Monday Stories: Teddy

Teddy found hibernation to be quite boring. He felt it was contrary to his own natural tendencies, which were to plan and project and move forward. Teddy liked the idea of crawling into a cave and putting his head down, but with the intention of productivity not rest. He could never see how wasting away month after month in a deep slumber made sense. Hibernation seemed weak as a habit for bears of all kinds, and he thought it gave them a disadvantage in the natural order of things. “What kind of lazy species were they, anyway?” he thought. 

Teddy was smart and curious. He had a hard time settling down, as his brain was constantly overworking. Preparing for hibernation as a child was a brutal torture that his mother forced upon him as the cold came through. He’d gotten more used to the habit over the years, even if he didn’t completely agree with it, but just recently had experienced a reawakening of childhood anxieties confronting him when it was time to switch off for the year. It was getting more and more difficult to just shut down and ignore his plans and path that he took such meticulous care to create. Often he was the last bear in his area to settle into a slumber, and he took the quiet time to complete extra tasks on his agenda while the others slept. 

Waking from hibernation was also hard for Teddy. He felt cranky and anxious and rushed. He had a constant sense of having missed out (there was a whole world still functioning, and there he was, sleeping) and a sense of urgency in resuming his focus. Teddy was friendly with the rest of the bears in his neighborhood, but bears in general were a rather loner species. Teddy enjoyed chatting and talking and sharing ideas, but always with a goal or motivation behind his interaction. Rarely did he engage in pointless banter or friendly pleasantries. He had big dreams for himself (although they weren’t always concretely defined) and the forward movement of his species in general. 

As the seasons cycled through and the pattern of hibernation continued through the years, Teddy found himself in an increasingly agitated state. He felt more and more frustrated when things didn’t go as planned, or when planning didn’t come together as he had hoped. He withdrew more, searching out spots in the forest where he could concentrate uninterrupted. He savored the time when the rest of the bears would hunker down, and he would postpone his slumbers further and further into the winter so that he could work undisturbed. Teddy finally arrived at the point where he looked up from his position of concentration and realized that bears were waking from their long sleep, and he, with his head down, had not rested for the winter. Going against the intended rhythms of a typical bear’s life, Teddy worked straight through his year. 

He continued on this straight and narrow path that he felt added so much value to his life until he became thin and tired and scraggly, for lack of a better word. The other bears tried to engage with Teddy, joking, socializing and inviting him to relax. But he just shook his head, which was usually turned down to face the earth, and kept on plotting and planning. He had staked out a spot in the woods and was about to settle down for the quietest part of winter when he felt a scurry just below his body. He noticed a small fluffy creature rustle past. 

“Geez louise!” shouted the furry brown mouse from below, “You almost just squished me with your big butt!” 

Teddy was startled—startled to have almost sat on something, startled to have his butt called big, but mostly startled to hear anything other than the silence that he was so accustomed to in these cold months. He mumbled a quick apology and started to lumber away. 

“What are you doing awake, anyway?” asked the curious voice from the ground. 

“Working,” replied Teddy, looking curiously at the little rodent with such a loud voice. 

“Hmmm….why? Shouldn’t you be resting?” The little mouse wiggled her nose when spoke. 

“I’m too busy,” said Teddy. 

“But for what? Why?” asked the mouse. “Don’t you have to sleep? Don’t you like sleeping? I wish we slept for months and months on end. But instead I just sort of nap here and there. When I want. Do you nap? Do you just take a little naps like me? Don’t you want to get cozy? It’s so so cold! Naps are the best” 

Teddy was overwhelmed with all these questions, and the little mouse seemed to have an endless supply. She continued talking since Teddy didn’t have a ready answer to any of her questions.

“I love sleeping! I love finding these little holes in trees where there’s moss growing and it’s like a big puffy bead and I curl up and sleep. But sometimes other creatures find me and disturb me. Then I get cranky. Maybe I should do more work like you. I do some. But not a lot. I guess a little. But only if it’s fun. I mean, only if I like doing it. I like searching for things. I like searching for humans having picnics so I can steal there crumbs and save them until I find a sunny spot to snack and then sleep. That’s the best! Snacks, sun, sleep! What do you like? What do you snack on? Do you snack? Do you eat big meals? When you sleep, do you dream?” She wondered aloud again. 

Teddy was shocked. For so long he had been concentrating on his work and his plans and his future, that he hadn’t had to answer to anyone else in a long time. He thought the hibernating habits of his species was a waste, yet here was a little mouse envious of the supposed natural rhythm of his life. And food? Teddy couldn’t remember the last time he thought of food as something special. He saw it as fuel to feed his productivity and nothing more. (And perhaps that’s why he had become so scraggily and worn down.) And as he ruminated on the little mouse’s monologue he became less curious and more indignant. ‘Who was this tiny being to interfere in my life!?’ he thought. 

“I’m busy,” he spat back, turning his big behind to the furry mouse. 

“Geez louise. I’ll leave you be,” said the little forest creature and scampered off. 

But that little mouse was intrigued by a big bear who didn’t sleep. She was new to that part of the forest. She had followed some humans on a walk hoping to score a delicious treat, and wandered in so deep she wasn’t quite sure where she was. So now she spent her days mostly solo, exploring, sleeping and snacking, her favorite things in life. Sometimes the trees felt so big and the forest felt so empty, and she felt a bit overwhelmed. When that happened she’d shrink back into some tiny hole, build a bit of a nest, and then rest for a couple days until she was ready for her next adventure. But now she wandered around the forest thinking about the big bear. He was an interesting sort. Maybe a little grumpy, or busy, as he said. But a bear that doesn’t sleep…that was something new. 

The little mouse happened upon a leaf one day. It had been somehow crushed and cut that when held up against the sunlight, it made a shadow on the ground that looked like twinkling stars on the forest floor. The little mouse was mystified. She turned and moved and swirled the leaf, watching the pattern dance across the ground. ‘Oh oh oh, I’m gonna go find that cranky bear and show him what he’s missing, whether he likes it or not,’ she thought. 

She wandered through the tall trees and snuck up Teddy. Head down, focused, concentrated, he didn’t hear her approach. She lifted up the little leaf and made its shadows dance just below Teddy’s large paws. He didn’t notice. So she yelled, “Hey! You, Mr. Bear who doesn’t sleep. Look! Look! Isn’t it great? Isn’t it cool? Look at the light!” Teddy heard the voice, surprised. He looked at the dancing shadows and tried not to smile. It reminded him of the night sky but inverse and on the earth. It was cool, but he didn’t like this little mouse just coming around to bother him when he said he was busy. So he let out little more than a grunt and turned back to his thoughts and his work. 

The mouse was smart. The little mouse knew that this big bear was busy, or at least the little mouse knew that the big bear THOUGHT he was busy. The little mouse also knew that there was no such thing as busyness in this world, because there was just life and now and stars that danced in the sky and on the floor. She knew that Teddy liked her leaf, but that his big size made it hard for him to appreciate the small things. She knew that he was focused and intent and driven to improvement, possibly because he didn’t see the impermanence of the world in the same way she did. The tiny mouse knew from her time on the forest floor that her adventures could easily come to end by way of flying birds looking for meals, human feet that stomped with tough soled boots, or even the butts of big bears who nestled by trees when they were busy. 

The little mouse remained for a bit, admiring the shadows she created with her leaf. She made them twirl and dance and sparkle by the tips of Teddy’s paws. Then she scampered off in search of food, and possibly a nap, which she loved so much. Teddy watched the shadows with interest in between his thinking and planning. But he turned inward again and resumed his busyness. It was only when he looked up for a second and noticed that the twinkling stars were in the sky and not the ground, that he felt the absence of that little mouse. 

Days went by and Teddy concentrated on himself while the little mouse took a long nap, climbed two trees, found a frozen berry, and built the mouse version of a scarecrow (basically a stick figure made of twigs). Then the mouse, wondering about Teddy, went back to find him. This time she brought him a pebble (really a grain of sand in proportion to Teddy) that had a speck of unusual red in it. As days passed, Teddy almost started to look forward to seeing what the little mouse. She always brought curious things, and it sort of was nice to have an interruption for his mind that worked so hard. 

The winter weeks passed and the little mouse had finally made a friend out of Teddy. She found it quite cozy to curl up against the pad of his paw while he did his work. She scampered off to find other interesting things when he was busy with his head down, but he gave more and more attention to her crazy questions, weird demonstrations, and fanciful fantasies. The little mouse explained about being small. She explained about the dangers of being prey for so many, and how instead of making her fearful it made her free. She talked about accepting her smallness and making the most of the tiny things in life. She rarely plotted, planned or moved forward, preferring circles and slopes and winding swoops that led somewhere or nowhere. She knew the world was big and she would never see it all, which is why she reveled in the small moments she created for herself. 

Teddy instead shared his plotting and planning. Talking with that little mouse only spurred his brain to work overtime, but this time introspectively instead of outwardly. He started thinking about his own plotting and planning, about his need for productivity, control and forward movement. He thought about his decision to go against the natural bear rhythm and shun cycles that had been part of his species for so long. He thought he liked his silence and solitude, but he found that with this little mouse there were fun interruptions. Sometimes when she curled up by his foot, he felt a comforting tickle and drifted to sleep with the beat of her tiny heart against his fluffy paw. He felt less sure about his plotting and planning, and more sure about the shadows and lights that the little mouse loved to play with. 

When spring came and the other bears started to wake, the little mouse knew it was time for her to rejoin her tribe. She had been lost in those wild woods for so long, but now that the other creatures were waking she’d need the protection of her pack. She went out searching for something to give Teddy (who she now called Ready Teddy in jest because he seemed so startled, surprised and awake all the time). She happened upon a tiny crocus that had made its way through the hard dirt. She nibbled away at its stem and took the delicate flower and left it between two leaves under a rock. For a week she waited, and then came back and found that its tissuey leaves had flattened and dried up, making a beautiful impression against the background of the stark brown leaf. 

She presented the leaf with flower print it to Teddy who now smiled wide, and then told him she had to take off to find her tribe. He held the flat flower in his big paws and let the little mouse scamper up next to it. He held them both close to his nose and blew out soft air that tickled the little mouses belly but made the pressed leaf jump out of his hands and fly into the air. The little mouse giggled. Then watched in amusement as the leaf and the flower danced through the sky, were trapped by the wind, and soared away forever. Teddy felt immediate regret at having lost what the little mouse had made him so thoughtfully. But the tiny mouse just smiled. “Look!” she exclaimed, “You’ve created the impossible! A flying flower! Who would have thought!?” 

Teddy looked down at her in his big paws and the little mouse. A flying flower. He smiled, but sadly, “I didn’t make it,” he said. “We made it. And now it’s gone.” 

“No no no,” laughed the little mouse. “It’s still there. It’s just not ours to have forever.” 

She took a big breath and this time blew on Teddy’s nose, making his whiskers tickle and eliciting a little laugh from that big bear. Then she scurried down his arm, across his leg, and off to the forest floor. She didn’t look back to see the smile on Teddy’s face. He found comfort in her words, finally understanding that what was, could never not be. Flying flower or fateful friendship, they both still existed, even when they were gone.