Disclaimer: I am not Native American. I am not male. I did not live here when the ships arrived. I wrote this thinking about a dream a friend told me, about a bear. So it’s the fault of a dream bear, this story.
I am wailing. I am crying. The Bear came today, our bear, the tribe’s bear, our Spirit.
But he didn’t just walk through camp and take fish and his tribute.
He took my son.
He walked right up to where my wife stood still, as we must when he comes, and he lifted the boy in his paws. The boy was quiet and still, he did well, he was brave, but when the bear turned to leave, he called once.
Then our bear dropped to three legs, my son in the fourth, and turned and left.
My son, my son, my heart, my joy. Spirit Bear, return him to me!
We fought, argued, for a very short time. The Shaman said that if Spirit Bear wants my son, he shall have him.
He does have him, I said, but I want him back. The Shaman knew that was true. Some shook their heads and say that my son is already dead, but most agreed with me. We were on the trail nearly immediately. The bear should not be able to move as quickly as usual when he is carrying my son. I dread evidence of my son’s loss, that he will be eaten. But that has never happened, in the history, in the songs. The Shaman said as much. But neither has a bear taken a chief’s son.
Spirit Bear is moving amazingly fast on three legs. He is headed for the mountains. Not a surprise. My son may get cold. But bears are warm. My son has not been eaten.
We have to make camp. I am so angry that we have not caught Spirit Bear. Out of our home camp he is fair game.
We do the Bear Dance, four times. We did not bring the masks and the young men dance the women’s part and one sings the woman’s part. We made quick rough masks and costumes. The Spirits will forgive us. This is past all understanding.
What does a Spirit Bear want with my son? Four years. No one knows.
Day again. I am up before dawn praying for light, for my son, to find the Spirit Bear.
We are hot on the trail. We find that Spirit Bear did sleep and rest. My son is dropping beads. Smart boy. Each bead means that he is still alive and relatively unhurt.
We have spotted them. Spirit Bear stood and looked down at us, my son tucked against his side. My son very slowly raised his arm, so he knows.
We are approaching the peak. Everyone is tired from the climb and hungry and thirsty. Yet we keep going. No one complains.
We reach the peak and Spirit Bear and my son. We arm our spears and arrows, but my son shouts “No! Look!” We turn. We see the water. There is something in the water. It has tannish wings that are filled with wind. It is huge compared with our boats.
We turn to my son. He stands and Spirit Bear leaves, ambling down the mountain, quickly, gone. I hurry to my son, sweep him up. He starts shaking and then cries, leaning his head into me.
We turn and watch the tan winged thing, which is coming against the wind. It comes at an angle and then turns, to the opposite angle, yet still it comes. We know this is new and that there can be terror or joy, we do not know which. There will be learning, we know that.
My son falls asleep. We carry him down to water and camp. We are all singing quietly, the song of new things, fear and joy. The Shaman will welcome us when we are home, and we will prepare for the winged thing. We do not know what it will bring.
We thank the Spirit Bear for warning us, for telling us to prepare.