The Bear

Ogira had killed the bear herself, all by herself, a rare thing among her people for a woman to kill a bear at all, let alone without help…except for the dog. She had had the help of the dog, a pointy-nosed, sleek, brown thing that had been hanging around for several weeks and, for reasons known only to the dog, had chosen to follow her that morning as Ogira set out for the river. The trackers of her clan thought they knew where the bears were around this place and they assured her that she was safe to go to the river on this particular morning. In fact, they were quite encouraging, which could have had to do with Ogira’s reputation as an expert fisherwoman, in addition to being the best finder of edible fungi the clan had known in generations. Everyone marveled at her nose for mushrooms. This was the same nose that smelled the bear before she saw it, or its tracks, or heard the ruckus it was making as it broke through the brush ahead of her, seeking his own fishy breakfast. It was Ogira’s luck that the wind was coming from the north, giving her notice of the bear before it noticed her. But these winds were shifty and she knew she had very little time to choose her next action. Escape was not an option. There were no trees in this area that would keep him from her, agile climber though she was. And she could not outrun him. The harpoon her brother had fashioned for her fishing expeditions was intended for spearing river fish, not bears. Although the point was needle-sharp, the shaft would break like a blade of grass if the bear were to swat at it before it found its mark.

The dog smelled the bear also, lifting its lips in a soundless growl. Although she had never intentionally interacted with the dog, now Ogira looked the dog in the eyes and made a sweeping motion with her left arm, willing the dog to sneak around to the left. At that moment the wind shifted, just as she had known it would, and the bear caught her scent, stepping away from the river’s edge to return the way it had come. Returning, toward Ogira, whose hand signal sent the dog to the river’s edge at the very instant the bear took its first step toward the woman. Ogira gave thanks to the river, to the sky, to the grasses and the earth, to her clan and to her ancestors, and to the bear for bringing its life to her. The bear charged. Ogira launched her spear, which pierced the bear’s right eye and dug into its brain. As the bear reared up on its back feet, the dog’s teeth dug into the bear’s left ankle, ripping its Achilles tendon. By the time the bear’s head hit the ground the dog’s canines were already buried in the bear’s neck, tearing its carotid artery, spilling its life into the grass.

“Berea-oh-grawap!” Ogira yelled at the dog, ordering it off the bear in no uncertain terms. The dog cowered, its teeth bared, daring her to keep it from eating. Ogira’s eyes and the dog’s eyes remained locked as she pulled her spear from the bear’s head and pointed it at the dog, bending her arm in a throwing motion that left no doubt of her threat. The dog backed up on its haunches and laid its head down on its front paws, acknowledging her authority. Ogira used the knife in her belt that was meant for skinning fish to cut out the bear’s heart. She lifted her bloody hands to the sky, wiping some of the blood from her left hand onto the earth. She sang the guttural tones of the best song of praise she knew, a song usually reserved for the great turning of the sun twice each year, her heart was so full of gratitude for this astonishing gift of meat, fur, bone, and so much more for her and her family circle. She took four bites from the heart, one from each quarter, and threw the rest of it to the dog.

Word of Ogira’s bear kill spread from fire to fire, from clan to clan, and from generation to generation. Word of the dog’s role spread as well. Some of the clan elders were upset that Ogira had eaten from the bear’s heart, something no woman had ever done before, it wasn’t even a possibility, maybe even less of a possibility than of a woman killing a bear single-handedly.

But that was yesterday. Today it was possible for a woman to kill a bear. Today it was possible for a dog to help a human hunt and kill a bear. Today it was possible for a woman and a dog to share a bear’s heart. Today all new things were possible.

Cover photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

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