I’m working on a novel, tentatively titled Rise. It takes place over the course of 26 hours, largely in one place. Each chapter focuses on a different character. In this chapter, I’ve written from the perspective of an adult female black bear who sees a wildfire that’s started in the chapter before. This is the shortest of the chapters, taking up about 15 minutes of time.
1:12 Black Bear
Her nose knew this smell because of people, the men. Men took the trees and made them hot and orange. The trees would glow in the night and the air would turn to haze and smoke, it would fill her nose with worry.
Inside her mind, she felt the ancestors push her to run away. But she stood in place and sniffed pulling the spirit of the forest into her, smelling the first whiffs of fire. The sun blazed down from high in the sky. A woodpecker laughed and drilled into the trees. Flames had to be eating something. Men must be somewhere burning everything because the smoke and smell permeated the spirit of the air.
She ran along the mountainside. What if the fire were coming for her? What if men wanted to trap her and shoot her as they did so many other creatures. In a great loping sprint she lunged through the woods. Her power would take her away from the fire wherever it was. Trees blurred by. There would be no fire for her. No fire in sight, no men, no men, no men with guns dragging deer or hauling turkeys slung over their strange flat shoulders with, no men setting the world on fire.
After some time she stopped. She stood up on her hind legs, turned and sniffed the air again. An acrid musty scent moved through her, whispering as it moved, telling her that the tree’s ancestors had known this would come. Men were so stupid, trying to control the fires, to try to control the trees so much. One day, the soil said, this will have to burn or it will give way to sickness. Bear knew men were sick and making the ancestors sick without burning. Cinders, the ancestors now, were high in the sky. They beckoned her to the top of the mountain.
She stood at the edge of a talus field on the spine of the ridge. Up in the sky a gray cloud climbed. Brilliant orange cinders danced in the expanding gray and white plume billowing up from the conflagration. How big was the man who made this cloud? Or perhaps an ancestor, grown angry at the men had talked with time and decided to bellow. Yes. Men had to be warned.
But they are ignorant and unknowing. Their existence is futile. They are unteachable, she thought. They don’t watch or listen to the ancestors because they can’t even hear them, so busy with their machines and their loudness and their frenetic arrogance. The spirits in the cinders rising were practicing the rites of rightness, performing the ritual that men had suppressed for ages because they could not broker any defiance of their rituals.
The ancestors sang a great song that growled like the mate she had taken, fierce and strong like a moving arm of the oak. The air and soil ancestors chanted to her now that this was the way of things and much more was to come. A bear must know again. A bear must see that the men are not the fire bringers. Only the ancestors bring the fire. The more that men try to control and change, the more the ancestors will burn.
Yes. Fire lives in the trees, bushes, and grasses. It is eternity and change. The ancient bears from before men knew that the trees must become fire and smoke when the lightning hit from the storms or the air was dry. The air was drier than it had been since she was a cub, drier than since the ancients. Men were dryness.