The mountains seemed to be sleeping beneath a small fluff of clouds that drifted across the pale sky. Under a light blanket of snow, all seemed quiet and still. The snow was already melting as the first rays of light appeared on the Eastern horizon.
Beneath the morning star, the sun slowly began to rise above the earth. The top of the mountains turned pink from the first rays of light. As the sun inched its way ever higher, the pink upon the mountain tops slowly flowed down the blanket of snow.
When the pink hue reached the bottom of the mountain, the light it brought found its way between two large rocks and penetrated the depths of the den below. The rays of light touched two tiny bear cubs curled up against the warmth of their mother's body.
When they were first born, you could have held one of them in each of your hands; but now that they were three months old, they were almost the size of a 2 year old boy.
One was jet-black and a roly-poly ball of fluff. The other was light brown, thin and weak. His body quivered and fought in vain against the sickness that he was born with. When the first rays of light touched his weak body, they witnessed his last breath. In the great circle of life there is passing, and for some the passing comes sooner than for others. The brown cub moved within the circle sooner than did his brother.
Somehow the mother bear sensed a loss and was awakened from her sleep. When she touched her black cub, she could feel his warmth and hear the breath going in and out of him. When she touched her nose to the brown cub, she felt no warmth and heard no sounds. She gently picked him up in her mouth and ambled up between the rocks into the morning light.
The mother bear's instincts guided her down the hill away from her den. The brown cub was no longer in her mouth when she came to the ten tepees that blocked her path. The little village had not been there when she had first sought the security of her winter den. She did not like the odors brought to her on the morning breeze, but the hunger within her drove her on. She made a circle around these intruders and headed to where she knew the first berries of spring would dispel her hunger.
Down in the village the People were also eager to taste the juicy, ripe berries.
The Indian boy named Bear Paw, who was playing in the grass, thought he heard something move in the timber above, but he was young and so excited about going to the berry patch that he paid no heed.
"There you are", said Bear Paw's mother as she walked up behind him. "Here is your turtle rattle. Now climb up into the cradleboard. It is too far for you to walk. See all the other children. They are on their mother's backs too." Since he was not old enough to talk very well yet, Bear Paw just pointed his finger at the bigger children who were already starting to walk towards the river.
"When you get bigger, you can walk too" his mother said as she started towards the berry patch. "Don't drop your turtle."
The bear was already eating berries when she first heard the people approaching. She stood on her hind legs and sniffed the air. Then she dropped down on all fours and slowly moved across the river.
The older children were the first to reach the berries along the river, and they had not noticed the previous berry picker. When Bear Paw's mother reached the berries, the older children were laughing and playing and filling their mouths with succulent red berries. Bear Paw was put on the ground and it didn't take him long to get berries into his mouth.
"You stay close by", his mother said to him as he noticed the print of the bear in the earth. In his excitement, he hadn't even heard her words. Just then, Little Deer, who was just about 2 years old, came up to him. Bear Paw handed him his turtle rattle, and left to follow the bear tracks.
Bear Paw's mother was filling her basket and visiting with the other mothers. The little children were close by, and the older children were spread throughout the berry patch. Bear Paw wandered away, following the bear tracks in the earth.
It was the older children's job to make sure that none of the younger children got near the river, but they were so busy playing and eating berries that they did not notice Little Deer go down to the water's edge. He put the turtle rattle in the water to see if it would float.
The mother bear on the other side of the river heard the little boy approach. She stood on her hind legs, saw the child, and huffed through her nose. No one heard the sound except Little Deer; and when he looked across the river, he saw the bear and was frightened.
He could barely talk, but he knew what to do. Slowly, Little Deer stood up and walked backwards, away from the water. When he was out of sight of the bear, his started yelling, "Bear, Bear!"
He ran up to his mother, pointed at the river and said, "Bear, Bear!" She stood up and looked towards the water. Little Deer grabbed her hand and pulled. Then he let go and ran back to the river's edge. The older children heard him yelling and ran to see what all the commotion was about.
The bear, upon hearing all the yelling, dropped back down on all fours and put a safe distance between herself and the noisy people.
All the people were now at the river's edge and Bear Paw's mother noticed that Bear Paw was nowhere in sight. One of the older boys noticed Little Deer's single set of tracks that led down to the water. He noticed the rattle in the water caught on an overhanging branch. He was still a young boy and did not notice that the tracks were wider than they should be, and that there were too many. He only noticed that they went to the water's edge and did not return. For when Little Deer had seen the bear, he slowly stood up and walked backwards, almost exactly in his own tracks.
The older boy walked down to the water's edge over Little Deer's tracks, and pointed at the rattle in the water.
Bear Paw's mother asked Little Deer, "Where is Bear Paw? Where is Bear Paw?" Little Deer tried to point across the river at the bear, but his little finger seemed to be pointing into the water. "Bear Bear!" he said, for he was too young and excited to say much more. Bear Paw's mother wailed out a cry of grief and ran into the river. There was a very steep drop-off, and she sank into the ice cold water, almost over her head! She could not stay in the frigid water long, and the other mothers pulled her out.
All thought that Bear Paw had gone to the river and drowned. The tracks led to the water and did not return. The water dropped off very suddenly, and Bear Paw's rattle was caught on a branch a little downstream. So they ran back to the village.
The men came back and searched the water and the banks of the river, but found no sign of Bear Paw.
Bear Paw, however, continued to follow the tracks of the bear further and further from the berry patch. They were leading him to the bear's den.
The mother bear was far from her den, for all the commotion on the river had driven her even further away, but she would return!
In the den the fluffy black cub missed the warmth of his mother, and could not find his brother anywhere. He was alone.
When Bear Paw came upon the light brown cub, he was tired and sat down. He curled around the brown cub and snuggled into its fur, for it was like his furs at home and it gave him comfort.
When a lone gray wolf came across the tracks of the little boy, he could smell the bear that had been there before; but the scent of the boy was much stronger, so he followed it.
The fluffy black bear cub in the den looked out at the light coming through the opening, and crawled up to its source. When he looked out into a world that he had never seen before, he was excited and afraid. He wanted to go explore the newness of it all, but he was alone and did not dare. He just whined and whined.
Bear Paw, snuggled up against the brown cub, heard the whining and stood up. Then he started up the hill to the two rocks that seemed to be making such funny noises.
The bear cub heard the little boy approaching above the sound of his own whining, and he stopped and listened. When Bear Paw heard the whining stop, he said a few words which few people, and certainly no bear, could understand.
The black cub heard the words or sounds and ran back down into the den! The little boy crawled up to the opening and peered in. He could not see what had been making the sound, but he sure could smell the scent of bear. He was too little to be afraid; and besides, it smelled just like the cub that he had just left.
The lone gray wolf's ears had not yet picked up the sounds of the boy or the bear cub, but he was gliding through the timber with quickening steps. Just as he got to the brown cub's body, he noticed movement in the rocks ahead. He stopped, lifted his head, and howled to the four winds.
The black bear cub heard the little boy approaching; and when he sniffed the air, it not only smelled like the boy, it also smelled like his brother. He was confused and just whined. The little boy heard the whining in front of him and the wolf's howl behind him. He instinctively crawled to the soft whining sounds and away from the horrible wolf's howl outside.
When the black cub heard the cry of the wolf, he tensed up and the hair on the back of his neck bristled. He did not even notice the little boy touch him for the first time. Now both boy and cub heard the panting of the large wolf at the opening of the den! Without even realizing it, they snuggled closer together.
The wolf wanted to go in, for he could smell the cub and the boy; but the smell of the large mother bear was also very strong. He stuck his head into the opening, pawed the dirt on the den floor, and snarled. The wolf was not sure if the mother bear was inside so he withdrew and lay down near the opening in hopes that his next meal might wander out.
The boy and the cub felt warmth and security in each other's presence. Neither was afraid of the other, only of the wolf outside. The boy was very tired from his long walk from the river to the den, and the cub felt so secure with the warmth next to him, that in time both forgot about the wolf and drifted off to sleep.
When the mother bear came upon the scent of the boy, it was hardly noticed because of the much stronger and more dreaded scent of the wolf. The sun had just set when the wolf decided to go into the den, but just then he heard the mother bear's approach! Turning quickly he leaped down the hill, and was very surprised when he heard the mother bear coming after him!
Before he even had time to react, he felt her large body upon his back, and the two of them rolled to the bottom of the hill. He jumped back to his feet and braced his paws for a leap at the bear's throat. The bear was on her hind legs and swatting at the air towards the wolf. They slowly circled one another, both of their mouths showing sharp teeth and dripping with saliva!
Meanwhile, the boy and cub hardly stirred, and just slept in each other's warmth.
The wolf slowly backed away while continuing to face the angry mother bear. The bear just held her ground. When there was about twenty feet between them, the wolf turned and ran as fast as he could. The bear did not follow. She turned and walked back towards her den.
She could smell the wolf, the boy, her black cub, and it seemed like she could even smell her brown cub. She slowly crawled in. The boy, who was tired from his long walk, and the cub, who was so comforted, slept. Neither stirred as the mother bear's nose touched each of them. She knew that the smell of the little boy was strange, but it was mixed with the smell of her other cub and somehow she seemed at peace to hear the breathing of two once again. She lay down next to them and relaxed.
When the little boy awoke, he felt the great warmth given off by the large mother bear and heard the sucking sounds of the black cub nearby. When he crawled to the opening, it was dark and cold outside so he returned to the warmth of the mother bear. She nursed and cared for her cub and for the boy as if they were both her own.
Spring was passing, and when the mother bear finally led the boy and cub out of the den, they were as one family.
The boy and the cub would run and wrestle and roll in the dirt together. The cub was stronger; but the boy was more agile, could pick things up, and could even use a stick to ward off the cub's friendly attacks.
If the boy or the Cub got too rough with one another or hurt the other, the mother bear would come over and cuff the one being mean. She was a very good mother and took very good care of both of them, but both of them had to do what was expected or they were sure to get punished.
The boy learned many things. He learned to climb trees better than any other boy ever could, because each time there was a hint of danger, the mother bear would send the boy and the cub up a tree.
One bright spring day, from high atop a nearby hill, two young boys watched in amazement as the bear family frolicked in the meadow below. Then the wind changed directions and the mother bear did not like what she smelled.
"Look Red Hawk! There is a bear down there in the meadow. She has seen us and is standing on her hind legs. Do you see her?"
"I see her, Tall One, and I see her cubs in the tree behind her. Wait! One of her cubs sure doesn't look like a cub. Do you see it?"
"I see the mother bear coming towards us. Let's get out of here", Tall One replied.
For several days after that, Tall One and Red Hawk returned to the meadow to see if they could see the strange looking cub. On the third day, when they arrived at the top of the hill overlooking the meadow, they saw the bear family by a downed log.
"That looks like a boy down there."
"It looks like a boy, but it acts like a bear. See! It is eating bugs."
Just then the wind shifted and the mother bear could smell the teenage boys' scent on the breeze. She took her family and ran into the timber.
At first the men of the village did not believe Red Hawk and Tall One; but finely, they decided to send Black Elk, a tracker and warrior, to see what he could find.
"There are prints in the earth of a mother bear, a cub, and a small boy", Black Elk told the council upon his return.
"Let us send warriors to kill the bear and rescue the boy", said White Cloud.
The other warriors agreed.
"Wait!" said Morning Flower, a wise, old grandmother of the village. "This mother bear caused no harm to the boy. She even cared for him. She should not lose her life for such caring. Perhaps the child is half bear and half boy. "
"Foolish old woman. He cannot be half bear and half boy", said one of the men.
"But he could be a boy with the spirit of a bear", replied another. "Is it not true that we are all of the same family? Is it not true that we are all brothers? We should not take the life of this bear."
"We could use her meat and her warm coat for protection", said yet another.
"Enough!" said the chief. "Yes, our animal brothers and sisters give us food and clothing, but perhaps this bear has given us something more. She has cared for one of our own. If it is possible to take the boy from her without hurting her, it will be done."
"And if she fights us?" said one of the warriors.
"Then she must be killed", replied the chief.
And so it was that ten of the best warriors left the next day for the meadow below the bear's den. They carried bows and arrows, and spears and hatchets, and there were those among them that wanted to kill the bear.
When the mother bear heard them coming, she sent the boy and the cub up a tree and stood her ground. The warriors continued to approach the bear until there was only about fifty feet between them. The bear stood on her hind legs and growled and swatted at the air. Ten arrows, with points as sharp as razors, were aimed at her heart.
"My son, my son", the warriors heard a woman's voice cry out. "My son, my son", the mother yelled as she ran between the bear and the warriors that she had followed.
The mother bear held her ground, the warriors held their arrows, and the little boy up in the tree saw his real mother for the first time in a very long while.
To all those on the ground it felt as if time just stood still as the boy and the cub climbed down the tree. The boy ran to his mother's open arms and the cub ran between his own mother's legs and grabbed onto her back.
The human mother held her son in her arms and the mother bear protected her cub behind her. The warriors held deadly aim upon the heart of the bear.
In that moment of truth, two mother's eyes met and locked upon each other's. One full of tears of joy, the other full of defiant courage, and both somehow full of understanding.
Finally, the woman, holding on to her lost child, turned her back to the bear and looked at the warriors. As each warrior's eyes met the eyes of the mother, his heart soften, his weapons lowered, and his life changed forever.
The mother bear slowly dropped down on all fours, turned and walked off with her cub.
Never again would these people of the Black Mountains take the life of a bear, and from them rose a leader - a leader said to possess the wisdom of a man and the spirit and strength of a bear.