The Golden Bear

Grizzly bear surrounded by rocks and bushes

The day I was told of the passing of Teton Totem, one of Earthfire’s resident grizzly bears, many emotions washed through me: sadness, shock, and disbelief. However, what resounded within me as I made myself go through the motions of my day was an aching sense of regret. His death had come only a few weeks after I had left Earthfire to return to school in Seattle. I had never gotten the chance to say goodbye. This bitter realization clung to me, and, as I laid down to sleep, I thought of the bear that I had known since my girlhood.

Teton followed me from my waking hours into my dreams that night. He appeared as he did in life: large, serene, and certain of his movements. However, there was a major discrepancy. This Teton shone with a gentle golden light. All of the sunlight from the lush, dark green forest we stood in seemed to settle solely on his fur, painting him in a stark contrast against the foliage. We stood for a moment, regarding each other, before Teton moved away, heading into the trees. I followed him instinctively as a resolute sense of duty had taken hold of me. I knew what our destination was as it seemed to reverberate throughout my mind.

We are going to the final wilderness, the last place untouched by humans.

Some part of me knew that my actions were futile. How could I go somewhere that a human couldn’t touch? But as soon as the thought reached my mind, it was just as quickly disregarded. With the kind of certainty that can only be obtained in dreams, I knew that this was important. I needed to make this journey.

Teton confidently led the way through the trees, his vibrant coat serving as a beacon to guide my clumsy steps. We pushed our way through shimmering streams, clambered over mossy boulders, weaving our way through dense brush in our push ever higher. Eventually, elements of the forest felt familiar. Fence posts stood in line with the trees, and the once uneven terrain smoothed out into a pebbly clearing. I came to a stop and realized that this patchworked scene was a part of Earthfire’s driveway and, upon taking another look around, there were people there. They were the people of Earthfire—animal caretakers, management staff members, and shadowy figures working with a sense of purpose in the background. I was approached by someone and asked what I was doing. I told them about Teton and our destination and they nodded in understanding. This was an important journey. They told me that they would pass on the message and follow us together.

Our journey continued in this cycle. I would follow Teton, the forest would give away to scenes of home, and we would find people who would accompany us on this final trek. There was Heather, the office and ranch manager, in a sagebrush field. My parents, the people who introduced me to Teton when I was six years old, on a forest trail. And, finally, Susan, the founder of Earthfire, standing out on the porch of a cabin that was worked into the side of a boulder.

Together, we followed Teton across a bridge spanning a wide river and into a towering forest at the base of a mountain. We were nearing the end of our journey. The canopy of the trees eclipsed the sky, forcing us to rely on Teton’s light for direction. The brush was thicker now and the terrain more severe, and we were starting to slow down, but Teton was unhindered. He moved with ease—his vibrance disappearing behind bushes before reappearing farther and farther ahead. We would stop and wait for him to resurface, lost without his guidance, but it eventually became too much. We could go no further. We stopped, staring into the forest, catching brief flashes of light as he weaved his way through the woods. The moments between his reappearances grew longer each time he vanished until, high in the mountains above us, he disappeared and never resurfaced. He was gone. We stood there together, looking into the endless forest. It was the end of our journey and my final goodbye.

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