FC: The Bear With a Heart in Each Paw
1: Story by Alex Robenson Illustrations by Larry Horn Photos and layout by Lisa Milliman Copyright 2013 Ursa Major and Ursa Minor illustration created from a photo obtained from: http://www.spacetelescope.org/ A labor of love For all the bears and those who love them Urfener
3: Sometimes it is difficult to know where best to begin, when there is so much to say about a thing, or a time - and when not saying absolutely everything matters so much more than saying all of them at all, or trying to say them all at once. This is one of those times.
4: There was a bear once, some time ago, a young brown bear, in the Land of Many Salmon, who had a heart in his paw: One in each paw, well and truly, a pair of hearts. It wasn't a real, beating heart, but the shape of one, on a part of the underside of the paw, on the tough, padded part made for walking and working at things. This was the part that was so remarkably heart-like. It was on both front paws, on both his hands, right where he could see them. There they were: One big, heart-shaped pad on each paw, right in the center, where most bears had lazy "U" shapes, or blobs like "O"s that were smoothed and shaped here and there. But on his paws?
5: They were shaped exactly like salty cartoon tears as you might draw them, a pair of them, joined along the side and at the top, then both of them tipped upside down - like the way a frown turns into a smile. These hearts may have also been on his feet, but it was difficult to see past his furry tummy and then move his gaze on to the bottoms of his feet. Things didn't ever bend the way that would be helpful some times, he thought, and wondered why that was. Trying to get a glimpse of the bottoms of his feet in a still part of the creek, using the pooled water as a mirror, was just impossible. And, in the coming and going of busy bear life, and in the especially-busy business of being a cub, the bear found more in his world to explore and wonder about, more than just feet. In very little time - almost as little time as it takes to fall asleep on a mostly tired night - he forgot about his paws, and forgot to wonder about them. Fish, and honey, and berries all had first place in dreams. There was just so much to think about and to do as a bear! For one thing, his mother had many, many things to show him, to teach him: Where the best berries were, how and where to fish in the river, how to jump up a tree - and how to get back down again.
6: Along the way, he spotted a big bush holding what might have been the last of the Wax Berries, mostly still plump – and a refreshing snack, but they were a little bright and slippery on the tongue, he thought. Then, just as that bush was giving out, he caught sight, through the foliage, of the bright orangey underside of Tart Berry leaves. The bush was just starting to fill out, first of the Tart Berries, just as they start to get sweet from the sun’s kisses. He would have to adjust his plans, and stop here to fill up on those. They were a special treat this time of year, as he remembered from his lessons.
7: When he could eat no more, he lumbered off, exploring quite a bit more slowly now. Then, he passed a Sun Berry bush, and, well, one must do all one can to put on weight for the next winter, he reminded himself. The bear sighed at the nuisance of eating, then smiled at his good fortune in all of the tasting. When he thought he was so full he might pop, he slowed his pace of claw-and-eat, slowed just enough to allow a blue jay to swoop in and take a small clump of Sun Berries from the bush, right from where the bear was reaching next. Bear gave chase in reaction to the bird’s surprise grab, although he gave chase in a very slow and ambling way, realizing how full he really was now. But, Bear knew he had to keep up appearances and give some effort of chase – bear pride being the least of it, and not wanting anybear to see him being laughed at by a blue jay.
8: But, on the other paw, he also did not want to have all manner of birds out gunning for him, dive-bombing him constantly, all around him, all his life. So, he decided to make a game show of it, and not actually catch the jay, to not be a real threat of any substance. One small chase would do the trick. So, full to bursting, he waddled as fast as he could behind the bird, keeping up appearances, letting the bird know he was no pushover. The jay easily outpaced him, laughing at his cries the whole way, flying long arcs and lazy loops, acrobatically, skating through the air, through the branches in a stand of trees alongside a sunny meadow.
9: When he could eat no more, he lumbered off, exploring quite a bit more slowly now. Then, he passed a Sun Berry bush, and, well, one must do all one can to put on weight for the next winter, he reminded himself. The bear sighed at the nuisance of eating, then smiled at his good fortune in all of the tasting. When he thought he was so full he might pop, he slowed his pace of claw-and-eat, slowed just enough to allow a blue jay to swoop in and take a small clump of Sun Berries from the bush, right from where the bear was reaching next. Bear gave chase in reaction to the bird’s surprise grab, although he gave chase in a very slow and ambling way, realizing how full he really was now. But, Bear knew he had to keep up appearances and give some effort of chase – bear pride being the least of it, and not wanting anybear to see him being laughed at by a blue jay.
10: It was a place Bear had not seen before, this patch of woods, not in any of his trips through the forest. He liked the feeling of the new, tall grasses, and the sun felt good on his face. Bear found a sun-warmed boulder to nestle up against. There was a slight breeze, warming up nicely in the growing day, smelling like all Spring in each easy breath. Here, in this new place, and for the first time ever, Bear thought a nap might actually be useful, and not a complete waste of valuable bear time. He drowsed in the sunshine, feeling the sun and the Spring all around him. He felt his eyes close, and he drifted along in a host of unhurried sounds and slow-poking scents that sang to him. Just as he relaxed, and felt himself, and his full belly, becoming almost weightless, like you do at nap time, the forest around him started to titter and itchit and urp in new and different ways.
11: Bear heard something moving in the forest, heard pine cones complain under something’s foot, smelled pine needles being pressed together by a walking-about something, maybe his own size, too, from the smell of things. Bear had already learned a great deal about the tell of smells and sounds in the forest, but he had not yet learned this one. A curious situation, it was, and coming closer – but, not on purpose, he thought, because it was pausing and wandering, completely unrushed, so it seemed, content to go this way and that, and then back again. Now, the sound was going back the other way, all rustling and crinkling. How strange! Bear thought. Quietly, he got back on his feet, and peeked slowly around the boulder to see if he could make out anything coming his way, anything to account for these unusual forest smells and woodland sounds. Bear inched forward, slowly – he stopped his feet but kept his neck moving slowly forward, craning just a little bit more forward, a tiny bit at a time
12: And then, Bear leaped up in surprise – just as this new being, seeing him suddenly appear, and being just about eye-to-eye and a bit too surprisingly fast, said “Oh!” and sat down on the grass, a little too fast and a little too hard to be any fun at all.
13: Bear was too stunned, and too curious, about this new being to make a sound. “Ouch!” said the new being, making a face at the hard landing. “Ouch?” said Bear, blinking twice, sitting back down, hindwise only, puzzling at this new creature. It apparently had very little fur, Bear saw, except on its head, which was curly browns and reddish-oranges – so, he figured, it had to stay warm by means of placing something on one’s self. The creature’s outer skin appeared to be soft, wrinkly, and made somehow, as an outer covering. It was installed in pieces, it appeared, here and there. The covering ran from neck to foot, and from hand to hand. Mostly, this creature was wrapped up inside leaf browns on the top part, and, toward the ground, in a color of blue not exactly water, and not quite sky, but somewhere else altogether again. It seemed that the colors were upside down, and Bear made a face that any bear would recognize as confusion - or, a sneeze about to take place. In Bear’s case, it was both. He sneezed, and the creature looked at him, and seemed to make one half of a smile. Bear moved his mouth a little way this way and that, trying to taste the question he most wanted to ask. He settled on this one: “If it isn’t too impolite,” Bear said, soft as butterfly wings, not wanting to startle this apparently fragile being with no fur of one’s own, “what exactly are you?”
14: Bear tilted his head and made a low, friendly sign of gurgle. He had never seen anything like it before. The creature was brushing itself off on its arms, idly, making motions but accomplishing nothing, except to give hands something to do. “I,” said the creature, “am a girl, which is to say, a woman and a mother, but in training.” “Oh,” said Bear, scrunching up his brow, so as to better focus on her talking. It had the usual meanings, that was clear – but there was no inflection, no throat noises, no sniffing or snuffling, no gestures small or grand, no snout-pointing. Curious, he thought. Bear suspected Girl could not make bear talk, which is all about gestures and inflections, and gurgles, barks, and winks. It was probably because Girl had no snout – just a small, leftover dab, under the two eyes, above the one mouth. “And you?” said Girl.
15: Bear did not know where to begin, but began anyway. “I am Bear,” he volunteered, still flapping his mouth sides and puffing extra air, in case Girl could read the regular talking signs, “which is to say, a man and a father, but in training, as you say,” completed Bear. He decided, finally, she could not read bear speak, and so, trying to be polite, he was pleased to have remembered the entire though he wanted to say, and to have also said so with a minimum of paw-waggling, sky-pointing, fur-rippling, and huffing. It was as funny as trying to walk on one paw, talking with just words, all by themselves, but, she understood him well enough. “What’s your name?” said Girl. Bear replied, but Girl jumped back in surprise, perhaps at the suddenness in paw-waving, gruffing, a wide yawn note, twice, and a flourish of shoulder twitches, a thumping left leg against the ground, and a wiggle of the ears. Bear said, “And yours?”
16: Girl thought about this for a moment, realizing Bear had just sung her and showed her his name, and that there was no way she would ever be able to say that out loud as he had done. Not wanting to make Bear feel self-conscious, Girl spun and twirled, whistled, fell to the ground like limp spaghetti, then leaped back up, humming three notes, round and round, while crossing and uncrossing her eyes, wiggling her nose, and tossing her head from side to side. “I see,” said Bear, not seeing, and feeling confused. He had never seen a name like that before, he knew. Girl started to laugh. Bear asked, “Please, what is so funny?” You see, all bears love to laugh, but they also need to know what the joke is before just starting right up. Girl said, “I think talking is always more difficult than I think it should be,” and laughed a little more. Bear had to agree, nodding, and starting to warm up a small laugh down deep inside, and said, “I think you have a point there.” For the next couple of minutes, there was a lot of laughing – and a lot of very unusual talking going on.
17: Girl hopped on one leg, with a finger in one ear, repeating a rhyme that went, “Fnih, fnuh, fnah! Here and there and back, so there!” Bear rolled on his back, wiggling, and flapped his hands and feet, blowing Sun Berry bubbles on the tips of his lips, making high and low sounds, like a yo-yo was inside him. It was, in short, a memorable first conversation. Girl and Bear walked in the woods, round and around the glade, dodging over white rocks they came to while they talked – and as a first game, it was a pretty good one, they agreed – telling each other stories about their lives, and their families, and about the things they liked to do outside. They hopped back and forth across the tiny sideways fingers of Little Fish Creek, and tossed in small pebbles. They landed in the water with satisfying plunk and ploop sounds. They were unsurprised to find they shared their enjoyment in a lot of the same things. Each told of things that made them happy, and unhappy, and, again, they were pleased to discover they had so much in common. They each liked sitting quietly in the snowy woods in the afternoon dark, tasting fresh snowflakes as they fell, although Girl had done more of this than had Bear, who slept in the winter.
18: And they both liked trying to follow dragonflies in summer, to see if they really lived in a Dragon House somewhere, except that Bear had done more of this in Summer than had Girl, who had to instead sometimes do something concerning itself with vacation-city, as she had said, and with a sister of her mother. It seemed confusing, so, they decided, in unspoken fashion, when this sort of thing came up, they would ignore it and move on to something else, like telling about plants and trees or friends, or family, or good things to eat, and whatever caught their attention. It was a good system between friends, as systems go, as good friends go. Bear took a moment in their walk to rub and scratch his back against a tree. His back had been itchy all day after eating Fireweed honey the day before. “Can I help?” asked Girl. Bear gave a little laugh, and said, “No, but thank you for asking.” He wrapped up with a series of long, slow motions on the tree bark, north and south and again and again, letting his tongue hang loose and limply out of the side. “Thank you for waiting,” said Bear when he had finished. “That is so much better.” “Of course,” said Girl. Bear explained, “And thank you for offering to help. But my coat is so new and think, only a rumpling machine could get at my itches.” Bear saw the puzzled expression on Girl’s face and gave a small, single-note sigh, signifying in Bearese, “Ahhh, I see.”
19: Bear told of the rumpling machine the bears had made every year, of bark pulled at angles from downed trees, to help comb through their fur, and keep all the backs well scratched at the itchy time of year, which, really, when you got right down to it, was all the time, except for Winter. In Winter, even scratching stopped for sleep, Bear explained, adding, most bears dragged in a big, broken-off tree limb from a storm, in order to rub against its bark all Winter long, during sleep , to try to help the itchiest part of the mind relax and remain sleeping. This, Bear said, was part of the re-straightening of the fur. Girl laughed at the thought of cuddling up with a big, heavy-barked, thick tree branch for sleeping. “That sounds prickly,” said Girl. “Exactly right,” said Bear, “and the whole point, entirely.”
20: They sat, or strolled, or ate berries, or tried chewing grasses and on small buds on bushes and slight trees, as they wanted. A great deal of laughing was accomplished. In the Land of Many Salmon, a day spent laughing was a day very well spent and without even one regret. Girl told of school and dancing, and about music and watching and reading things she liked to watch and know about. For Bear, it was greatly confusing, but he understood her excitement and anticipation for things she liked to do, and learn, and he knew well enough about the times when lessons or chores came first. Bear told all about The Festival of Ursa Major and Minor, in the Fall, when the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, looks like it starts to come in for a landing, but the Little Bear, Ursa Minor, wants to jump on and play.
21: Bear explained how the holiday was at different times for all bears, depending upon their locations on the ground, around the country, and the world, depending on first-line-of-eyesighting of the constellations in the sky around them. Bears always knew what and when that time was, and when it arrived. All bears did. “Some things,” Bear explained, “you just know.” And, Girl had replied, people would probably never understand that the same bear holiday could be on different times, depending on where the bears lived. “People are so funny about their calendars,” Girl said, very seriously. Bear thought about asking about these calendars, but, decided to ignore it, and switch to talk that made his mind less itchy. So, instead, Bear told about the fermented honey-berry drink, Urfnah, which was like mead, and drunk only during the Festival. One had to be careful when saying or drinking Urfnah, Bear had explained, because it was very close to Bearese for “I cherish you,” or, more correctly translated, “You are the most special among the very special,” which was said by bears as Urfner, with different ending sounds and gestures. Bear said he had heard his mother joking that some bears had gotten off to an awkward beginning with a mate by using an awkward ending.
22: Bear also told about the family of all bears planting flower bulbs for the bees just before their festival, the bears doing all their work first before playing, as is the bear way. Bear explained, this was a way of ensuring enough flowers would be available for the bees to make happy, so the bees could make more honey, and so the bears, like the flowers, could be happy as well, and especially, for the next year’s festival. Girl spoke about something going around and around and about it coming back again where it started somehow. To Bear, it wasn’t at all clear, this round thing moving, except for the meaning Girl gave it, which was clear and good and knowable – the part about giving and getting, of helping and being helped, and giving back when one receives. Or, just giving first. It was a very full day, a very unexpected day, and Bear and Girl felt very full, in the way you can feel full, even without having eaten any food. “It has been a very nice day,” Girl said, dangling her feet against the edge of the downed tree they had been climbing around on. Bear had been playing Cougar Tag and Girl was playing Pirate Princess. The game was surprisingly similar, except for the names that it was called. The games both involved lots of hollering and leaping around and making speeches and wild mannerisms, and laughing almost the whole time. Bear agreed, it was a good game. While they rested, Bear picked absent-mindedly at some bit of bark on the tree, exploring a random scent. They were quiet, and just sat, listening and breathing, letting the day explain itself as it went, letting it tell the stories of the forest in its own right and natural forest way.
23: Girl suddenly looked at Bear, just as Bear had swung his head to look at Girl. It had gotten very dark, very fast, and they were only now noticing it, both of them, together, all at once. “Oh my stars!” said Girl, standing up on the log. “Yes, just as you say,” said Bear, rising as well. They looked around them, all the way around them, to the edges of the forest, slowly, then they stopped, both facing the same direction. “The river is this way,” announced Bear, holding his snout high, sampling the air. “My way to go,” he said, pointing. Girl said, “I think that’s my way too. I remember following the river sound alongside on the path.” Bear checked for the sun, but it was already making honey-colored light, like the first thing in the morning, so that meant it was already lower and later than it should be. Bear said, “I will have to hurry to be back in time!” “I think I should hurry, too!” Girl agreed. Bear looked around at the place on the tree where he had been curiously poking around with a fingernail or two. He bent, when he found what he was looking for, and pressed his right hand into the wood. “I want to give you something before we go,” Bear said, taking her hand and pressing his palm, firmly and steadily, against hers. Girl looked at her hand, fascinated, smiling. “It’s a special tree sap, it will stay with you for as long as you like it to.”
24: Bear stooped to scoop up a large piece of papery bark, and pressed his hand into the smooth side, leaving an imprint there as well. “You can use it when you’re scared or when something’s not right,” said Bear, “to help you come back here, where there is laughter and sunshine.” He gave the imprinted bark to Girl. “A souvenir,” Bear said. “A souvenir,” Girl repeated, taking something from her hair, a small clip, and threading it gently into Bear’s coat. Bear looked down, watching her weave the clip into the fur on his chest, smiling as she did so. “That tickles,” he said, not objecting, but smacking his lips and wiggling his whiskers in Bearese. “There,” said Girl, with a final adjustment, “I think that looks just right on you.” “It’s magic,” said Bear, looking down, noticing the shine of the coppery metal, the color of salmon in sunshine.
25: Girl looked at the imprint in her hand, and at the bark. It was of two upside-down tears, forming, right-side-up in her hand, a perfect picture of a heart. “I never knew why my hand was shaped like that, not until today,” said Bear, smiling, “But now I do.” Girl smiled and said officiously, in an impression of an adult voice, “We should shake on it – old custom I see all the time.” She put out her hand, took Bear’s hand in her own two hands, and shook it, solemnly. Then, Girl leaned forward and said, “You know about hugs, right?” Bear laughed out loud. “Of course,” said Bear. “Why do you think they’re called bear hugs?” They laughed some more, and then they hugged. “We had better hurry up our path, and quickly,” said Bear, noticing the night wheedling its way into the day.
26: “So we shall, said Girl, turning toward the river. She started to run. “Race you,” Girl said, over her shoulder, already running fast. “Hey!” said Bear, playfully protesting, starting to make the first five motions of his hurry-up-gait, “No fair!” Bear and Girl ran through the darkening forest, racing towards the river, stumbling and tripping, and laughing and laughing, trying very hard to not collide with boulders and trees, trying very hard to remain upright and moving forward, trying very hard to not run faster than most of their legs and bodies could really go.
27: *** As the years passed, both Bear and Girl thought of their time together, and came to know it had been more rare and special than either had known at the time – even though they knew it was pretty special even at the time. Nowadays, people and bears do not speak as often as they should or could or would or might. This eventuality is a shame, but it is also very understandable. This oversight is mostly because mothers of both small children, and of small cubs, of people and bears in training, will very fiercely protect their young. And where you have such intense protective spirit, there can be some wild misunderstandings, as you might expect. So, it may be for the best, say many. The people who talk to bears, and the bears who deem their conversant partners fit for reply, will be first to tell you it is not necessarily so, this imposed and unnecessary silence. There are some who will hear of the experience of Girl and of Bear, and who will say, “Which one of these fell asleep first, and just who is dreaming who in this story?”
28: Just as most everyone else who hears this truly know there is a long-grown girl, and a long-grown cub, both adults now, alive and still living in the wide and magical world, who will both tell you their hearts are better and wider and deeper and stronger for their accidental meeting, for their shared experiences, for their time spent together. The special sap of the imprinted heart has long ago dried and flaked away from her palm and from the scrap of bark; the magic hair clip has been long since lost, fallen from fur, as even the most precious things in life fall to the side and are lost. But, that does not mean they are lost, these things of the heart. They are just things, of course. Lost from without, they are still locked up deep down within us, inside us, held in clearest amber, and are there for us whenever we wish to take them out and turn them around once more in our mind’s eye, and in our heart of hearts.
29: How to explain how that works? Pretty easily, really: Some things you just know.