A "headache word" I used to call it whenever my mother used it as she took me out on our walks through the park near our basement apartment. In the same manner her Lakota grandmother taught her, she taught me -- with common sights. The lesson of the rooster weathervane. "Poor Mr. Rooster," she would cluck her tongue, "slave to whatever winds blow, never able to stand his ground. "Wise Mrs. Willow Tree who sinks her roots deep in good soil, standing her ground, yet bending with the wind and not snapping in two like proud and foolish Mr. Pine."
She would ruffle my hair and say, "From the willow tree you must learn autonomy." I pressed my lips together hard. I couldn't even say that "headache word," much less know what it meant. But if you wanted an untweaked nose, there were just some things better left unsaid.
We writers many times are like mimes playing to a world of the blind. Not that we are in any way better because we see beneath the surface and many others do not. We were taught to do so, by mentors or by example. But the fate of the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind is usually not a happy one. The wiser of us know that going in. The more foolish of us learn it eventually. The fate is the same.
Yet, it is the journey we must savor as artists. Enjoy telling the tale for the thrill of reaching even one soul with our efforts. Push back the darkness, if only for the moment. Touch that one hurting heart.
As in that Zen teaching tale : should we find ourselves clinging to a cliff face, bandits above shooting arrows at us, a hungry tiger waiting to feast on us should we fall, take in the crisp Spring breeze. Watch the grace of a swooping eagle in the bright blue sky. And should there be a strawberry bush growing on that cliff face, reach out and taste a strawberry, savoring its flavor with our last breaths.
I wrote THE BEAR WITH 2 SHADOWS in tribute to my mother's stories. Tales told me as I lay coughing in our basement apartment without power during that terrible winter blackout that lasted for days. In it is a story of Hibbs, the bear with two shadows, when he was but a cub. And it relates to what I've been saying :
It was the "Warming Season When The Geese Returns" in the Valley of the Shadow. Sometimes Estanatlehi would walk beside him, sometimes not. Even as a young bear, Hibbs had known that The Turquoise Woman ranged the whole wide world. But in this season of her second coming, she always returned in the flesh. It was something that Hibbs had thought would last forever. Such was the foolishness of young bears.
One morning, he had emerged from his comfortable den and wandered to the edge of the Snaking River. Sitting by its edge, he had looked down into its sparkling blue surface. He hushed in a breath.
A face appeared below him. A look of shock was on its furry face. He frowned. It frowned back. He snarled at being mocked. It snarled back.
He sat back on his haunches and laughed. The face was but a reflection of his own. He laughed again and looked down. His river-face laughed back. He stuck out a tongue. And a tongue snaked out from his reflected face. Hibbs amused himself with this game all morning.
Hibbs had finally wandered off for more exploring. But the next morning found him at the river's edge again. The wind of an approaching storm ruffled the image of himself so that he could not see it clear. His mood darkened along with the skies, and Hibbs had been in a foul mood the rest of the day.
The weather of the third morning was still bruised and dark from the storm of the day before. Hibbs' mood was equally sour. It worsened when he found his reflection was merely a shadow. The day had been ruined, along with the young cub's spirits.
The fourth day found dark clouds over Hibbs' head, but they were no darker than the cub's mood. The river-face below him was dim and angry. In a fit of temper, Hibbs hit the offending reflection with his open paw. Cold water splashed him back in the face. It was the last straw.
"Oooh, River-Face," he growled. "You're going to get yours!"
Like a rippling brook given life, icy laughter sounded behind the young cub, "Oh, Little One, you are a walking parable."
Hibbs turned around so swiftly, the water was slung from the fur of his face in a tiny rain. "GrandMother!"
The happy discovery of Estanatlehi's return masked her words from his understanding. The meaning of her words arrived a moment later, like thunder rolling after the flash of lightning. Or rather their almost-meaning. Hibbs frowned. He scratched his head.
"A walking what?"
Estanatlehi's face suddenly saddened. "A way of teaching, Hibbs."
"D-Did I just make you sad?"
Hair of living lightning became a shaking display of Northern Lights. "No, Little One. The race called Whyte did that long, long ago when they killed one who meant much to me. He loved to use parables."
"GrandMother, I - I don't understand."
Estanatlehi ruffled the soft hair atop his head gently. "You will. All too soon, you will."
She forced a smile. "But for now ... these different reflections of you that are such a torment ...."
She hesitated, and Hibbs whispered, "Yes?"
Turquoise eyes peered into his questioning brown ones, and a ripple of true happiness swam beneath the pain. "They are only different because of the wind, the rain, and the storm clouds. They are only fluff, mere changes in the external. The internal is eternal."
"I - I do not understand."
She tweaked his wrinkling nose. "You must try very, very hard to do so."
Hibbs earnestly nodded his head like a bobbing apple. "I will try. I promise."
At the sight, Estanatlehi sniffed back her tears and hugged him. "I know you will. I will help."
She stepped back, caressing his left cheek. "Reflections are but that. Reflections."
Hibbs had nodded as if he understood, which, of course, he did not. "Reflections. Yes."
Estanatlehi looked as if her heart were breaking. "Little One, did you feel pain when you slapped your river-face?"
"That is because it was not you, merely a reflection. And reflections of you will change as you meet one being after another. Reflections that change because of their surface, not your core self."
A smile born of pain and love murmured the words, "As apples have cores, so do Two-Leggeds, the seeds of who they truly are."
"S-So I have a core?"
His wrinkling nose was tweaked again. "Yes, Little One. You have a core. And if you know who you are, you will know your core. But if you do not, you will know only the reflection of yourself that others will give you. And as they change swiftly from one to the other, you will feel all the frustration and anger you just felt at your river-faces."
"So if I know who I am, I can laugh at all the not-core reflections others reflect to me, right?"
Estanatlehi's face looked near to tears as she hugged Hibbs' tiny head. "It always comes back to laughter with you, doesn't it, Little One?"
"It has to come back to something, doesn't it, GrandMother? Why not laughter?"
Estanatlehi wet eyes squinted as if she were looking far into the distance as she murmured, "I do not have the heart to answer, Little One."
I hope you enjoyed this bit of THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS. I spotted a wolf as I drove this twilight along a wilderness trail. In thanks to the Great Mystery for that, I thought I would share this with all of you :
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