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Ursa Major

Posted in Adventures With Humans

Ursa Major

Through the past decade or so, I’ve found myself drawn to music, authors, and podcasts that buzzed with a certain energy or tone. For example, there might be music from a specific composer that vibrates something deep inside my core, beyond language; the tone addressing what wants attention in the moment, so I listen on repeat until I understand what it is. Fiction works, has always worked, as not only the characters, but the authors become friends of mine. It is June, 2024, and I have been listening online to a short story read aloud. At this particular time in my life, at this particular scenario on the planet, it is this reading that is drawing up an aspect of my psyche wanting that attention, wanting something to register.

 The story is called, "Fires,"and was written by American writer Rick Bass. I discovered it on the "Selected Shorts" website, where great actors read short fiction in front of live audiences, mostly in New York. Ted Marcoux is the actor reading this piece. Marcoux’s credits include roles on popular TV shows, but the list of his narration work is longer, not surprising once you hear him speak. The tone of his voice, and the tempo with which he reads “Fires,” makes me think of him as a friend of mine.

Bass’s “Fires,” is set Montana, on the Yaak River. A young woman, a runner named Glenda, comes to the area for the summer to train. Marcoux reads in first-person so it is as if he is the character, Joe Barry, hired by Glenda’s brother to bike behind her, armed with a pistol to keep her safe from bears on her runs. It’s not that she’s flighty, or precious; bears are always a concern in these mountains, and the story mentions that a woman had been killed by one not too far back. Glenda is grateful to have Joe as protector. Of course, as you might guess, there blooms an attraction between the pair. I’m not going to ruin the story for you by telling you the ending; I don’t need to in order to explain myself. It’s not the plot points, but rather Marcoux’s tone, and the strength of character Joe Barry portrays that speak to me right now, here as I take stock of where I am in my life.

What is delightfully synchronistic in this stock-taking of mine, is that like in Bass’s story it involves a bear, but instead of the growling type, my bear is a constellation. My sleep has been poor lately, sometimes to the point where I have gotten up and stood out looking at the stars. There is light pollution here, so it’s not like I’m seeing the complete firmament. The most prominent constellation visible to the West has been “The Big Dipper,” also known as Ursa Major, “The Great Bear.” On the recent night when I noticed this bear, the air was warm, and the trees were still and quiet, and it reminded me of a summer evening back around 2015 or so. I was house-sitting for friends who lived in a small village. There was an expansive lawn behind the house, surrounded by trees, but with enough of a clearing that I could see a good chunk of sky. I had gone into town and bought a relatively fresh trout for my dinner. I would have rather caught it myself, but this would do. There was a barbecue set out on the lawn in which I worked up a small fire, then watched the flames reach into the charcoal that I poured on top. While the black charcoal changed to the hot red and grey that was good for cooking, I cleaned the trout, stuffed it with onions and herbs, tied it with butchers’ string, then drizzled it with olive oil. I laid the trout on the barbecue grill, closed the cover and stood looking up at the night sky. When the trout was done, I put it on a plate, then stayed standing there under the stars, picking off flakes and eating the whole thing with my fingers. There was nobody else around, nothing to distract me from this experience, one powerful enough that I remember it.

It is likely that I had noticed that bear in that sky back then. At that time, though somewhat lost, I was focused on healing, acknowledging potential that I felt deep down. I think at that time, I had hope, faith that if I showed up and faced whatever needed to be faced, I could thrive. There has been no significant other since 2011. It seemed like the deal was that I had to attempt this challenge on my own. I did, and healed a remarkable chunk by the time 2023 rolled around. It was after that, when I started to work towards stepping back into the world, that I began to wonder how all of this was going to play out. I’ve always been a bit of an empathic sponge, but the tone of meanness streaming through the world seems nothing short of unsettling; I know I’m not the only one who feels this. From there, beside the barbecue I always thought that I would be okay, but now I’m not so sure. I am too tired to continue running after others; all that showing up, ‘reaching out,’ still seeking a place of belonging after 61 years. I’m more afraid now, afraid that I am losing hope. Perhaps my psyche has got me hooked on Bass’s story because it feels that I might need saving. I never wanted to need saving; I’ve done all I could to avoid it, but if there is a bear–something overwhelming charging from the shadows, catching up like loneliness, like waning hope, despite all the training a person can run only so fast.