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Friday Feature: Medicine Abroad Upon the Land

As Mother Earth falls victim to climate change, her children rise in unexpected ways.

The local paper is reporting (online) this morning an account of an alleged bear attack in a small town a couple of hours northeast of here. The incident occurred two weeks ago, and the account raises my eyebrows a bit with regard to the alleged facts (and the result, which was fatal to the bear). Still, it doesn’t come as a great surprise to either of us that a bear was roaming out in the open, allegedly unusually near human habitation. With climate change already here, all bets are off with regard to “normal” wildlife behavior.

Where we are, bears rarely show themselves; in a typical year, there are enough resources well back into the mountains that most need never emerge to look further. Those few who do tend to do so in the weeks just before winter weather’s early onset, foraging for last-minute rations to hold them through their long “hibernation” during the cold months. [I put “hibernation” in quotation marks because with bears, it’s a state that falls slightly short of a true, literal hibernation, although the world refers to it by that term.]

Still, we usually see evidence of bear scat in the early weeks of October here; once in a while, even in September (and in one memorable instance, Wings saw the bear itself, racing across the yard at seven o’clock in the morning; I caught only a glimpse of movement). Last year was different, as with so much else: We began seeing scat in August, and the winter never grew cold enough to require actual hibernation.

But a bear in the open on July 22nd tells us that something is very different indeed.

It’s interesting that I should have decided yesterday on a Friday Feature series for August devoted to bear sculptures, a day before this story came out. Unusual, insofar as I more typically feature these works during the fall and winter months, the times when they are more likely to appear, or when their spiritual aspects are most needed. But this year has taught us that we cannot depend on any of the usual patterns, and so perhaps the spirits felt that we needed some Bear Medicine now, as well.

And as an ursine specimen, this one is nothing short of spectacular. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

This enormous medicine bear by master carver Mark Swazo-Hinds (Tesuque Pueblo) is substantial enough to be displayed on a large coffee table.  A museum-quality showpiece carved of very pale sandstone in a subtle version of the traditional Southwest hump-backed style, he’s more than a foot long and extremely heavy.  He carries a complex medicine bundle crafted in Mark’s own inimitable style, of macaw and turkey feathers, pieces of turquoise, old pottery sherds, and shells, tied on with fabric to keep it secure.

Sandstone; turkey feathers; macaw feathers; pottery sherds; turquoise; shells; fabric
$2,500 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Weight and fragility require special handling; extra shipping charges apply

In our way, Bear fulfills different roles within different traditions. In some, he is Protector; in others, Medicine; in still others, both.

For the moment, I like to think of him as both, specifically in relation to his (and our) Mother Earth: a scout, an emissary, an early-warning system here to alert us to the dire intensity of our situation — and perhaps a reminder that the means to heal at least some of the harm exists. We have only to avail ourselves of it and do the work required.

Bear’s very presence now is Medicine abroad upon the land.

We should heed it.

~ Aji









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