The Trail Of Bear
Contributed by Author/Artist Carl Franz
Contributed by Author/Artist Carl Franz
I wasn't afraid, I knew it was Bear snuffling at my ear.
His breath was as warm as the winter sun on my face. I lay still and enjoyed the sensation as he inhaled my scent in long savouring scoops, filling his huge lungs to capacity and then snorting out impatiently, yet ever politely, away from me, only to begin again. I wondered how long he had been there, but it was irrelevant and I released the thought, not wanting it to lead me away.
Bear stopped inhaling, sensing I was awake, and I felt his presence and all it meant to me withdrawing as he ambled off from my bedside.
The first things I saw were the tiny mountains built from countless delicate flakes resting on top of the bed posts. I threw back the quilt and, full of childish joy, I swivelled upright and planted my feet firmly down into the clear patch of virgin snow which thoughtful Bear had left for me amidst the dancing medley of his own great clawed prints.
It felt so good.
I could have so easily caught up with him then. He was, like everything in the universe, just a thought away. I just wanted to hug him, nuzzle into his neck and gush out all I felt for my wonderful friend, but I resisted the impulse for now, remembering.
I looked down at my feet and took the first few steps; they looked so small and vulnerable in the deep craters of his prints. When I stepped out of them I left behind fish-shaped timid shadows, wriggling in the pools he had left for me to keep them in. I smiled, and I knew he could see that. He was glowing from my joy as I followed his trail.
That is what I remembered, to follow his trail. It was of course my choice.
We followed the rabbit trails, if that's what they were. I never saw any, just a few fat ground birds. Obviously never hunted, they were tame enough to ignore me, only scurrying occasionally to avoid my feet.
The squirrels were equally unimpressed by my presence and simply enjoyed darting around me, chattering curses just for the sheer hell of it. I in turn found great pleasure in effortlessly tracking their weaving staccato ‘stop, go’ scampering through the thick foliage with my clear sharp vision, so new and yet already I was taking it for granted, and I silently thanked the squirrels for reminding me to be grateful.
Bear paused to strip the berries from a convenient bush and I waited by his side. It was tempting to try some too, they were almost bursting with bright red luscious juice. I hesitated though, afraid they might be poisonous for me, even though in this magical forest they could well be delicious and nourishing. After all, anything was possible here, wherever it was.
“Where are we?” I asked Bear.
Bear finished deftly stripping a string of berries from a branch with his lips and turned to me. I watched the bump made by his tongue running along under his furry snout to clean his teeth, while his impassive brown eyes folded around me like the old leather armchair I always wanted and never found. He looked away for a moment and then back to me, having converted the answer into crude sound for my benefit.
“Now.” he said.
I almost blurted out like an idiot “Yes, right now!” but then realised, just in time, he
wasn't asking a question.
The Quilt and Bear
In the evening we lay in the grass between mother apple tree and the fountain. I looked up at the seven stars, bright with the joy of life, and listened to the fountain splashing to their music on the other side of Bear's warm hill of fur.
I began counting the apples glistening inside mother tree's arms, tasting each sweet red globe with a number. I was almost up to seven when Bear interrupted me with his soft dreamy growl, "Tell me about the past." he asked. I remembered from our earlier conversation his curiosity of this concept. He must have been thinking about it all afternoon and seemed concerned.
I looked down at my bed cover with its map of colours spread out in a journey over the hills and valleys of my body. I wondered - how could I possibly describe the past to a being of ever-present?
"It’s a faded patchwork quilt made of pleasure, pain and peace." I offered. Bear nestled his huge incredibly gentle paw under my pillow to keep me comfortable as I laid back again, but he wasn't ready to sleep yet. He was working towards something.
"Tell me about the present." he asked.
"It’s a perfect patchwork quilt made of pleasure, pain and peace." I answered.
Bear took a moment before saying anything more. I sensed his struggle to find the right words. Finally he spoke in a whisper with the tenderness and care of one wrapping the wounds of a loved one.
"Shall I cut out the painful patches?" he asked.
I knew he could easily do this, and also that I wouldn't feel or even remember a thing about it afterwards, but all the same I slowly shook my head, feeling it rock like a bone cradle containing all the fragments of my life in its hollow.
"Then the quilt wouldn’t be perfect." I answered, trying, and failing by the measure of a single tear, not to cry.
Bear slowed to a stop at the edge of the clearing, denying himself temporarily the promised golden honey sunshine waiting for him just outside the cool forest cloak. He raised his snout slightly and sifted through the weaving scent of patchouli-tinted flowers dotting the rolling grassland with impressionist-painted petals.
Seemingly satisfied, he strode out into the sun, which at once stroked silver-splintered splashes over his shaggy coat as he emerged from the shadows. Then he folded his legs under him and sank down onto his herb and berry bloated belly, which was so round it failed to support him and he keeled over to one side, where he stayed. His eyes covered over with sweet chocolate half moons, seamed with eyelashes beautiful people can only dream of, and with a sigh he snoozed contentedly.
I was left standing all alone and silly among the far flung saplings, whose seed had blown outside the nurturing family of forest and grown up thin with worry. I might have lain with Bear and amused myself dreaming the clouds into picture book stories until he was ready to move on, but unlike Bear, my belly wasn't gorged pumpkin-plump, and ahead of me the grass land stretched out an inviting green carpet, flagged with flashes of colour that set my heart jumping.
It was people! I don't know why I was so surprised, but it had actually never occurred to me that others visited the Summerland too.
I could make out their rich ochre, burgundy and blue robes, carelessly thrown over one shoulder as they strolled in pairs or small groups. I was already among them before I realised it. My feet carried me so effortlessly over the short lush grass and floating islands of delicate flowers to the mysterious men and women of all ages and all races. Some paused in conversation to nod, while others smiled broadly, meeting my eyes with a deep gentle recognition as if we had known each other for a long, long time.
Here and there small copses of trees offered unnecessary shelter from the golden warmth of the sun and some people were sitting under them, while others crouched in an attentive manner. As I neared, I could see that the sitting people were dressed as from my world and were being tended to by those in robes.
I was drawn to one particular woman who was leaning up against a tree. She seemed incongruously made up with eye liner and mascara. She wore a tweed type red jacket, bright and shop new, finished with a brooch twinkling on the lapel. Her hands stretched out on her lap with lacquered fingernails twitching in a dance over an invisible keyboard.
Next to her slumped a heavy-set man in grease-stained overalls, and beside him a young man in a motorcycle jacket, fastened with a broad strap at the throat against the wind and rain of a far away road.
For all the differences between them they all had one thing in common; they all stared into nothing, oblivious to the people quietly watching over them.
“What's wrong with them?” I asked in a hushed voice. One of the carers, a young woman with wide set and beautifully deep amber eyes, turned to me reassuringly. “They’re just sleeping, that’s all.” she said.
I returned, buzzing with questions, to the dark hump of snoozing Bear. The sun had slipped over a little to dapple him with shade from the overhanging branches and he looked so very comfortable. And so, though I was bursting to ask him about the sleeping people, I couldn't bring myself to disturb him and resolved to doze with him instead.
I quietly nestled up against him in my favourite place, just behind his foreleg. However, despite my stealthy snuggle-up technique, he stirred and his nose quivered a little, then, having identified his visitor, he relaxed, and if a bear can smile - and not only that but smile in his sleep - then I tell you he did just that.
At first I reasoned it must be a heat haze I could see wriggling in long slow curves along the flattened bed of the valley. But instead of dissipating as any self-respecting optical illusion should, the vaporous serpent became increasingly tangible as I followed Bear's slow and purposeful strides down the gentle slope towards it.
Even close up it didn't really look like water; it was more of an opaque mist. I could see right through it down to the grass swaying like lazy kelp at the bottom, tracing the river's endless path in flattened green. This was the only physical interaction, the only evidence I could latch onto of its existence.
Apart from that, there was nothing else to prove it was real at all until Bear, without altering his steady pace, simply walked into it. He was almost half way in before the natural buoyancy of his bulk won out over his weight and lifted his front paws clear of the ground.
His head bobbed up to the surface and his snorkel nose floated on top of the invisible water. The ridge of his back formed a woolly keel as it too rose up, and then he began to turn with the current and drift. I took a last breath and walked in after him. My jeans clamped softly around my legs and I waited for the cold to seep through, but it never did. I kept going, feeling my weight being gently taken, and then I was carried up to join Bear. I reached out and made a grab for the coarse hair sticking up on the back of his neck, and my legs swung up and around to trail behind me.
For a long time we floated in silence together in this manner, immersed in the breath of the ghost river. Time slowed to the pace of the waving grass metronomes below. They mesmerised me into a dream as we passed over their languid shivering dance. The river coaxed me gently into the living rhythm, swaying my body in and out like a wave against the soft shore of island Bear. It was only with the mildest surprise, even amusement, that I realised I was breathing in the river’s clear insubstantial water as easily as I could the air above it.
Gradually the grass dropped away as the depth below increased, until it was lost completely from sight. I suddenly felt a little insecure and looked over to Bear. I still had his scruff balled in my fist but I needed extra reassurance. It wasn't just the depth of the water, there was something more; something beyond the periphery of my senses had changed. When I saw the compassion in his soft brown eyes, I knew he had been watching me, waiting patiently for me to feel the change begin.
We sank slowly at first, then his nose tipped down and we began to dive. There was no perceptible resistance from the water, or any great difference in pressure, but it was getting darker. The light from the surface eased away and in its place small lights began to show below me. They were dim at first and then brighter and more colourful. Veils of red, green and purple spread out between the globes of white. A gossamer mist of colours spread in a long swaying scarf through the light-blistered dark, folding over and around the constellations of the universe. I was among the stars!
My grip on Bear was lost and I slipped away from him. He simply watched in his quiet knowing way as I fell. My hands became two helpless tethers fluttering up towards him and then he faded away and the stars’ fierce points drew back into themselves, withdrawing their brilliance and resolving into a bland milky landscape, which I reluctantly recognised as the plaster of my ceiling. I released a wistful sigh into the darkness of my bedroom and dropped back further to rest finally under the clamping gravity-soaked blanket.
I didn't want to open my eyes; I lay still, hoping I could reverse the journey and be with Bear again, but already my body was pressing in around me. I felt like a deep sea diver clad in the lead burden of my own muscle and fat, all shaped, fastened and wrapped around the clumsy levers of rigid bone.
The blood pumped around me, carrying the message of my return to every nagging needy organ and nerve and they all began to call out for me to serve them again, but despite them I held still for just a little longer.
Outside of me in the darkness something was waiting. My immediate body-bound reaction was to panic and struggle, but already I could feel the intelligent gaze of quiet brown eyes stroking over my cheeks and forehead with kind feather-tip thoughts, and I was no longer afraid.
About the Author:
I am a retired engineer living in the beautiful countryside of Yorkshire, England. Often to be found striding along the country paths alongside the rivers, or ambling through the local woods, lost in my thoughts and happy as a lark. I enjoy painting and writing. Through them, I try to describe the spiritual experiences encountered during my daily and nocturnal travels. These experiences have always heavily influenced my life and now I have time to explore them and perhaps share my deep interest in all peaceful spiritual practices which celebrate and respect nature.
Carl Franz can be contacted at: