The Enchanted Garden
I have always thought that my bear dreams mattered in some special mystical way.
I’m not opposed to the idea that dreams can be made to divulge the esoteric secrets of inner selfhood, like psychic shadows cast by the conscious mind into the night. It’s just that this rational view seems too limited. The inexplicable messy magic of the dreamscape seems to deserve a more complicated discourse.
I don’t recall my first awareness of them, the magic bears that suddenly took to wandering around in my head during my sleep. It started in early 1975. I was a student in the new Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado and I had a third-floor apartment at 22nd and Canyon in Boulder.
I lived there alone after my girlfriend, Jerri Hof, moved into her own garden-level apartment just across the street. This happened around February or March of 1975, and now more than three decades later I don’t remember why she moved out.
I guess she wanted to feel free. But it wasn’t like she really moved out; we didn’t feel quite finished with loving each other, so we ended up spending a lot of our free time together. She had her apartment fixed up with a few hanging plants and some modest furniture and I liked that place. Oblique ripples of sunlight and moonlight swirled in through her garden-level window for most of one spring and most of one summer. Then we moved into another place together.
But as that year unfolded, as Jerri found her freedom across the street, bears became regular nightly visitors in my dreams. These bear-moments often seemed dangerous and ominous. Many were hauntingly beautiful. All felt deeply mysterious.
Most of these dreams slipped away immediately, but a few came intact with me into the waking world. By June 1976 I had experienced what I began calling “the seven dreams.” I’d had many bear dreams by then, but these seven stuck with me, particularly the last one. This “seventh” dream seemed special because in it two bear cubs rescued me from a very frightening situation and promised to look out for me.
In the years since that time, I have had hundreds of dreams about bears. Periods happen in which I don’t encounter any bears. But I always sense them lingering somewhere nearby, my magic bears, sleeping in the winter woods at the edge of my mind. Pausing every so often to think of the two bear cubs and the other bears in my dreams, I have appreciated these experiences in my life even if I don’t know what to say about them.
All this is special enough for me. But there is another even more mysterious tale to tell about these dreams. And I feel glad to tell this mysterious tale, for it is about a special friend, and telling it, I get to visit a memory of warmth that seems almost magical.
This story begins once upon a time when I met my companion, Linda Ross. She entered my life in fulfillment of a dream I had in the early summer of 1980. Lying in the grassy backyard of a house I rented in Boulder with my oldest brother, Bunky, and his family, I drifted off into sleep briefly. I slept for just a few minutes and awakened with a voice in my mind.
Five years, it whispered. And I knew what it meant. Five years after Jerri, I would meet my next partner in life.
Those five years felt lonely to me. I didn’t like it. I would have gladly proved that dream wrong.
When 1984 dawned, I said to myself, Well, I guess this is the year – no, it damn well better be the year. I saw Linda Ross just a month or so later.
There she is, I said to myself, five years after 1979.
When I got to know Linda in 1984, she had charge of a little band of four cats.
Jesse governed the realm, a big black cat who went by many names. Rose served as president of Jesse’s fan club. She was a tiny thing made mostly of fur. Jesse and Rose had accompanied Linda and her husband Billy from Kansas City to the Colorado urban high plains, where they soon added another cat. A lonely stray, Mama came to them pregnant and slightly addled; a quiet daydreamer.
The third member of Jesse’s posse was Jaxon. Jaxon had been born to Rose in Longmont, Colorado in the late spring of 1979 – not very long after my relationship with Jerri Hof faded to an end in the mountains south of Rollinsville.
In the middle of 1986 Linda and her feline friends opened their family circle and let me move in with them. And in some way that is impossible to define, Jaxon’s warm aura brightened our hearts and our home-life. Good years followed under the happy influence of that glow. In our tales of those years, our family world felt to us like a magic circle. As if we stood there gazing in wonder.
Linda and I always feel glad when we think of what we had then.
A strange thing happened among us in the summer of 1992. My brother Bunky gave me some old Pawnee ceremonial corn that had been carefully preserved by a Kansas seed bank, and I turned it over to
Linda. I helped her plant it in mid-May under the chill twilight of the morning star. This speckled corn grew beautifully in her garden. Green it grew, and we watched as Jaxon made this ceremonial corn garden his new special place, napping among the mounds all summer under the growing plants.
When we picked the corn in early September and shucked some of the ears to dry the kernels, Jaxon seemed very impatient about it. Spreading the corn on the drying rack, we observed how he eagerly took charge of it. Dense white kernels imprinted with tiny blue bird shapes. Uttering little intent cries, Jaxon would reach in and scoop out a few of these kernels and eat them with great relish.
This Pawnee ceremonial corn meant a lot to Jaxon. Looking on in wonder, we thought it had something to do with how he had fallen seriously ill by that time. Taking his troubles in stride, he endured his suffering. But it pained us greatly.
He wasn’t ready to go just yet. Each day was still full of cherished moments. It seemed to us that the Pawnee corn somehow helped him, somehow eased his suffering.
Accepting, generous with love, a little shy, Jaxon reminded me of a long-lost friend I had during the early 1970s. Dennis Smith seemed to bear a mystical and quite profound inner glow that felt like peace to all who knew him. At once young and old he was. A mystery. Jaxon wielded that same inexplicable wizardry.
Hanging out in my office with me at night, Jaxon curled up in my chair behind me in a snug blue cave – a cave I made by draping my dark blue robe over the chair-arms. He slept. I studied history. I wrote poems.
A stir at my back. A blind paw swims to touch me. Swimming under chrome moonlight. Asleep in his blue glow.
Did I ever appear in his dreams?
Jaxon very much loved the deep summer nights. Of his nocturnal doings in the outer world, and of his many undisclosed journeys, and of the strange things that happened, others must speak, for I know little of such matters. I’d step outside to smoke a cigarette and he would appear at my feet. A far-off train often whistled like a weird beast hooting under the stars.
That summer of 1992 was Jaxon’s final summer with us, when he became our little warm wizard of the flowering corn.
In October 1992 Linda let me take some of Jaxon’s speckled corn to Oklahoma and the Morgan family used it in their Kitkahahki Ceremonial Dance. I gave my cousin Helen Norris a basket filled
with beautiful ears of Jaxon’s corn, thinking that wherever this corn ended up, it would surely kindle a flitting glow in people’s lives.
There would be moments of peace among them. Kindness would be done. For Linda had lovingly grown this corn; and Jaxon had blessed it with his love. All the Pawnees in those days would feel mysteriously moved to murmur to each other, Let us give thanks for this Pawnee corn and for the wonderful ways of our ancestors. But they wouldn’t know that the good feeling actually emanated from Jaxon’s heart.
I was a student of Pawnee history. And becoming known among the Pawnees as a tribal historian, my family gave me a Pawnee name, a name that had been last held by my great-grandmother’s father.
They gave me that name at this 1992 ceremony, the dance with Jaxon’s corn. After that, I no longer took part in the Kitkahahki Ceremonial Dance. I had given my greatest gift to the Pawnee people. I had shared with them something very precious.
Perhaps I would go on to do more research, to contribute to what we know of Pawnee history, to do other meaningful things. But what could be more important than this flitting warmth, a moment of love like this? For this speckled Pawnee corn had been affectionately cultivated under the sun by my wife Linda, and it had been blessed by Jaxon’s magic under the moon.
Linda’s companionship and Jaxon’s friendship encircled the things I did then. They stood nearby as I conducted the research and did the writing that filled my days and nights. They made me feel like I might be doing something special, something worthy of their love.
Did I see that then? I don’t know. Whatever I saw in those days, I feel fortunate when I look back now.
All those memories feel mysteriously epic to me, like getting caught up in a strange tale in which our specific parts seem modest enough – mundane even – yet fraught with glyphic meanings that can’t ever be deciphered.
When Jaxon died in early February 1993, we wrapped him in my dark blue robe and it
wasn’t easy to say goodbye. We buried him in his favorite spot in his enchanted corn garden.
And one day at the end of that year I sat down in my empty chair and I wrote this poem:
Grief is a gift that we bear to the end
of a street where blue houses float like stars
and fading sparks rise from burning meadows
and vast birds unfold smoldering feathers
and greatly do we grieve in the ebbing dark
at the utter mystery of our glittering defeat
another absence of light that yearns to cease
as we grieve in the shadows and our grief
is a gift that we bear to the end of a street
where blue houses float away like stars
Waking up one morning early in 1996, I passed from an intense dream in which Jaxon had come to visit me and Linda. Jaxon was very happy to see me and he galloped about our green lawn. As I watched him I noticed something odd. Looking close, he kept turning into a small black & white bear – an energetic bear cub running in and out of focus. And once when he paused next to me he reached out a paw and I felt his claws press sharply against my leg. At that moment a thousand glittering thoughts suddenly rushed through my dreaming mind.
I stood there listening for many years it seemed. It seemed as though I heard a voice: “We just wanted to be with you for a time... we have been glad these years to spend this time here, and we will always be with you.” I realized then that this whispering was about the two bear cubs in my seventh dream long ago in 1976. Now in this dream the two cubs revealed their identities.
Jaxon and Jesse.
Marveling, I thought: What a privilege to have known them in this world and to have had their companionship. A wonderful, warm feeling.
Watching Jaxon a moment longer, I gradually came awake... returning, it seemed, as if through a glowing valley into this world. A place we share with marvelous creatures.
I felt glad.
I tell many stories of my dreams. I don’t mind the stories that speak of the
hidden seams of my personal psychology, the way my natural humanity moves from one condition to another, the enactments of my emotional mysteries. It’s useful to know how the fabrics of our minds get constructed.
But there are other stories to tell that are not rational. This is because dreams themselves represent a form of storytelling that is only partly rational. Dreams are constituted from logical and illogical components, quantifiable and unquantifiable sequences, predictable and unpredictable outcomes. Dream analysis can yield plenty of psychological precision, and it does not contradict this truth that each dreamscape is also rich with sidelong meanings that elude precise analysis.
This perpendicular dimension of dreams is not logical. But it is necessary.
In the story I tell about the weirdness of dreamlife, I have a fateful invisible essence that coexists with the measurable quantities that comprise my visible human form. It is an immeasurable quantity. Like a soul, a spirit, an inner transcendent consciousness. This is something we all have. All living things.
When we dream we invoke this essence. And this essence dwells in a realm somewhere at an angle to the one we know in our waking lives. Perpendicular to the logical rationality that we know here, clarity is too simple. Awakening, we must guess at what happened. We must speak of our dreams in a way that sounds both wise and foolish. This storytelling isn’t logical, but it is necessary.
When I think of this utter complexity, I feel glad.
Jesse’s final years with us were quiet years. An elderly cat in his late teens, his hearing dimmed, and for several years he often thought Linda and I might be sneaking up on him. He had this thing he would say on such occasions, a sharp little cry that meant What the fuck!?
Going about his business in a world full of steadily receding sounds, old Jesse had no idea how we had learned the cat-skill of creeping up on him so quietly. We had spent years trotting around the house like a couple of wheezing noisy elephants. Suddenly here we were padding about like two giant cats.
When I had my 1996 dream about the two bear cubs, about Jaxon and Jesse, I thought I learned something worth knowing. From one angle, I knew these two cats had a special place in my emotional life. From another angle, when my soul sought meaning in its secret world, it found Jaxon and Jesse and we spoke together of that special meaning. And when we met like that over there on the other side of the boundary between waking and sleeping, they appeared at my side as two bear cubs.
When Jesse died in October 1996, we buried him in Jaxon’s enchanted garden. We put his grave between his two biggest fans, Jaxon and Rose, the main members of his gang. I think of their garden as a very pleasant green place – a realm where they walk together, perpendicular to the places we know.
Someday I will join them. And I will feel glad.
On the fifteenth anniversary of Jaxon’s death, Linda had her own bear dream. She dreamed of a bear cub, a black cub. Kittykittykitty, we kept saying to it in her dream. For it wasn’t just a bear – it was Jesse!
In our tranquil circle... our clasping of inwardly shining things... yes, we are glad. Jesse and the little wizard wander at night under the moon.
The little wizard curls up behind me. He sleeps as I write. Many strange things I write in the midst of his dreams. I feel glad. For the little wizard awakens our circle; his wizardry understands us.
And Jesse visits Linda; he knows her heart. His wisdom watches over our little realm, for he is wise, Jesse.
They know what makes the hidden world work, its secrets, chrome mysteries. Their alchemical emotional elixirs teach us things that magically transform every part of our lives into something amiable and very pleasant.
And everyone smiles. And everyone feels glad.
Jesse, Linda and Jaxon Summer 1984 Photo by Dianne Andrews