Weeks passed blissfully, as Marcus and Eva took day trips to see local pictographs, or swam in the lakes nearby. The end of the season was approaching and Marcus could feel the chill in the air. The only bit of trouble, being a small burn Eva received on one of their day trips while moving some boiling water she was using to make cocoa. Some spilled over on to her right leg. Immediately, she yelped tore off her wool slacks and ran to the lake.
Marcus was away looking for firewood, but the sound of her yelp and a splash brought him back to camp. At first he couldn’t find her. She was no where to be seen! He ran to the lake and out onto a small promontory, then climbed a rock down. He looked left and right, unable to find her. Then he shouted, “Eva! Eva!” before looking again.
He heard laughter from below him, and a splash, where Eva had fallen off of the rock. He looked down at her and started laughing too. “You look ridiculous, what happened?” he asked.
“You looked pretty funny yourself,” she said as she caught her breath. You looked like a dog who got left behind when the family leaves for church, pacing like that. Honestly, you goon… what did you think, I’d left you and swum for the opposite shore? The boat’s right there.”
“No, I heard a scream and a yelp, I got worried.”
“So you had to jump up there like Robin Hood and call my name? What good would that have done? You might have fallen in and then where would we be?” she said.
Marcus knew she was right decided not to be hasty in matters that might be an emergency in the future. “What happened Evie?”
“Act, I feel so stupid. I spilled boiling water on myself, so I tore off my slacks and jumped into the water. It’s cold by the way.”
“That’s good thinking,” he said.
“Mama didn’t raise no fools,” said Eva.
“No, and a good thing too. Come to shore and let me give it a look. They each made their way carefully to shore and Marcus helped her back on to dry land. Already a nasty blister was forming. Using Eva’s palms as a guide, they estimated her burns to be between around 6% of her body, not life threatening, but it was visibly swelling.
“Marcus, I’m going back to the water- can you get me some Aspirin and tell me a story?”
“Of course,” he said and returned to her with some aspirin and the tin cup she’d dropped when she went to the lake.
“Here,” he said as he gave it to her. “What story would you like?”
“I want one of the stories from your book,” she said.
“Okay, which one?”
“I want a story about a leaf.” She said.
“Alright,” he replied and he began.
One fine spring morning on the tip of a twig, on the foremost edge of a stately maple tree in the forest along the North Shore of Lake superior a leaf unfurled for the first time. The air was cool and crisp, and the dew sparkled quite prettily on the edge of the points of the leaf.
Despite the snow still on the branches and it tiny icicles hanging off of the tree, the leaf felt the warmth of the sun and spread as wide as it was able to drink up the life-giving light. It breathed deeply of the Carbon Dioxide from the hikers and joggers and animals below. “Today would be a very good day,” it thought as a breeze sent a rustle through it that shook the last of the snow off of it, which dropped right down on to the head of a passing squirrel.
The squirrel darted away shocked and looked around indignantly for the source of the cold and wet on its head. The breeze picked up and the giggles of the other leaves of the tree were made manifest as a sweeping susurration of arboreal sound.
“Great,” thought the leaf, “I’m awake for only thirty seconds and I have a reputation as a practical joker” The leaf made to apologize to the squirrel, but the wind died down and left it quite unable to voice any apology whatsoever.
A hearty laugh cracked into the mind of the little leaf through it’s very stem, and seemed to be coming from a crinkly and kind leaf that was withered and curled in on itself. “hehehe, that was very well done little leaf,” crackled the old leaf. “That was the best thing I’ve seen in a long time, and now I shall fly on to my rest happy and content.” And with that a breeze arose and the old leaf detached itself and landed at the base of a red pine tree across the path from the little leaf.
Over the next few days and weeks, it watched as the old leaf rejoined the earth and was subsumed by the pine tree. It watched as other leaves sprouted and unfurled and drank in the summer sun. The leaf seemed to be getting much less light these days, but he felt the joy of the sun and was nourished by the work of the other leaves higher up, just as she had supported their growth before they had spread out into the world.
In all, the leaf had a pretty good life. It was near other types of trees, all of whom had different leaves and some even had needles! The leaf did try to make friends with some of its coniferous brethren, but other than the tamarack just to its south, it found most of them to be all together too prickly.
The Red pine needles scoffed at her description of the leaf as old when she asked after it. Some of them had been around for three or even four winters! That was ancient! They were quite gruff and thought it impetuous of her to spread so quickly and flaunt so much surface area. They were kind about her color though, and pointed out loudly, so that the tamarack could hear that at least it wouldn’t go from green to orange like some conifers they could think of, dropping their needles every season like a wanton deciduous tree.
The little leaf spoke up for the poor tamarack whose branches seemed to visibly droop when this was brought up and was rebuffed by the nonsense that old needles always spout about it being “not fair to judge a maple to the same standards as a conifer” and how they were “like children and really more to be pitied.”
This kind of rhetoric is used by backward, ignorant, prickly types of any species. The sorts who believe there is only one right way to do something and don’t realize that as long as my leaf doesn’t intentionally block your access to sun, it doesn’t really matter what shape or color or height I reach.
The other poisonous view promulgated by some of the more jealous maple leaves in regard to their loftier brethren was that it was selfish of them to take so much light when other leaves weren’t as tall.
This of course was silly, in the mind of the leaf, who could see that the shade they offered created opportunities for other animals and plants, fungi and lichens who thrived in the shade and even worked with the larger trees in order to make things possible that wouldn’t otherwise.
And so, the little leave resolved to do the best it could regardless of the inane chatterings of those around her. So she spent the spring growing and reaching as best she could in the light she had, taking the resources she needed to help her tree become the best it could be. Underneath her, whole worlds passed by unseen by the leaves that would complain about not getting as much as they wanted and yet who seemed to grow and prosper in much the same way as those at the top who had the most light.
In any event, she could feel a bulging at her base and some strange diaphanous protrusions seemed to be growing beneath her. As it did, her mind seemed to echo, almost as if she was thinking two things at the same time. Over time, she got used to the echo and ceased to think too much about it. There was photosynthesis to be done and the tableau of life below her was far, far too interesting to be worrying about this growth at her base.
This didn’t go on for too long before one day around midsummer when the strange growth fell to the earth, twirling and spinning in much the same way a ballerina might pirouette from relevé to au terre. Of course the leaf knew nothing of ballet or ballerinas, but she did, she would have recognized the aptness of the comparison immediately.
The only sadness she felt at the parting was that of being alone again, as the little helicopter spin out of sight. The wind elicited a sigh from her. Of course, she was not truly alone, as there were all of her brothers and sisters on the tree. But change would soon come, and the first of those was in a sudden summer storm that blew in off the lake one day.
In that day, fully 88 of brothers and sisters were torn from their branches as winds whipped past like raiding huns, taking what the please. The howling gale was pierced by cracks of lighting and thunder ever closer and closer.
Jack pine sat nearby cackling at the hopes that it would strike one of the trees and create a fire. Jack was always the first to regrow after a fire, for his seeds only opened in the oven-like temperatures and even his sap made his branches so highly flammable that they were often used by hikers to start fires in the cold and damp of a rain storm.
All of the noise and pulling to and fro scared the poor little leaf, who just wished for the sun and hoped she would survive the storm.
After a subjective eternity, the hoot of an owl, cause the leaf to peek out at the world, where it saw the stars hung brightly twinkling in the sky as if nothing had happened. The loss of the voices of her sisters and brothers was the only proof she had, as well as some of the crabbier older needles of old red pine that had been taken to ground.
Some branches were broken she noted the next day, and entire trees knocked down over the path and soon the men with the iron claws and teeth would come and cut through them and discard them so that the trail would remain clear.
None of this offended the tree of course. The trees were dead and tossing them back into the forest would allow them to be reclaimed and help the other fungi and trees and animals to grow and become healthier. She also noted with some excitement, that some of the lost leaves had created an opportunity for some of her complaining brothers and sisters to get more light!
“How nice,” she thought. Now they will be able to have all the light they need to synthesize all they want.” What she did not expect was the complaints! Now the same leaves who complained of not having enough light were complaining that all of their hard-earned effort was going to help the leaves who were slacking off in the shade. The shade that until recently, they themselves had been living in.
The leave shook herself in a slight breeze and sighed. Some individuals seemed to be unhappy with their lot no matter what their actual circumstances were. No matter how much light they got or how much water, it was never enough.
She noted in the coming weeks and months that it was getting colder and somehow harkened to her youth on that warm spring day. After one particularly cold, rainy and windless night she awoke to find she had turned a beautiful scarlet! A breeze helpfully came by and she fluttered about, marveling at how beautiful it all was.
Some of the white pine needles huddled in their groups of five and whispered about how gaudy it looked to have red leaves. The twisted old red pines harrumphed at the indecency of it all. The tamarack too had changed colors to a beautiful orange and the leaf congratulated one particularly friendly tamarack needle on how beautiful she looked in an autumn palette. The tamarack visibly darkened in what the leaf took to be a blush.
The leaf looked around her and noted that some of the leaves seemed to be trying to hold on to the green of their youth. The passage of time would not be denied however and instead of a beautiful natural scarlet, they were rewarded with a dingy dark brown. It’s too bad really, some of them would have been quite beautiful if they hadn’t tried so hard to remain young in the face of the oncoming winter.
She heard the quaking, creaking of the leaves that reminded her of the old withered leaf she’d met on her first day in early spring. It was coming soon. She could feel it in her midribs and deep in her stem. Soon she would be away and her rest would come at last.
Work was not done however and she still did what she was able to in the dwindling light. It seemed like the light wasn’t the same sort of light you got when she was younger. Not as good for growing. The sap was different too, thinner and weaker than before. But maybe that was just old age talking. She was cold all the time now, too… so cold and *snap*
It was just a small sound, but suddenly there was silence other than the wonderful breeze that bore her away and she flew and spun and floated on one last dance. A dance that reminded her of the small helicopter that had broken off all those months and weeks ago. She passed over a small sapling that was familiar somehow and seemed to wave in the breeze, before falling at the base of the tamarack near her friend, entwined in one last embrace as each found their final rest.
“The End.” Said Eva as she stood up.
“Hey,” said Marcus, “I’m supposed to say that.”
“Yes, but I wanted to say it this time and I’m hurt, so I get to.”
Marcus smiled. “You feeling better?”
“No, but I’m feeling as good as I’m like to. Let’s get dress this wound so I can get dressed.”
They found the first aid kit with the gauze and some scissors.
Marcus looked at the sun, it was setting in the west. “It’s likely to get cold tonight, but I think we can stay warm in the tent. Though, we’ll have to be more careful about how we keep warm now with your burn.”
“Just leave it to me Sarge. I’ll make sure we don’t freeze.” She winked at him and started wrapping her leg. She winced a little, but didn’t cry or flinch. Marcus felt his heart swell a bit in pride that he’d found a woman like Eva.
“Yes doctor,” he said. He smiled at her as she’d done so. They’d played ‘doctor’ quite a bit on their day trips, though in addition to the usual metaphor, this meant practicing some of their first-aid techniques on each other to pass time when they weren’t playing cribbage, or well, playing doctor. She’d seen her mother treat burns, and even sew up the boys when they cut themselves occasionally, if it was deep enough to do something, but not deep enough to bother the doctor.”
Eva hadn’t had much of a chance to learn some of the more complicated sailing or boy scout knots or fieldcraft, her experience having been limited to the favorites her father had used on their farm, but she was interested in all of it and from some of their first outings, they’d chopped wood, built fires and explored nature around them. Her favorite had been catching butterflies, though she insisted that they release them afterward rather than put them under glass. Her reasoning was that ‘a butterfly isn’t a butterfly once it’s under glass. It’s only a thing that might have been.’ Marcus was unable to find any fault with that logic and so, they made a practice of only keeping the things they found until they’d shown each other.
That evening, they packed up camp, other than the things they absolutely needed, and cooked their dinner. Pan-fried walleye that Marcus caught and Eva cleaned. After they finished their dessert, Marcus and Eva sat under the stars and watched as the northern lights seemed to play catch with shooting stars. Sitting under the evening stars, Eva asked, “Tell me the story of the moon and sea.”
“Not tonight love, that’s too sad.”
“Fine, then tell me a happy story. Tell me the story of ‘The Bear Who Wouldn’t Hibernate’.” She said.
“Okay, Said Marcus and he began:
“Now this story is the story of the bear who wouldn’t sleep. When I say he wouldn’t sleep, I don’t mean of course that he wouldn’t take naps or sleep through the night of course. No, I mean, he wouldn’t hibernate.
This caused much worry for his poor mother bear of course, as she cared for him like she had cared for all of her previous children- Great Grizzly, Greater Kodiak and even the smaller twins Brown and Black Bears had all gotten the idea that they should spend the winter sensibly sleeping through the gales and storms and blizzards, warm and happy away from the cold.
Mother bear herself remembered a time when she would not hibernate and ranged the frozen wastes of the last ice age. A time, when man was hunted and fought back with stones tied to sticks rather than the barking sticks that could kill her children unseen while they drank water.
She snorted in disgust at the memory.
Each of her children were given one of the coats she had worn previously and would in turn be given the powers and strengths of each. She smiled to remember poor panda, who could not choose whether to take the black or the white coats and had ended up wearing both.
Kodiak and Grizzly both chose large brown coats that would serve them well during the spring salmon runs.
Black Bear chose a small coat and lived in the north and west of the Americas, eating mostly berries and seeds and honey from the bees there.
All of them though, despite the vast differences in their coats and diets had been sensible enough to sleep through the winter as a bear should.
As the young cub wandered the world with his mother, they would discuss his options, all of which included hibernation and forest and berries and fish. Finally he had enough. “No!” he cried, “I won’t go to sleep. I’ve been talking with fox and rabbit and musk ox and they all tell me the AMAZING things that go on in the winter and I want to see it for myself. I want to be a bear in the ice. I know that you have a coat for me and that’s the coat I want! I want the Isbjorn coat.”
Now, the great mother bear was saddened at this, for although all of her children were solitary (except the little mothers and their smaller cubs), she knew that if he wore the Isbjorn coat, he would be stuck to a world of permenant winter.
“Come now, little cub, surely you can find a better coat. Perhaps you will become a black blear and eat berries and sweet things all summer before your sleep!”
“I don’t want to go to sleep, and as soon as I’ve finished with my nap I shall tell you why!” And he lay down to rest his eyes a bit until the morning brought him more opportunites for hunting and foraging his food.
The next day of course, the young bear had not forgotten his wish to see the winter. And so he pestered and persuaded and pushed and prodded his poor mother until she took him to the cavern where she kept her coats. There, in the back, in a chest made of ice was a huge, white coat nearly 11 feet tall (3.35m).
“Here,” said Mother Bear, “Is the coat I wore when coldest winter covered nearly all of the earth. If you don this coat, you will forever live in winter. You won’t only see winter, you will be winter. Living forever on the frozen ice, with only short visits to the land. Is this what you want?”
The young bear gulped and paused before replying, “Do you mean it’s true? That the coat I’ve dreamt of really does exist?”
“Well young one, I don’t know if this is the coat you’ve dreamt of, but this coat does exist. However, if you eat it, you will never again know the sweetness of blueberries.”
“Yes, but I’ll see the snow.”
“If you take this coat, you will never again know the warmth of summer in the mountains far inland, the warm forests we used to travel when you were a cub.”
“Yes, but I’ll see the spirits dance as I’ve heard about so many times as we passed near to the camps of the Cree men who lived near the river.”
“But if you go, you will be far from the company of your brothers, living only on the ice, except in dire emergency!”
“But I will always know that it was you, my mother, who made this dream possible and that knowledge will help to keep me warm.”
After many more hours of questions and answers, which we do not have time to relate, finally the mother bear relented. She helped her son into the coat and watched as, just like her other children before, he grew into it before her eyes. He seemed to glow from within, amazed at his new-found size and strength and speed.
“Now quickly son, we must take another way out of the cavern,” and she took him winding through the caves until the rock gave way to ice and eventually opening on to a great sheet of ice miles and miles across.
“This,” she said sadly, “Is winter. I hope you may find enough seals and fish and other prey to eat and keep you strong.”
“Thank you mother,” he said, for even though he did not wish to hibernate, he was a polite bear who knew his manners.
“I must go now, for the ice is treacherous for any not wearing the coat you now wear and I must find my way back to the cave so your brothers and sisters and I can get some proper rest.”
And so, after parting from his mother the first Ice Bear entered the world and to this day he lives on, never sleeping longer than he must, so he can enjoy the winter air, the quiet open spaces and of course the Northern Lights.”
As he told the story, Marcus watched as the stars twinkled and the Northern Lights danced in Eva’s eyes. As he continued, she leaned her head on his shoulder and her breathing grew calm and steady. At the end of the tale, he kissed the top of her heat and cradled her in his arms as he brought her to bed without waking her. She slept soundly and didn’t wake, even when he removed her boots. Then Marcus went back out to the camp and hung the pack with the food, to minimize temptation from potential ursine invaders and returned to her. She was still asleep as he slid carefully into their bedroll sliding his arm under her head as he always did.
Marcus smiled. She had kicked kicked her burned leg out of the blanket and when he got into bed, she threw it over him, holding him tight. It was a gesture that seemed both possessive and seeing protection. He liked it every time she did it. Marcus smiled. Things were going well. He closed his eyes and he dreamed.