Bear and Wolf: A Tender Illustrated Fable of Walking Side by Side in Otherness
A watercolor serenade to kinship across difference in a shared world.
By Maria Popova
Otherness has always been how we define ourselves — by contrast and distinction from what is unlike us, we find out what we are like: As I have previously written, we are what remains after everything we are not. But otherness can also be the most beautiful ground for connection — in slicing through the surface unlikenesses, we can discover a deep wellspring of kinship, which in turn enlarges our understanding of ourselves and the other. “The world’s otherness is antidote to confusion,” Mary Oliver wrote in her moving account of what saved her life. “Standing within this otherness… can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”
On a calm winter’s night, Bear ventures into the forest in consonance with Thoreau’s love of winter walks and his insistence that “we must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day.” As she savors the touch of the sparkling snowflakes falling on her fur, she spots “something poking out from the glistening white.”
At the same time, Wolf was out walking, then he spotted something poking out from the glistening white.
As the two solitary walkers approach, they see each other up close — a young bear, a young wolf.
She could see the wolf’s pointy snout, smooth gray fur, golden eyes, and wet black nose… He could see the bear’s big round head, soft black fur, deep brown eyes, and wet black nose.
In a testament to Anaïs Nin’s observation that “it is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar,” Bear and Wolf meet each other not with frightened hostility but with openhearted, compassionate curiosity. Their encounter is a shared question mark regarded with mutual goodwill and concern for rather than fear of the other:
“Are you lost?” asked Bear.
“No, I’m not lost. Are you?” asked Wolf.
“No, I’m not lost. I’m out for a walk to feel the cold on my face, and to enjoy the quiet of the woods when it snows. What are you doing?”
“I’m out for a walk to feel the cold under my paws, and to listen to the crunching of the snow as I walk.”
“Do you want to walk with me?” asked Bear.
“Sure,” said Wolf.
And so they head into the woods furry side by furry side, wet nose near wet nose, aware that they are “both creatures made to be comfortable in the very cold.” They savor the splendor of this forest world they share, smelling “the wet bark on the trees,” listening to “the small sounds” of the snowflakes falling on their fur, looking closely at the multitude of shapes.
Meanwhile, above them, Bird spots two tiny figures “poking out from the glistening white.”
As Bear and Wolf walk forth, they come upon a great white clearing in the woods — a place faintly familiar, for they have both been there before, but in the summertime. What is now a vast oval of white was then a vast blue lake.
They venture onto the frozen lake, clean a window of ice, and peer down to see fish floating, asleep.
And then the time comes for them to part ways and return to their separate lives, lived in parallel in this shared world — Bear must return to her cave and hibernate with her family, and Wolf must return to his pack to run chasing the scent of caribou.
The seasons turn, winter warms into spring, and in this forest newly alive with bloom and birdsong, Bear and Wolf encounter each other again — different still, transformed a little, and ready to walk side by side again into the living world they share.
The wonderful Bear and Wolf comes from Brooklyn-based independent powerhouse Enchanted Lion Books, creators of intelligent and sensitive treasures like Cry, Heart, But Never Break, The Lion and the Bird, The Paper-Flower Tree, and Bertolt. For other tender illustrated parables of friendship at the borderline of difference and kinship, revisit Friend or Foe, Winston and George, and the almost unbearably wonderful Big Wolf and Little Wolf.
Published March 7, 2018