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Ursa Major

Tags: nature

Greed, lust, displacement all set within the framework of a belief in the natural order of things.

Ursa Major


1
High on the iron-blue mountain where the tall trees begin to shorten and the ground is steep, cradled in a quiet bowl is an almost forgotten place. Nestling unseen, beneath one of the few remaining gnarled ash trees, shielded by the rustle of the brittle brown leaves and blanketed in deep snow there is a narrow entrance.

This entrance leads to a cave, a silent cave that nothing has visited for the longest of times. For untold years it has remained empty; the number of winters that have passed since it was last visited has drifted from the memories of all but the oldest and wisest denizens of this high, wild, place.


2
The she-bear nosed the air and discerned a thousand different scents. Her nostrils fluted rhythmically like the opening of giant bellows; her lungs drawing the air in huge unseen volume. Each breath was a reverie and in turn produced vast clouds of mist allowing her to savour her future and confirm her present.

Her black nose was made startlingly blacker by the whiteness of her flanks. The underlying structure of bone and sinew could be seen clearly through the leanness of her snout. Less white than the rest, her terrifying jaws were capable of chopping through bone. Indeed to her mighty hinged mouth, bone was as meat.

The Inuit songs tell that the white bears are fearless but this is not true; they fear hunger. It was this fear that caused her in this instant to sniff the air and decide; she knew that it was now time to move, to hunt, to kill and to eat. But this bear's fate was to live in an age in which hunger was a lesser threat.

3
It was dawn and the monochrome bay with its twin headlands riven by the ancient glacier had at last begun to freeze. The summer had been long and the winter was late. In some places the ice remained thin and in other places lay vast lagoons of open water. Occasionally snow fell but in a way that usually heralded spring.

The freezing of the arctic sea is a prevailing constant in this beautiful, unforgiving landscape. Occurring for millennia with pulsar predictability, it is the rule by which all life in this cold, spare place is governed. Its arrival brings food, shelter, protection and the opportunity for travel to everything that lives in this fragile wilderness. The whole land seems to hold its breath in anticipation, welcoming its icy grip as a mother welcomes the embrace of an estranged child.

Through this measureless land of stillness an almost indiscernible speck moved along the distant rugged shoreline of the nearer headland. The speck occasionally paused as if considering before moving on again. It advanced inexorably, sometimes completely obscured behind rocks or within the dipping contours of the frozen land, but always advancing. It was the white bear driven onward by an ancient yearning.

Oddly the movement of this God-Creature became more apparent when her camouflage was at its most effective – set against a background of pure white the pinpoint of her seal-black nose became a negative beacon rising, falling and advancing with every movement of her limbs. And it was at these times that her seemingly lumbering gait was belied; her arctic stroll was easily quick enough to keep pace with a running man.

As the bear came more closely into view she stopped and stooped to inspect the sea. More nervous of the water than the ice she stared curiously down at her reflection and pawed at it gently and then with lightning quickness she retracted her huge forelimb and flicked an arc of water as a man might flick nervously at a wasp. Without hesitation she leaped headlong from the rock and ice into the deep powder-blue sea in a motion that assumed a solid landing. A great spray was displaced but the sea had calmed long before she snorkeled.

She had relied on the kilos of fat that she had stored in the previous winter's hunting season to sustain her throughout the long summer fast – and now that the new hunting season had finally arrived she was again swimming for her life.

The air trapped within her dense pelt far beneath the guard hairs was her buoyancy and her warmth. She swam continuously and rhythmically for hours on end until at last the pack ice closed around her. She heaved herself from the water with a great effort and stood with her head bowed, dripping on the ice. This transient place was her refuge, a platform from which to watch and wait.

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