A Brown Bear of Medium Size

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

An introduction to a bear of a journal.

Submitted: July 30, 2018

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Submitted: July 30, 2018



An Introduction to The Brown Bear Journals


“I am a brown bear of medium size…” This was the first line in a sheaf of papers I found while hiking through the Urals, and one I would re-read many times while attempting to translate the strange, and perhaps groundbreaking, text.  While I cannot provide any further illumination as to the origin of these papers, I humbly beg the reader to withhold any harsh judgments or cynical assumptions until I have presented all of my findings. I aim, herein, to share the circumstances surrounding the discovery of these papers, and my own modest attempt at the translation of their contents. I have entrusted a discreet friend with the publication of this journal, and chosen not to reveal my name. “Ah-ha!” exclaims the critical reader. “Surely an honest man, a man of principle, would reveal his identity so his claims could be fairly judged by his peers.” I consider myself to be honest and principled; thus, I assure you that I do not shroud my identity in secrecy for any nefarious purpose, but only because I wish to present the facts and materials on their own merits, and not let anyone’s opinions be swayed by their view of the messenger.

My studies recently took me to the Russian city of Zlatoust, not far from Taganay, in the Southern Urals. Enticed by the rocky beauty of the mountains, I decided to extend my trip for two days of hiking and camping in the area. I was not disappointed. My guide, an amateur photographer and local from Zlatoust, promised stunning views of stone rivers, peaceful forests, and ridges that looked like the backs of sleeping dragons. I have requested that he send his photos to my friend so they may be included with the publication of this journal.

We saw all manner of flora and fauna on our first day, and camped that night on a rock plateau under the stars. We set out early the next morning, breaking camp quickly in the cool air. As the sun began to rise higher over the trees, my guide asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting in a clearing with our gear while he checked to see if a nearby trail was free of fallen trees (there had been a storm a few months back, and some of the paths proved to be impassable). I agreed to stay close, and circled the clearing trying to picture what this whole landscape would look covered in snow. As I peered into the more densely forested area to my left, something caught my eye. It was a spindly fir tree, which was not, in and of itself, unusual. At the base of the fir tree was a flat rock, jutting against the tree at such an angle as to leave a small opening above the ground cover. And peeking out through that opening was the corner of what appeared to be a stack of letters.

This tiny shelter could have been home to some small but territorial animal, so it would have been inadvisable to blindly reach into it with my hand. I picked up a nearby stick and poked the papers lightly. Nothing moved from beneath the rock. Carefully placing the stick over the gap between the rock and the papers, I reached down and gently tugged the bundle out from its hiding place. The pages were worn, but had not been exposed to the elements long enough to be destroyed. I looked around the clearing, part of me expecting someone to jump out from behind the trees and demand the return of their letters. When no such event was forthcoming, my curiosity got the better of me. The pages were folded over once (text facing inward) and tied with a piece of frayed twine. The twine had become damp, making the knot a bit difficult to untie, but I was hesitant to cut it, and finally loosened it enough to slide the papers out.

When I unfolded them, I discovered pages filed top to bottom, left to right, with delicate Cyrillic script. The penmanship was beautiful, and the black ink reminded me of the organic pigments found on strips of ancient Egyptian papyrus. Some of it was faded and difficult to decipher, but all of it appeared to be in Russian. I began to read…

“I am a brown bear of medium size.” I read the first sentence several times, always arriving at the same translation. An odd way to start a letter, I thought to myself, but perhaps the meaning would become clear as I read on. Maybe the pages were out of order, and I had entered in the middle of a peculiar story. Maybe it was a metaphor, or a joke known only to the intended recipient of the letter. Maybe it wasn’t a letter at all.

At that moment, I heard the approach of my guide, returning from the nearby trail. I must confess, dear reader, that my interest was stronger than my conscience. I did not pause to consider the position of whoever had hidden the papers, or to acknowledge that someone else might be looking for them. I simply refolded them and placed them carefully into in the inner pocket of my coat, greeting my guide with an innocent wave when he entered the clearing. The trail, it seemed, was clear enough for us to traverse. The views on the second day were, if possible, more stunning than the first, but my mind was elsewhere. Upon returning to Zlatoust, I checked back into the hotel and asked to have dinner sent up to my room. I was scheduled to depart by train the next morning, and I wanted to fully examine the papers before I left.

I poured over the pages, making detailed notations in a journal I had initially brought with me for quite a different kind of study. The journal, bound in leather and filled with thick, unlined paper, had been a gift from my uncle. We were celebrating the completion of my studies, and my assignment to a research position I had been coveting for years. I did not yet consider myself to be a true scientist, since my experience at the time was limited to supervised lab experiments. “Every scientist needs a good field notebook,” my uncle had said, pressing the handsomely wrapped book it into my hand as we parted for the evening. It was the first thing I packed when I learned I would be traveling to Russia for a few days as a part of my new posting. With it, I set out for Zlatoust to gather information about innovative techniques being used for engravings on cold steel, which might lead to a deeper understanding of the properties of various metals. Only two days after the excitement of completing my first assignment, I was back in the same hotel room with an entirely new (and unrelated) set of data.

It was only through writing in my own journal that I realized the text I was translating was, itself, a journal! A deliberate setting-down of the facts, thoughts, and feelings of a sentient being with a past, present, and future. And yet…the author claimed to be a brown bear, living in the Southern Ural. The bear, a female “of medium size,” had neighbors and companions, both among other brown bears and the various animals of the region. She was alternately bothered and delighted by the birds who had recently built a nest near her home, and described their singing initially as “incessant chirp-ery” and later as “cheerful walking music” (this distinction seemed to depend on whether she was trying to rest, or out-and-about). She had a number of tasks to which she set herself throughout the day, some of them showing an enjoyment of the present, and some of them displaying a deep (perhaps instinctual) understanding of long-term planning. She was a slow worker, she admitted, but attributed that to deliberation and thoroughness rather than laziness. As this fascinating portrait developed before me, I could not help but regard the narrating brown bear (“B. B.” as I began to refer to her in my notes) as a peer rather than an animal of base intelligence.

“I sometimes go to the stream to catch fish,” B. B. stated, “but I prefer fruits and other plants, since I can gather them with my friend, who is a badger. I would not presume to give him fish, but I am always happy to share with him the fruits he cannot reach, and he will often gather roots for me when I am not in a digging mood.” Friendship? Presumptions? Moods? These are all such human concepts that I was finding it difficult to imagine them in a bear.  Clearly a more in depth analysis would be needed.

The original papers are now being meticulously studied at the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, but a photo of the first page will be included in this journal for reference. I have also provided a complete translation of the entire journal to you, the reader, for personal interpretation and scrutiny. Scientists do not currently believe it possible for a bear to have written this text, for purely physiological reasons. I am inclined to agree, as I have never seen any creature of the genus Ursus holding a writing implement. But could this journal, somehow, have been dictated to a human? There have been cases where a young child, raised in the wild and only later reintegrated into civilization, demonstrated the ability to communicate with certain animals before their “animal language” was replaced by human speech. Perhaps a person exists for whom acquiring a human language did not preclude the possibility of understanding, even translating, animal “speech.”

If a living person is the original transcriber (and bear-to-Russian translator) of this journal, it could change the way we think about humanity, animals, language, and our place in the world itself. And if that person is reading this introduction, I beg their forgiveness for taking the papers, and entreat them to assist the Zoological Institute (along with scientists across the globe) in better understanding our animal associates.

I leave you with one last memory from my trip to Russia: as I walked from my hotel to the train station, I passed a monument to Ivan Bushuyev, master armorer of Zlatoust. He held aloft in his left hand an intricately carved saber, and his posture (head high, arms open) was that of a man inviting the world to look upon his work. This caused me to reflect upon the primary authors of The Brown Bear Journals – the one who told her story, and the one who wrote it out by hand in a human language. I can only hope that, in leaving the papers to be discovered, they were issuing a similar invitation to the world.



© Copyright 2019 K.F. Zilberman. All rights reserved.

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