Of Bear and Salmon

Where do the days go? Really, where??? Are they scrolled up at the edge of the world waiting for history to assess them? Have they dropped into the molten cauldron at the center of the earth or flung themselves past satellites into deep space? How is the edge of day defined anyway when your day ends before my day does? This is the kind of question I wish we asked more often because it juices my imagination, which is a useful faculty to “rev up” in these times of conundrums.

So today, earlier, before day evaporated into evening, I babysat for my 23 month old grandson.

I know I’m feeling a bit better, because I am drawn to dance a bit to the Wiggles on PBS Sprout. I begin thinking about salmon because the Wiggles are pretending to be monkeys, tigers and elephants. As we try to imitate their gestures, Don Trent Jacobs, also known as Four Arrows, floats through my mind. I met him about a month ago and I am impressed by his spirited style and inspired by his provocative ideas about education. He says it’s “high time” for us humans to remember who our real teachers are. Author of many books, Four Arrows, his daughter, also a teacher, and his not-yet-teen grandson recently wrote an article together for the journal called “Critical Education.”

I’m ashamed to say I can’t find the article itself at this moment, either hard copy or online. Drat. But I will give you the title here – maybe even offer up a quote – as soon as the article surfaces because their message is a paradigm buster. Get off our anthropocentric pedestal folks!

They call for us to remember that we learn much from our non-human companions. Our own human ancestors left us a legacy of information about our dependency on other forms of life, including the animals. Myths and rituals, stories, proverbs, artwork and songs keep this knowledge alive. Modern science could keep it alive, too, if we choose to look at the facts from the perspective of reverence, of humility.

This is not new thinking for me, but in 2002, I experienced this truth with more than my brain.  As I listened to the bear biologist while standing in an estuary, I suddenly knew myself to be a human of yesteryear – many long yesteryears ago.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal:Wayne tells us all sorts of fascinating things about bears. Their diet is just like ours: they eat the potato group ( roots), fruits and berries, leafy greens and meat, primarily salmon. He shows us a trail where for as long as one hundred years bears have placed their feet in the same spots so that their pawprints are now inches deep. As the bears walk in these footprints, they sway in an exaggerated rhythmic fashion. Sometimes the scientists know these trails lead to rubbing trees. Wayne has discovered that even slender trunks will be used for rubbing posts, especially if they have stubby little branches. He shows us a trunk of a large tree sprinkled with bear hairs of all colors and types. Here grizzly, black bear, and Kermode bear, the scientific name for the white spirit bear, co-exist.

We find a wallow too – a hollow rich in mud and water where bears roll. After the mud dries and cakes on their fur, they rub it off on their special rubbing trees which take burrs, debris and varmints along with the flaking mud. Brilliant yes?

Bears also use plants for medicine. They know which plants to eat for bellyache, worms, gout, arthritis and diarrhea. Every plant the bear eats—licorice fern, chocolate lily, angelica, cow parsnip, devil’s club, salmon berries, salal—every one was eaten for nourishment or medicinal purposes by our own ancestors. Since the bears thrived here long before we two-leggeds showed up, I can feel me long ago, hiding in the shadows to watch and learn from the bears. A great A-HA ripples through me.

No wonder cultures all over the northern hemisphere still revere the bear as powerful medicine.

Oh, one last fact I picked up from the library onboard the sailboat during that pilgrimage in 2002. Again from my journal at the time: Most of you know we portray the grizzly as a vicious human killer.  But look at these statistics I found in yet another reference book on the boat: “Between 1978 and 1994,…DOMESTIC DOGS killed more people than black AND grizzly bears combined.” ( capitalization mine.) This staggers me.

Extinct now in so many lands where once, long ago, before bears were demonized, bears inspired.

Please take that notion deep into your human animal mind and let it sift, settle and soften you.

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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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One Response to Of Bear and Salmon

  1. Well that explains your love of salmon, then. A favourite food of an animal who has captivated you for millennia. How amazing to be that in touch with a past! Thanks for this:-)

    Like

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