"A Midsummer Night's Dream", Alaska, bears, dams, fisheries, health, Hundred Acre Wood, lighthouse, medicine, monoculture, nature, outdoors, picnic, salmon, Sun Dance Ceremony, tree farms, wild Atlantic salmon, yoga
I woke suddenly there in the darkness, my heart pounding, my senses tumbling in confusion. The room was strange. The shuffling sound on the other side of the door was strange.
Bewildered, I sat listening in the darkness. Gradually I realized I had been sleeping inside a dream. Sleeping inside a dream.
I hesitated but a moment before I climbed from the bed and padded to the door. Cracking it open I squinted, surprised to see a bear with an old-fashioned candle-stick walking past my door. The bear wore a nightshirt, cap, and slippers, but did not seem sleepy. Indeed, it carried an over-sized illustrated edition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” tucked under its free arm.
The only sensible thing to do was to slip out the door and quietly follow this bear. Maybe there would be a snack!
The bear followed some hidden path through the Hundred Acre Wood. I followed it, trying to both study my surroundings and remain quiet. In little time I sensed others in the wood and I sensed that they were headed in the same direction. No sooner had I sensed them than I saw them – bears, bears, and more bears.
We travelled, all of us, through the wood as light pulsed slowly above us. We stepped into a clearing on the other side of which stood the lighthouse. The door was open and bears were filing in, quietly, one-by-one. A spiral staircase wound up and up to a gathering room. Even as I write this I cannot fathom how so many bears – bears! – could fit in a room at the top of a lighthouse, but fit they did.
The ‘yogi’ bear I’d seen at the picnic stood silently at a podium, watching all of us file into the room. The podium stood before what I took to be a banner of some importance to the bears (my effort to draw it from memory does not do it justice.) Two salmon swam at the center, pivoting around a symbol for a gyre. The border was a deep iridescent blue. There were moments I could have sworn those salmon were swimming.
“Thank you all for coming tonight,” the yogi bear began to speak. “Knowing what we have faced for so long, it heartens me to see your unwavering resolve. You know, each one of you, that we stand at a precipice, an abyss. Our way of life is endangered.
“The rivers and waterways we depend upon for our very life have been suffering for so many decades. If it isn’t monoculture agriculture bleeding toxins into them, it is mining operations drowning them with soil, or it is rising water temperatures altering the food cycles of marine life.
“We have all been distressed to find fish with lesions. What more lies beneath the surface?”
The room was silent, but I felt a current of assent run through the assembly.
“Our beloved salmon are distressed, but they could not be here to speak. The run-off from rivers does indeed meet the oceans, where the wild salmon run. The dense populations of salmon farms, fisheries, become breeding grounds for disease, diseases that can and do spread to the wild populations.
“Rising water temperatures are hurting them, too. We do not have the exact numbers yet but Alaskan waters have seen numerous deaths.”
The current of feeling in the room surged yet the yogi bear still spoke calmly.
“To be fair I must tell you that wild Atlantic salmon may have cause for hope as work has begun to dismantle the first of a number of dams in the northeast. They, and other fish, may soon be able to visit old haunts.
“The only thing that matters more to us than the salmon are the bees. They struggle as deforestation and monoculture tree farming reduce the habitats for birds, insects, and plant life – Bees, bears! Bees! Honey Bees!”
The bears around me grew restless and I heard a shout and a few murmurs.
“Everywhere we turn our homes and our food supply are threatened. What recourse do we have?”
Before the question could fade, the room fell expectantly silent. The bears’s attention had focused on something or someone to the yogi bear’s right. I lifted up on tip-toes and strained to see. My breath caught in my throat.
My ‘Dark Man’ stood out among all those bears – his shirt brilliant white. Stunned, I watched him bow to the yogi bear, who bid him speak. I felt the confused anticipation of the bears near me, while I felt only joy. “We dream the same dream,” my mind sang.
“Your plight is my plight. I have only my body,” he lifted his arms from his sides as he spoke, “and I pledge to devote my participation in the ancient Sun Dance ceremony, a most sacred ritual, in the quest to heal these ills.”
I could feel the emotions in the room begin to swirl more strongly and before I lost the chance to be heard I raised my arm above my head to be noticed in the crowd. Then I, too, spoke. “I will use my body as a prayer. I will dedicate my yoga practice, as this man has said, ‘in the quest to heal these ills.'”
The bears’s voices swept through the room, as the ‘Dark Man’ and I studied one another across the room.
And now I am writing this.
Barbara Butler McCoy, c. 2013