Once when I was hiking in the gloaming, down from the mountain where the stars begin in the vault above. Once when I descended into the forest, and the moon rose over the glade, and the night hawks pealed against the fading light. Once when I was young and the earth still sang songs. I saw a distant light out across the meadow where it shouldn’t be. A small fire perhaps. Then I heard a quiet drum and an ancient chant and they were calling me. So I left the path in the trees and walked the grasses.
I stopped only once to pick wild raspberries in the moonlight amongst the glowing grass. They looked like they had been picked over leaving me slightly disappointed. I love the taste of wild raspberries and licking their sticky juice from my fingertips, not minding the small needle-like thorns that jab at my hands. There were still enough berries, and I thought to pick a few and offer them to whoever was in the meadow.
When I got to the glade the light had moved into the forest, or perhaps it had always been there. It seemed farther than I thought, and I was tempted turn back. To eat the raspberries held in loose in my pocket. Though I decided against it because I’d been taught that it was bad manners to show up as a guest without bringing something for the host.
I crossed the grassy field, my shadow already dancing behind me. Dancing to the tune that rose from the forest. For a moment I had the fear that I was being drawn by some evil fairy siren, but the drum and the song seemed warm enough. Though I decided I would watch from a distance before approaching.
When I got to the darkened wall of pine and birch I looked within and saw shadows dancing around the light. These were not people that I knew. They were natural dancers, and seemed filled with a joy I’d not seen among my friends. The beat of drum was soft and I wondered if the drummer was using his hands because the sound was like the breathing of the earth, like the whisper of the first morning wind and the last breeze down mountain at night. I tapped my foot but couldn’t find the beat. It changed as the song moved along, following a pattern beyond.
I tried dancing in the glade. Practicing should I be asked to join, but only felt foolish as I watched my spastic movements in the grass. Then I noticed the fireflies and they were all flickering to the changing beat. Moving toward the sound. Following them I pushed through the curtain of the trees thinking the dancers would laugh at me unless I was as earnest as a child.
As I approached, I saw the shadowed dancers and they were large but graceful in their movements. Their timing matched the broken drum beat but still seemed synchronized like nothing I’d seen before. I felt the slight shame of being a voyeur and thought for a minute I should turn around. This was private, I was not one of them. I had not been invited. What would they think, an interloper asking to join? But I felt like learning the dance.
So I approached to the edge of the light and let my eyes adjust. Although it was warm, the dancers were wearing coats and fireflies crowned their heads. The singing was low and guttural, but happy and light, and I was now sure that my presence would disturb them. So I watched and waited. Waited for what I couldn’t say, maybe a sign. Then I got anxious, and when I turned to go I stepped and cracked a branch. The music and the dancing stopped. I froze and did not breathe.
Time passed and passed again, and then the beat began, began again. Though now a heartbeat. Strong and steady. My eyes, grown used to light, then saw what I did not trust.
I counted six, no seven, with the drummer. Bears, they were. Some on their hind legs while others danced on fours. They moved slowly round the glow, which I saw now as the blazing of the fireflies. The bears were singing in a low tones that matched the softness of their drum. It was a joyous sound that I have not heard from the most revered choir. One bear looked up in my direction. He may have caught my eye, but he did not summon me. He simply nodded. Then I thought this only choreography.
Soon the music began to change, and soon, too soon, it turned. Minor chords. Choking in the throats of animals. The bears lowered their paws as the dancing slowed, and I saw the tears on their furry cheeks and felt the sadness in their hearts. The oldest bear, gray in her visage, was still singing, and her song ripped at my heart. A lament. A dirge. For the dying forests and the loss of others. For the disappearance of the marshes and the lakes. A grief for loss of home. For the cubs that are yet to come. For the changing color of the sky. She was asking why.
I had not seen these things so vividly, but I felt them now, and let my tears join theirs. Let the fireflies suckle moisture from my face. I felt the forest, and the waters, and the sky, though did not feel like dancing.
I backed quietly away and when I reached the glade, I crossed part way and lay and tried to fathom what I’d just seen.
I looked the firmament up and down as if the stars could tell. But they were silent while they fell. I felt the ground beneath me and the bones of those who had come before. I felt the grasses, they did not cradle. The moon she looked away.
Could I tell? Could I say what I had seen? No. No one would believe me. But I knew what I had seen and knew what had I felt.
I felt first joy, then sadness, anger and despair, and now the anger and despair consumed. I rose and I shouted at the stars and threw my fists upon the sky and pounded on the ground. I tore the grasses from their roots. I spat and cursed and howled. Then I took the berries from my pocket and placed them in the ground.
Then the dirge began to flow within, and I began to sing. As best I could, as long as I could stand. When I lay exhausted, I heard again, the soft beating of the drum and the breathing of the earth, and the whisper of the wind, and I rose again on my hind legs and I began to truly dance. The fireflies circled round. The moon shown down. The fight arose within and even if I failed, I knew I had no choice. I danced.
A dance of hope. A dance of war. For earth and bears, for water and the sky.
Have you heard their song? Come bring your sword and fight before we die.
Thanks for all you do.
We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking