I have been told that bears trained to be in the movies roar with gaping mouths, without being allowed to let any sounds to come out. After the film is put together, the sound of the bear's vocals are added. If the bear was allowed to verbalize while being filmed in a shoot ( that in reality was play, made to look like a battle), it would lose the line between play, and actual combat. The bear would become a real bear.
The large black bear outside my tent door this morning was not from a film set. At five in the morning I was called to my pipehawk that waits beside me every night. In my tent, that the rain finally stopped hammering, my body sat up on its own still asleep. Then I was awake. Never in my life have I heard anything like this in the wild. For thirty or forty seconds my spine is welded to my heart. No blood moved in me. Fear had little extra space to use in my head, as I tried to take in the voice of this great creature's cries and bellowing. It was as if its emotional heart had been run through with a sword just feet from my tent. Vainity will have it that he was singing his mourning song to me, or his death song for me. It did not rush my tent, although what could I have done? Really? From the earth he tore with his claws in front of me. His head rang from side to side like a murderous bell. He had come to speak. He had come to make sure I listened. As suddenly as he was there with a verbal fury of blood and bone, he was gone.
I have told you the end, but not the beginning.
It was yesterday. The rain came and went so often that I stopped giving it notice. As I prepared to relax, and let my water go back to the earth while I voided twenty feet away from the side of the road, my mind told me that I was not alone. Some things come to us from the corner of our eyes gradually. When you have a full grown sow bear four feet away, there is nothing in this information that comes gradually. While I was still voiding, I tucked, pulled up my zipper, and searched for my flight direction. I did not feel my pants getting wet. I do know that I stopped talking to myself.
She was a full grown sow black bear. Two fifty, maybe three hundred pounds of black fur and mass the Creator designed to fight for life, and win, was lying beside me.
The knowledge that she had just died came slowly to me. She was an electric fence I had to touch, but carefully. I was ten years old for several seconds. I almost touched her, thinking that would count. She was with the lifeless. I moved about her an explorer. She was another people. She was a language that I had heard, but had no actual knowledge about. She is traditionally considered the guardian of the traveler, and I knew this then. Muck Wa Da Saugeen, or spirit of the bear. For years I had carved her likeness from burls of hickory, made bloodstone (Catlinite) and pewter inlaid traditional pipes with her sitting, and walking on all fours. I have brought he up out of clay. I did not do this to pray to, or with. I simply wanted to understand better with my heart, eyes, and hands. I did not know her though. You can not know a star by studing a meteor that fell down from the sky...but if you arrive soon after the earth is struck then you can feel its warmth, it mass, the laborous beauty built in by the Designer. I moved my hand over her, as if afraid to wake a lover I couldn't believe I've been blessed to spend a night with.
There was no rush to my knife. My knife is a tool of honor. This is easy to type, but it is not prose. My knife holds stories I will not open now, save this one, but my knife is more than steel and handle. What is not Indian in me by birth, is of little concern. This has always been the path I was to take. This is the life the Creator chose for me. No other life would embrace me like this. This was decided before I was born. This is why I came out into this world just before the harvest. I am with my grandfathers in these woods. I am with their father's father reaching down through so many years that names sink away like flat stones.
I knew that a lot of factors came together to make this moment happen. There was obvious loss. For this I felt pulled to the earth from inside. I was also blessed to be givin' a gift few people know how to open. Respectfully, I talked to her. Her claws filled my pockets, carved strong by all her stories that I can never know. Her coat opened. Having taken people apart many times, it was easy to see what ordered her from life. The slug through the the left quarter, and the attempt to flee across a busy road both brought her to this moment. Her final gallop out of this life took her across the wetlands. She had been eating corn. Her belly was heavy with it. Where we came together is where her story ended, and our's began. She will walk America with me. It is meant to be. I put my hands into my pockets.
A day later I came back to the she bear with Alex, and his mother Anne. I told them about the bear in words over the phone that had them in their car at seven in the morning to drive four hours to see her. They moved about the body like it was a holy place, and I hated to talk. My words were round instead of sharp like like my knife. They were constantly falling to the ground all around them. I couldn't pick them up, although I tried. I tried to give them words to ease their minds, and stomachs, but my friends were wound fingers around hands, and this opening in the hemlock was a spoil that was heavy in their faces. I removed the bears heart to bury in a more honorable place while Alex led his mother into the woods, and away from the metalic smell of blood.
It was all I could do for her. In my hand her heart was still warm, although how could it be? Maybe it was my hand, my living warming this life gone? She was all around me then. I listened to branches, cars flowing past, birds looking for funeral offerings were all fluttering too close, and louder than they should have been. Everything was in a funnel pouring sharply into my sences.
The day before my knife had hit a small pocket of fat between knuckle, and claw joint. My knife moved through her paw like water, and plunged into my hand. The salt of her black red blood burned, until my blood came out to meet hers. She was all red water then. In my head, my hand swam in her. My blood a darker oil,became weak against her. She entered me.
All night I thought of her, as if in fever. What could I have done, saved, not saved. I lit white sage in my pipehawk to clear my head, to clear my heart. Her claws were up a tree with my food bundle, while some animal pulled all the leaves from underneath her in a twenty foot circle. I missed her claws oddly. I wanted her in my hands. As my winter lodge of metal poles and heavy cloth filled with absolute peace, I began to calm down. I began to come down. I thought about her until I feel asleep against a hard rain. In the morning a new brother would bring me a song, and I would spend in and out of a thousand hours wondering just what he said.