The Dancing Bear of my play, it’s provoked some questions, all around, perhaps even from some of you. As for me, I smile at the creative process. Still…
How ’bout dem bears?
Yes, the obvious dancing bear, whimsical as it is in fact, elusive, hard to pin down. Perhaps its power is in always being the first choice associated with “dancing bear”. The dancing bear as gifted by and to Jerry and the Grateful Dead is a natural, if square peg in a round hole, at least for this story. Yes, I have affections, perhaps more poignant with time, for Jerry and Bobby. Billy Kreutzmann too. The dancing bears on lot are compelling suspects for my Dancing Bear, and out of respect should always be honorary suspect number one. For good reason. But not this time.
The primary influence, at least in my mind as I write now concerning how I imagined my Dancing Bear, is Captain Kangaroo. I remember him well. I can see him now in my mind. And of course, Mr. Green Jeans, perhaps even more indelibly. I recall him too, and his overalls are still familiar to me. Those days on the prairie, amidst the corn and beans, in the great midwestern inland desert, settled for barely 50 years at the time by our all-consuming farm culture. And here was Mr. Green Jeans in overalls, joining us for breakfast. I was very young.
What is fuzzy in these memories is the Dancing Bear? Yet I recall, or have imagined it, this gentle creature, a short-term amnesiac for sure, always in the moment, engaged in pranks and lessons, all the while gently dancing and flowing to a mysterious rhythm. I will not look it up. I have not. Wikipedia is not for childhood memories. You can research it yourself if you insist on replacing memory with fact. Or, take it from me. Still, no matter the facts, this is the image that cast itself as my Dancing Bear. Perpetually happy, engaged and not, always lost in a moment of its own making.
There is another bear, who may be even more influential to me since those days, certainly more subtle in impact. Years ago, perhaps 2004, I ventured to Circle Stone on the Summer Solstice, say June 20, or thereabout in that part of the year as Solstices tend. Circlestone is an ancient, thousand(s) year old, indigenous, native American, Indian construction of ambiguous origin or intent, to us, ignorant Anglos. It is a circular perimeter constructed of granite blocks each the size of a coffin or so. Spokes radiating from the center are laid of similar mass. Their origin itself is a mystery, as there is plenty of granite in the area, but nothing obvious like these many red granite tombs. They are arranged in a large circle, the size of a basketball court is an approximation of their diameter. There appear to be foundations of rooms or structures within, perhaps for ceremony and ritual. It does not appear to be the scarred blight of some giga-rich millionaire’s decayed ruins.
The whole site is located on Mound Mountain, the highest point in the Superstitions at approximately 7000 feet. The actual site is the penultimate summit, a flattened sub-peak a quarter mile or so from the peak. Below, a couple miles down the trail in one direction is a stream and drainage called Pine Creek. On the opposite side is a perennial stream called Reavis Creek, each in the parlance of the conquerors. A beautiful area. Sacred.
To get there on the Solstice in the Sonoran high desert depends on a foolish persistence, which at the time I possessed in abundance. So, I journeyed 20 miles into the desert and up the steepest ascent available to 4-wheels in the late afternoon, as the searing summer light was waning, yet sufficient for my 3 or 4 mile hike before the first night’s throw-down.
There are two peaks to the south of Mound Mountain, Iron Mountain due south and Cimarron Mountain south and west. The saddle between the two, Reavis Saddle, is the gateway to the eastern Superstitions, a shoulder to the Mogollon Rim, and in my quest the essential pass to my goal of Circlestone. Sure enough, I made it to the saddle with enough light to camp. After a libation I made my bed for the night under the stars at Reavis Saddle.
In the pre-dawn I heard a scraping, shuffling, grinding noise, recurring at odd intervals. Was I not alone? Maybe other hikers are crazy enough to hike in the Sonoran Desert in June? Though, I was the only vehicle in the small lot at Reavis Trough? But getting an early start, makes sense. We will see who we will see. Ruminating on the possibilities, I drifted back to a restless sleep. The sounds persisted, I think? I wrote it off to my subconscious, intermittently alert, yet stubbornly tired. The day’s dawn was yet to light. I was sleepy.
After a bit, in a natural quiet light, I pulled myself out of my bag and began to shove my stuff in my pack. Today’s journey would be pleasant, more, it would be satisfying as a goal accomplished. Circlestone on the Summer Solstice! I was excited, grabbed an apple, began to cinch my pack, when I heard — something? Perhaps I sensed it, a presence. I turned, still hunched over my pack. You know how you do, “honey, what is it, I’m busy?”
She stood on her hind legs. I turned to face the bear. She was enormous. 7 feet at least. Makes no difference. She was gorgeous.
She stood before me. I stood before her. We faced each other head up. There she was across she stood, in our small room, in her house, these Superstitions. We admired each other, it seems for minutes, before she turned and pounced in bounds that took her powerfully away. She leaped from her rear legs, from a standing position onto her front legs and bounded up the side of Cimarron Peak. UP I say, she was bouncing up the shoulder of the Cimarron Mountain as I watched her go, as I heard her breathe, as I heard her breathe, each breath a powerful force. Each breath was a bellow transforming her magical energy nourished by her Superstitions into her being, the muscles and frame of a black bear. She was a goddess. I could hear her rhythmic breathing for 50 yards, and more, before she finally disappeared over the ridge. I was spellbound, freaked out, blissed.
I made it up to Circlestone that day. It’s a pleasant, soft duff walk through the first ponderosas you will find outside the harsh beauty of the northern Sonora. After 5 miles or so, Reavis Creek presents, burbling joyously, and there is plenty of time to take nourish of the surroundings. The giant almond is done with its bloom, but there is still some ground fall from the past year in the apple orchard. The tumbledown ranch is quiet in June. We set off for the goal, Circlestone.
An hour walk up a steep drainage east takes us past Pine Creek, a parallel drainage to Reavis Creek, each ultimately emptying into Fish Creek and then the massive drainage of the Salt River several miles to the north, and we are at the final ascent up a steep incline to the lower peak of Mound Mountain. It greets me with an eerie silence. I am haunted. What is it I sense? A cool breeze blows across. I shiver. It is June? I walk the perimeter, and gather myself beneath a Juniper, an ancient Juniper tree in the center. It has seen centuries, yet I am too nervous to relax. I intended to stay the night. Things have changed. My motive has been rendered moot, it seems as of this very moment, and the morning that has preceded. Perhaps my welcome, my quest, is behind me?
After lunch I descend back to Reavis Ranch. I retreat. A comfort zone for me, this is where I first discovered the Superstitions, since many years ago. An old apple orchard endures, planted by a farmer in the 1800’s, by the name of Reavis. A legacy to the dream of the west by those escaping the east. It is a happy place. It is still a happy place. I have discovered so much here.
That morning, Circlestone came to meet me, to welcome me personally. She opened herself to me intimately. She came to greet me. I came to see, and she let me in. She is the bear.
To see what is in front of you when you are intent on something else is a blessing, a gift too often missed. We leave it wrapped, cloaked in our blindness as we hurry to our own, more pressing goals. Our selfishness, our misguided devotion to our own plans, robs our senses of the gifts life grants freely, the serendipity of being alive.
Perhaps, keep your eyes open. Believe in your dreams. Cherish the morning light. Who knows what the day will bring? What if there is a bear there for you today? It could happen. And perhaps, she could change your life. Plan to be grateful. See what happens.