Story From Bear Country

This is the second of four pages about American Indian art and writing. Tomorrow: reprints from two notable books by Indian authors, and art by Fritz Scholder. Thursday: an interview with two novelists. You will know when you walk in bear country By the silence flowing swiftly between the juniper trees by the sundown colors of sandrock all around you.

You may smell damp earth scratched away from yucca roots You may hear snorts and growls slow and massive sounds from caves in the cliffs high above you.

It is difficult to explain how they call you All but a few who went to them left behind families

grandparents

and sons

a good life.

The problem is you will never want to return Their beauty will overcome your memory like winter sun melting ice shadows from snow And you will remain with them locked forever inside yourself

your eyes will see you

dark shaggy and thick. We can send bear priests loping after you their medicine bags bouncing against their chests Naked legs painted black bear claw necklaces rattling against their capes of blue spruce.

They will follow your trail into the narrow canyon through the blue-gray mountain sage to the clearing where you stopped to look back and saw only bear tracks behind you.

When they call faint memories will writhe around your heart and startle you with their distance. But the others will listen because bear priests sing beautiful songs They must if they are ever to call you back.

They will try to bring you step by step back to the place you stopped and found only bear prints in the sand where your feet had been. Whose voice is this? You may wonder hearing this story when after all you are alone hiking in these canyons and hills while your wife and sons are waiting back at the car for you.

But you have been listening to me for some time now from the very beginning in fact and you are alone in this canyon of stillness not even cedar birds flutter. See, the sun is going down now the sandrock is washed in its colors Don't be afraid

we love you

we've been calling you

all this time

Go ahead turn around see the shape of your footprints in the sand.

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