The Bear and the Garden
“Nu plânge micutule
Nu plânge micutule
Ursul danseze pentru tine
Ursul danseze pentru tine!”
(Don’t cry little one
Don't cry little one
The Bear is coming to dance for you
The Bear is coming to dance for you!”
(Romanian Winter Solstice Song)
The bear was watching us from the forest behind the garden. He came close to the garden once or twice, thinking: wild! What garden? Wild! Or at least do these dudes got raspberries? I want a wild ride in the raspberry bushes! Break down that fence and feast on what’s best out there! Our small garden harvest, protected by a loose fence, made it to table salads and herbs jars! We went through:
making a big fire under the stars to burn the dead roots,
watching the smoke carried by the wind,
mixing the soil with compost,
planting the new seeds,
checking what grows (nothing?),
watching our steps around the seeds beds,
cheering the sprouts,
wondering if the old fence can keep away the squirrels and the deer,
placing an old hat on a stick near the owl to scare the birds,
enjoying, oh, enjoying to watch the sprouts getting bigger,
hoping for rain,
hoping for sun,
cheering each budding fruit on a branch,
smelling and touching the new life,
watering the garden under the moonlight,
and wondering what happened to the beets or the sunflower seeds,
harvesting what the earth and the sky gifted us:
strawberries, lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme and basil and, in the middle of the garden, one fragrant shy to open red rose!
the raspberry bush dried.
but we’ve got blueberries!
and lilies, Black Eyed Suzies and milkweed for the bees and monarch butterflies delight!
We’ve brought them all to the kitchen
and drying the herbs and storing seeds in paper bags!
our souls moving in the rhythm of the garden,
of the bees, of the butterflies, of the sun, of the moon
and of the bear.
The bear was watching us from the forest behind the garden...
Yes, we were well aware that all this time the bear was watching us from the forest behind the garden. We’ve sensed it with our hunter’s sense. A domesticated ear cannot hear the bear. We take the freedom to keep a bear particle within ourselves. Although we do love to garden, as expression of alchemizing the sun, the water, the soil and the wind elements, that match and feed our bodies and souls, there is a primordial substance that cannot be harnessed by the self of the gardener. That part of our soul involves sniffing. Tracking. Making eye contact with the prey. Hunting out of necessity. This past season, my Wild side has been hunting and feasting on nettles, dandelions, wild carrots, wild bay leaves, elderflowers, ginkgo nuts, back walnuts and mushrooms. I found them in forests and in “unkept” areas around the house, and foraging them felt different than harvesting the garden. I felt a lavish joy pulling those nettles while they were stinging me, knowing that what grows from seeds and spores carried by the wind makes our bodies heal much faster than the garden herbs. The Hunter in us needs to live on and cohabitate with the Gardener. Over thousands of years of adaptation, the wild plants developed secondary metabolites that protect the integrity of the plant from predators, like insects and animals. Therefore, a cup of wild herbs tea is a much more potent healer than a garden salad. While the garden is essential for survival and our sense of belonging, The tastiness of the garden vegetables does not repel the toxic microorganisms thriving in the environment of a diseased human body, while most plants that grow in wilderness learned how to repel predators secreting flavonoids, or terpenoids, or sulphur-containing compounds.
Medicinal Herbs (Gardner's basket)
We do need the garden. It is fun to have it, it bings us joy and it feeds us. But we also need, behind the garden’s fence, the wild. A peaceful cohabitation between the wild and the domesticated is ideal for an authentic, efficient relationship to life itself, an act of acknowledging and balancing all parts of our soul, in an effort to make life sustainable. In today’s society, the Garden takes too much time and energy from our rushed lives in which everything is readily available at the supermarkets. There is no joy, and also no loss, no real intimacy with food. Food is not a process anymore, it is a commodity. And in the meantime, the Wild is suppressed. Denied. Forbidden. Regulated. Gunned down. We are working in captivity, paying our bills from the income brought by a conventional job, and we paint or sing or write after work. How is that sustainable? Balanced? Playing “the game” during the day, letting the mask fall at night. Hoping that one day the priorities will miraculously reverse in the direction of a happier, more sustainable life. This dynamics makes us a society of bankers and traders of lifeless commodities, secretly suffering of “the starving artist” syndrome.
Wood's Ear Mushroom (Hunter's basket)
As we are moving towards the solstice, we move in the absolute Bear time, a time when forces become dormant, focusing on the essential in order to preserve the vital force. This is why the Wild will always stubbornly emerge from the snow, without a shovel and a fertilizer. What is worth keeping? What is authentic in your life? How much of our suppressed part of our psyche, the Wild, is always hibernating and how much is our conventional part (the persona, the mask) is shopping at the mall?
Yet, there is another layer of understanding the Bear as symbol of retreating into essence at this time of the year. I will invoke here to the spirit of my Thracian ancestors’ God, Zalmoxis. Most likely, this God name means "He Who Wears the Bear Skin", deriving from the tradition that the baby Zalmoxis was wrapped in a bear skin (zalmon, in Getic). On a deeper level, the Bear connection involves the Underworld journey. Zalmoxis is one of the god-man who dies and is reborn. He descends into the Underworld as the bear goes down into its cave, to hibernate. Zalmoxis reappears after three years (while Jesus made it in only three days!) to impart the "knowledge of the skies" to humans. Central to his teachings was the concept of the immortality of the soul, and the idea that we cannot heal the body without healing the soul, that Plato is referring to in his dialogue Charmides. Some historians indicate that Zalmoxis was a slave of Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC). Plato says in the dialogue Charmides (lines 156 D – 157 B) that Zalmoxis was also a great physician who took a holistic approach to healing body and soul (psyche), being thus the father of top-down approach in medicine.
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania - the great circular sanctuary (sacred area)
In shamanistic and medical qi gong, there is a Bear form that is practiced in the wintertime facing North, corresponding to the water element and the kidneys body organ. In this form, you become a bear, sinking your qi into the Dantian (area three fingers below your umbilicus and midways between your back and perineum), and heavily stepping backwards (to stimulate the adrenal glands), caring your heavy body towards a cave, scratching your back against a tree on your way towards hibernation (to further stimulate the adrenals). This exercise is an embodied reminder that too often in our culture we deplete our adrenal glands going late to bed in the winter time and “socializing” in activities that don’t truly nourish our real needs.
If you keep still, like water, or like the bear in the wintertime, a clearer vision of your life will emerge by the springtime. The vision that a more sustainable, happier and authentic life is possible. May the spirit of the Bear bring you that vision! Happy hibernation!
Bear costume dance in North Romania symbolizing the death and revival of nature and of the spirit.