The following poem was written, along with several others, between August and October 2019. During this time, I attended a bushcraft school in an area in Northern Maine native to the Micmac and Maliseet people to learn more about primitive living skills. There we studied plants and their various medicinal, edible, and material purposes, animals and their bodies, tracks and behavior, as well as the traps to catch them, the use of basic hand tools in woodworking and metalworking, barehand navigation, weather prediction, fire making and tending, cooking over fire, keeping warm through the night by fire, canoe paddling and camping, shelter building, and more.
Having grown up in the suburbs, I found this experience was by and large the most deeply I've immersed myself in the natural world.
November 10, 2019
The Honest Bear
For four weeks now I have woken up almost every night
to the sound of animals roaming about my shelter.
My heart will race, be it the light spring of frog or the scattering of squirrel.
If even a single leaf crunches or a thin twig breaks,
a part of my brain abandons reason
and finds itself certain that these noises couldn’t possibly be
anything other than a hungry bear.
Yesterday, I took my first solo canoe trip down the river.
On a down beat between the rhythm of paddle stroke and song,
I looked up to the sky to see a cloud shaped in such a way
that it couldn’t have been mistaken as anything other than a bear.
I looked up to the sky and suddenly knew with a knowing I cannot convey,
but if I were to put my warm hands across your belly and hold them there firm and kind,
that there was some sort of great sky bear watching over me —
one which knew the paths and steps of all of the bears across the land,
their picking of berries and scratching against trees,
their loafing in the sun and their winter slumbering through dusk and dawn.
From there, up in the sky, there wasn’t a single piece of land
or paw of creature or distant horizon that this bear didn’t see.
I knew that this bear had watched continents shift
and had seen the many civilizations come and go.
I knew that it knew. That it knows.
And so I gave myself over to the Spirit of the Land.
Take from me what you will — only let me back into your circle, dear friend.
For all the fear I feel, for all the bruises and scrapes and sore muscles,
for all the discomforts of remembering what it means to be human
and of the soil and sky, nothing could be worse than the fear
of being born into this world, born out of sheer nothing,
born out of wonder and mystery greater than anything I could ever give voice to —
nothing could be worse than being born into this world and forgetting
how to live without harming creation —
how to live with creation —
how to place my mind in the wild jaws of creation —
how to remind my mind, my own jaws, my own flesh,
where my body has always been, where I come from, and where I am bound —
where I am truly at home: here, at the mercy of creation and destruction…
Since my birth, the bears have never not been roaming,
my days have never not been dwindling,
the winds have never not been howling,
and living out here in the forest changes absolutely nothing.
That Which permits my days to carry on still reigns.
So, I give thanks for my fear of the simple and honest bear;
For I have begun to put a name to the hidden
and shadowy stalking of the modern machine.
1. If you wake up in the night — or if not, when you wake up in the morning — pay attention to the sounds you hear. What do they tell you about the environment in which you're living, its relative safety or danger, its proximity to or distance from nature?
2. If you could change one thing about this environment so that you could live closer to nature, what would it be? If this change is not one you can implement now, write a poem or paint a picture that captures it, as if it is a dream you are drawing to yourself.
3. In the spirit of living with creation, try your hand at fiber-arts craft. Harvest grass, milkweed, bark, or other plants to make cordage. Simpler still: Get some yarn and picture sheep wandering through fields!
4. Cook in a way that welcomes the land into the kitchen. You might, for instance, incorporate wild edibles like dandelion greens or ordinary daisy leaves into salads. Simply being grateful for the food you eat and reflecting on its origins (or literal roots!) also brings you closer to nature.
5. Take a solo trip in nature: a walk, a canoe or kayak venture, a horse ride (which isn't entirely solo, but without other humans). Afterwards, describe the ways that you felt "at the mercy of creation and destruction."