A Story for the Long, Dark Night
by Sarah Bunting
“Myth has a way of of bringing what is unconscious to the surface and putting a face on what we cannot see.”
-Terry Tempest Williams
Stories allows us to cloak our lives in the golden garments of mythos so that we may recognize our journey for what it is – the journey of the hero into the unknown, undergoing rites of passage that transform us into our own becoming, allowing us to gather what only we can gather from the beyond and bring back the harvest as medicine for our people. Myth allows us to recognize our struggle as the human struggle, our doubt and fear and shame as slime-fanged monsters, our wounds as yet dormant seeds of strength, our restless yearnings the beckoning of the soul to a deeper, richer life. Stories set us at the center of our own epic and give us the keen sword of metaphor to cut through the dense jungles of confusion, so that we may see ourselves for what we are.
We find ourselves in this wider window of the Solstice, light continues to birth from darkness. In the long night of winter, when the memory of sun can feel so distant, story is a nourishing broth for the soul. Through myth we can travel into the dark and emerge into light again and again, each time bolstering courage, faith and perseverance that allows us to dive deeper, with greater steadiness, into those spaces that harbor many of our greatest gifts.
What darkness have you been traveling these long winter nights? Into what light are you emerging?
Imagine that you are reading the story of your own life. See yourself, as the heroine, where she stands at this precious moment, poised between paths. She hesitates, uncertain where to place her footsteps and her faith to carry her into the future of her own creation. You, as the reader, cry out. You can see what she cannot. What do you urge her to do? To choose? What do you wish to tell her? To keep going? That the monsters that haunt her have big shadows and only tiny bodies? That she blazes with the light of the eternal sun? That the treasure she seeks is just there, she practically stands atop it? That her village awaits her to celebrate the treasure she harvests from the dark? Speak to yourself and hear your own words of wisdom. Be your own bringer of the dawn.
On this night, in this dark I offer you a story, one inspired by my work with the grey bearded lichen Usnea.
May this story tend the fire in your heart.
May this story embolden your spirit to say yes to the call that finds you in the night.
And may this story bring to your ear the song of remembrance,
so that you too may sing with the night singing bear.
“Faith is the bird that feels the light sings while the dawn is still dark.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
The Call of the Night Singing Bear
– a story from Usnea, as told by Sarah Bunting –
There was once a bear, a bear who loved honey and huckleberries. And spent her time as all bears do, gathering food, napping on the warm Earthand bathing in the cool mountain streams.
And like all bears, when the world began to whisper of the coming snows,
this bear would seek out a comfy cave, tucked into the folds of the mountain,
to spend the long night of winter.
But one autumn day, with the sound of wild geese in the cool crisp air, the ground painted with red and yellow leaves, there came a stirring.
It came with the wind, something familiar yet forgotten. It came from the mountains.
A song, a call, a quickening.
The hair of the bear’s coat was riffled in just such a way.
And in just such a way a stirring of wonder, arose in the mind of the bear.
What happens in the long winter night when we all lay sleeping?
And so, as the dusk of winter fell upon the earth, as the first snowflakes danced down from the sky, as all the other bears sought their place of long sleep, this bear, our bear, stayed awake, listening to the song upon the wind.
This first winter, the bear stayed awake only for the first hours of winter’s night, listening to the song carried by the wind, tracking paw prints upon the earth in the newly fallen snow.
For soon sleep claimed her and she was drawn into her cave and into deep sleep and into the dream world where the singing, the singing would continue.
But, in the early morning hours of winter’s night, the wandering wind found her, curling into her cave and pulling gently on her dreams, her eyelids, beckoning. And she rose, emerging into winter’s dawn, witnessing the faintest crack of summer upon the horizon, the softest hum of green life beneath snow white.
Each year, the bear would spend more and more of her time awake, waiting longer to sleep within the cave,
rising earlier to wander the quiet landscape between moon and snow.
As the years passed she began to notice that she wasn’t aging as the other bears. The snows of age dappling their coats while hers remained full and brown. Time seemed to pass differently for her. Eventually even her cubs passed her in age.
And one year she heard it, the clear call of the mountains.
‘Come,’ it sang, with a such beauty that tears ran from her eyes, freezing into her fur like stars. For this song was a remembering song, long forgotten.
It was this call she followed, deeper into the wild, into the land that gradually sloped upward.
She climbed and she climbed, far into the night she journeyed. Far up the mountainside she went.
Into the night and into the north.
She came then to a place where the wind said ‘here,’
a place where the stars hung down so low they gathered as snowflakes on the ground, where the curve of the moon touches the rise of the land. Here, were the singing beckoned her not onward, but drew her down to settle upon the earth.
It was a high place she had found, overlooking the valleys drifted with snow, the mountains rising to meet the sky, the land draped in shadow and light.
The wind blew from the north, cold and crisp with clarity and truth, with wisdom and peace.
Closing her eyes she turned to face the wind and it’s cold clear fingers began to blow as though through her, blowing between skin and bone, coat and flesh.
Her own breath became this wind and the wind,
blowing from within and blowing from without, began gently, lovingly, to widen the space between, widening and loosening.
And slowly, ever so slowly, her coat of thick fur began to fall from her shoulders.
And slowly, ever so slowly, her muscles began to fall away from bone.
And slowly, ever so slowly, the wind began to blow through the very atoms of her being, widening and loosening.
And slowly the air began blowing between her very thoughts widening and loosening the gap between.
And slowly the wind began to blow between what she was and what she was not, between truth and untruth, allowing all that was untruth to fall away, carried down the mountain on the wind.
Until all that remained was Truth, Bear sitting on the mountain as her true self, Bear who wandered into the long winter night, who wondered beneath Moon and Star, Bear who followed the call of remembering that danced upon the wind.
And Bear, she still sits in truth and wisdom upon the mountain. And she now joins her voice with the voice of wind, singing the song of remembering.
At night, when the air is cold and the land is quiet beneath the snow you can still hear this song, the call of the Night Singing Bear. If this call finds you, allow yourself to be drawn by the journey of remembering. Receive the invitation to surrender to the winds of your own breath and the breath of the Great Spirit, so that all that is untrue may fall away, so that you may, like Bear, come to inhabit the Truth of your own being, so that you too may take up the song of remembering.