A.Bear and the River

Feature Story

Springtime

t was just such a fine Spring Sunday afternoon! The warm sun was shining into the bedroom window. The squirrels were dashing along the fence, as if it was their own little superhighway. A robin serenaded the spring flowers. The crocus were doing nicely, though the Bears’ daffodils never came up this year. And all the foliage was in the middle of an especially luxuriant new growth spurt of bright green. A few honeybees were starting to find promising nectars in plants that had never flowered before.

Sad to say, nobody inside was paying any attention. El Nino fever had smitten the Bears with the full force of lethargy.

After our dreadfully dreary wet winter, The Bears had mostly fallen back on their old ways of just sitting around, waiting for something to happen. At just such times, C.Bear will often think to drum up a little excitement. Being a Leader Bear means you need to show an edge on the initiative angle, so he said:

“Say, T.Bear! Wanna holler at the squirrels?”

T.Bear said, as gently as you might expect from a Healer Bear, “Oh, no, thanks, C.Bear, we’re all having ever so much fun just resting.”

T.Bear was tuckered out from all of the counting of mica flecks on the acoustical ceiling, and from looking at the sunshine, and from other such Bear recreational activities. He thought that he might just relax for a while with all the other fellers on the bed. In fact, nowadays, we have a lot of fellers, just sitting around on the bed.

A.Bear, O.Bear, Trevor and Happy (and all the other “original” Bears) also seemed to be content just continuing with what they were doing. This was, actually, as little as possible. Even the “new” Bears, though very polite about it, told C.Bear they were just going to watch the air as it rustled through the trees outside. They thought it was just too nice a day to get all worked up about a project on such a nice Sunday afternoon.

You know, C.Bear had to admit that they had a point. Besides, with all the New Bears, gosh, who could organize a consensus? Las Vegas Bob, and Excalibur Bear, both from Vegas, had joined us recently. Slippers arrived for Valentine’s day, as did Cherry Bear and, well, nobody was still quite sure what the other Valentine Bear’s final name was going to be. And we had polite little Naku (“Bear”), who came to us all the way across the ocean from Hawaii.

We also have Cubby now, the L.L. Bean Bear cub, who looks more like a fox cub who might just be wicked bored. Cubby is a natural for just hangin’ out, and Cubby slouches like a teenager who’s about to be called on the carpet, even though he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Cubby said, “Hey, C.Bear! If you want to stir up some excitement around here, you ought to find out what happened to those pals of yours in that last adventure you guys had.”

By “those pals of yours”, C.Bear knew Cubby would have meant Little Girl and her Little Bear. But Cubby hadn’t been around on that adventure. And C.Bear didn’t know what to say. The idea sunk in, but he didn’t say anything just yet.

There you have it. None of the Bears were doing anything at all. Thelonious and his pal KC Bear were whispering something, probably the words to “Thelonius’ Song” again, which, all the other Bears had made it known (politely, of course), they didn’t want to hear so often. Big ol’ Dillon sat next to his shambly pal Schatzi. Everybody just seemed to be in one of those moods to stir up a big bunch of nothin’.

A Leader Bear should always know when it’s OK to go along with the majority, assuming circumstance and decorum dictate. There’s not a lot in the day to day life of a Bear that can’t be made to qualify under this dictum. It’s not easy to stir up a sense of urgency when every day is vacation day. In a Bear’s world, tomorrow is just a place to put those things that don’t belong in today.

So, C.Bear decided that maybe he too might try to take a nap. Bears don’t sleep much, because their bodies don’t get tired like People’s do. C.Bear reflected for a time upon why this might be so.

Bears are made up mainly of a sewn cloth covering, and a couple of glass or plastic beads for eyes, and often their noses are sewn, or they will have a little red tongue hanging out of their mouth. Sometimes the eyes are distinctive, such as Cubby’s, which glow with a feral quality. Sometimes a Bear enters the world with a black plastic nose or special little pads on their feet, like Slippers.

Of course, Bear fur comes in all manner of colors and textures: Dillon’s and Schatzi’s coats are long, luxurious browns and whites, while Cherry’s is more like terrycloth. Pink Bear’s is distinctively pink.

Scruffy and Tuffy have fur that lays every which way, and they have distinctive blue and white gingham bows. When they are in the same household, you have to look for Scruffy’s even more distinctive napping to tell him apart from Tuffy.

Scruffy hangs out mainly in Phoenix, whereas Tuffy hangs out in San Mateo. Figuring out which Bear is which is rarely a problem for People. Even when it is, Bears always know who each other are, anyway.

Stuffing, Birth Dates And Such

Inside all this cloth covering is, of course, that material called “stuffing” by people who don’t know any better. “Stuffing” is a word you would avoid in polite company, just like you’d avoid the word “guts” when referring to human insides and sensitivities. When you are making your own Bear, you are supposed to use Fiberfil, a resilent ticking that resists shifting and crushing. It’s not just “stuffing”.

This household had once received a gift of a “Bear kit”, labeled Sir Olivier. As it happens, the kit reposes to this day in a hall table drawer, out of sight and out of mind. This kit has hidden there long enough to qualify for a list of projects in our “very doubtful” category. At one point, all the Bears snuck a look when nobody was around, and the younger Bears were horrified. There is no “Bear” there, nothing to look at, except for a neatly folded piece of fabric in a celluloid packet. The Bears felt pretty much as you would feel if you entered a room with a folded-up human in a box. You wouldn’t feel a lot better about it, either, if the householders informed you they simply hadn’t gotten a chance to put it together yet.

Since most Bears are adopted, many of them have what might seem to be an unusual preoccupation with questions of birth and origins. We have seen these questions before. Where and when is a Bear really born? At what point in a Bear’s creation is he really a Bear? Even A.Bear seems no closer to an answer than when he first posed the question to the River, many years ago.

The more philosophical Bears felt a Bear birth has to be some time after they are stuffed, but anybody can see that a Bear on a showroom shelf is plainly not the same kind of proper Bear as one finds happily at work resting, or pillow-sliding, at home. And is the first kind of retail Bear an orphan, or must something more than adoption take place before they develop their personalities?

The matter of “stuffing” is really most bothersome. In some circles a Bear is even called a “stuffie”. Bears don’t particularly like that, though, technically, a thoughtless person could say that it is accurate. Our wise little A.Bear says that this tells you about as much about a Bear, as the statement that human beings are comprised of about 95% water. (“More than that, when they have to get up in the middle of the night”, opines Trevor).

C.Bear realized this was certainly a roundabout way of explaining why Bears don’t get tired in the same way that those frailer human bodies do. As a matter of fact, he was drifting off into a world of reflection, which would predictably lead to a little Bear nap. All the same, he mused, soul is found in the whole critter, not in the parts it’s made of.

The sounds and scents of the outdoors in springtime came gently to C.Bear through the open bedroom window. He could hear all the birds singing and chirping, and C.Bear always likes to listen to the birds anyway. Birds are busy and happy at the same time, and they are easy to watch. He could faintly smell the big old pine tree outside, and he could hear a breeze whisper softly through its needles.

And C.Bear heard the hushed roar of the freeway far off in the distance, which one can only hear on a quiet day. C.Bear thought of the muted rush of a rapidly flowing creek down in a valley, as he imagined it might be heard from a mountain promontory a mile or two away. He thought he could see where the creek flowed into a winding river. The smell of pine trees made him visualize a clearing down in the valley, a meadow, and he wondered vaguely where those thoughts came from as he drifted off into his little Bear nap.

In his Bear dreams – remember that Bears don’t sleep in the sense that you and I do – C.Bear searched for that shining, twinkling gleam in the eyes of Little Bear. Cubby’s eyes have a wild look too, but Cubby’s eyes are not usually so much like a beacon; Cubby’s are more like a dare.

C.Bear was looking for a beacon to tell him that his special charges in The Bears’ last big adventure were still OK, that the little girl Marjyka and her Little Bear were still being taken care of, and were still out of danger.

C.Bear thought of them often, and he felt (somewhat superstitiously) that as long has he had Milo’s Medal in his anorak pocket, Little Girl and Little Bear would both be OK. But, just as also may happen in the measure of People years, he feared that they would get out of touch.

One evening about a year ago, our Bears thought that they had received a signal from Little Bear. It was a nice kind of a signal, like a gayly decorated greeting card. It had made a pleasant tone when it arrived. But there was nothing inside. The signal, or whatever it was, faded before they could get the news it might contain. The Bears assumed this meant that everything was fine, thought they didn’t know why.

There was no way to get the signal back. Even on the Bear channel, “someplace in Eastern Europe” is a great distance beyond the back yard, reportedly beyond even our Phoenix Bear and his gang.When a bird sings in the early hours after midnight, and then flys off into the night, how do you get the bird to sing again?

C.Bear had sensed that the signal had been there, in the sense that it was everywhere, but not beamed so that he could obtain information from it. A.Bear had tried to explain how this was like the noise from the stars that the astronomers listen to with their great microwave radiation amplifying devices and antennas. A meaningful signal, A.Bear tried to explain, had to be distinguishable from the background radiation that floods in upon us from everywhere.

But most Bears are not particularly interested in microwave radiation, or anything else in that eccentric sphere of the human domain. C.Bear was in that respect not unlike most Bears, and he lost interest in listening to static on the private channel because he could not hear anything of interest on it, and he wondered: why couldn’t A.Bear just have left it at that?

The Airport

By and by the telephone rang. C.Bear realized that he must have drifted off. He awoke with a start. But it was only a junk call, one of those awful people who call on the telephone to try to interest you into buying something. This is worse than a wrong number, because they do not hang up when they hear the word “no”. But Alex sighed and said it was just as well, because it was almost time to go to The Airport to pick up Bob, and see if maybe he brought with him a special Bear guest from the Phoenix gang.

So Alex asked who wanted to go to the Airport, and, of course, C.Bear volunteered that he would want to go, because C.Bear always gets to go. Alex next asked G.Bear Senior, who had retired from his position as Guard Bear in the Bronco after five years of faithful service. But G.Bear allowed that he would pass on it this time also, as he had done every time since his retirement, some two years ago on Christmas Day. G.Bear felt that his service years on the dashboard of the Bronco were over, and indeed that staying inside was part of the guaranteed reitrement package..

Our G.Bear probably had over 50,000 miles under his belt by the time he passed the torch to G.Bear Junior. We have a substandard frequent-Bear miles tracking system, so nobody knows for sure.

Eyes next turned next to Junior, who seemed to be pretending not to notice. Junior feels a weekend in the house is a great privilege. Going for a Ride on his weekend off was certainly not Junior’s idea of a big deal.

In the end, Junior agreed anyway to ride in his customary spot on the Bronco dashboard, so that he could “look out” for the well being of the vehicle and its passengers. And Bob always smiles when he sees our little white Bear with the big red Santa cap waving from the dashboard. Surely you will have to agree that such a Bear as Junior is a pretty snappy patron saint, especially for a big, macho, full-size, four-wheel drive Ford Bronco.

C.Bear rides in his customary spot on the rear bench seat, and he always buckles up for safety. Thus it was, as we arrived at America West. As luck would have it, the flight was a little bit early. We were off on the way back home, with Bob safely on board the Bronco, before you could say “unattended vehicles will be towed”.

And of course we had a guest Bear. No sooner than we’d rolled out onto the airport exit ramp, Sandy popped his head out of the Bear bag and exclaimed, “Hi everybody! I’m here!”

Sandy

Sandy wears a T-shirt that dates him to 1988, and he is in fact closely related to Phoenix and C.Bear. His given or tag name is “Honey”, but you would have to examine the tag, or look that up in the Bear Registry, to discover this almost-forgotten detail. Sandy’s fur is indeed a distinctive golden honey color, and it is in much better condition than his cousins’ are. If he were a human youngster, you’d be pretty sure that Sandy slicked back his blond hair every chance he got, and that he spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror.

Sandy is, though, one of the politest of all our Bears. He is never given to sass or smartypants talk in any way. We hope that he will prove a good role model for some of the younger and more irrepressible Bears. Thelonious, for example, could certainly benefit from taking a page or two from Sandy’s book.

C.Bear and Junior were most excited to see Sandy, and they fell to visiting on the drive home. Junior was still charged with watching the road ahead. Junior is much more sophisticated than a mere radar detector. A Velcro patch on Junior’s butt makes his perch an effortless lookout point for him. Even when the Bronco sways or brakes for traffic, Junior never loses his place on the dashboard. He is ever on the lookout.

Another Radio Astronomy Speech

When the Airport Bears got back to the bedroom, there was much fuss and celebration over Sandy’s arrival. Many of the older Bears assembled into a circle on the bed, the better to see each other and to exchange stories and small talk.

This reminded C.Bear of the old days when they would convene in the Bear Councils. He thought it might be a good time to share his thoughts about finding Little Bear and Little Girl again, but C.Bear was a little unsure how to go about that. There were now many Bears who didn’t know much about Milo’s medal and their great adventure, so C.Bear siezed on an opportunity to expound on this for a time.

Cubby reminded everybody how he’d mentioned looking for their friends earlier just this afternoon. And so C.Bear went ahead and asked A.Bear if they might convene a Council.

A.Bear is one of our smaller Bears, and he still wears his red long-sleeved “Atlanta” T-shirt after all these years. It has stretched out of shape a little bit, and this could give A.Bear the appearance of a hasty dresser. Sometimes A.Bear will even let a “y’all” slip into his conversation. The occasional informality is intentional, for A.Bear always chooses his words most deliberately. Any passing resemblance to a bumpkin Bear stops when A.Bear addresses the other Bears. A.Bear is all business in the thinking and delivery department.

A.Bear is above all else a kind and perceptive Bear, much given to deep thought and a natural curiosity about everything whatsoever in our remarkable universe. He is said to be wise beyond his Bear years. His eyes are small, round, very black and piercing, and somehow the way they are set could be said to make him look squinty, or beady-eyed. The other Bears are very attuned to A.Bear’s intense look, and they almost always listen very carefully when he speaks.

“If I may have your attention for a minute, please, Bears,” commenced A.Bear. He began by acknowledging how they all had begun to wonder, of late, what had happened to Marjyka and Little Bear, and why nothing further had been heard from them. He praised Cubby and C.Bear highly for bringing the matter before the Bears, but C.Bear and A.Bear were very close.

C.Bear knew perfectly well that they had privately discussed this matter several times before. Sometimes it is good to let others share the credit, even if, as seemed to be the case with Cubby, they appear to be getting more credit than we privately think they might deserve. C.Bear just beamed, and turned again to listen to A.Bear.

“Y’all have heard talk, I know, of our wonderful adventure, which ended up saving the lives of our friend Little Bear and the little girl with whom he was traveling. Naturally, there is much talk of how we can open up a channel to talk to them again, so that we can find out how it all turned out.”

The Bears all fell to chattering excitedly, and a hue and cry went up for a full Bear Council, until A.Bear again restored order:

“But it is not as simple as that. It is known that C.Bear first found them himself, but we don’t know how he did it. We later joined him without benefit of any Council at all, but that was because he was already there. Many windows open up, all the time in fact, so that we have to shut out the ones we can’t be receptive to, or we would never get any other Bear Business done.”

And A.Bear paused for effect, but all this did not seem to be sinking in with those Bears who hadn’t participated before. “In other words”, he said, “it may be forever before the same window opens up again. Our friends, or we, may be long gone by then. We have to find a better way.”

Irrepressible young Cubby asked, “Instead of waiting for them to come to us, why don’t we go to them?”

But everybody knew it wasn’t as easy as that, and nothing came of the idea.

A.Bear went on to explain that, while they had learned how to enter and control a window once it presented itself, they knew of no way to get it back again. A.Bear tried to explain how there could be an infinite number of windows if you knew how to listen to all of them, but the problem was knowing in advance which one to pick.

To C.Bear this sounded pretty much like the radio astronomy speech, but he just nodded agreeably.

A.Bear Postpones Council

A.Bear’s patient explanations still did not cut much ice with most of the other Bears. It is hard to sell statistics to a population that by and large can only count to two, especially since each one is privately convinced that the next number picked will be the lucky winning ticket.

C.Bear was not particularly good in math. Though by now he could count considerably beyond “two”, he always had considered himself to be a Lucky Bear. And he had proven time and time again that his luck was an asset he could count on. He believed that the others thought so too, and he said so.

“What if I was just lucky?”

A.Bear allowed that most of what C.Bear said was true enough, but still was not the answer:

“Yes, C.Bear, you are our ‘Lucky’ Bear, but that is not because you are more fortunate than the rest of us at guessing at the outcome of events!”

Before C.Bear could protest, A.Bear continued: “Does it not make more sense that you are our ‘Lucky’ Bear because you are good, and kind, and you always try to do the right thing?”

“Here! Here!” exclaimed the other Bears, and they all set to cheering C.Bear: “Yaaaaay C.Bear”, they clamored. A.Bear knew that the Bears gravitate toward celebrations far better than to deliberations, and C.Bear had to allow that all this made perfect sense to him.

“So it is settled, then,” pronounced A.Bear. “Something more, something we may not understand yet, is needed. We will postpone Council until the matter has been taken into further consideration.”

No News Is No Better Than No News At All

The days passed quietly, entertaining Sandy as our Guest Bear, and the other fellers got into the little mischiefs that Bears are prone to get into when things get too quiet.

When things get too quiet, there is always pillow sliding.

Poor old C.Bear still could not shake the conviction that he did have the key to finding Little Bear and Marjyka right in his paw, so to speak. Perhaps you have had such a feeling? It has to do with an enduring certitude about other people for whom you care, with whom you’ve been out of touch for a long time.

Clearly, common sense says that a bad fate could perhaps have fallen upon those special other people of yours, over the intervening years, in such a way that you might not have even heard about it.

But your feeling would be that you know these people, so you would “know” if everything were not right with them. Partly from experience, partly from overconfidence, you are acting almost as if they were somehow by your side. You might even privately realize that such certainty has an element of wishful thinking, and could actually be false.

On the face of it, such a posture is irrational. But you must admit: of all of those with whom you’ve lost touch, there’re some whom you’d prefer not to find out about at all, because their track records almost guarantee an audit trail of disaster and calamity. On the other hand, you’d underwrite the safety and security of some other people, without giving it a second thought, because experience had taught you they could always be relied upon to come through pratfalls and adversity with flying colors.

That is what one might really mean by “an enduring certitude” about certain people. It is still always better to pick up the phone, or book that airline flight a little sooner. You never know. And that is how C.Bear felt about Little Bear and Marjyka, too.

But which phone? Which channel? To a Bear, every little flicker, every rainbow splash of sunlight dancing off a bead of water, could be a channel. When you walk barefoot upon the beach, you see how the water exposes a pretty little bead of agate here, and jade or chalcedony there. Once in a while, you might stop, pick one up, and examine it. You might even take it home. But you would never stop to pick up and look at every piece of wave-wetted pebble.

That was A.Bear’s postulate, and C.Bear’s dilemma. Which pebble to pick up?

A. Bear’s Postulate

Some Bears were beginning to remark that our carefree C.Bear had become a worrier. True, this had happened before, but C.Bear had always shaken it off. One day, A.Bear approached his friend C.Bear, allowing that he, too, felt there had to be a missing piece to the unsolved puzzle. But what was it?

“C.Bear, I was thinking about the last time we saw Little Bear. I don’t recall that we felt, at the time, that we might actually all be saying good-byes. Do you?”

“Well, no, A.Bear. You made a nice little speech, and thanked everyone, and then we all just kind of disbanded. I just thought that we would see them again after a little while, maybe at the next Bear Council or something. Why?”

A.Bear said, “Think about it. We believed that we had found a window that opened once and could be opened again. But why would Little Bear share this assumption?”

A.Bear certainly had a good point. “So, A.Bear, that’s why Little Bear didn’t really say good-bye, as if he might have thought we were leaving him for good?”

The two Bears didn’t have an answer for that. They had no reason to believe Little Bear even knew about the windows. Yet none of them had acted like they were saying good-byes. C.Bear allowed that, if it had been him, he might not have said “good-bye” either, just because he was forgetful, and also just never felt comfortable with good-byes.

A.Bear said, “So, if it had been you, might you have left us with some speech, some gift, some sign of recognition?”

C.Bear sighed. “I knew you were working up to that. I always wondered why he gave me the medal, I think it is some kind of sign anyway. But I have thought and thought, and I do not see how Milo’s Medal could lead us back to Little Bear.”

“I agree,” said A.Bear, “except for one thing. Remember that it wasn’t Little Bear who gave you that medal.”

“Well, no, but … Phoenix Bear said that Little Bear said for me to have it!”

“And so he did. But it is our only link to Little Bear. Supposing Little Bear knew that? It is all we have to go on. Let’s have another look at it.”

C.Bear gulped, because it was in his anorak pocket, along with his lucky quarters. This was the pretty, clever anorak with the zipper pocket, a pocket simply not designed to be operated by a Bear’s paws. Grrrr! So it took the two of them almost half an hour to fish the medal around the anorak lining to the very front. They were then just barely able to pull it out of the pocket.

C.Bear and A.Bear put Milo’s Medal out into the light, where they could see it clearly. It was a standard “ribbon” medal, of the kind commonly worn by soldiers on every continent. On the back, it had two brass tack bars to be pinned into place on a uniform. On the front, it had symmetrically spaced vertical colored stripes more or less placed on a field of blue.

The inside striped bands were colored red, white, dark blue. A.Bear nodded knowingly.

The outermost bands were green, yellow, brown and black. Green on the outside on both ends, the other colors mirroring the symmetry of the other side of center. “Green and yellow, brown and black”, said A.Bear.

Now it seemed that they knew even less than before, said C.Bear. They put the medal back into C.Bear’s anorak for safekeeping (after all, it was C.Bear’s). A.Bear allowed that he would have to think on that for a while.

Chicago Is A Bear, Not Just A Town

Before you knew it, most of the week had passed by, and C.Bear was buckled up for another trip to The Airport. C.Bear has a special interest in Bob’s travel bag, which could also double as the Bear Bag, but he didn’t let on until they were home again. The bag sat on the bed, unopened.

“What did you bring in the bag?” all the Bears asked. Bob smiled, and slowly fished out a packet of business notes, and a bag of snacks, and some toiletries in a ziplock bag, and a white paper bag. The Bears were pretty sure that it was the white paper bag.

“What’s in the white bag”, they all exclaimed. Bob pulled out the most precious gift in the world: a brand-new Bear.

Chicago Bear is a very light coffee color Bear with a tan cub snout. By “very light coffee” we mean, “extra cream, please.” He says he likes the Cubs. He sports a green “Chicago” T-shirt with a snappy Velcro fastener, and he has a very pleasant disposition for one who had traveled so far.

“Oooh!”, all the Bears exclaimed, and fell to standard Bear introductions and small politenesses and promises to go over fundamentals like Pillow Sliding soon enough, to be sure.

Further Distractions

C.Bear maintains a little money cup on a nightstand table. It is a coffee cup into which Alex will periodically empty his nickels and dimes and quarters of pocket change, as humans so often do. It is just such small, painless set-asides, over very long periods of time, that people call “savings”. Even when it does not amount to very much in people’s terms, it is fun to watch, whether you are a Bear or a human. “C.Bear’s Cup” has accumulated enough to warrant a second cup for rolled coins and even a few small bills. In fact, the People would remark sometimes that C.Bear was becoming a rather wealthy Bear indeed!

Every time he would hear the “tink!” of a coin falling into the cup, C.Bear would murmur “Thank you!” ever so politely. One day Alex remarked, pointedly, that he’s heard a rumor that C.Bear was related to an extremely wealthy relative, and Bob cooperated by volunteering to ask, without further prompting, just who might he be related to?

“Do you remember that old ‘50’s TV series, The Millionaire? Now, wasn’t it true that the name of the anonymous benefactor every week was J. Bearsford Tipton?”

Bob groaned, and then laughed aloud, because he did remember the show, and he knew that Alex’s pun was simply awful. And all the Bears laughed and tittered, and they told the story for weeks afterwards until we were all sick of it.

When you are a Bear, every day by storm is “Diagnosis Murder” and “Columbo”, both aired in the same evening. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau once poked fun at people who had accumulated an entire lifetime of experience without ever managing to accomplish anything remarkable. This shows that while Bears may have some of the same problems as people, Bears have a somewhat different measuring system than that employed in TV mysteries and college commencement addresses.

Bears don’t go around asking each other if they’ve noticed how successful one or another of them has become. Bears don’t keep little notebook tallys on who won the Bear Of The Year Cup in the summer of ’97, or which cubs are attending Stanford next fall. Bears pretty much subscribe to a philosophy of making the best of each moment and moving on to the next. What Bears surrender, in turn, is the encumbering double-entry accounting systems of life maintained (at great personal cost, thought A.Bear) by many human beings with too much time and too little meaning logged in their ledgers.

Meaning is the recognition of a special consequential relationship between fact and value, and comes from within. Any Bear could have told us that (in so many words). A.Bear wondered, sometimes, why so much of the world always looks for meaning in places which have proven barren of it before, yet seems blind to the “unremarkable” richness of meaning which lies around us and within us every day.

Three Bears Beats Two Of A Kind

Scarcely a week had gone by since Chicago Bear’s arrival, when the mailman deposited three identically gift-wrapped mailing packages on the front doorstep. Alex arrived home early that day, meaning that he had left work on time for once. He left the packages on the coffee table, saying he wasn’t feeling very good, and took a little nap. He awoke refreshed an hour or so later (“the phone rang again”), and was up and about by the time Bob got home and spotted these three packages.

“I was thinking of opening them up out here”, Alex said. You could tell that the Bears knew something was up, for Bears never rest and always want to know what is going on. Alex explained his theory that the Bears should be raised to understand that everyone is an individual. He went on to expound his speculation that it wouldn’t be good for the Bears to see three identical bears brought into the world from three identical boxes wrapped in matching Bear pattern gift wrap.

They agreed that it just wouldn’t do for the Bears to get the idea we’re all just so many assembly-line mail order catalog numbers, lined up in a row on some shipping department shelf. Names were chosen, to correspond to the order in which the birth boxes would be opened. It was known in advance, by means known only to select members of a catalog cult, that these Bears would be kith and kin to Scruffy and Tuffy, the blue gingham ribboned Bears.

And so it was that Cuffy, Duffy and Ruffy were brought into our household. These new Bears were all introduced to the gang, which is by now quite familiar with this routine. The Bear Registry is up to something like 46 entries, but you have to remember this includes all of the growing Phoenix crowd, the Little Wagon Bears, and the big Bears in the basket on the hall settee.

It turned out that Duffy is the spitting image of Tuffy, while Ruffy and Cuffy could be twins. By any plausible measure, all of this clan is so alike that one might have to resort to checking the secret markings on their Bear tags to tell who was whom. While identity is important to Bears, having fun is more important, so they spent the rest of the evening retelling stories and introductions to which they’d so recently treated Chicago Bear.

Loose Ends

A.Bear is by his nature a very orderly and methodical Bear. He has good study habits, a remarkable memory for detail, and an admirable way of sifting through mountains of detail to distill the available wisdom therein. A.Bear hates loose ends. There was still, you know, the unresolved matter of Milo’s Medal.

The medal business bothered A.Bear immensely, because A.Bear was quite sure the medal really came from Alex, though on the other hand he had personally seen it given to C.Bear. It was known first-hand that Phoenix Bear had presented the medal to C.Bear, on behalf of Little Bear, who had been said, it was said, to want C.Bear to have it.

A.Bear and C.Bear both felt that the medal might hold the key to finding Little Bear and Little Girl again. A.Bear was secretly quite sure that the medal’s red, white and blue bands signified an American military medal. Moreover, A.Bear was reasonably sure the Green and Yellow bands had something to do with that terrible war in Vietnam. Alex had been there, once long ago, though he rarely talked much about it, and A.Bear had seen some of the black-and-white photographs brought back home from overseas.

A.Bear was pretty sure that he remembered something about the colors green and yellow from a color picture of a flag of the time. He couldn’t quite place it, but what would it matter? Where else in this household do you suppose an American military medal might have come from? A.Bear was equally sure he could never tell C.Bear, but you could bet he would be asking Phoenix Bear some pretty sharp questions on the Bear channel.

A.Bear realized that the greater question was, might the medal really provide some sort of conduit for contacting Little Bear again? A.Bear is aware that life is full of small significances with very large meanings, but it also loaded with large significances imparting no real meaning at all, smokescreens insofar as we may discern. But the appearance of the medal at all was interesting to him. Not only was it the sole tangible evidence that the Little Bear adventure had ever happened, he could see no reason for its casual appearance via Phoenix Bear unless it had some meaning, or, unless … unless Alex planted it.

It Can’t Be Inconceivable

A.Bear scowled, and his beady black eyes looked even beadier than usual. All the other Bears were getting lost in how-do-you-do’s and storytelling, and in cheering at promises of pillow-sliding, counting games and watching the sunshine. A.Bear was lost in thought, and getting tired and confused. He was getting quite sleepy with all of this concentration, it seemed.

A.Bear did not believe that people would needlessly interfere with the lives of Bears, even though he had also read somewhere that there was a closely related theological concern among humans. Would Alex have planted that medal just to confuse A.Bear and his pals about what had really happened? Would humans really do something like that, at grave risk to C.Bear’s pride, just for amusement, or to experience a sense of purposeless power? As if, he thought, they didn’t have better things to do?

Being able to imagine a thing doesn’t make it so.

Once, when A.Bear had still been just a little cub on a shelf, a bigger Bear had once told him that there is a reason for everything, and that if we don’t understand it, there’s a reason for that too. Even then, A.Bear had enough sense to know that, while this is entertaining, there was something very sloppily circular about this kind of talk. A.Bear did learn that the most brilliantly contrived contradictions still explain nothing we shouldn’t already know. Like pain, such conflicts only point to the fact that some further action is needed.

A.Bear did feel curiously trapped in the same feelings he had experienced when they had been up at the Russian River, when A.Bear had at last understood that a part of the River is always within us, and that we are all a part of the River, too. A.Bear knows that there are indeed some things which, to be seen, must be accepted. Yet A.Bear also understood that some of us are constructed such that, when faced with this sort of irreducible evidence, we become even more excited about this curious world that we all live in.

Being just such a Bear is part of what life is all about, but this kind of tenacity can also make for a pretty sleepy Bear. A.Bear sent a message to the senior Bears on the private channel that he thought he might have some exciting new ideas about the Medal, but that he’d sleep on it.

Dream On, Meandering River

A.Bear drifted off to sleep, and he thought that he saw a giant floating Medal drifting down the Russian River, a new kind of raft which could ferry him and all of the Bears on a new and even more exciting adventure. And A.Bear dreamed, and the procession of images and half-seen reminiscences which drifted past him were mysteriously pensive, searching, moodily like the haunting opening strains of some Berlioz symphonie.

The river metaphor has been used since the dawn of human time as a living symbol of change, permanence, death, life and rebirth.

Even a modest river carries with it immense power to cleanse, purify, nourish, feed, and to scour, scourge, purge, or kill. The river is a symbol of permanence and change. Observed from any point on its banks, the waters of the river can be regarded as a source, a destination, or both. The river can terrify or calm, and the river has its moods. A mature river provides equally well to aquaculture or agriculture, hosts baptism and funerals, and furnishes permanent geopolitical boundaries. Yet the river cares nothing about any of these things.

This river idea is all things to all creatures, the durable object of song, worship and celebration of life. The river is home to teeming soups of life, yet it feeds its banks and plains and creates more life wherever it spreads. Yes, the river can take it all away, too. The river has time and gravity on its side, and the river always wins.

The river can be briefly tamed by ephemeral structures like locks and dams, embankments and levees. It can be a navigable waterway, but beneath the waters, the river always carries its burden. A hidden slurry of sand, silt, gravel, rock, topsoil and gold dust sluices downstream to line river banks, grind out canyons, and fill lakes, meadows, ponds and deltas. The river as a history of humankind is only an incidental part of its existence. A river in equilibrium with all of its parts is comforting and reassuring. It is the song of life itself.

Somewhere south of the headwaters of the river of sleep, a small white Bear with a red T-shirt drifted downstream on a most curious makeshift raft, looking for the gleam of adventure. Adrift on the river, everything in the water floats together. Adventure on the river is rarely found right away. At times it will seem that it is the river itself which is motionless, whereas onshore events themselves slip past unobtrusively and silently.

This is part of the symphonie of the river.

As if piloted by the unseen ferryman of dreams, the raft eventually lapped softly ashore onto a gravel bank, on a horseshoe kind of a bend. The waters slapped gently against the raft. Its tiny passenger slept safely, and Little Bear waited patiently for his guest to awaken.

– to be continued –

© Alex Forbes, May 25, 1998

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