The day dawned clear and cool, giving the two friends a break from the hotter weather than had lived there for so many days – and reminding them that winter wasn’t that far away. It never is, in the mountains.
So, when she arose from her night’s sleep – dreamy and sensuous – she felt refreshed by the air, the sun, and felt a sense of gratitude and joy, the wonder of being alive. It was the first time she could remember in many, many years when she hadn’t woken up with an overhanging feeling of dread, and she was luxuriating in it.
She dressed, then stepped out into the great room, looking for Bear. And, as usual, he was already gone. The rug where he slept was clear, and the door outside was open, so she stepped through it, looking for him.
And was surprised to see him, sitting a ways off in the meadow, looking up. At first, she couldn’t tell what he was looking at. His head seemed to be tracking something moving very quickly in the distance, for his muzzle kept moving up and down, and from side-to-side, erratically.
But then, looking more carefully, she noticed that there were butterflies dancing about his head. Monarchs, to be precise, with their black and gold wings, dancing in the air.
And not just two or three, but seemingly dozens. Nor were they just flitting by. They seemed to be flying as close to him as they could, then veering off, flying up, then repeating, as if being near him was important to them.
He saw her, and raised a paw in greeting. “Good morning! Come and meet my friends!”
Girl thought she had ceased to be surprised by Bear, but still felt a sense of wonder at this…person…about whom she knew so little, yet to whom she owed so much.
She smiled, stepped off the porch, and walked towards him.
As she neared, the butterflies began to fly towards, then around her, as if including her in their dance. Delighted, she raised her arms as if they were wings, and started to dart and dance with them through the meadow, veering, swooping by Bear, running a hand through his fur, listening to him give that deep laugh from down in his chest. She would swoop up again and flit off, then circle around, and return, again and again.
Finally, she collapsed, laughing and breathless, by Bear’s side, leaning her head against his shoulder, panting, and happy.
When she had recovered somewhat, she looked up at him, noticing that the butterflies had dispersed somewhat, flitting off to the milkweed plants growing in the meadow, but always returning to hover close by him, or even, occasionally, landing on his head or his fur, waxing and waning their wings, then flying off again.
Bear sat through it all, a big grin on his face.
“How do you get them to do that?” Girl asked.
Bear swiveled his head towards her. “I don’t. They’re my friends, and they’re as happy to see me as I am them. They’ve come all the way from Mexico to visit me – or rather, my friends’ grandchildren or great-grandchildren have come back to visit me. It’s quite marvelous, really, and one of my happiest times of the year! I woke up this morning, and somehow knew it would be today – and am so happy you’re here to share it with me!”
Bear looked at me with a face that I now interpreted as happy, and said, “You looked quite transported yourself. I could easily have mistaken you for a Monarch!”
I leaned up and rubbed the fur around his ears, and smiled. “I felt like one. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before! I felt free, as if I could actually fly! And joyous…”
Her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Bear! How do you bring me such joy? Why do I feel so…so much me when I’m with you? I feel more at home here than I have anywhere for decades.”
She sighed and leaned more heavily against him, stroking the fur of his shoulder.
He turned to her, and smoothed his paw down her head. “Because, dear Girl, here you are free.”
He sighed in his turn, “And I’m not alone…”
He looked up at the Monarchs. “Begging your pardons, of course, my friends!” And he chuckled.
Later that evening, after a day with the butterflies, the two friends slouched against each other, eyes on the fire. Finally, Girl spoke.
“Bear…you are a marvel. Do you know that?”
There was a rumbling in his chest. “Yes.”
She grimaced and swatted him, which only increased the rumble.
She lay back against him, and found herself in a strange place.