Bear in mind

Bear Bike Women's Tee

Women’s Bear Riding Mountain Bike Tee by DarkCycleClothing via

I love it that for the past few years woodland animals have been all the rage in DIY design circles.

Some are nouveau-cutesy, others realistic, and almost always rendered in ways that instantly make you love the object — whether it’s a stuffed animal, tee shirt, print, bedding, drinking glasses, wall mounted fake taxidermy or whatever.

Very hip, very fun.

Of course, from Lascaux to Frank Lloyd Wright, artists have always found a muse in nature.

Drawing inspiration from nature

But guess what? Those woodlands (and their animals) really exist — and not just as lino cuts and iron-on transfers.

You can find these animal specimens out in that thing called “nature.”

Let me explain.

Nature is a place that’s, like, not a shopping mall, not a new urbanist walking plaza in the latest greatest Richard Florida-approved metro mecca — and not anywhere on an airplane.

It’s akin to your patio garden, but more. It’s like the great depths of the unfathomable ocean, only you don’t necessarily need to ride the Nautilus to get there.

It begins as a place when you walk outside. But as a concept it can actually be anything at all. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching tells us that

To imagine that which is man made to be unnatural is great folly.

Yet taking that saying at face value is great folly, too. Since when is anything in Eastern philosophy without paradox and contradiction? Something can be natural and yet it can still upset the harmony of things. Take for example uranium, which is best left in the ground.

But all kidding and all plumbing of the great depths of thought aside, I got to thinking about the woodland animal phenom because yesterday I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life: I saw a bear not ten feet from me.

I always love it when I see an animal in basically its own habitat. But just like almost anyone else in today’s America, in spite of the fact that I live in a rural small city flanked on all sides by woodlands, meadows, mountains, creeks, rivers, and farmland, I rarely encounter “nature” in its full expression.

Sure, we hike from time to time, and we certainly work in our garden all the time, face to face with dirt! But the wilds? Does anyone remember? Do I? Mostly through a windshield.

Da bear

So there we were, driving up Spotswood Trail in Central Virginia on our way to…yes, shopping. (Seriously, that’s as rare for us as seeing bears but it couldn’t be helped. Plow and Hearth was having their annual Big Tent Sale and we were in quest of cold frame supplies to turn our community garden into a four-season producer.)

So we’re driving up, up, up the very steep side of the mountain on a gorgeous Virginia autumn day at a full 55 miles per hour when who should come bounding down a roadside hill out of the…woodlands…but a black bear!

Boy was he cute — even cuter than on pillows and prints!

My dear hubby Erik slammed on the brakes and the bear, who appeared to be about three years old or so, stopped in his tracks in the middle of the road, turned his head full-muzzle-on right at our car, got one look at the scary monster known as a cobalt Prius, and in what amounted to about four seconds altogether, bounded up that hill back into the woods.

It all happened that fast. And we were dumbstruck.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

For about the past four or five years I’ve been seeing foxes fairly often. The first time I did was as stunning as this bear encounter.

A fox! A real live fox running aside the road, skulking through a meadow, bounding over a fence. I always saw them at twilight. They like the shadows.

Except one time this summer when we were driving to Joel Salatin’s farm to get some grub for our freezer.

Out on a twisting country road dotted with farms and fields we saw the hugest — I mean the biggest dern fox — right in the middle of the afternoon. Again we came to a full stop. And, like this bear, he (with full and furry foxy ruff and mane) gave us a straight on look before bounding off into a swale. How lucky could we get?

Now, it’s not that I ever took seeing the foxes as commonplace, or blasé. But I had seen a lot in the past few years, probably twenty.

But I had never seen a bear like this in all my life!

I once saw a skinny and bedraggled bear that I initially mistook for a German Shepherd. But the bear yesterday was glorious, full, healthy, shiny-coated, agile, big and staring me right in the face (save my protective windshield) and he was a bear...just like on TV!

No, seriously, this was so much better.

Powerful medicine

All day I obsessed about the bear and instantly hit the Internet when I got home to read animal totem lore on bears. I always do that when I’m privileged enough to see an animal in the wild (or, more commonly, on the road). I can tell you a lot about the totemic significance of red tailed hawks, woodpeckers, foxes, rabbits, turkey vultures, crows, ravens, goldfinches, racoons, skunks, possums, and turtles.

As for bears, apparently they’re powerful medicine.

Bears are intimately connected to motherhood, family values as through the mother, and protectiveness. Given that I had just had a long talk with my fifteen-year old daughter about some changed approaches we expected out of her I felt a connection to that, an affirmation that I had done the right thing in protecting and nurturing her since, for now anyway, she’s still my cub.

Bears roam by day and night, giving them a connection to the solar — strength and power — and to the lunar — intuition and insight. They’re fast, they love the nectar of life, and they can anger too easily, teaching us to be on guard in our reaction to things.

But there’s also a connection to Earth. To Mother Earth — and protecting Earth — as our mother, and as mothers.

Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and proper motion

And as for Earth, this is it. This Earth is it in terms of, well, the earthly creation on which we depend for physical survival. So we ought to know and care for this Earth.

We have to venture into nature — and bring nature into our lives — in as much expression and inclusion as we can to see and appreciate the intelligence, spirit, and dearness that is our whole, vibrant world, our Earth.

Only through encounter beyond the symbols, homages, products, and windshields can we fully respect and admire with wholeness the vast but not invulnerable animal kingdom, plant kingdom and mineral kingdom — all of which we are a part.

When we see that we can’t merely take from Earth, or simply nod to her, but we must live and move with her, revere her, treasure her, love her, then we awaken to a higher evolution in being, and one much more rich and satisfying. Not just to use Earth’s bounty, but to give back, renew, restore.

To preserve her. To care for her like a mother bear. To steward her as servants.

That is the true dominion.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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