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The Great-grandfather Bear called out into the twilight, asking for guidance and for the safe passage of his relatives. They waited through the darkness of night, listening. As the magic of dawn appeared the movement all around them was assurance that the pilgrimage was set into motion. The Great-grandfather Bear peered out through the rays of the seven stars in heaven; he knew his vision had been fulfilled. All of his relations were heading to the “Valley.” He promised they would survive the starvation winter and time of dreams, despite the presence of a ruthless murderer and abuser.

A bear named Vinnie would be the recipient of Great-grandfather Bears vast knowledge. Vinnie already held in his heart many of the secrets of Dreamtime. After all, his ancestors went back million of years. The kinship between bears and humans also began in the distant past, reflected in world wide mythology. Forty thousand years ago, cave bears were honored by humans in elaborate ceremonies. Both share many of the same characteristics, which can be seen in the bear constellation, Ursa Major. As it travels through the heavens, the bear changes from quadrupedal, running on all fours along the horizon, to bipedal, rising to its hind feet to begin its ascent back into the sky. Bear navigates in three worlds: 1) the upper world of the seven stars of Ursa Major; 2) the terrestrial surface of the earth; and 3) the womb of mother earth where they seek dreams and renewal.

Each sacred ritual that blesses the year of the bear is based on the season; Springtime heralds a new year after the seven moons of sleeping as bears emerge from earthen womb into daylight. As the earth newly awakens bears recall their ancestral skills as master foragers and herbalist. Ancient memory reminds Vinnie that bears have taught humans the secrets, mysteries, and healings of plant medicine. Many powerful plants such as bearberry, bear paw, and bear root hold “bear” as a namesake. In spring male bears roll in herbal potions to rid themselves of parasites, the fragrance of the same herb is a potent love medicine that brings in the females.

Summertime is for ceremony and fun. Bears love to climb trees, swim, and run up to 35-40 mph. Black bears like Vinnie typically live 20-25 years, reach sexual maturity at 4-7, and breed every three years. Females usually have two cubs that stay with her for 2 ½ years. Females weigh approximately 300 lbs. and males can weigh up to 750 lbs. Vinnie is truly an Elder at the age of 29. As a diurnal animal, bears eat during the day and at twilight. Bears are considered carnivores that also love their fruits and vegetables, and they help sustain mother earth by dispersing the seeds of plants back on to the earth. Bears also consume insects and larvae. Reflecting common needs and kinship bears share their berry patches, fishing holes and ecosystems with humans.

Fall is the season of feasting and remembering, though humans have bear names for clans, dances, ceremonies, constellations and medicines, there is a grave lack of respect for insuring the bears’ survival. Vinnie knows all to well that their existence is threatened by their loss of habitat and the illegal sale of bears for medicine. Vinnie remembers a time, out of fear; he would innately lay down false tracks and notoriously double back on humans to understand their true intention. Bears do remember and will transfer their knowledge about man to the next generation, and a serious warning must be passed on. The only predators of bears are humans, and while the population in North America is stable, this is not so in other parts of the world.

Winter approaches and an ancient cycle starts once more. Bears have gorged themselves on high protein foods like salmon before they go into their long slumber. Vinnie knows from experience that winter is made of miracles. It is Dreamtime, time for introspection going deep into the psyche to bring transformation. The winds come from the four directions, matched by the sounds and rhythm of the heart and breath. Somehow bears find the resources and strength for survival, even bear cubs that are born and thrive during these harsh months. It is mysterious, a true miracle.

So… Grandfather Vinnie, you have a place of honor in our hearts, as a survivor, a warrior, and a fierce protector. You have shared your wisdom without hesitation and your love unconditionally. We give thanks for your teachings of the natural world and your visions.

So… The next time you are talking to a bear in any of the three worlds in which they live, look into their eyes and they will touch your soul. Honor this kindred spirit with the noble address of Grandfather or Grandmother.

And then thank him or her for sharing the “Gift of Bear.”

Cindy Bloom

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