Thoughts on “The Bear” by Momaday

I can see him, walking slowly through the woods, calm, relaxed, slow and dumb. He sniffs the air, nibbles some berries, has a pace-ful walk. From first glance you see little of this creature, almost extinct, a relic of a courageous creature. He seems threatening only in his pure size, but his mind is dim and slow with age. But you are wrong, he is brown bear, all seeing all knowing. He, like our past Indian brothers and sisters, sees the demise of the world, of the way of life we live. He will fight when there is no other course but the wiser of us sees when the fight will incur too many damages. He walks the woods, rarely seen, in his own world, what little is left of it. He can still find a healthily fearful peace amid the hunters and their traps. More importantly he can still find peace amid the humans, encroaching upon the forest, soon to be gone if we are not careful. Soon he will be gone too.

Momaday writes this in a haiku, 5-7-5-7 for five stanzas. It’s melody has a consistent pace, slow and methodical, just like the bear. It focuses on the Jaws of the trap, which the bear has been bitten by, but is still alive. My favorite line by far is “pain slants his withers” you can see his shoulder blades trudging slightly crooked down the path, right leg a little ahead of left. You can see the fear in this bear, but he is still wiser than we realize, for he is still alive. The metaphor here is two-fold, I think the bear is a metaphor for Native Americans, almost wiped out from this world, but still there, growing, ninja in their movements. But I also think the bear’s possible death is a metaphor for the state of the environment. It is impossible to not see his likely extinction as a result of the killing we do to our mother earth. I would like you to picture the bear I painted above, or Momaday’s bear, and then put a man on a quad bike in the picture, either on his trail after him, or on a different trail with the bear observing the man from a distance. What is the bear thinking? What will it do? How does the contrast of the bear and the quad in the forest make you feel?

Brown bear