adventure, Anishinaabek, beauty, black bear in Michigan, Creation, Do all bears hibernate?, Faithful Living, Forest, God, going against one's instincts, Hardiness, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Living Faithfully, National Parks, Nature, Seasons, taking risks, The Legend of Sleeping Bear, Tracks, vigil, What does it mean to go against one's nature?, when time stands still, Why do bears hibernate?, wisdom

The Bear who wasn’t Sleepy

We live in lower Michigan not too far south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm The Sleeping Bear is a 400’ silken sand dune famous for its shimmering white presence in the afternoon sun and glorious lake views of the two Manitou Islands. People love to run down it to Lake Michigan. The climb back up-not so much.  Anishinaabe (Ottawa/Ojibwe) legend has it that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a great famine in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan. When Mother Bear reached shore, she turned to watch her cubs founder and drown in the waves. The great dune marks the Mother Bear’s place of vigil, and each cub one of the Manitou Islands.   https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/kidsyouth/the-story-of-sleeping-bear.htm

And Mother Bear sleeps on. As a child here, the legend did not much resonate with me because we never had any bears in our forests. That has changed in the last several years. Mamas, cubs, and boars are now routinely spotted, and their tracks are common. Here in the northwest tip of the county, we’ve had a large boar by the name of Buttons roaming from cottage to cottage for about four years. Buttons is, most definitely NOT a sleeping bear. Around here, we like to joke about the bear who isn’t sleepy! He has a regular site visit schedule, meandering from bird feeder to bird feeder, from trash can to trash can. He may be upwards of 400 pounds. Just last month he tore through the screen on our cousins’ porch trying to get at a trash bag.

A bear that doesn’t hibernate? Is that normal? Doesn’t it go against what bears are supposed to do?  Our friend Alan, a retired DNR game warden says that hibernation is less a deep sleep than a nap, and that “boars, in particular, are not powered by the maternal instincts that drive pregnant sows to ground, often resisting slumber as long as there is ample forage- an unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.”  https://summerassembly.org/stories

Still, I find myself ruminating on what makes anyone go against their better instincts. Why do we go against our own nature sometimes to take risks, to do something totally out of character, to fly in the face of everything that’s been done before?

In my late thirties I left a good, fulfilling, and secure job to accept a temporary two-year post as a college professor. People thought I had lost my mind. But for me, there was an inner nudge, a very small, still voice saying, “Go ahead and try it out-you will like it!” And I never looked back, having jumped impulsively with both feet into an unsecure and unsure situation. I was the bear who refused to sleep.

Now, sometimes we need the respite and the dormancy. We need to give ourselves permission to enter a temporary torpor that we might recover from a particularly stressful season in life. The pandemic was a hibernation of sorts, where entire populations joined the turtle, frog, skunk, and groundhog in a metaphorical winter of forced inactivity. But now, maybe it’s time to rise up, snuffle around for some goodies, and get busy not sleeping-more like the energetic chickadee and the lumbering Buttons the bear than the sleeping bees and bats. Happy lumbering!

Thanks for reading along! If you click on the BLUE FOLLOW button (top and bottom of site) you will automatically receive blog posts by email. I truly wish for my writing to be easily and freely accessible for any who can use the encouragement. 

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

Send me a note at jpraywalton.writing.com

Buttons the bear
adventure, Anishinaabek, canoeing, Lake Michigan, Outdoor Adventures, Uncategorized, War

Mishigami

For the last 18 years, the Walton brothers have taken to Lake Michigan in their canoes every July 4, paddling south into Frankfort to watch the fireworks from just outside the breakwater. Tonight, as I watch them paddle by, I have just finished reading Robert Downes’ book Windigo Moon, a novel about the Anishinaabek peoples of the northeastern shores of Mishigami (Lake Michigan), and I find I am thinking of the native peoples who hunted and paddled up and down along this coast.  What was it like to stand on this high dune and see raiding warriors from the Fox tribes of Wisconsin coming across these waters, or white traders coming up from the south to trade iron pots and diphtheria for mink and beaver?

Just now, there’s a storm moving straight north through the middle of the lake with low growls of thunder that cannot match the hostile booms soon coming on the tail of darkness.

Four mute swans flee north, bellies skimming the wave tops. They’ve skittered out of the bay as the crowds and noises swell. Like me, they have a distinct distaste for the warlike cacophony of fireworks.  Not even the Sleeping Bear can sleep tonight.

What would the ancients have thought of all this drumming without any drums? All this whooping without any dancing? All this firing without any fire? So many stars so low to the ground all along the shores of their beloved Mishigami?

I look down. My lifetime love paddles past with a wave. I can sense his delight in both the paddling and the pageantry even from way up here.  I am glad, tonight, for the freedom to celebrate this land that we call ours, even though it isn’t. Like our ancient brothers and sisters of the Anishinaabek, we are just passing through.

~J.A.P.Walton