The street was disappearing before the girl’s eyes. A blizzard —was it snow or ash?—
was snuffing out the golden rectangles of lit windows and blotting out the world. She clambered up the drifts as they piled, layer after layer, and so was lifted up, above the roofs of buried houses. Over the ticking of the flakes and her rasping breath lay an immense silence; all other sound had been locked in.
She did not feel the cold. Everything in her was on hold, a cavern of sorrow. Other people were beyond reach, so far below. She had chosen this hollowing grief over being trapped among them. They would be carrying on regardless, carving tunnels in their new pale underworld, not letting even this great whiteout stop them from business as usual. She could picture them burrowing from house to office to shop in a steady fluorescent glare, everyone still running like clockwork, not looking ahead or around, until they consumed the last supplies, until they froze in their catacombs.
In truth, she had no idea what lay beneath her. The old skyline had become a slightly undulating field of white. She was walking on top of the world, in circles, so she thought, although it was impossible to tell how far she had wandered.
Finally the blizzard thinned, and the sun emerged like a blob of tempera stuck just above the horizon. The twilight was tinged with yellow and purple, on the edge of a great darkness. Clouds sometimes dropped light sprinkles of white, but surely the storm was past.
The world had entirely changed.
The girl looked down on what was perhaps the rim of the earth, or a bay. The shadow of the whiteplain poured over what might have been the glint of ice. Loping slowly into the glow, knowing where it was headed, went the figure of a great white bear.
Its confidence was powerful. The only living thing she could see, the bear turned and gave her a long, steady look, which even at this distance she took to be an invitation. She accepted, sliding towards it, floundering through the powder as urgently as she could, but not fast enough, and the bear vanished ahead of her into all that midnight blue along the coast.
The girl stood where the edge of the white was lapped by darkness. A berg drifted close off shore. From behind it a wooden three-masted ship slipped into view.
The awesome, unexpected sight rooted her to the spot. Evidently the lookout had spotted her—a sign of life!—and turned their course. The hull came smoothly gliding, softly creaking, until it nosed against the ice shelf at her feet. Ropes down tumbled from deck, unfurling a ladder. She climbed towards the reaching hands. They hauled her over the gunwhale into a circle of men, not shining with hope, not pioneers embarking with skills and imagination to build a new world, but a flinty gang of thieves and bandits.
At once the vessel caught the breeze and turned from shore, rasping away into the gloomy expanse. But there was no land to find. The green world had been obliterated.
What was the point of niceties at the end of the world? The crew turned on each other with random torments and ever more sadistic rites. When the captain broke open the last case of rum, the men’s eyes glowed red in the half-dark, their faces contorted by rage.
At first, the girl had been grateful to not be alone; and for confirmation, at least, that this endtime was not her private madness but a shared reality. But then, with the men gnashing at each other like rabid animals, she longed for her particular end.
And this is when the ship struck a berg. She heard a roar as the hull splintered. A geyser of water spewing stuff– buckets, chairs, hats, cups– into the air, before the sea inhaled it all back under, along with the ship.
She kept silent in a sea of screams and wails, paddling in the semi-dark, following along a silver edge perhaps of moonlight or fallen stars. Why was she not wet or shivering? Treading water, she bobbed in the shadow of the berg, glinting yellow blue as if lit from within.
The current pushed her feet against its underwater ledge. A solemn silence bloomed around her, separating her further from the struggles of the drowning men, pushing deeper into the distance their fading pat-patters, like fluttering fish.
She hauled herself up onto the berg to survey the vastness, and there on the summit, with its head on its paws, lay the great white bear, eyes closed. Its fur shimmered with an electric tinge.
All around, the ocean, if it was, lay endlessly black. She could jump back in and wait to drown, or stay here, beside the bear. Its peace was beautiful. Such beauty! If it chose to kill her, it would use one clean blow—none of the relentless bloody maiming the men had inflicted. And if it chose to eat her, there would be beauty in that, too.
She decided to curl up beside the shoulders rising and falling. She could feel the bear’s beating heart. And then she realized that the iceberg thrummed like a magnifying earpiece. Faint underneath voices were awakening below. She closed her eyes to hear them better. Louder they grew, swirling from the depths, singing arias and deep-sea songs. They were beautiful, devoid of cruelty.
And up to the surface they came, gleaming belugas and walruses and seals, a new world, rising. The northern lights blared down their green tumult, shining it into view.
The girl sat up.
Out of the distance, other bears came riding on the floes or leaping and walking. The ice crackled and slid them forward, its knobby crust like a silver tray. They gathered round into a watchful, sniffing congregation, waiting. The great bear was dreaming it all into being.
I am preoccupied with how humans can find their place again in the larger family of life, moving from disconnection, entitlement and domination, to kinship and communion. What will it take? In this period of great destruction and endings, there’s also a sense of the new emerging, a great unknown, in which none of our assumptions will apply.
In Bear’s Dream, the human communities respond to crisis by turning further inward, into deeper isolation. They are alive yet deadened, or living in a hell of their own making. While the tunnelers persist in denial, the girl chooses to be present to what is unfolding. The pirates, finding their opportunism in the usual ways thwarted, cruelly predate on each other. The girl chooses something different.
There’s a separation of realities. The terrain transforms. Words often lulls us into thinking we know and can take for granted what we have named, but in the story even familiar words like “snow” and “ice” are no longer dependable terms for shape-shifting water. Everything is in flux. The environment turns into an in-between state that gives a footing at the same time it merges into the oceanic surroundings. The fallout creates a clean slate.
For the girl, there’s also a shift into another perception of the larger context. She has a different experience of the environment that drowns the pirates. It doesn’t make her wet and cold. It’s no longer the “other” for her, but soon recognized as an active medium of creation.
The bear’s dream brings the ancestral life that arose from the oceans into the present, so the ancient lineage continues in the new. An apex predator and keystone species bridging land and sea, the Great Bear provides an orientation and holds a wide-enough view to give the new patterns of relationships that are forming a place to integrate into the emerging whole.
The story ends in the delicate transition moment. The bears are waiting for the purification to complete. We don’t know yet what they and other marine species see, and it will not be what we expect to see, or know already.
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About the Author
Greatly inspired by Thomas Berry and his work around the New Story, Chez is interested in the role of narrative in shifting our perspective and connecting us to the larger context. Bear’s Dream is one of 27 movements in Traveler (yet to be published), which weaves a journey through a change of mind. Chez holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. Metaphorical stories and symbolic consciousness are at the heart of her practice with clients for inner change and healing. (www.guidingstories.com)