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how bear
learned to
speak
by bryson smith

II

Deep in the heart of the Ancient Forest, where the grass
grows green in the meadows and flowers bloom in the sun,
where the river runs clear and cold, and the trees reach tall
towards the sky, lived Bear.

Snow fell onto the ground and caked the tops of the pines.
The white embrace covered the land and Bear knew that it
was time to hibernate. The cold, dark grip of long sleep fell
unto him. He dreamt as long, as wide, and as far as he wandered. He dreamt of an open field, where trees should have
been. The skeletons of the trees were arranged on top of each
other and hammered, rootless, into the ground. A cave made
of wood stood in the field and smoke rose out of the top. Bear
turned in his sleep at the strange sight. His dream gave life to
the torpid breath of winter.

I

PHOTOS // LEAH ARMER

3

He lived alone. His paws padded along trails deep into
the heart of the ancient forest-trails that followed the river
in its coldness; bringing ice down from the high mountains
after the blooming sun rose to draw snowmelt from the
Mountain tops. Sunlight came through cracks in the foliage
and caught the glimmering gossamer of the river running.
Salmon swam through the swift water trail, sometimes to be
caught by Bear. Bear’s trail ran far into the forest, winding
up through hills where the trees grew sparse. The hills gave
way to stone outcrops which rose up like a gnarled spine,
hard and bent with age, across the back of the land. Bear
stood on top of tall spires high above the forest and looked
out. He saw the rise and fall of trees, the wars between ants,
many other things of the forest. He saw a hawk swoop down
on a chick in its nest to kill it. He saw the river’s veins and
creeks collect and rush ever faster only to dissipate into the
sea. Great stretches of desert expanded beyond the horizon
down on the other side of the high mountain passes, away
from the forest. He knew there were other bears that lived in
other forests; he could feel their gaze as he looked up at the
pale orb when it shone in the night sky. He was alone. Bear
wandered far and wide, in search of nothing.

III
Light shone on the muddy ground and the last frost
hidden in the shade melted away. Birds sang and the river
swelled with ice-melt. The first flowers bloomed where the
sun warmed the glen. The grass grew green in the meadow.
The Bear awoke. He remembered his vision of the meadow
and the forest bones that grew there. He thought about the
clearing he had never seen in the forest which he walked and
saw and knew. Something new was in the ancient forest; as
the snow melted away, something had changed. Bear felt this
change; he thought of his wandering through the forest, he
held nothing in mind during his wanderings. Now he went
in search of his dream. The ancient dreams of Bears delve
deep into the earthen heart of the forest. Roots wrap around
the ventricles of the Bear Heart, calling Bears into the deep
of the wood. Bear felt the dream tucked away in the recesses

4