TOWER & BEAR

There is a wooden tower
in the woods,
upon the hill,
above the lake,
forgotten;
walls greyed like old barnwood,
wizard-hat roof,
closed around
in autumn
by crowds of goldenrod and maple.

Refuse litters
the first floor:
rusting stovepipes,
rusting stove,
broken chair,
forgotten raincoat
hanging from a peg
beside the rickety
ladder stairs.

Up those stairs,
dust lies thick as neglected dreams
there,
in that forgotten tower;
up again,
one more floor,
into the wizard's hat now,
where a mountain range of
shin-high bat guano
strides across the water-stained wood,
skitter-skree of bats
in the crown of the raftered hat above,
but you can see,
through the trees,
a glimpse of water,
you can understand
how the tower came to be,
if not why it was forgotten.

The road that once
wound up the hill
is so overgrown now
you need imagination
to mark its turns,
but I don't ever follow that road;
I cut through the woods,
up the hill,
above the lake;
I step over fallen snags,
work my way through the new growth,
over the humped bones
of granite behemoths
more forgotten than any wooden tower;
for a time
I follow the swath Jim and Paul cut,
removing dying trees
for firewood,
then I slip into the deeper woods,
through the sudden surprises
of small sunned meadows,
past the dry paper football
of a hornet's nest
hanging from
an impossibly thin twig,
down into a gully,
scramble up again
and then I see it,
first the wizard's hat,
shingles black,
then the tower.

I sit
where the moss makes no differentiation
between limestone and granite
and fallen snag,
where the goldenrod rustles
and the birch and maple murmur,
and I listen to their gossip,
all the gossip
- because even
the silent stone underfoot
and the motionless Queen Anne's lace
has a voice;
the only sound I make
is the faint skritch of pen on paper,
waking the tower
in my sketchbook,
ghostlike, at first,
lines so faint, they mean nothing,
but connecting, one to the other,
gathering volume and shape,
until there are two towers
in the wood,
upon the hill,
above the lake:
one an echo,
the other forgotten.

And that would be enough:
the tower, the gossip,
the insect hum,
the sunlight an Impressionist's dream
as it patterns the hilltop,
yellow on green,
violet on green,
green on green on brown,
the maples red,
the tower brown and grey,
as though it had grown,
moss-like from the forest floor,
rather than raised by human hand.
My heart is so full,
it would be enough.

But the forest allows me
one more gift:
a rustle in the berry bushes
down in the gully.
The bear seems as
surprised as I am
- delicate for all his bulk;
coat, a midnight black;
nose lifted as he senses me
sensing him;
eyes the dark of the shadows
that collect at the bottom
of the lake.

He stands so close,
not ten feet from me,
I could count the hairs on his muzzle,
were I so inclined,
but at that moment
my gaze encompasses everything:
no one detail,
but all details at once.
My pulse drums,
first with fear,
then with awe,
then with a gratefulness
that words cannot express.

I hold my breath
and know that,
although I am only a guest here,
for one brief moment,
I may call this home;
I have been given,
for one brief moment
which lasts a lifetime,
a glimpse into the Otherworld
from which all our spirits
once came.

Then my host turns,
broad black back
slipping away among the trees
like water running downhill,
retreating
like a faerie glamour,
and he is gone.
But the wonder remains,
lodged inside my spirit,
and know I will never forget
the tower,
the bear,
the gift I was allowed,
there in the woods,
upon the hill,
above the lake.

Ottawa,
November 12, 1992

"Tower & Bear" originally appeared in Transversions #1, edited by Sally McBride & Dale Sproule, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Charles de Lint.

The poem is based on actual experience. I was out sketching the tower on the hill behind our place on the lake one afternoon when the bear appeared as if out of nowhere, as surprised as I was, I'm sure. At the time he made his appearance, I'd been drawing some goldenrod and had been playing with a design idea of a circle in the center of the sketch, but hadn't decided what to put in the circle until the bear arrived and solved the problem for me. Mind you, I didn't think of it until he had turned around and was walking away.

It doesn't reproduce all that well, but here's an idea of what that sketch looked like when I finally came down from the hill:

[Black Bear & Goldenrod Sketch]
"Black Bear & Goldenrod; August 15, 1992" (India ink & watercolour, 8 1/2" X 11")


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