He gently laid her on the bed, pulled the covers up over her, and said, very softly, “Good night, Girl. Nothing but good dreams, okay?”
Her smile deepened, “Night, Bear. You, too.”
He padded out to his place on the rag rug, slumped down on the floor in front of the fire, heaved a deep sigh, looked into the flames for a while, then closed his eyes, and slept.
It had been a very good day.
When Girl awoke, it was twilight, and the sun hadn’t quite risen yet. She yawned, stretched, then realized how good she felt. She rolled the covers off her, then sat up, tailor fashion, and started the controlled breathing Bear had taught her yesterday…
Bear returned from his morning rounds, expecting to be greeted by Girl, sitting on the porch in her rocking chair. He was disappointed that she wasn’t there but expected to find her inside, getting her breakfast. He padded up into the cabin and looked around the great room, but still didn’t see her.
He walked quietly towards her closed bedroom door, listening. Hearing nothing, he went closer, straining to hear in order to avoid awakening her unnecessarily. Finally, he was standing just outside her door and listening. After a moment, he heard a slow, controlled exhale – and realized she must be meditating.
He turned and padded away, returning to his accustomed place on the porch, waiting.
He watched the day unfold for quite some time, then bestirred himself, and padded back into the cabin, listening outside Girl’s room. After a while, he heard the same quiet exhale, and decided he had better check to see if she was all right. He cautiously pushed her door open and padded inside.
She was seated in her nightie, tailor fashion, peace on her face, her whole being radiating calm. He hated to disturb her but wondered if she had had anything to eat.
“Girl,” he said.
She neither moved, nor indicated that she had heard.
“Girl, it’s Bear. Please come back to me.”
“Yes, Bear, for you, I’ll come back.” And she opened her eyes, which remained focussed on something that only she could see, far in the distance, then smiled. “You’re beautiful.”
“Have you had any breakfast?”
“I will, once I’m finished meditating.”
Bear considered, “What time do you think it is?”
“Why it’s not even…” and she looked out her window. “Bear, how did it get so light?”
“When did you wake up, before you started meditating?”
“It was…I’m not sure, but it was before sunrise. What time is it now?”
Bear chuckled, “It’s after ten, Girl.”
She slowly shook her head. “No, it can’t be. I only just started…”
She turned her head and looked out the window. “Ten?”
“In the morning?”
“I certainly hope so.”
She took a deep breath, and said in a very small voice, “Oh, my.”
She put her hand on her tummy. “That would explain why my tummy seems so…hollow.”
Bear chuckled again, and said, “Come on, Girl. Let’s get some food in you.”
“I hadn’t realized how hungry I was, Bear. I can’t believe I just ate all of that!”
She looked at the remains of an enormous breakfast with feelings of mild dismay.
Bear chuckled. “You needed it. Now, what would you like to do today.”
She looked at him, “Do?”
Bear chuckled again. “I seem to recall someone complaining to me that ‘just sitting’ wasn’t doing anything.”
She colored, then said, “Well…” then stopped, uncertain what to say.
“Why don’t we go look at some flowers, Girl?”
“Yes, you know…pretty things that have no purpose other than to make people happy. Like you. You make me happy.”
She colored again, but riposted, “And who says you’re a ‘people’?”
He chuckled yet again, “You did.”
She shoved her chair back and stood up, “Okay – flowers! Let’s go!” Changing the subject seemed to Girl the best way out of this.
Bear laughed, then stood up and padded out of the cabin. “Follow me.”
Sometime later, they sat on a ridge, overlooking a river valley. The valley was enormous, stretching for several kilometers in both directions that they could see, and kilometers across from one side of the valley to the other. Through it, the river wound back and forth, leaving banks of rocks and silt. Clearly, at other times, such as the Spring, it ran much faster, and vastly overflowed its current banks.
But the most stunning part of the already remarkable view was the waves of some kind of purple flower, immense quantities of it. As the wind blew through the valley, the flowers rippled, as if they were being combed by giant, invisible fingers.
“WOW!” Girl said. “Wh…what is all that?”
“That is generally called fireweed, although it has various names in various places. It grows here later in the summer. Beautiful, ain’t it?”
“Isn’t it,” Girl corrected quietly without realizing quite that she had it. Bear snorted, then chuckled.
She sank down into tailor seat and just stared at the waves of flowers waving in the continuous wind. Bear sank onto his hind haunches next to her and kept her company.
Sometime later, Girl shook herself and looked up at Bear. “This is quite mesmerizing, isn’t it?”
“Ain’t it,” Bear corrected, snickering.
She looked sharply at him, then giggled, “Ain’t it,” she agreed.
“Yes, it’s one of the benefits of the job, scenes like this.”
“Oh, Bear, there are so many beautiful things here! I can see why you like…” Girl trailed off abruptly.
Bear sighed, “It’s okay, Girl. There are compensations.
“Oh, look!” Bear called, pointing with a paw, “There’s Skrreeee!”
Girl looked up at where Bear was pointing, and at first, didn’t see the red-tailed hawk gliding overhead, then did.
“How do you know it’s your friend and not some other hawk?”
Bear pulled back and looked at her as if she had asked a foolish question – as she somehow felt she had. “Because it’s her. How do you know a girlfriend of yours in a crowd, or from a distance?”
“Well, by the shape and color of the hair on her head, or the clothes she’s wearing…wait, do you mean you can see the differences between one hawk and another – from here?”
Bear held her gaze, “Do you mean you can’t?” He sighed. “I forget how different human senses are from others’.”
Girl was thoughtful for a while, then said, “Bear, I know this is going to sound stupid, but…”
“You’re thinking I could be of great use to zoologists.”
“By…oh. I was going to say ‘talking to them,’ but that’s not going to happen, is it?”
Bear just shook his head.
Girl bit her lip, started to say something, then stopped again. Finally, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Bear.”
“For what? You’ve done nothing but good things for me.”
“I’m…I’m sorry I can’t be of more help is all.”
Bear grinned, “Except possibly for Riley…and I’m not even sure about that…you’ve done more for me than any other living human. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
Girl looked out over the vast expanse of river valley, bedecked with fireweed for a long moment, then noticed that the shadows were starting to creep over the valley. Night falls quickly in the mountains, so…
“I guess we’d better go now, Bear.” She inhaled deeply, then sighed.
“Yup, guess so. Do you want to ride?”
Girl started to say no, then changed her mind, and said, “Please.”
When she climbed onto his back, instead of riding as if he were a horse, she leaned forward and hugged his back, clinging to him.
What he didn’t see were the tears rolling down her cheeks.
When she awoke the next morning, it was to the sound of rain drumming on the roof of the cabin. She looked out at the grey day through the window and decided she must have slept in. The rain clouds above made it dark, but there was still light in the sky, which meant that she had slept later than usual.
She stretched, then turned, placed her feet on the floor, got up, and went to recycle some of last night’s water. While there, she washed her face and hands, then walked back to the bedroom.
She stopped and looked into the great room, and, as expected, the door was open, and Bear was nowhere to be seen. He often went out early to forage for food, usually coming back shortly after she was awake. She didn’t know how he managed on so little sleep. He usually put her in bed at night, and was gone when she awoke – but maybe polar bears had a different kind of metabolism than girls did.
She returned to her bedroom, picked up the digital watch she didn’t use much anymore but set the timer for twenty minutes. Then she settled herself, and began breathing and counting, as Bear had shown her. She’d learned that if she meditated without some way of marking time, she could go deep in, and have a hard time transitioning back to Real Life – whatever that was.
This time, the sound of the rain helped her scatter her thoughts, and she went deep anyway.
When the timer went off, she reached over, grabbed it, and shut it off while keeping her eyes closed. She took a long, cleansing breath, then listened to the sounds of the cabin. The rain was continuing, but she heard nothing else. That meant that either Bear was not back yet, or that he was seated out on the porch.
Regardless, she decided it was time to be up and doing. She remained in tailor position, called easy seat in yogic practice, and opened her eyes. She moved nothing else, just let her eyes remain out of focus at first, then gradually they began to fasten on specific items. The window. The chest of drawers. The doorknob. The chair.
She started to gently move her neck, rotating it, then cricking it: ear to left shoulder, ear to right shoulder. She inhaled her hands above her head, palms flat, in an upward salute, then exhaled them back to prayer position, then inhaled her hands up again, exhale down, repeating several times.
Next, she inhaled her hands up, then brought her elbows down and to her side, hands open and pulled back by her shoulders in half-angel. She repeated this several times. Then she inhaled her hands up, then twisted left, her right hand to her left knee, left hand straight back behind her, and looked as far back at the wall as she could. Then hands up, face front, twist right, left hand to right knee, right hand straight back behind her, and look as far back at the wall as she could.
She got up, then decided to do some more yoga as she was already warmed up. She changed into a t-shirt and hiking shorts, that being the closest thing she had to a yoga outfit, then paced, bare-footed, deliberately and with awareness, into the great room, centering herself on the rag rug, facing the door and cold hearth.
Inhaling up again, this time from a standing position, she went through a full sun salutation, Surya Namaskar A, three times, then continued on to other asanas.
By the time Bear ambled into the cabin, Girl was lying in Shavasana, also called corpse pose – the meditation period at the end of yoga practice. He stopped, surprised to see her lying in the center of the rug, and seemingly dead, but then saw her chest slowly rising and falling. He guessed she had been doing yoga, walked slowly over towards her, and sniffed up and down her torso, ending by exhaling through his nose over her face.
“Bear, you have no class. Can’t you see I’m meditating? And your breath still stinks.”
Bear sat on his hindquarters and chuckled deep within his chest. “Oh, you’re alive! I was thinking I wouldn’t have to hunt for a while but could feast on raw Girl!”
Her mouth twitched, but she kept her face still, then said, “You…are a louse.”
She propped herself up on one elbow and opened her eyes to look at him. “Do you seriously mean to tell me that you would eat me?”
He tilted his head to look at her askew, “Well…only if you were dead.”
She leaned forward to smack him on the nose, but he turned away to avoid it, chuckling.
She launched herself at him, tackling him and yelling “KIAI!”
But no sooner had she started grappling with him, then she jumped back and said, “Bear! You’re all wet! YUCK!”
He laughed deep in his chest, then shook himself, like a dog just out of the water, sending raindrops flying everywhere.
“OH! BEAR! STOP IT! Damn! Now I’m all wet!” She wiped her face clear of the rain expelled from his fur.
He looked at her and laughed again, looking at her, and said, “I disdain to answer. You’re always ‘all wet’.”
She paused for a moment, then launched herself at him again, hitting him in the side with a flying tackle.
He hardly moved. She weighed about 60 kilos, and he weighed over 800 kilos – more than ten times her weight. Which she knew, but she made up in ferocity what she lacked in mass – or brains. He kept laughing as she tried to push him over, which just made her madder. Which just made him laugh harder.
Finally, he allowed himself to be pushed over on his side, at which point she yelled “Aha! Now I’ve got you!” and jumped on him, trying to apply a wrestling pin on an animal massively bigger than she was.
He let her grunt and strain for a while, huffing and puffing and trying to do impossible things. Finally, he leaned up, propped himself up on one elbow, and said, “When you’re quite done…”
She collapsed, with her back on his chest, panting and puffing. “There! I guess I taught you a lesson. And don’t you forget it!”
He dropped his head back on the rug, laughed harder, and said, “Forget what?”
“Oh! BEAR!” She smacked him on the stomach with her palm, then jumped up and stomped off to the bathroom, slamming the door. A while later, she emerged, wrapped in a towel, her hair wet, and marched down the hall to her room, then slammed the door to her bedroom.
Meanwhile, the Bear went outside, and shook himself again, sneezed once, chuckled to himself, then padded back into the great room and set about making a fire in the hearth.
Sometime later, the two friends were seated in the great room by the dining table. Girl was working on a jigsaw puzzle she'd found in the back of the storeroom, and Bear was pointing out pieces she’d overlooked. His paws were too big to manipulate the pieces, so both of them were getting impatient.
Finally, she shouted at him to knock it off, she was quite capable of doing a stupid jigsaw puzzle without his help, thank you very much, and would he please go catch a fish or something?
He stalked off in a huff, grabbed the rag rug from where it was suspended between two chairs in front of the fire, and pulled it back on the floor preparatory to lying down on it again.
He lay there for a while, feeling hard-done-by, until finally, she sighed, then walked over and sat down in front of the fire, her back to his stomach, and started stroking his muzzle.
“I’m sorry I shouted at you, Bear.”
“I’m sorry you shouted at me, too, Girl.”
She chuckled, crossing her arms on her chest, and leaning back on him.
The two friends sat there, staring at the fire, and listening to the rain pounding overhead.
They were at peace, both with nature and each other – for once.
It was a lovely feeling, for both of them.