The Dancing Bear in my play, it’s provoked some questions, all around, from some of you, and even from me as I smile at the creative process. So…
How bout dem bears?
Yes, the obvious dancing bear, elusive as it is in fact, paradoxically? Perhaps its power is always being the first choice associated with “dancing bear”. The dancing bear as gifted by/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, shared many times, even today, with Jerry and Bobby. Billy Kreutzmann too. These dancing bears are compelling suspects for my Dancing Bear, and will always remain suspect number one. For good reason. But not this time.
The primary influence, at least in my mind as I write now concerning my Dancing Bear, is Captain Kangaroo. Whom I remember well, I can see him now in my mind. And of course, Mr. Green Jeans too, perhaps even more indelibly. I recall him well, and the overalls were familiar to me. Those days on the prairie, amidst the corn and beans, in the great midwest, settled for barely 50 years at the time by our farm culture. And here was Mr. Green Jeans in overalls.
What is fuzzy 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 most influences my Dancing Bear. Perpetually happy, engaged and not, always in a moment of his own making.
There is another bear, who may be more influential, certainly if more subtle in impact. Years ago, ok it was 2004 or 2005, I ventured to Circle Stone on the Summer Solstice, so June 19, 20, or 21, or thereabouts in 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 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 anglo parlance. 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 at 6 or 7pm, whenever the light was down, yet sufficient to see 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 mind the essential pass to my goal of Circlestone. Sure enough, I made it to the saddle with enough light to camp. After a libation and perhaps other treats I made my bed for the night at Reavis Saddle.
In the pre-dawn I heard a scraping, shuffling, grinding noise, at odd intervals. Perhaps I was not alone? Maybe other hikers are crazy enough to hike in the Sonoran Desert in June? 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. 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 was yet to light. I was sleepy.
After a bit, in a natural quiet light, I pulled myself out of my bag, took a pee, why else do we rise, 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, the 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 away as she 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 an engine, pardon the analogy. 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 disappeared over the ridge of the shoulder. 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 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 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, the alternate drainage to Reavis Creek, both emptying into 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 Cedar, an ancient Cedar tree in the center. It has seen centuries, yet lunch is my reflex. 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, after 15 miles walking in from the north, many years ago. An old apple orchard endures, planted by a farmer in the 1800’s, by the name of Reavis. A legacy to which we fail, fail miserably to fulfill. It is a happy place. It is still a happy place. I have discovered so much here.
This morning, Circlestone came to meet me, a welcome. She opened herself to me in the most personal way possible. She came to greet me. I came to see, and she let me in. She is the bear.
I love her. Thank you Bear.