Friday, July 22, 2016

A Bear and a Donkey

We saw a bear crossing the road last night. No joke, it was one of the coolest things I have seen in quite awhile. Laurie, my wife, and I were on our way back to Blanding after spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon with her side of the family. It was 9:00 p.m. and the sun had just gone behind the northwest portion of the mountain range. The sunset was affecting our surroundings in a most marvelous show of light and color. The face of the mountain stood in shadow, huge and dark in shades of purple and blue. Wispy cloud patterns crowned the mountain's majesty in feather forms of pink and peach. The upper atmosphere provided a majestic backdrop of royal sapphire blue.

The plowed fields to the east glowed a rusty red while their counterparts, those planted in winter wheat and tasseled grass luminesced a golden yellow in the soft, reflected light. The fenced fields and rolling draws were bordered by stands of stunted sage and rabbit brush, the bonsai-esque juniper tree and bushier pinyon so common to our little corner of the world. In the distance, the rocky lip of upper Montezuma canyon cut a rugged, off-white line running north to south. Above and far beyond Montezuma rose the still sunlit peaks of the La Plata mountain range in southern Colorado.

As Laurie drove, I sat back and absorbed the magic of the moment. We drifted south and began to drop into Verger Canyon. Just then Laurie hit the brakes hard and, with growing excitement in her voice, said, "What is that, a dog, a man, a bear? That's a bear!" To our right, where a band of zinc stains the hillside green, a large black bear came sprinting across the highway. As the animal raced across the blacktop Laurie brought the truck to a full stop while I hastily grabbed for my phone and tried to release my seat belt and open the door at the same time. In a flash he crossed the road and gained the opposite side of the cut. As easy as you please the bear went up the almost vertical rock face, without even slowing.

Navajo Sitting Bear Carving - Marvin Jim (#377)

Hitting the asphalt running, I rounded the front of the truck trying to find the cruising critter in my viewfinder. The bear came to the end of the point at the top of the hill and paused for the briefest moment to look down upon us. I tried to steady my breathing and still the camera enough to capture the highlighted bear. It was not to be. That bad boy slipped around a fence post and dropped-off the backside of the hill. For a second I thought of trying to run around the downside of the hill in an attempt to intercept the beastie. Remembering just how fast that bear moved, however, I thought better of it. It was not my wish to become black bear scat.

As I stood cussing my poor reaction time, I realized where I was standing and where we were parked; in the middle of the road on the backside of a blind curve, after sundown. We were most defiantly in a trap set by the unsuspecting bear. I turned on my heel, hustled back around to the passenger side of our Toyota and jumped back in. Laurie stomped on the gas pedal and got us out of there post haste. In this part of the country a chance encounter with a bear is highly unusual. Laurie and I were jazzed about seeing the beast and even happier about not winding-up on the front grill of a Kenworth.

When I came into work on Monday, there upon the counter was a bear sculpture by Marvin Jim. The cottonwood carving depicts a wise and stately bear sitting upon a raised dais of stacked sandstone bordered by stumps of Juniper. He is dressed in a sage green velveteen shirt and adorned with traditional turquoise jewelry. Wrapped around the bears hips and knees is a Third Phase Navajo chief blanket, which allows only the tip of one moccasin to peak through. Marvin sold it to Steve while I was away, and it is stellar.

Because the Navajo people believe animals once walked upright, wore human clothing, spoke our language and helped build the world, as we know it, they are considered more than special. Unfortunately, as often happens, man, in his infinite wisdom, insulted the animals, causing a deep and abiding hurt. As a result, animals threw-off their garb, bent down and walked, slithered or flew away, never to consensually interact with humans again. Except for dogs and cats that is, which refuse to communicate but prefer to be pampered.

In the days before the break-up, Bear was considered a great and mighty chief who was revered for his thoughtful and compassionate ways. Put yourself in a mythological state for a moment and consider how amazing it might be to sit with a great bear and have a candid conversation, sharing his experience, adventures and insight without having to worry about becoming his next favorite chew toy. To me, Marvin's sculpture stands as a metaphor for relationships and opportunities lost forever because of arrogance and ignorance.
Donkey by Marvin Jim

Years ago, when Marvin carved the first of these creatures, he brought in a small crudely sculpted donkey. When I asked him what it meant, he explained: "I have noticed that every time someone, including me, destroys a valued relationship it is because we choose to be ruled by raw emotion, disregarding respect and compassion and falling prey to selfish ignorance. To put it bluntly, we play the part of a fool and . . . dare I say it . . . act like a jackass." To this day, that little donkey rests on our home mantle to remind me of Marvin's wise insight and hopefully keep me from suffering a similar fate.

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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