A long, long, day ago, there lived a girl and her name was Breeze.
Her hair had been of longest deepest black, though strangely marked with a lightening streak of white, which was especially strange for one so young. Her hair frightened those in the village and they laughed and shunned her, shaming her family and the girl herself.
One sad day, Breeze ran to the stream that raced with silver fish and she made a fatal wish. She wished herself to be the same as everyone else, so that her family would not suffer the shame of her striking difference. She cupped the water in her hands, drinking its mystery and hoping the spirits could hear her plea.
But instead the stream’s water had been poison, and the girl now slept in a room painted scarlet, smokey with scent of burnt hickory and sage. Thin, tinny music was playing from a harp that lay on the lap of her mother’s only sister, who worried and rocked in her chair, while the girl’s mother wailed in sorrow.
Breeze was feverish. Her arms pale as tusks of elephant, yet limp and frail. Her black hair was damp and brushed back from her forehead, it streak of whiteness hidden by a wet cloth, which an old woman, whom the family did not know, had placed there. The damp cloth smelled of lemons, which made Breeze smile in her dreams, which were often
The old woman held a cup of steaming tea up to the girl’s mouth and the girl’s father lifted her body up so that the tea could be swallowed. The tea tasted like fish and cucumber peels in the garden, and rocks and rain. Yet the girl drank the tea and the old woman left, her slippers rushing softly across the floor like a scratchy dance,
The girl slipped back into dreams and in her dreams, she traveled above oceans and mountains and lands she’d never seen until she stood before a wood with a shadowy path that led to a stone building painted white, where she could hear sad and scary sounds, cries of something she feared to look at.
Yet her heart carried her toward the place and she walked inside bravely.
The cages were black iron, as black as Breeze’s hair, and so small that the creatures inside them, with their great paws and claws like thorns could not turn to see her. Yet, she could see there were many of these cages, all filled with fur, lined up in rows that seemed to stretch further than her sight could reach.
There was no one watching. There was no one listening.
Breeze wondered what it was she could do, a sickly girl, with shameful hair. And she could think of nothing so she turned away, looking downward, in shame, at the dirt floor. She kicked the dry dirt, angrily, so it made clouds as she walked.. Yet her shoe touched something hard and bright – a silver key hidden shallowly beneath the gravelly dust. She picked up the key and tried the lock on the first cage. It opened, yet the creature inside did not stir.
Breeze stepped back and waited and hoped. And slowly, fearfully, the creature made its way out of the cage, onto the floor and crawled out on all four paws to the door. The great creature turned, its brown eyes questioning and looking right at Breeze, beckoning her to follow.
Breeze could see now that the creature was a black bear and even though everything inside her said, “do not follow”, she followed.
The bear led her forward, pulling her through shadowy woods, and toward a great and silvery stream, one that reminded her of the stream at home, the one in which she’d made her fatal wish. She watched the bear lumber into the water and stand up, dipping his paws into troves of fish, that danced like rainbows, yet, none of the fish were hurt, despite the bear’s claws which looked to the girl like black thorns.
The bear having finished his play shakes dry and begins a long walk by the stream of racing fish, alongside trees as tall as mountains. He walks for many days and the girl follows.
At last, they come to a thicket of young trees with berries, that sheltered a space littered with dry leaves, stones, and felled logs. There is snow in places too, even though the girl is not cold. She sits on a rock and waits. Bear after bear emerge from shadows, They seem to dance all around her, first on all fours, then tall on just two, Their fur is as black and soft as midnight, with creases of white, like fingernail moons or sometimes hearts. It was as though the gods themselves had painted the bears that way, so that Breeze would recognize them as her own and call them beautiful.
After much time passes, the bear that had led her all this way stands giant before her, yet, Breeze is unafraid. He crouches down and lays his head upon her tiny lap, which also does not frighten her, Instead she cradles the bear’s mighty head, stroking its fur, and sings a lullaby from some long ago and forgotten time.
Together they sleep – Breeze and her Moon Bear – dreaming each other’s dreams without fear,without suffering.
Author’s note: With deepest gratitude to Jeffrey Davis & Tracking Wonder (http://trackingwonder.com), #Quest2015, and most of all, to Shaman Lora Jansen (http://www.onetribeonly.com/). The plight of Moon Bears and the farming of their bile in Asia has haunted me since reading a reflection piece, which Lora published recently. I offer this imperfect piece of writing to those who are working to heal Moon Bears, and to change the economic conditions that continue to make this practice profitable. To learn more, see https://www.animalsasia.org/us/our-work/end-bear-bile-farming/
In addition, I dedicate this piece to the family of Breeze. Breeze was a beloved Bearded Collie, with whom Lora worked with as a shaman – in the end, she guided his spirit as he passed in December 2014. My heart sees Breeze’s spirit still dancing, still shepherding, guiding those who are frightened, gently to safety. May all be healed,