The Woodland Nymph & The Bear
He came lumbering into my woods in the summer. A bear. Solstice, it was. Not long after a raging and ravaging storm that had ripped long standing trees from their roots and stolen the life of my heart’s wood. My oak. Its bone-branches were strewn in their death upon the ground and its sweet sap spilled upon the earth. I had shrouded myself in a mantle of deep grief for the death of my oak and I had wept until my eyes could barely see.
But then he came, that bear. Slow and steady. As the ground was still glistening from the rain and as the thunder still rolled out in the distant hills, he came down from his mountain. A bear with sweet, sad eyes. Reclusive. A solitary creature. His heart yearned for a different place and perhaps he was merely passing through but how could I know that? I only knew he was looking for shelter. I only knew he saw the dappling of sun beneath the canopy of my branches and longed for the comfort of shade my leaves would offer to him. Respite from the sun’s brash rays. I only knew that he saw my river glinting as it tumbled past him and he thirsted for it. And I was delighted by him. Beguiled by the soft hair upon his strong body and how the magic of the gilded sun played within his golden fur. I was enchanted by the way he seemed to be fashioned from the rocks and stones of his mountain. How he moved through the world with a steady step, all else seeming to move away in order to let him pass by. Captivated by the presence of him. By the fathomless stir of his emotions.
So I beckoned him in. For I was curious about him, that bear. Intrigued. I liked the way his eyes reflected the depths of his soul. Ancient and earthy. I liked how he looked at me and my woodland. Searching and finding. I liked how he intimately knew my ways. Daring to tread where others dared not. How to move over me. To touch me. His slow sensual exploration.
Perhaps then, it is all my own fault? Perhaps the aching sadness that has crept into the heart of my autumnal woods is of my own making? He was, after all, a bear and I should have known that he would only seek the shade of my trees for a short time. The sustenance of my fruits and the cool stirring of my waters could only ever be a transient joy to him. I could offer no cave for him to sleep within. I could offer no stone walls. Why would he stay?
But for a single perfect summer he was with me, that bear. I was cautious at first but he moved with elegance and grace. He traced the evidence of his presence upon the bark of my trees and I allowed him to. I could have stopped him, of course – for these woods belong to me – but I loved how it felt to have him there. His presence soothed me and his footsteps were gentle. He spoke soft, low and growling words to me in his own language and seemed surprised that I understood him. Under the cover of darkness we would converse for hours, my bear and I. Beneath the cover of the birch and the beech we shared our stories in a language of words and of touch that only we two could understand. We spoke of our thoughts. Whispered of dreams. A soft breath of hope exchanged from the lungs of one to the other.
So I opened up for him, my unfathomable bear. I allowed him to go deeper into my woods, to the hidden places. The secret ones. Those places that no-one else knows of and he was respectful. Reverent and gracious. Humble in his exploration for unknown treasures and for new, mysterious fruits to feast upon. Further and further he moved, into the depths where the darkness is cradled. Where beasts howl and eyes watch, where voices chitter and screech. Yet he did not seem to fear the darkness he found in those shadowy places, my steady bear. He was curious and inquiring. He merely offered soothing reassurance that he would never be afraid.
And there, past the shadows he found my most private place. My storm damaged clearing where an emptiness had settled between the carcass and bones of what once was. Here is where he chose to take his rest, my tender-hearted bear. He found beauty here and peace. Happiness and contentment. Here he would curl up with me – heavy eyed whilst the stars winked and blinked down at us from the face of the night sky. Here he would wake up with me and stretch out his great limbs, as the resplendent morning sun graced us both. Here, lost in one another’s magic is where he and I lived for three beautiful months. A season of such glorious bliss that I did not think it would end! And I grew to love him. For the emptiness of the clearing was filled with his low, growling voice and his earthy strength. The aching emptiness was now filled by him, my beloved bear. Filled to brimming with our laughter and our shared stories. The earth beneath his great paws thrummed and drummed a joyful rhythm. It made my heart sing again with auspicious song. It made the winds dance to have him with me. I once again found hope.
But seasons turn all too soon. And bears do not sleep in the woodlands, they need walls to nestle behind. Walls to keep them safe when bleak winter comes. To shelter them when storms rage and when blizzards surge. They need the security of dark, enclosed caves. And, though our two hearts had been solemnly exchanged, the pull of his nature was strong. A creature of habit and routine.
And so autumn arrived all too soon and the leaves of the birch and the beech were edged with the lace of golden threads. The morning sun grew weaker as the mists enshrouded its glow. And my bear love – my heart’s joy all summer long – turned away. He could taste the change upon the air. See the darkening upon the horizon as clouds gathered. Scent the shift of the winds. Within him grew a black restlessness. A yearning for something else, something I could not offer. A yearning to be away before the winter storms came close. So his soulful eyes glazed and their gaze fell away from mine so I could no longer see him reflected beneath. His strong back turned resolutely away from me and his softness disappeared. He stood iron-firm. And though I tried to wrap my limbs about him, to press my forehead to his softly – brow to brow – he merely sighed, my bear. Sighed and shook his great head.
No. He must leave.
Yes, he must leave the babbling waters of my river that had quenched his thirst all summer and he must leave the shaded enclosure of my woods that had embraced and cherished him. He must relinquish the summer’s dance for autumn’s quietude. He must withdraw from the heady and glorious song of the woods in favour of the silence of his mountain. And so he took off in the night, my dearest bear. Lumbering back through the trees, back past the dark and concealed places and out past my golden hued canopy. Not so graceful in his departure, he stumbled and rumbled. He blindly tore bough from tree, wrenching them away so they bled their sap upon his fur. His tread – once so graceful – now heavy and clumsy, trampling down anything in his way. His reverent care replaced by negligence in his need to be silent. To be alone. To be free.
And now he is gone.
And we shall weep, my trees and I. My creatures. My river. We shall weep the bitterest tears for, in his leaving, the emptiness feels greater than it ever has before. And we shall weep hopelessly for the end of the perfect summer’s song. The finality of its music. And we shall weep with despair for, though he was with us for only a single season, we had dreamed so many more seasons together. And I know that his low growls will always haunt this place. My woodland will always echo with his voice. His indelible marks have been made and will ever be etched deeply upon this landscape. And we will never forget him, our bear! For a nymph does not give her heart easily nor insincerely – she is not a creature of shallow whim nor of fanciful caprice. And once broken, her heart is as slow to mend as a tree is to fully grow.
But a bear needs stone walls to hide behind in the bleakness of winter and who am I, even clothed in all my grief, to change the natural order of things? Who am I but a creature of hope? And perhaps, just perhaps when the winter storms have raged and have passed he will leave the safety of his cave? And then he may follow the song upon the soft, spring breezes that dance down from his mountain, right back into my woodland glade.