This is a story of long ago, beyond the time that you or I or even our great-grandmothers can remember, when our ancestors were only children. The Children were small, slight, with bright eyes and quick feet. They knew the scent of the river after the thaw, they understood the speed of coyotes and the night-song of the owls. They ran hard on the open plains and padded silently in the deep forest. By day they gathered thimbleberries and by night they sang to the stars. But the Children did not sleep. Day after day they traveled, ate, danced and watched, but they saw only the existence before them, the Ordinary Reality of life. The world was too wild then, too reckless, too hungry, and the Children were too busy surviving.
As days, months, years passed, the Children grew tired. They grew lean of leg and lean of heart, worn down by the harshness of the young earth. On a late spring day, as they strode through twiggy forests thick with moss, their path led them to a narrow cleft in the mountainside. This, they thought, may be a safe place to rest so one by one, they slipped into the dark. Inside the passage widened and the Children found themselves in a warm cavern, dry and sweet smelling. The birdsong outside grew hushed and the air made their eyelids heavy. Just as the children were crouching down to sit, a voice deeper than honey rolled up from the back of the cave.
"Who is this who enters my home?"
One small girl edged forward. "It is us, the Children of the Earth, and we wish you no harm but we are so tired. Bone tired. So tired we could cry. Won't you let us rest here for the night?"
From the shadows a rustle of fur moved forward until a damp, black nose was inches from the girl's face. It breathed deep, pulling in the scent of the Children along with the secrets of their hearts. After a long moment, Bear stood up.
"Children," she began, "why do you not sleep? You wear exhaustion like sweat on skin, and your minds have not looked up from the effort of survival in far too long." The girl spoke, "Dear Bear, when ever we close our eyes, we see only darkness without end and we have no one to protect us from the beasts of the world. Please do not make us leave."
Bear softened. "Children, come close. I have long teeth and sharp claws for protecting the young. I have deep fur and a strong heartbeat to warm your skin. But most importantly, I have the secrets of the dark, the trail to follow into the Non-Ordinary World, the world where stars swim in lakes and humans fly in the night sky. Rest your heads, close your eyes, and I will sing you into the dreamtime." She spread wide her great paws and all the Children crowded close, faces nestled into her shaggy brown hide. As soon as their breathing slowed, she began to sing. Her voice rose up from the deepest roots of the mountain and echoed back from the farthest galaxy. And for the first time, the Children closed their eyes and the darkness rolled back. They flapped wings, spoke in unknown languages and understood secrets never seen before. Mysteries were manifest in images and the stars revealed themselves as family.
No one knows how long Bear sang, or how long the Children slumbered in dreamtime. But when they woke, the cavern was cool and empty. They crawled out under the night sky, calling for Bear, when a twinkle above caught their eye. Seven new stars shone out in the black and the Children saw Bear was watching out for them from high above the earth.
From that day on, the Children knew whenever the sun sank and the moon rose, they could close their eyes to the ordinariness of this reality and swim into the magic of the non-ordinary world. For Bear had bestowed the gift of dreams upon the Children, that they might always see more than meets the eye.
And that dear children, is how we became a People of the Bear.
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