THE HONEY BEAR

 

There was once a young bear who sought honey from a beehive that dangled high up in the branches of a sugar pine. The bear, being young, had never tasted honey; it had only heard stories of its sweetness from older bears, wise with scars and matted fur. This hive was to be its first conquest, a rite of passage into bearhood! It dreamed of the hour when it could dip its claw into that sticky yellow goo, and parade it for all of the woods to see. 

 

The trouble was, the beehive was really quite high up. At first, the bear attempted to climb the sugar pine. But as soon as it got its rear legs off the ground, the bark of tree gave way, and the bear slid down onto its furry bottom in a poof of pine needles. Sap dripped from where the bear's claws had marked the trunk. The bear tried again to climb, but the tree was so slippy with sap now, that the bear couldn't even get a purchase on the bark. To make things worse, the bear's paws were now carpeted in needles, sticky as they were with sap. So, the bear took a stone, and hurled it at the hive. It missed. It threw a second one; it hit! But the beehive barely rocked. Impassioned by its brief success, the bear hurled a whole clump of stones, sticks, and pine cones at the hive.

 

Unfortunately, the bees did not like this very much.

 

The bear scampered away as a horde of buzzing wings pounced upon it, stinging and stinging with remarkable accuracy. It was all the bear could do but to leap into the nearby lake, and hold its breath, waiting, wide-eyed. Eventually, the bees returned to their hive, and the bear crawled onto shore exhausted. With its remaining kernel of energy, the bear dragged itself to a cave to recover, and to shelter from a thunderstorm that lay brooding over the lake. That night, great sheets of lightning raged above, and the bear was frightened. Thunder rent the sky in two, and charged the air with a terrible smell. For the first time, the animal knew fear, and it forgot all about the beehive. Cowering deeper into the cave, the bear nuzzled against the cold rock walls, its shadow leaping in the night. 

 

Morning rose, as did the bear. It had barely slept, and what sleep had come had been crowded with dreams of blood and death. Nevertheless, the day had to be lived! Ever so carefully, the bear peeked its head out of the cave and saw a most strange site: the sugar pine that had held the beehive so proudly the day before had been struck by lighting. And before it, lying cracked open on the ground, its juicy filling oozing out onto the forest floor, was the beehive! With great respect and understanding, the bear approached. It tapped the hive casing and listened carefully: there was no buzzing. It bent its damp head down and, with the most delicate flick of its tongue, experienced for the first time in its life, the taste of honey. The sweetness was beyond compare, and the bear feasted, but left much for other travellers too. That is why, from that day forth, the bear never again hunted for beehives, and always welcomed a good thunderstorm.

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