Only the Ancestors Bring Fire
Her nose knew this smell. The people. The men. Men. Men took the trees. Men made them hot and orange. Men would touch the trees to make them glow in the night. The trees began a new life that filled the air with haze and smoke. It filled her nose with worry. It burned. It filled her with the smell that once was just change but not now. Not now with men. Men.
Bear felt inside her mind. She felt the ancestors push her to run, launch her legs to run. But she stood in place and sniffed, pulling the spirit of the forest into her, smelling the whiffs of fire beginning. She was brave. The sun’s light came to her eyes straight from the west as it prepared to die for the night. A woodpecker laughed and drilled into the trees. Somewhere the flames were eating the trees faster than the woodpeckers. Men must be somewhere burning everything because the smoke and smell permeated the air, changed the spirit.
Change. Change. Panic. She snuffed. She jumped and stopped, turned her head trying to see but could only smell, the smell getting into her lungs, the smoke spoke terror. It whispered inside her. Run. Run or die.
She ran. She ran along the mountainside. What if the fire was coming for her? What if men wanted to trap her and shoot her? The fire would be too slow but their guns would get her, their fast fires. In a great loping sprint she lunged through the hickories and oaks. Her power would take her away from the fire wherever it was. Branches and leaves blurred by. There would be no fire for her. No fire in sight. No men. No men. No men with guns dragging deer or hauling turkeys slung over their strange flat shoulders. No dogs. No men setting the world on fire would get her. She ran.
Panting hard, she stopped and stood on her hind legs, turned and sniffed the air again. An acrid musty scent moved through her. The ancestors whispered in the leaves. We cannot run, said the trees. We knew they would come. They always come. We feel it in the air...the soil. She stood at the edge of a talus field on the ridge’s spine. Brilliant orange cinders danced in the expanding gray and white plume billowing up from the conflagration across the valley. The whole ridge-line was alight.
Men were so stupid, trying to control the fires, to try to control the trees so much. One day, the soil said, the forest will have to burn or it will give way to sickness. Bear knew men were sick and making the ancestors sick by suppressing the burning for too many generations. Cinders, the ancestors now, were high in the sky. They beckoned Bear to the top of the mountain as they danced in the waning light, mingling with the first stars.
How big was the man who made this cloud? Or perhaps an ancestor, grown angry at the men had talked with time and decided to bellow. Yes. Men had to be warned about their stupidity.
But they are ignorant and unknowing. Their existence is futile. They are unteachable, she thought. They don’t watch or listen to the ancestors because they can’t even hear them, so busy with their machines and their loudness and their restlessness. The spirits in the rising cinders were practicing the rites of rightness, performing the ritual that men had suppressed for ages because they could not broker any defiance of their rituals. Men were fundamentalists of man, worshippers of their things and themselves.
The ancestors sang a great song that sounded like the growling mate she had taken, fierce and strong, thick as an oak bow. The air and soil ancestors chanted to her now. This here was the beginning of new and terrible things.
A bear must know again. A bear must see that the men are not the fire bringers. Only the ancestors bring the fire. The more that men try to control and change, the more the ancestors will burn.
Yes. Fire lives in the trees, bushes, and grasses. It is eternity and change. The ancient bears from before men knew that the trees must become fire and smoke when the lightning hit from the storms or the air was dry. The air was drier than it had been since she was a cub, drier than the time of the ancients. Men were the dryness. Men.