all of the bears mighty power, they were peaceful creatures. The role of the bear was to protect the forest from harm.
What about man?
Indians lived freely at the time. They had a natural ability to exist in harmony with this world. Taking only what they needed in the forest. The tribes were also in balance with the environment. Often, they would make music. Dancing and singing well into the night. Stars shined down upon them. The tribe celebrated life. They loved the woods, with it’s generous bounty of life.
The tribe respected all of the forest creatures. Large or small, everything had a purpose. Everything had a reason to exist.
Yet, they held one of the creatures higher than the others. A very rare, very special animal.
The old tribal ways were one with nature. For those in that time, dreams for the ages…
Coming out of the thick, great wall of trees. A bear was heading for the river. He was seeking one of his favorite foods. Salmon were traveling through the area. A drop in the water level created a minor waterfall ahead. The rushing of the water could be heard as the bear drew closer. Smell of the freshwater was uplifting for the bear. He reached a calm spot, by the water’s edge.
Reflecting back his image, the water acted like a mirror. The bear paused for moment. He heard sounds behind him.
Some group of the tribe were singing to the bear. This was a powerful bear. A symbol of strength. Paying tribute to this bear was a holy thing. A singular bear. Quite apart from the regular brown and black bears, they would see everyday. They gently waved their arms towards the clear blue sky. Gradually, the chanting grew softer. The great bear had crossed amongst the tribe. A good omen for them. This bear was very special…
As the noise quieted, the bear turned back to the calm water. Again, he saw his reflection . His large head studied his own image. This bear was a muscular pillar of powerful life force. The appearance of his fur was striking to the eye. The color of the bear was white. Not like a polar bear. Slightly, off-white, with some soft wisps of brown highlights. Eyes that were as blue as the sky. The tribe knew who this creature was. Perhaps, before the great bear himself knew.
This was Spirit Bear. In all of the fantastic woodlands, he was unique. Alone. Living in total harmony with all that surrounded him . A long lost era. The world of the Spirit Bear.
At the waterfall, Spirit Bear saw the salmon leaping in the water. The multitude of fish made hunting easy. Using his large paws, he would fling the salmon to the shore. After creating a nice pile, the bear had himself a fine dinner. He fell asleep with a full belly. Night followed, the bear spent the evening by the riverside.
In the morning, the bear awoke. A light fog had left a heavy dew on his white fur. He stood up to have a look around. Seeing a tall pine tree, he walked over to the trunk. Standing again, the tall bear rubbed his back, rubbing off the wetness of the morning dew. The tree shook from the weight of the bear. A flock of birds watched the bear. They chirped at the amusing sight.
Spirit Bear was thinking about breakfast next. A tasty berry patch was not far from here. Proceeding towards the berry patch, a bunch of deer came thundering down the trail. Must be a wolf, thought the bear. As the deer passed, a flock of birds flew the same way. The Bear continued to the berries. They were now, just over the next hill..
Sweet, sweet berries, the bear was happy. All of a sudden, he heard loud, cracking of branches. He went to investigate. To his surprise, a pretty female black bear was also in the berry patch. They gazed at each other, and had breakfast together.
A few members of the tribe were watching from high on the hillside. This time they did not sing. Spirit Bear was busy with the female. Indians moved off silently. Letting nature take it’s course.
Later that day..
The morning fog turned cloudy. Rain moved into the woods. Spirit Bear went to a dry cave, to wait out the storm. Black Bear followed him closely. These things never last, thought Spirit Bear. Did he mean the storm or the girl?
As the two bears waited out the rain, in the cave. The storm turned violent. Deafening claps of thunder, were followed by cracks of lightning. Black Bear huddled into Spirit Bears warm fur. She was getting frightened by the had thunderstorm. He wrapped his paws around her. Black Bear felt comforted. The two bears stayed warm and dry in the cave. As bears do all the time, they fell asleep…
Morning came. Spirit Bear woke to the one smell that alarmed him. Smoke!
He took Black Bear to the closest mountaintop. It’s down by the river, realized Spirit Bear. He wanted Black Bear to stay on the mountain, safe. She followed Spirit Bear as he rushed to the forest fire.
As they approached the flames, the tribe was running away from the fire. Nothing they could do to stop the burning. Spirit Bear would have to do something!
He noticed the fire going to the mountainside. If it reached there, it would be a catastrophe. The flames would hop over the mountain and burn down much of the woods.
The great white bear stood on his hind legs. He was as tall as 3 men. Thinking of what be could see. Fire, water, trees, mountain…. Need something.
About a mile away was a deep ravine. It cut diagonally across, from the mountain to the river.
Yes, a stream traveled at the bottom of the ravine. The fire would have to move through the ravine, to get to the mountain. He motioned for Black Bear to wait in the river.. safe.
Spirit Bear raced along the river’s edge. Must beat the fire. He ran right past the blazing inferno. The fire was very hot. Falling embers hit the bear’s fur. Now, his backside was on fire!
Just a short distance left to go. Spirit Bear jumped into the river. The water extinguished the fur.
A humongous oak tree was at the head of the ravine. Close enough to the river. Spirit Bear stood up and began to push the giant tree down. If he could block the river. Divert all of that water into the ravine. A flash flood would defeat the forest fire.
Using all his might, Spirit Bear pushed, pushed and giving it one last shove…
Black Bear had swam down the river. She was worried when Sprit Bear caught fire. Too close and too late.
At that same instance, the tree trunk snapped. The incredible girth of the trunk blocked the river. As the water filled the ravine, the woods flooded all the way to the mountainside. The fire was out.
Where was Black Bear?
The tree had hit her as it fell into the river. A large branch hit her in the head. She was knocked unconscious. Fortunately, other branches slid underneath her. This kept her from drowning.
Spirit Bear came to her rescue. He pulled the tree out of the river. Next, he untangled Black Bear from the branches. The floodwaters receded quickly.
Was she still alive?
Spirit Bear held her in his arms. The warmth of his body dried Black Bear. She was bleeding from her head. Spirit Bear was afraid for her life. He summoned forth an eagle. Send help.
As he loved the woods, Spirit Bear had to save Black Bear. He had to wait for the eagle.
An eternity seemed to pass. Please Black Bear… wake-up.
Just then, her eyes opened. At that moment, Spirit Bear felt the love from the entire forest.
In those few, fleeting seconds.. He knew his purpose in the woods.
An Indian was approaching. This one had a red headdress on him. It was the Shaman. The eagle sat on his shoulder.
Spirit Bear gave Black Bear a kiss. Not supposed to mix with men. Spirit Bear took refuge in the remaining trees. He watched as the Shaman healed Black Bear.
Black Bear rose to her feet. As the Shaman chanted healing spells, Black Bear walked slowly towards the trees.
Spirit Bear was waiting for her there. He knew a nice, cherry orchard for them to visit.
Right across the river. The pair of bears crossed the river, towards cherry heaven.
Author: William J. Hudson
Photos: National Geographic