Read an Excerpt
Chasing Little Bear
One summer evening, long ago, a young maiden named Lolotea lay in the sweet-smelling prairie grass. The wispy blades gently brushed against the maiden, tickling her feet. She propped herself up on one elbow and watched one star climb steadily into the midnight sky. It was spirited and twinkled brilliantly in the clear night.
"I love this blazing star," the maiden said to herself. "It is the most beautiful object in the sky. Its light shimmers so brightly."
Her loving gaze followed the bright star until it faded into the paler light of the coming day. Each and every evening, Lolotea watched the beaming star in the still night sky without fail.
One day in early autumn, the leaves turned crimson-red and saffron-yellow. Large, high, white clouds pushed across the deep blue sky. Lolotea left the village to collect firewood for her family. Immersed in her task, she wandered toward the wooded forest where she found even more kindling and firewood.
She gathered a bundle of sticks and wrapped them in a strip of leather. She flung the bundle over her shoulder. Lolotea was about to head back toward her village when she sensed she was no longer alone. The young maiden turned slowly around and found herself standing in front of a little brown cub. His fur was as rich as chocolate. His gaze was warm but firm, and it comforted her. His eyes locked onto hers. The cub observed her, anticipating every move as he sat quietly at the foot of a large birch tree.
"I want this little bear for my own. His fur is so silky. His brown eyes are so soft," Lolotea said. "If necessary, I will follow this little bear to the top of any tree or over any mountain."
Every time Lolotea moved closer toward the brown cub, he moved a little further away. Soon the young maiden was walking briskly, but the little bear kept getting ahead of her. She tried to tap him with a piece of her kindling, but the little bear went just out of her reach.
Lolotea had to drop her bundle of sticks and move quickly. Her gait was becoming a run. Although the bear was just a cub, its strides were long, and he ran more swiftly than an elk. The young maiden was fast, and she did not fall far behind. They ran down the grassy hillside, scattered with tiny white flowers. They ran into the deep valley covered in a bluish mist from the autumn sky. A red-tailed hawk swooped down just over Lolotea's head, thinking she was playing a game with the little bear. They ran toward the edge of the forest, but the little bear did not stop. He just ran further and further. He pushed everything aside as he ran. The little bear trampled over the curling ferns, and cuffed all the trailing ivy.
The ground beneath the maiden's feet was growing dark as she ran over it. Her beaded moccasins rustled the fallen leaves that lay rotted upon the forest floor. A moldy scent rose into the air. The deeper into the thick forest Lolotea ran, the denser it became.
"I have heard from the elders," the young maiden panted, "that Little Bear possesses magical powers; that if I can catch him, I too will share in his magic."
Lolotea ran on and on through the dark woods in search of the brown bear cub. She kept trying to follow his tracks, but as soon as Lolotea neared, his tracks mysteriously disappeared into the musty, fragrant earth.
Day was turning into night. Through the trees' branches, the pale sky was growing darker. The young maiden followed the little bear to where the Earth just touched the northern sky.
They reached a very tall cottonwood tree, and the little bear started climbing. The tree's limbs were close to the ground, and Lolotea could easily follow. As the bear grasped the trunk of the tree, it left scratch marks in the rough bark.
"I must hurry," the young maiden exclaimed, "if I want to have this brown cub as my own! I can't believe the way he can clamber up the tree."
Every time the young maiden climbed, the bear got ahead of her. As she moved upward, it seemed that the tree kept extending itself toward the glowing dimness of the heavens.
When Lolotea neared the top of the cottonwood tree, she saw something unusual above her. It was solid like a wall, but shining. She was headed into the night sky.
Suddenly, the little bear started to slip through the wall that separated the Earth from the heavens. The young maiden reached out her hand and pulled on the bear's tail. His tail started to stretch, so he pulled harder to get away. Determined, Lolotea held onto the cottonwood tree with one hand; she pulled on the brown cub's tail with the other. The bear's tail stretched a little more, but he finally broke free from her grasp. He ascended to the starry heavens and ran across the peaceful night sky.
The treetop seemed to vanish into the night air. As the young maiden looked down, she could see the tops of the trees within the thick forest all around her. With the silver light of the crescent Moon, she could glimpse the pines across the deep valley below. She noticed the billowing grass of the meadow beyond. She searched the twilight until she noticed the snow hugging the tops of the mountain peaks. The young maiden could make out the circle of huts of her village in the distance. Plumes of smoke rose from the roofs, traveling upward into the starry night.
Lolotea clung to the branches for what felt like an eternity, swinging slightly back and forth.
Faintly, in the distance, she could hear dogs barking. Lolotea knew that she would have to climb down on her own. She began her descent down the trunk of the cottonwood tree.
When Lolotea finally reached the bottom of the tree, the young maiden slid against its trunk to catch her breath. She was tired and needed to rest for a moment. She gazed up through the tangled branches of the trees and noticed something shimmering between them. It was not her beloved star that she searched for every evening.
There was a circle of new stars. They shimmered like jewels in the evening sky. She got up and walked very slowly back to her village. Whenever there was a space between the boughs of the trees, Lolotea would glance up.
She walked for many miles until she reached the edge of the wooded forest. Lolotea could see the hut of her family in the distance. She stopped. The young maiden marveled at the heavens and could not be certain as to what she saw. She rubbed her eyes in disbelief.
"I must be exhausted," the young maiden said above a whisper. "I think I see the little bear stretched across the night sky."
The young maiden walked a little further. She stopped again to stare at the little bear stretched across the vast sky like a constellation.
"If I can't take the brown cub home with me, I will adore him from afar. He is surely magical. I will love him in my heart," the young maiden sighed.
Each and every night after that, Lolotea would climb to the highest hill in the village where the tall prairie grass tickled her feet. Fragrant heather would mix with the sweet-smelling grass to fill her senses. She would lie with her hands pressed firmly onto her cheeks. Lolotea would admire the velvety little bear with the warm brown eyes that she chased into the starry heavens and across the silent night sky.