The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Bear Mountain Man
Bear Mountain was not a particularly uncommon mountain. Like other mountains in the vicinity, Bear Mountain was green in spring, brown in autumn, and white in winter.
What made this mountain significant was its inhabitants: Black bears, the untamed kind, wild and vivacious, full of life, unlike their descendants who will be dulled from being trapped and kept in zoological gardens most of their natural lives and fed junk food by teenagers, ignoring signs, clearly stating: “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS.”
There lived other creatures on Bear mountain: deer, possums, squirrels (lots and lots of squirrels) birds, owls, and the very, very, rare, but more and more valiant in approaching the clearing near the woods during the worst days of winter, wolves. Another inhabitant of the mountain, and the sole representative of his species, was a man.
A single, solitary man.
He was built like a mountain. His arms and legs rivaled some of the bigger trees in the woods. His torso’s circumference, bulging with muscles, resembled the trunk of a redwood tree. His massive head rested upon a neck as thick as that of an ox, and was covered with grizzled hair, which he seldom trimmed, in the belief that cutting one’s hair was akin to cutting one’s spirit.
The man had no facial hair. He had spied, from the distance, wooden wagons being pulled by oxen along a path marked by deep ruts, where grass didn’t grow anymore, stopping in the nearby woods. There he’d witnessed men scraping their faces with knives, cutting off their facial hair in front of a half-moon shaped shard of glass, which hung on the side of the wagon next to a basin with water. He’d noticed how these men often drew blood as he carelessly scraped their faces. This, the mountain man knew, presented a problem when in the woods, because bears, with their very keen sense of smell, went berserk at the smell of a single drop of blood.
The mountain man had had a family at one point in his life, of course. He had not sprouted in the forest like a Wood Sprite. He had been born on the mountain during The Moon of the Popping Trees, in the same cabin, near the stream, where his father had been born, and his father’s father. His mother and father had engendered an only son. They had cut the umbilical cord with the same knife they had used to cut the cords of so many calves, or kids, when Spring brought along new life and some animals had had a hard time delivering.
They’d loved their son from the moment they had seen his eyes open, until the day they had closed their own eyes for good, just before the great migration, when both the man’s parents had perished just before the man entered his teens, the same year when many bears had been killed for the great migration. The winter, when the entire tribe had crossed the ravine, the man, a child then, had remained behind, alone, without any other human being around, he’d felt it was his destiny to remain in the land that had seen him born. There he had survived, and grown into the man he had become. He hadn’t grown up “wild,” as they would portray mountain men in a distant future, in motion pictures made by Hollywood producers to entertain the masses. He was not a “wild mountain man.” This mountain man was mild mannered, polite, and as natural in his demeanor, as a mountain breeze in the Spring.
The man was happy with his life on the mountain. It was the most endearing place on the face of the earth. A grand design he believed had been sculptured by the hands of God, a beauty difficult to describe because it was a strange mixture of God, death, beauty and madness, all ever present in the mountain, in the steam, in the woods, the animals, and in every single blade of grass swaying and bending with the mountain wind. The mountain was a boundless place of extremes: heat, cold, day, night, death, immortality, peace and beauty, heaven on earth. It was the only earth he knew, for he had not wandered off farther than the ravine, which was the boundary of his world.
The ravine was also a demarcation between his world another world, a world of ambiguities, of uncertainties, a world whose slash and burn methods of conquering was slowly encroaching into the world in which he belonged but did not own. He, the man, did not own any of the land around him. He had no paper signed by a magistrate, a lawyer, a Judge or Justice of the Peace, to legally show he was the owner of the land. The land just belonged, it had been there forever. He knew that the space on the mountain where he roamed, was where he belonged. He belonged to the land as did the animals around him.
He lived day-by-day. The man was like a seed that had sprouted from the earth and bent like the grass on the mountain, to the winds of life. His life after waking, consisted of a daily routine of foraging for food, gathering wood for his fire, and preparing for the coming winter. The two-legged and four-legged lived like relatives, they never went hungry, because there was plenty for all.
The man interacted with the animals. Some of them had grown so accustomed to his presence, they, the animals, even ate from his hand. Birds often perched on his head. The man did not care when the birds sat on his head, he knew he could easily wash their filth off his hair in the stream; the cold clear stream cut through the mountain like a garter snake, meandering through the woods, slithering and glistening, green, blue, yellow, gold, red, orange, brown, black, morphing under the changing sunlight. The stream was the source of sweet water, as well as the source of abundant fish; some of the most delectable fish the man had tasted.
When fishing, the man would kneel at the edge of the stream with legs apart and knees resting on the soft, green moss. He’d slowly bring his face close to the surface of the shimmering water, flickering with light of the morning sun made, which made his eyes water and his heart flutter. He’d pause to enjoy that feeling before picking up the net and allowing fish to jump into it. When the fish came to rest, the man would pick one up gently, lay it across the palms of his hands, like cradling a newborn, and lift it over his head towards the sky, then chant the words which his father, and his father’s father, recited. Words he had been taught to declaim whenever a living creature was sacrificed for sustenance:
“I thank you for giving your life for my sustenance.”
Following that significant moment, he’d place the fish on the soft moss at the edge of the stream, and using his very sharp knife, he’d cut the fish’s belly open with skill of a grand mother. He would then remove its innards, which he placed on a leaf next to him for the circling black birds, and scavenger animals. After removing the entrails, he’d submerge the dead fish in the waters of the very stream where it had swam for the first time, and watch as the crimson blood, mixed with the clear water of the stream, flowed again into the bosom of the earth.
At this point he’d build a small fire. He’d keep a close watch on its flames, waving the smoke away from his face with quick sideways motions of his hands. He’d learned how to start a fire from his mother, who had learned it from her mother before her, who had taught her that a fire had to be small, meager, particularly during the Thunder Moon, and the Moon of the Black Cherries, in order to prevent it from overwhelming the forest and consuming the woods.
The tender flesh of the fish had tasted particularly sweet that morning. The man was very pleased with it. He sat at the edge of the spring and ate until he was satiated. Once he’d cleaned every bone on the carcass of the fish, he’d wipe his face and hands, then lean over the edge of the spring to take a drink from its flowing water. When his chin touched the water, he saw his reflection staring back at him, he felt happy. The face on the water always looked familiar to him. It moved and shifted its shape as ripples of water touched it. He smiled at his reflection, it carried the likeness of his father as he had remembered him.
The morning sky was clear that morning. Not a single cloud to disturb it. Every now and then, a bird punctured the azure vastness with its erratic flight, navigating invisible currents of wind that travelled along the heavens like torrents of water at amazing speeds, ready to cradle and carry any being, far and wide, in its flowing current.
The man looked up to the sky and followed the flight of the birds, with his eager eyes, watching the undulating pattern of their flight, reading it like a sign. When the man looked back down, he noticed that flies, and other insects, were feeding on the remnants of his meal.
He did not disturb them.
After all the meat from the fish bones had been pecked clean, he rinsed the fish’s skull in the stream, cleaned it well, then placed it in a leather pouch he kept on his hip, and headed back to his cabin.
As he traveled down the mountain, he heard an unfamiliar sound. He stood still and turned his head away from the roar of the blowing which hampered his hearing.
He slowly turned his head from side to side. By then, the sound had dissipated and drifted away into the woods. When he sat inside his cabin, he heard the sound again. He stood up instinctively and focused his eyes on the floor boards of his cabin.He heard the faint sound again. It echoed across the mountain, past the stream, across the ravine. His eyes did not stray from the nothingness he had been staring into. He searched the recesses of his brain in other to find a match to the sound he was hearing. He was certain the sound came from an animal, a big animal, a large bear.
He was familiar with the growls from the bears in his mountain. His ears had been tuned well over the years to actually recognize if the growl came from a sow, or cub from his mountain. The man was sure the sound he was hearing was the growling of a large bear, but not from his mountain. The roar came from the distant woods at the end of the valley, from the edge of the ravine. He recognized its unmistakable tone. The growl was the unmistakable language of dominance and aggression, not of submission.
That night, the nightly sounds of the frogs, cicadas, mixed with the occasional creaking of the branches from the swaying trees, seemed less exuberant. The man lay in his bed, unable to sleep. The growling seemed a lot closer. The man was now intrigued. The muscles of his forehead contracted, creating evenly spaced furrows, as he stared at the light from the full moon outside his window. He rose, sat at the edge of his bed, resting both his hands on the wool-filled mattress, bowed his head and stared at the floor boards waiting for his mind to clear.
He closed his eyes and listened. He stared now at the moon outside his window. He remembered the time in the Moon of the Snow on the Crocus when a bear cub from a nearby mountain, had wandered into this side of the mountain. The cub’s mother and father bear had come looking, and the local bears had become defensive, prompting a kind of territorial war to occur. It had killed many a bear that April.
The man barely slept the rest of the night. When he did, he was plagued vivid nightmares, but managed to regain his composure. During one of these episodes, he abandoned his bed and walked to the window. The bars on the squarish hole of the cabin were silhouetted by the silvery light of the full moon. The man wrapped a blanket around his broad shoulders and walked slowly to the cabin door. He felt an instinctive urge to walk outside and stare at the splendor of the full moon. He felt the need to feel the chill of the cold night biting his face.
When he crossed the frame of the cabin door and stepped into into the void of the night, the familiar sound of a bear cub in distress reached his ears. The man now understood the instinctive urge that had pressed his mind and had kept him from his nightly slumber. It was the fierce and instinctive pull of blood. He’d seen the the sloth of black bears near the woods: a bull, an older bear who had survived the slaughter of the last migration, a mother and a single, solitary cub. He knew. The old bull was no match for a young Grizzly. Mother and father bear had so succumbed, and left the orphan infant to defend itself. It had meandered through the woods alone, without the benefit of a long-lived life.
Under the pale moon light, the man had caught a glimpse of the beleaguered cub, a few feet beyond the clearing of his cabin. As the man made his approach, he heard the Grizzly’s lungs, like the mighty bellows of Vulcan’s furnace, filling with its fiery breath the cool night air. The cub was the Grizzly’s solitary target.
Instinctively, as if protecting the last of his kin, and in a final act of grace, the man had come between the Grizzly and the orphan cub. He felt no pain, he heard no blow, as a terrific paw, filled with heat and brutal force, knocked him down to the ground. The blow was hard, devastating, it killed the man instantly. The man’s head lay on the ground in a mess of hair, blood, and pieces of white bone, smeared with a gooey dark substance, emanating from a gash in the skull. The deadly blow had come from the stately paw of an Ursus arctos horribilis. The same animal whose loud presence the man had heard earlier, announcing its arrival on the mountain with its grizzly growls.
The man lay dead on the soft, dark ground, his final act of grace had delivered the single solitary cub from the same savage destiny that had befallen him.
The soft silvery rays from the Moon bathed the spectacle: a Grizzly bear tearing flesh, using its voracious fangs ( fangs that future entrepreneurs would advertise as the real thing, not reproductions, and sell for $35.00 a piece for jewelry or crafts) to rip the innards from the man’s body: guts, liver, heart, in a matter of moments. Every blow from its mighty paws left a gaping gash on the man’s body from which steam was released into the cold night air. The vaporous fumes rose and meandered in the air as tiny wafting waves, as if the soul of the man’s body was being released by the ripping flesh, and was carried off by an invisible wind to the night sky.
In an instant, all that remained of the man’s body was a heap of hair, skin, muscle, and bone, resting on a large, dark patch of liquid, which glistened under the light of the pale full moon. When the Grizzly had been satiated, it licked its paws, and left.
As usual, the light from the rising sun shone in the distance, it filled the nascent morning sky with a ruby red and lavender afterglow. The mountain was gradually regaining its vigor and returning to life. Its beauty rivaled any scene, from any paradise, on any universe. It carried with it the song of chirping of birds, the buzzing of insects, the rhythmic gurgling water flowing in the nearby stream. The wind, in invisible currents, carried the scent of blood and guts, emanating from the man’s body. The smell reached every insect, every scavenger animal in the mountain announcing the death of the man.
Soon, a gathering of fauna stood outside the man’s cabin. A large black bird circling the heavens, swooped down from the ripening sky, and landed atop the carcass of the man. It stood defiantly before the gathering of animals. It lifted its head to the heavens and made several silent movements, as if thanking the man for giving up his flesh for the sustenance of every animal gathered there to feast on his flesh.
© Oswaldo Jimenez July 2014
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