The Marriage of the Cougar and the Bear

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
I wrote this during a sad time in my marriage. It is about peole of totally different lifestyles who fall in love.

Submitted: July 18, 2012

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Submitted: July 18, 2012




Last night I journeyed to visit Moon.

I followed the pathway of sparkles that led up and away from my window toward the purple night sky, where Moon shone brilliant silver. As I came near, I saw that she had the face of a beautiful white cat with large golden eyes and long silky black braids. Her body was broad and round, and she wore a long white gown.

I asked her for a Vision, a lesson to guide me through the present sorrow in my life. She considered a moment.

"Well, she said, "Instead of a Vision, I will gift you with a story."

I was delighted, for Moon is the keeper of dreams, the well of memories, the muse of lovers, and is famous as a great storyteller. As eager as a child, I settled down to listen.

"Now, I will tell you," said Moon.

"Once upon a time, long, long ago and not so very far away...." (I am delighted with the traditional beginning)...."there lived in the forest a cougar and a bear....". (Oh. I recognise these power animals....).

Now I will try to tell Moon's story, though I am nothing like the great storyteller she is.

* * *

The cougar and the bear are quite solitary animals in nature, keeping mostly to themselves. Thus it was that one brilliant moon-washed night in the forest, both cougar and bear were out hunting alone for their respective dinners. Hunting is a serious business, requiring focus and concentration, but each was also enjoying the beauty of the silvery moonlit night.

Bear had no cubs yet, and so she walked alone, over fallen logs, under lacy cedar trees, and round gentle giant firs, pausing now and then to snuffle at burrows, tear open stumps, poke at ant hills. She was generally enjoying herself.

Eventually, she came to a hillside meadow, thick with kinnikinnick and ground holly, fragrant with juniper and yarrow. A few boulders, whitewashed by the moon, stuck up out of the vegetation, and a couple of deadfalls raised silver-grey limbs to the starry sky. Bear shuffled serenely a little way out into the meadow, then sank contentedly into the soft mat of growing green things.

Meanwhile, cougar, too was out hunting. He was not particularly hungry as he'd dined well recently, but it was a beautifully clear night with exceptional visibility, and hunting is what cougars do, so there he was, out hunting. He was working his way down from the higher-up country, gliding from boulder to shadow to tree. He was a wonderful hunter, and his own prowess was not a conceit, but a joy to him.

Cougar was enjoying this night, the sky glittery and the moon huge. He moved noiselessly through the dappled shadows, until he, too came to the night-bright meadow. There was a large humped boulder in that meadow, and he felt a desire to lounge upon it and survey his domain. Ghost-like, he approached the boulder with his usual dignity, completely unaware of Bear until he had leapt onto the top.

Bear and Cougar spotted each other at the same moment. Neither moved for five whole heartbeats. Each observed the caution of the other. Each lifted a paw and took a slow step closer.

Bear extended her neck and curled her lip and rotated her heavy head in a no-no-no movement, just to let Cougar know that she was there first and wasn't about to leave. Cougar yawned, a casual yawn calculated to expose great shiny fangs. Then he lay down on his belly and blinked. Bear shrugged, rolled over on her back and began to play with her toes.

Pretty soon they began to talk to each other, cautiously at first. Pretty soon they relaxed and began to like each other. Pretty soon they were friends. They ambled off together, foraging for whatever might turn up.

Time passed, and their unlikely friendship progressed. Cougar impressed Bear mightily with his speed and efficiency in bringing down dinner. Bear could never have brought down a deer so masterfullly and skilfully. As a matter of fact, she'd never even thought of capturing venison for herself. But she thought it a very special and enjoyable gift when Cougar offered it to her.

Bear impressed Cougar with her strength and sophistication - she knew where to find things Cougar had never thought of eating. Cougar watched in admiring astonishment as Bear used her great claws to tear up an old rotten log. Bear consumed them with great relish and assured him they were a true delicacy. They didn't taste like much to him, though he thought it was useful to know he could eat them when there was no real meat available. And he was much impressed by Bear's resourcefulness and obviously refined tastes.

Each admired the other and said so, so that each felt itself a splendid creature indeed.

The friendship between Bear and Cougar continued to grow and to strengthen, and they delighted in this rare thing they had never dreamed might happen - a friendship between a cougar and a bear. They decided to get married.

When the moon shone the meadow seemed like a magical place, and their friendship seemed magical, too. Cougar loved to hunt, and when he wasn't hunting he was practising hunting. He would entertain Bear by leaping high in the air, twisting and rolling and swiping at imaginary prey with his big paws. Bear would watch this and thought him wonderfully strong and lithe. She herself could never move like that!

The great voice of the river made Cougar edgy, but Bear loved to go fishing. Cougar would watch nervously from among the ferns as she walked out into the racing water and then stood sturdily in the torrent, sometimes sticking her head completely under the water to look for the fish. Cougar marvelled that Bear could do this. And he did like the taste of the fish!

Other forest creatures took notice of Bear and Cougar's friendship and thought it very strange indeed. They gossiped and predicted it would never last. After all, the two had nothing in common! But Bear and Cougar were oblivious to all this, and went blithely along. They found their differences fascinating, and were never bored with each other.

Such differences as they had were easy to accommodate. For example, Cougar preferred to eat only fresh kill, while Bear, (who enjoyed fresh kill once in awhile) really enjoyed her berries and herbs and, of course, the delectable grubs and ants. (Every bear knows that these things are essential to good health!) So for part of the time Cougar would go off and do cougar things, and Bear would go off and do bear things, and then the times they were together were always much appreciated.

They spent a lot of their together-times in the magical meadow, especially when the moon provided her white lamp in the sky. Cougar tried to teach Bear how to climb up a tree and then leap to the ground without a sound - perfect for stalking prey. Bear good-naturedly gave it a try, but she did not have any aptitude at all for climbing trees and even less for leaping and landing. She tried to show Cougar how to stand up on his hind legs and roar mightily - very useful for intimidating enemies. Cougar thought it looked very impressive when Bear did it, but he just felt silly when he did it. Besides, he couldn't manage to stay up on two legs as long as Bear did. They laughed at themselves a great deal, and each thought the other's ways quite wonderful.

Cougar had told Bear that he had had a wife the preceding year, but that he and his wife had parted for good, so it was not a total surprise for Bear when three little half-grown cougar kittens bounced into the meadow one evening. Actually, it was Cougar who seemed most surprised.

"Dad! Dad" they cried, running up to startled Cougar. "Mum has decided to go up to the high country, for good, so she sent us to find you!"

"She has left the kittens!" Cougar exclaimed. Then he tried to look understanding. "It's rare, but I suppose it happens some times. But why has she sent them to me?"

"They are too little to be on their own," said Bear.

Now, Bear had told Cougar that she would have liked to hae a cub,but she knew that she and Cougar could never have cubs together. This saddened her, but then, you never know - sometimes miracles happen. Now Cougar reminded her: "You wanted a cub," he said. Bear though about it.

The maternity of bears is famously powerful and strong, but cougar fathers are not known for participating much in kitten-raising. But then, bear fathers aren't either. With Cougar as her husband, she could not have a cub herself. Bear made up her mind:

"Your children will be my children," she said.

* * *

The kittens found their bear-mother a novelty at first, and at first they listened to her and paid attention. She knew there were a great many important things they had to know in order to survive in this world, so she set about teaching them: How to attack an ant hill. Where to find the tenderest shoots and tastiest roots. How to eat berries right off the bush. How to stand on their hind legs and sniff the wind for danger. How to catch fish.

The kittens listened, and tried things out, but they very quickly lost interest. They seemed to have a very short attention span, and were easily distracted. They liked to leap for butterflies, and pounce on mice, and play-fight, and stalk each other silently through the tall grass. They would no longer come when she called them, and they absolutely refused to go into the river to catch fish (although they would eat them happily enough). All of this distressed and worried Bear very much. How would they survive if they did not learn these important things? She became sharp with them, and they became rude to her, and complained of her to their father about the things she expected them to do, and this hurt her feelings.

Whenever Cougar came back from hunting, she would try to talk to him about thekittens. This made Cougar feel bad. He was tired from hunting, and could not understand why there were problems.

"It is you who look after the children," he said. "So you must find a way of getting along with them." This made Bear feel bad. Bear was tired from trying to fix things all by herself.

Cougar went out hunting more and more, and stayed gone for longer and longer. He did this because Bear and the kittens needed the extra food, and because it was easier than being with Bear and the kittens and their problems. Hunting is, after all, what cougars do. It is the most important thing in the world.

Each time he came home, the kittens tumbled joyously to meet him. He did not play with them very much, because all that hunting made him tired. But he would lounge magnificently, and the kittens would toss themselves down beside him and emulate his pose exactly. When he left again, the kittens would all watch him go, and Bear would watch them watch him go. She saw how they copied his walk, the set of his ears, theflick of his tail. She had tried to teach them her own skills and wisdom, but they put no value on her gifts. They did not tryto emulate her.

"They are cougars," she realised sorrowfully. "They want to learn cougar things. I cannot teach cougars to be bears. She grieved. "If only I had my own little cub. Perhaps then we would all understand each other better."

But, she did the best she knew how. The refused the fine grubs and berries, they refused to learn fishing. But they would eat the fish she brought, or carrion, and of course, everything that their father brought!

And Bear and Cougar were still friends, and often while the boisterous kittens slept in a furry pile, the moonlit nights in the meadow were still magical.

* * *

The forest began to change. The rich green of the aspen leaves first lightened, then turned yellow, then danced to the ground like showers of golden coins. The sky was a paler blue, and the air clearer and keener. The duck families whirred over the marshes in practice flights, and the vast convocations of wild geese grazed the lakeside grasslands, their spring goslings all grown up and ready to fly far and long.

Bear spent a great deal of her time on two important projects: storing up asmuch fat as she possibly could, and preparing the den for the coming Dream Time. The snows could come at any time, and she wanted her family to be warm and safe.

She grew increasingly worried. The den was a problem. She had warned Cougr that it wasnot really good enough, but he had seemed unconcerned. She had dug earthworks all around, raising them up for insulation, safety and comfort. She had collected plenty of bedding. The kittens were completely disinterested in these proceedings, which annoyed her because she could have used a little help. They certainly didn't seem to mind actually sleeping on the soft bed she'd made.

She worried about the door to the den. It really should be smaller, and it was a difficult door to block up.

She worried even more about Cougar and the kittens. The kittnes spent far too much time frolicking and not nearly enough time storing up fat, and she could not make them see reason. Cougar, too, she knew to have not nearly enough fat stored up for winter. He was as lean and lithe as when she'd met him, and that would never do, and he didn't seem to be anxious about preparing for the big Dream Time at all.

One day she spoke of her concerns to Cougar. "The snow is coming soon, and I am worried about the door. Please help me find a way to seal it off."

"Why would we want to do that?" asked Cougar in surprise.

"Because winter is coming! The big Dream Time! And I am very worried that neither you nor the children have enough fat to last until the spring!"

"What do you mean, "the big Dream Time?" asked Cougar, deeply puzzled.

"I cannot believe you do not know this!" exploded Bear. "It is one of the very basic and most critical facts of life!"

With considerable effort, she calmed herself, and began to explain, very patiently.

"With the first snows, we go into the den and seal the door. Then we will go to sleep, living on the fat we have stored until spring. It is incredible that you do not know this! You must prepare! You and the kittens must store fat or you will not survive!"

To Bear's astonishment, Cougar laughed. "Do you mean to say that you have spent all this time trying to get fat enough to be able to sleep all winter?" He laughed some more. Then he became serious.

"Believe me, darling Bear, this is not necessary," he reassured her. "I always stay awake,all winter! And I hunt and eat all winter, too.

'But it is true that things are harder in the winter. Food is scarcer, and one must hunt further to find it. With three children to feed, I will need all your help to hunt, and keep the kittens alive."

Bear was dubious. This was not what her mother had taught her.

"This is how all the other animals do it," insisted Cougar. "Why do you think you need to do it differently? Believe me, I've done it before, and it will be alright."

"Well," Bear thought to herself uncertainly. "This is not my way of doing things. But if Cougar has done it this way before .... and if all the other animals can do it .... and the kittens are not fat enough and they will need feeding through the winter...." Bear made up her mind. If all the other animals did it, she could, too. Once bears set their minds to something, even if they don't know quite for sure what they're getting into, they're very determined.

* * *

That winter was a very strange time for Bear. Although she worked harder than she ever had in her life (and that's saying something!) she was not much of a help to Cougar. She could not get about in the snow as well as he could. She was not made for deep drifts, for she sank down into them, and floundered about, and certainly could not pursue prey. Her big strong claws were of no use now, for the earth and stumps and logs and ant hills were buried, and even when she dug her way through the snow to the earth, it was too frozen for her to dig into any burrows or nests.

Cougar could leap from tree to tree and boulder to boulder with such lithe agility. He could simply wait hidden on a bough for a hare or even a deer to struggle by in the deep snow, and just drop upon it. He brought home far more than she could. He consistently made big killings, while the best she could do, in this unfamiliar world, was bring home a scant mouthful of mice. She knew that even though the kittens did not actually say anything, they considered her contributions inconsequential comparedwith their father's. How could she blame them, for she felt the same herself.

Not that she herself was hungry. The cougars couldn't seem to get enough meat, but she herself had no appetitie. A few grubs might have tempted her, or maybe a waterlily bulb ..... Cougar was unfailingly generous. Often he presented her with the best and most succulent portions, and she would show herself pleased. She did not want to hurt Cougar's feelings. But he did not seem to know that a few dried-up saskatoon berries would have pleased her more. Or a little Dream Time....

Bear found it very difficult to wake up in the mornings and go out hunting. She was so very tired, and desperately needed some "quiet time", but there was no time for that. Despite her best intentions, she became crabby and sort-tempered. This confused and even annoyed Cougar - he'd thought she'd had such a sweet nature, and now it seemed to be gone.

To Bear, it was Cougar who seemed to be gone. He was always off on the hunt, sometimes for days, while she struggled through the snow alone, and, after bringing home her hard-won offerings, suffered alone the kittens' complaints: "Ew! Mice again?" Then Cougar would come home, with a big rabbit or a whole haunch, and the kittens would be all over im. If only she could have a little Dream Time. Maybe if she wasn't so tired....

And the meadow was deeply buried in thick, white powder. She had struggled to it one day and looked at it from the shelter of the silent trees, where the snow was less deep.The snow in the meadow was so deep that the great boulder in the middle of it was completely invisible. There was no sign that it was even there. All was white, frozen, and silent. Cougar was off on an overnight - maybe two overnights - hunt again, so there was no chance of magicalmeetings, whether the moon was shining or not. She turned her great shaggy head and struggled away towards home.

Cougar, alone in the silent wilderness, would have much rather been at home in the den, which Bear had made more comfortable than he had ever imagined with fir boughs and earthworks. But his family must eat, so he must hunt, and Bear wasn't doing much of a good job at hunting. He felt isolated and very alone out here, but when Bear and the kittens begged him to stay home for a day or two with them, he did not. He knew that he had to hunt so they could live.His huntingwas the most important thing. And it had to be done alone.

Bear and Cougar each went about their solitary business, and each was lonely according totheir own nature.

As the winter wore away, the kittens grew and grew. Theybegan following Cougar for a little ways when he left the den. There was still a lot of snow and cold, but not severe as in mid-winter, and each time they followed him a little further. Soon they were accompanying him. They copied him, trying out their hunting techniques on their own. He knew they were watching, and so he showed them his very best techniques.He wanted them to be good, so they could survive well. He did not really admit it to himself, but he also enjoyed showing off for them. Who wouldn't enjoy their hero-worshipping admiration?

When the cubs began learning the hunt, they needed Bear less and less and less. She became unhappier and crabbier than ever. And as winter slowly gentled into the into the hint of spring, Cougar came to realise that the kittens were almost full-sized, and they were almost fully proficient in the hunt. Already they tried things on their own, without consulting him or copying him. He realised the day was approaching when the kittens would become full cougars, and go off on their own, and become his competitors insteadof his admirers. That brought him a soft but bittersweet premonition of loneliness - not from being solitary and self-reliant and free once again, as all cougars are, but from losing something he had not really known he'd needed nor wanted. Already the kittens showed signs that they considered themselves stronger than he. Smarter than he.

By the time spring truly began to manifest itself, everyone was in a bad mood. Cougar felt Bear had not been much help and he had had to work harder than he ever had to do before. It was like she was just another kitten. AndBear felt she sacrified much and given all that she had, and no-one appreciated her. Cougar wasn't much help at all with the kittens, and really he was like another kitten himself.

The kittens felt Bear was a mean mother, and that Cougar - well, he was Dad, but he really didn't know so much, and he really wasn't all that invincible after all. They could probably take him themselves. They were tired of being told what to do, when they already knew how, and could probably do it better than either Bear or Cougar.

* * *

The snow pack reduced. The outline of the frozen river appeared. Then the starry black water was visible between edgings of lacy ice. The snow drew away from patches of ground where little violets immediately blossomed into tender prettiness.

Though she was still tired, Bear gradually began to feel better. As the snow receded and her favourite herbs and green came into being, Bear began eatings the things she preferred and which sustained her best. She began to regain her placid nature, and she remembered that she was Bear, not some clumsy sort of cougar. She felt she had done a great thing in actually seeing a winter - something few bears have done, she was sure. But she also kew she could not do it again, for it had cost her a very essential part of her bearness. Never again could she give up her Dream Time, or she would die, perhaps not in her body, but in some part of her soul.

She had done it for the best of reasons: her love of Cougar and the kittens. But the kittens had not seen it as a gift, and had little attachment to her. She was a bear, after all, and they were cougars, and had not really needed her bear teachings. Oh, well. She hoped that one day maybe one or two of her bear lessons might be of use to them. Now, she would go back to being a bear. She thought this probably meant her time with Cougar must end. He would not be happy with her if she did not try to live like a cougar any more. This would be so sad, but she was very tired, and just couldn't try to live like a cougar any longer.

The hunt grew easier again for Cougar. For awhile the kittens accompanied him but as spring progressed into summer they started hunting more and more on their own, and one by one they began to leave and not return. By the time the fireweed blossomed, the last one was gone. He had not thought he would miss them so much. Cougars are solitary, are they not? And he did not feel nearly so strong and powerful with no-one to admire him. Did Bear still admire him? He though not.

He had tried to teach her the ways of his life, but she just wasn't interested anymore, and there were so many things he enjoyed that she just couldn't or wouldn't do. He had wanted to make her happy, but nothing he did seemed right for her. His best efforts did not seem to please her. He just could not be a bear for her.

Cougar carried on with his cougarness, and Bear with her bearness, and they still lived in the den, and though they saw each other often, they were really solitary creatures onceagain. They did not admire each other's differences, and they did not feel like splendid beings any more.

* * *

Moon stopped speaking here. "Oh, Moon," I said. "I recognise this story. I know how they felt! But please tell me, how does it end? What happens now?"

"Well," said Moon. This story has happened many, many times before, and there are many, many endings. It's up to them what they make it. But here is one ending:

"Bear and Cougar are both solitary animals by nature, and can get along quite well on their own. Bear return to the path of the Bear where she managed quite well, and no longer was made to feel inconsequential. Cougar returned to the path of the Cougar. He felt freer and less burdened and was happy enough in his own cougar fashion.

"But each always remembered their time together, and the memories invoked a fond sadness, and a bittersweet regret, for each felt they had somehow failed the other, and failed in their chosen destiny together.

"And when the moon's light flowed over the meadow, its magic went unseen and unshared, for neither Bear nor Cougar ever went there again - except in their fondest dreams, until both passed over into the endless Dream Time, and were lost to the meadow forever."

* * *

I felt bereft. "That's a sad ending," I said, "although I suppose it was inevitable I suppose your mean to teach me by this storythat if you make a mistake you can cut your losses and just get on with the rest of your life. And yet, it all seems so futile - isn't there any way there could be a happy ending?"

"They could each meet a mate of their own kind, and have one more chance at happiness," suggested Moon.

"Yes, I suppose that would be okay," I said. "Except that it seems to me that they already took their main chance at happiness, and that was with each other. They each gave up a lot and gave a lot. It all started so well. It's too bad they couldn't make their differences work for them again, instead of against them."

Moon regarded me steadily, her beautiful cat's eyes thoughtful.

"Yes," she finally answered. "When Cougar and Bear met, they loved each other's differences, and felt drawn by them. When they got to where I left off in the story, they resented each other's differences, and felt lonely because of them. In the beginning, they each knew who they were, and respected each other for that. Then they each tried to change, and to change their natures, which of course, creatures cannot do. Cougars are cougars and bears are bears. And so each came to feel like less than they really were.

"The only way for this to have a happy ending is for each to feel a splendid being again. To respect each other's differences again." And then Moon once again resumed her story.

* * *

One starry late-August night poor Bear sat despondently among a growth of sweet-smelling willows beside the singing black waters of the river, watching the full moon's light glitter upon the water and thinking of her time with Cougar and the kittens. She rued her failure with her children, especially as she had tried so very hard. What had she done wrong? She had tried to teach them the best things she knew. She had brought them the best things she could get - but that was bear stuff, and they were cougars.

"I would have been better off to have just been myself," she thought,"instead of trying to be like a cougar, or trying to make them like bears."

"Yes, that would have been the wisest lesson I could give them, just to be yourself. But I couldn't teach them that lesson, because I hadn't learned it myself, until just now. And now, I suppose it doesn't matter."

And Bear remembered the meadow, and how it was at the beginning.

Meanwhile, a little ways downstream, poor Cougar was gracefully draped on a fallen tree over the same stream, and he was thinking of his time with Bear and with the kittens. He hadn't really realised what it would be like for everyone to go off and leave him alone, first the kittens, and now it looked as if Bear was going to go, too. He wondered why the kittens had left. Was it something they had learned from Bear, with her complaints and expectations? No. Whatever their differences, she had never gone off and left them. But he had. All the time. Hunting was the most important thing he had to do, and he'd left them alone often to do it. They'd learned that lesson from him, and they'd learned it well, for now they'd all gone off to hunt on their own. Ah, well. It was the way of the world, he supposed. But Bear. They should be able to be friends again, now .... and Cougar rememered the early days, and the meadow....

Softly, Cougar rose and walked through the trees. Soon he came to the meadow. The moon's silver-white light flowed down, just like that first time. His golden eyes roamed over the clearing, and then, he saw her.

She was standing quietly in her bearish way, in the moonlight, looking back at him. He admired her big shaggy shape, and her air of quietness and self-possession. She herself was regarding Cougar, and seeing that he still had his feline grace, and remembering....

Each had come there to say farewell for the last time to the meadow, and each was surprised and moved to find the presence of the other. They looked at each other for five full heartbeats, each observing the caution of the other.

Then, each lifted a tentative paw and moved one step closer.

And the magic of Moon sang around them.


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