The Energy of the Bear
by jane davis

Published in Pumbedissa; Winter 1999. © 1999. All rights reserved. This article may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of the author.

The calmness of dusk in the lower canyon of Yosemite was broken by the waving arms and yelling of the young boy who stood in the middle of the road.

"Hey lady, hey lady! There's a bear, there's a bear!!"

Instinctively i pulled over despite the simultaneous silent voice in my head, wondering what was i going to do about it. Regardless, i grabbed my camera as i followed him across the street to stand at the edge of the darkness. There, 20 feet or so in front of us, was a big, brown bear foraging in the woods. As i stood mesmerized by the scene, i turned to say something to the boy and he was gone. i quickly looked around. Nowhere to be seen. Where did he come from? Who was he? Where were his parents?

These questions swirled around as i looked back at the bear. i was alone. The bear and i. The road was empty. No one was nearby. For a brief moment i felt transported. i felt a power almost as if i were the bear. i felt safe and calm until something snapped me back to the reality of the moment and i began to slowly retreat, working my way back to my car. All the while shaking my head in disbelief and wonderment.

"How odd," i kept thinking. "What was that all about?!"

i continued on my way trying to find the tented camp i had located to stay at for a few days. my original plan was to camp out on my own, but earlier that week my convertible top had been slashed in San Francisco and all of my camping gear was stolen. Although i had a brand new ragtop i was minus my other gear. i found the place and eventually settled in for the night.

i snuggled into the creaky iron bed and listened to the silence of Yosemite at night. i had been assigned the tent that was the farthest away from anyone, which sounded wonderful until i heard the scratching and grunting. Like Alfalfa of the Little Rascals, i sat up quickly, my eyes as wide as the full moon, trying to determine what was right there outside the canvas that separated me from it.

"A bear," i thought. "Oh my God. It's a bear!" i screamed silently. i knew i could not be afraid. Fear could not be present or the bear would sense it. i took a long, drawn breath in and as quietly and gently as i could i exhaled. All i knew was that i wanted to be awake in case the bear decided to come in and so i focused on him. i could feel him move slowly around and around my tent. Scratching, grunting or sleeping. Around and around and around. All night long. my peaceful night in Yosemite had taken a different turn than i had planned.

In the morning as the sun rose, i sensed that he had moved on. i waited until i was as positive as i could be from inside my perceived safety, and i ventured out. i was struck again by the crystal silence. i walked down the path to my car to get a jacket and as i got into the clearing i stopped dead in my tracks. i saw my new roof that looked like a slasher had paid a visit.

i looked up in the sky and said, "i can't deal with this! You're asking too much of me!"

i saw that three other cars had been vandalized with smashed windows and doors pulled off. i walked closer and closer and the closer i got the clearer it became that the bear had merely tattooed my roof! His claws did not go through. It was like he was letting me know something! But what?

"Three bear visits must mean something besides get the hell out of here today", i thought. i had met some Indians whom i knew would help me understand. "It sounds as if you were initiated into your bear totem," Henry said after i recounted the incidents. "That is the strongest of all totems. In our culture the medicine men and shamans whose totem is bear are responsible for tying the death feathers. They lead the souls from this world to the next. They prepare souls." my eyes widened as i listened to what he was telling me. Goose bumps popped out and chills reverberated throughout my body and soul. "But," i said, "i work with death row prisoners! i've walked men to their executions!! i mean..... i do that!"

"Yes?" he said with a look on his face of total understanding and wondering what was surprising to me. i was stammering and shaking my head as if it couldn't be. "It sounds as if your work is being recognized by the spirit world. Sounds like you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing."

His eyes were fixed on me as i sat quietly next to him. The same sense of peace swept thru me as when i stood at the edge of the woods. i looked at him with deference and slowly nodded my head, still thinking about his words and my experiences. He suggested that I learn how to stay close to my bear energy. To feel its power. To revel in it. To connect with it.


Not long after my meeting with Henry, i was guided, by asking people questions about bear claws, to a man who had a place where he had ceremonial skins and artifacts. "I don't know if you want to go there though," i was told. "He's very weird and he has a dog that's bitten people." i was intrigued, intimidated and curious. i also remembered that i was being guided by Bear.

The parking lot was empty except for an old, rusty truck. There was a low brick building where all the windows were painted and covered with bars. A crooked, hanging sign announced "Indian Artifacts." The door was slightly ajar.

"Hello?" i called in rather meekly. i was greeted by the loud, aggressive barking of a dog. i jumped back. "Hello?" i said louder. my heart was racing. i don't know what possessed me to open the door, but i did. The room was dark and furry from all the different skins hanging from the ceiling and walls. A bearded, overweight man sat in a chair watching me. He didn't move. His German Shepherd sat next to him. "This is quite a way to do business," i thought to myself.

"Does your dog bite?" i asked timidly. Rarely am i afraid of dogs but i was greatly stupefied by this whole scenario. The sarcastic humor with which he quickly quipped back at me put me at ease. He had an aura of power and confidence about him. i stepped into the shop and closed the door.

i told him the whole story and he listened with intense interest. He brought me into the back of the store where the bear skins hung. He told me to pick one. i spent time looking and feeling until one of them seemed to call my name.

"This one," i said as he quietly took it down and placed it on me. He placed the bear's head on top of mine and wrapped the rest of the skin around me. We stood in silence for a moment. Then a sound, a deep, gutteral, primitive moan came from some deep connection i possessed at that moment to the spirit i was told was guiding me. i looked up at him and he just smiled.

"It becomes you," he said. "May i keep it on?" i asked him."Please do." And so i spent a couple of hours swathed in the energy of the bear. i, once again, felt the same peace, protection and power come over me.

i also bought a bear claw which i gave to a friend who is a prayer beader. i knew she would know what to do with it. "You cannot drill a hole through it or you destroy it's powers," i was told. Another friend made a special medicine pouch with prayers to guide me in the prisons and on my journey.

Since then, on numerous occasions when i have gone to visit the prisons, those i am visiting comment on my necklaces and the fact that they made it past the officers. i do not hide them. The fact that one is a pouch and could easily hide something is significant. Each visit, at least one of the imprisoned men will notice and say something. Each time i smile and remember that i was told Bear would guide me and lead me and protect me.

"i don't think they see them!" i say with amazement. "That's part of the mystery and energy of the bear."

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