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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Respect bears roaming La Cañada, don’t fear them

Ancient shepherds gazed upward and followed sparks emanating from their campfires. I imagine their bewilderment as they attempted to make sense of the universe by trying to give meaning to the endless points of light that we call stars.

In the sky they saw shapes, but these apparitions were hardly good enough because the human quest to find meaning forced them to place what they saw in context. Subsequently, they created unimaginable dramas. The seductress Cassiopeia, Andromeda's mother, bragging that she was the most beautiful woman in creation, even more beautiful than the gods. Poseidon, the brother of Zeus and the god of the seas, took great offense to this statement. Only he could create the most beautiful beings. Angrily, he created a great sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the seas and coasts. Cassiopeia, inevitably felt his range as he froze her in the sky, upside-down. All that, and more are the stories that explain the proclivities of humanity.

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Escaping slaves following the underground railroad did not have maps to guide them north. Instead, they often relied on "map songs," which held coded words. Those coded words provided directions. One of the most famous songs was "Follow the Drinking Gourd," which was to follow the big dipper, pointing to the North Star and a better a life.

What I find to be most interesting is the heavenly mythology of the bear, "Ursa Major." Throughout the world, bear folklore is widespread. It's not surprising that this awesome beast was one of the first animals to be revered by our ancestors. From as far back as about 50,000 years ago, the bear was seen as lord of the animals, a god and even the ancestor of humans.

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The Celts venerated the bear goddess, a fiercely protective influence. They believed that protective influence mothers have for their children comes from the bear.

Viking warriors were famous for invoking the bear spirit and for working themselves into an insane battle frenzy. This spirit gave them superhuman strength. They were the Berserkers, derived from a Norse word meaning "bear skin."

Bears are central to Native American folklore. They are the "keeper of dreams" and "the keeper of medicine," symbols of strength and wisdom. Among the Plains Indians, the bear is considered to be noble and upright and is the guardian of the western sky.

In 1902, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt was on a hunting trip along the Mississippi but showed mercy to an old bear he could have easily taken as a trophy. The story of this act spread quickly, and soon the "Teddy Bear" was born.

So, what's all this fuss about bear sightings in La Cañada? They're in the newspaper and all over the Facebook parent page. In urban contemporary thought, the bear is feared and considered a nuisance. Yet, I see them as a god or goddess with a legacy that extends back to Homer's "Odyssey."

I've backpacked throughout the forests of North America and I've had many encounters with the black bear. Through knowledge, I don't fear them, but I respect them. In a perfect world, their temperament is somewhat docile, but this is not a perfect world.

However, the grizzly bear scares the bejesus out of me. Ironically, they're extinct in California, yet their caricature remains on our state flag. I've had some scary encounters with the grizz. In the Lewis Range of Montana, I saw one face-to-face and just as I was about to deploy "counter assault," he turned and walked away. In retrospect, I felt slighted! I must not have looked too appealing.

Let me leave you with this thought, a trail sign in the Alaska Range that read: "Be cautious of bears at all times, even when being mauled by a tiger."

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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