(This is the first of 3 posts that contain the Japanese folk tale of the Crescent Moon Bear, paraphrased from the version found in Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes).
The Crescent Moon Bear, Part One
Once there was a young woman who lived in a fragrant pine forest at the base of a mountain. Her husband had been away at the wars for many years, and when she heard that he was coming home, she was overjoyed. She shopped and cooked and cleaned and cooked to prepare for his arrival. But when her husband reached the edge of the trees, he refused to come closer. He stayed outside.
So the young wife gathered up the bowls of food, put them on a tray, and shyly carried them out to him. She laid them all out beautifully. But her husband kicked the food over and yelled at her. "Go away," he roared, "and leave me alone. Get away from me."
The young woman, shaken and upset, went back to the house. The next day she made more food and took it to her husband but the same thing happened. This went on for a while. The husband would not come inside or eat her food. He was comfortable with the ground after his many years away. The young woman got very discouraged. So one morning she went out to the outskirts of the village, to the hut of the local healer.
This old woman invited her inside and asked her about her troubles. "It's my husband," said the young woman. "Since he came home from the wars he is very changed. He won't come into the house. I wonder if you could make me a special potion that will make him gentle and loving again."
The healer thought for a moment and said, "Yes. Well, I can make you such a potion. But there's one hitch. I am all out of the most important ingredient. I need a hair from the moon on the throat of the Crescent Moon Bear. You would have to go and get me such a hair."
"Where is the bear?" asked the young woman. The healer pointed to the snowy peaks of the mountains off in the distance. Another woman might have been completely discouraged and despairing at this news. But this young woman loved her husband. She was glad that there was a solution to her problem. So she went home and packed up a few things and set off for the mountain tops, and the bear.
At first the walking was easy. Then she came to a boulder field with rocks as large as huge loaves of bread. "Arigato zaisho," she said, as she crossed the rocks. "Thank you for letting me cross." Then she came to a thick forest of pine trees with drooping branches full of leaves shaped like little stars. "Arigato zaisho" she said, and the trees lifted their branches for her to walk beneath them.
Now the way got much more difficult. The mountain got steeper and steeper and the rocks got sharper and sharper. She cut her hands, and scratchy, thorny little plants grabbed at her clothes and tore them. But she kept going. "Arigato zaisho," she said. Just as dusk began to fall, a flock of large, dark birds swooped down around her, circling her head. The birds frightened the young woman. She knew that they were the spirits of people who did not have relatives to bury them. "I will be your relative" she said to the birds. They flew away.
Now snow began to fall and the wind blew hard. The young woman's clothes got heavy with snow. It blew into her eyes and ears and mouth. "Arigato zaisho" she said. Finally she reached the mountain top. Groping her way through the wet darkness, she found a little hollow just big enough to fold her body into. Although she had a pack full of food, she did not eat, but fell asleep.
(the wood block print is "Woman Walking in the Snow" by Dorsey Potter Tyson, available at The Art of Japan.) Part 2 of this story will post July 6th. See you then.