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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tamed by a Bear: Coming Home to Nature~Spirit~Self



I often smile when walking past Maggie’s garden shed here in our mountain community. A brown fiberglass bear hangs on the shed door, poised in greeting and dressed (based on Maggie’s artistic mood) in various clever outfits. He might be wearing a fishing hat and be outfitted with rod, reel and creel. Or, if the Denver Rockies are winning, a purple baseball cap might be perched between his ears, a catcher’s mitt in his paw. If tennis’s grand slam season has arrived, he might be swinging a tennis racket.

Last fall, a black bear bullied Maggie’s brown bear (and the garden shed) into submission, ripping off a hand and strips of wooden trim. Perhaps the black bear was reminding all of us not to trifle too lightheartedly with the real nature of Bear.

Reading Priscilla Stuckey’s new book, Tamed by a Bear: Coming Home to Nature~Spirit~Self, you might ask what is a bear’s real nature? You might also ask about the word “nature,” arguing (as I’m about to do) with Oxford’s primary definition: The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.  

Really? Humans are in opposition to the phenomena of the physical world, and not part of nature? Really?

When you read Tamed by a Bear, you might want to do what Priscilla did when a wise, eloquent bear with a sense of humor showed up in her life. Suspend disbelief. Readers of fiction do it all the time. We open the first page of a novel and dive into an imaginary world, ready to believe, ready to embrace. But Priscilla Stuckey has a PhD in religious studies; she is trained in critical thinking, not openhearted dialogues with furry animals that smile toothy grins. Learning to suspend disbelief and listen to this spirit helper's wise words was not an easy process.

Bear would no doubt tell us, as he tells her when she tries to differentiate between supernatural and natural, that “it’s not necessary to divide things up that way.” Nature, Bear reminds her, is the land of your birth, the spacious place from where all life flows. Go outside and learn from a wider world.

As humans, we often base our spiritual beliefs on things we cannot see (heavenly spirits/gods and goddesses). But in Tamed by a Bear, Priscilla learns to accept the presence of a spirit helper who shows up one day sitting in a rocking chair, or the next day lounging on a chaise in sunglasses. Granted, others might not be able to see him, but Priscilla can, and she learns to trust.

When people want to connect with the sacred, Bear tells her, they’re yearning for a restored sense of communion. “The sense that love and creativity can flow freely. Communion with the deep self, the deep wellsprings.”

If the Oxford Dictionary editors were to apply their secondary definition of nature, The innate or essential qualities or character of a person or animal, they might find common ground with Bear and his belief in nature. I’ll put a different twist on their definition, one Bear might agree with: Nature as our essence. It is certainly my nephew Gabriel Lockwood's essence, seen here poised on a boulder overlooking the canyon on the north edge of our community.

“Reconciliation,” Bear tells Priscilla, “needs to happen throughout the world—between humans and nature, between humans and the less visible worlds, and within a person.” Nature, by bringing people back to a deeper experience of physical sensations, brings them back to spirit, to the unseen parts of life.”  

Real bears, the kind that hibernate in the woods and wander through the mountain neighborhood where Maggie and I live, are part of our community's unseen life. We hike in the wake of their foraging. We find overturned rocks and uprooted tubers. We catch shadowy glimpses of dark bodies disappearing into the woods.

A few days ago, our dog woke me in the early morning with a low, guttural Whoof! Whoof! Two amorous bears, a large male and a smaller female, were mating near our century old log garage. The male sensed my gaze and broke away, coming toward the deck. 

Then he turned, and together the two bears trotted across the backyard, moving up toward the neighbors. Still in an amorous mood, though, they turned back into our yard for a few more moments of romance only to disappear up the neighbor’s dirt driveway a few minutes later.

The following day, someone living east of our small community reported seeing the bears, then hearing a shot. She thought she saw one of the bears limping. Wildlife officials apparently found no blood trail. The next day, the bears were back on our side of the mountain (perhaps more of a sanctuary). A neighbor below us spotted the female walking on a lower trail. Following 40 yards behind her was the male, limping badly, holding up an injured front foot. 

I imagine the male bear alone now that mating season is over. I like to think that he will heal. I still smile when I walk by Maggie's garden shed, but I wonder how long it will be before humans reconcile what is in our wounded hearts with our self-exile from nature. I wonder what Priscilla's wise Bear might say about all this. I wonder about the things that draw us closer to the natural world, our world, our essence, and I wonder about those things that move us further from where we need to be.

NOTE: Read about Stuckey's book Kissed by a Fox. Purchase Tamed by a Bear from Counterpoint Press.