Most mornings, I am awake just before the sun rises. Once the chickens are tended to, time becomes my own, and I prefer to do my morning meditation surrounded by birdsong and trees and under the open sky. So I leave the house, and before my feet clear the first step I am taking in the day around me.
I take note of the sun, the presence of fog, which birds are active in the trees around the back yard, and whether any night wandering creature has claimed the few ripe berries from the late-blooming raspberry bush. On every level, I am aware that the wheel of the year is moving towards autumn. Spring might come roaring in like a lion, but the more stately autumn comes in quietly, walking on silent and stealthy black bear feet. Subtle changes are beginning to show in the physical world, in the energy of the land, and in the energy of the creatures who reside or pass through here.
Although there are still days of summer ahead, early mornings are dressed in the coming season’s softer colors and cooler temperatures. The harvest has shifted; tomatoes and squash are finished for the year, but corn and beans are still growing. The blueberries are long gone, but the elderberries are ripening. Some flowers are starting to die back while others are beginning to bloom, and the sunflowers are doing both. Yellow leaves flutter down from the locust tree. The wild birds are more insistent in their songs and their search for seeds among the flowers. The quality of light is becoming softer, and my early morning forays are often made more magical by mist and fog. Autumn will soon be here.
My home sits on land that is part of a commonly traveled natural bear path that has undoubtedly been in existence for many years. My neighbor black bears have been doing their best to avoid making their presence known since emerging from their dens in mid-spring. Shy and generally non-confrontational, they come and go along the path at all hours of the day and night. Were it not for the presence of game cameras, they would be all but invisible. They move through the neighborhood, doing bear business, searching for food, and occasionally taking someone’s bird feeder or improperly stored trash.
Among their numbers are two huge boars, a sow with three cubs of the year, a sow with two cubs of the year, multiple yearlings, and several two- or three-year-olds. Throughout spring and early summer, I was fortunate to see them on the game camera and to have a few distanced encounters. Since Lammas, however, there has been a marked increase in their presence.
The bear spirit moves purposefully through the time between Lammas and Mabon in measured steps that mark the slow descent into fall. An earth dweller who knows the secrets of preparing for time spent within the Great Mother’s body, the bear is a gatekeeper to the mysteries of darker days and longer nights, and is, quite literally, one of the largest living reminders of the need to move in unison with the changing seasons.
Through my personal daily practice, my spirit is becoming more attuned to bear energy, while my eyes and mind become more attuned to the synchronous changes in their physical presence. This has been helpful as I begin to make my own spiritual and physical preparations for the upcoming seasons.
Black bears in western North Carolina haven’t yet entered hyperphagia, which is an increase in feeding activity driven by the biological need to fatten up for hibernation. Still, they are becoming increasingly busy in their search for food. They wander along the bear path several times a week now, usually stopping to examine our trash bin, which they cannot access.
Shortly after Lammas, I had the opportunity to observe the sow with three cubs from a safe distance. While I normally would have felt thrilled or excited about approaching a bear for observation, I felt instead as though I was approaching a great mystery.
She was resting on the ground beneath an apple tree: two fences, a road, and 40 feet away from my own fence line. I stopped under the branches of a small tree, just as the upper branches of the apple tree began to shake. I saw a not-so-tiny black shadow figure playing on the branches. Then I saw another shadow in the same tree, and a third moving in the space between the apple tree and nearby crepe myrtle. But even my joy in seeing the cubs did not alleviate the underlying awareness of big bear energy. I was in the presence of a predator, the great mother protector, and my spirit recognized both the danger and the power.
She moved then, sat up out of the tall grass, eyes bright, mouth slightly open. I could see her snout moving as she sniffed the air. I could see her fierce teeth. She was huge, probably 300 pounds of dangerous muscle and beauty, and I could not take my eyes off her face. Her coat and the area around her eyes glistened black where the sunlight touched it, but her snout was a soft brownish-tan.
Fascinating. Gloriously beautiful. Mesmerizing.
Then she moved again, and the spell was broken. I had been so focused on her that I hadn’t heard the ruckus the cubs were making as they played. They were climbing up and then tumbling out of the apple tree, calling back and forth to each other with voices that sounded like baby goats talking. One of them would scamper off to destroy some saplings, then come bounding back to tackle a sibling.
I know she could smell and hear me, but she did not seem to think I was a threat to her cubs or to her. Had she given any indication that my presence disturbed her, I would have moved away. That is the golden rule of wildlife encounters, and I do not break that rule.
I lost track of time while watching them. What an indescribably amazing gift, to be able to observe them so clearly, but also to have an opportunity to pinpoint and define my recognition and interpretation of the energy that emanated from them. Her resting posture a reminder of the need for self-care, her connection to earth a reminder to stay grounded and focused, the casual awareness of great strength and power, the ease of solitude, the gift of quiet time. Overall, the experience granted me insight into the wholeness and healing that can be accomplished through periods of introspection.
At one point I moved, and she turned to look directly at me. Our eyes met for an instant. Two mama bears, acknowledging each other from worlds apart. For this mama bear, the mystery was deepened. I don’t believe the connection meant as much to her.
Not long after that, she stood up and stretched. Her cubs had wandered off and were squawling, and she was ready to go and find them. I watched as she ambled away, seemingly in no hurry. She was magnificent.
A few nights ago, mother and cubs were back. This time in my gardens, where the cubs wrestled around with some corn stalks, and chomped into some ears of corn. I laughed at their tumbling bodies but also shouted at them to get out of my corn. Like good bears, they scampered off and went straight up a tree. I did not see their mother but could feel her presence in the darkness.
She was doing her work, getting herself and her cubs ready for hibernation. Her presence was a reminder to me to continue to tend to my own work.
Although it is still summer, it is time to begin the preparations for the dark days of autumn and winter. In the physical world, the crops must be harvested, and the soil tended to. The pantry must be filled, and the winter crops planted. Fuel must be set up, warmer clothes taken out of storage, extra blankets cleaned and readied.
In the spiritual world, a path must be determined. Reading materials and rituals readied. Time turned inward, time in the body of the Great Mother, is never meant to be a period of dormancy. Even as one rests, there is growth and work to be accomplished.