Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Bear who carried The Northern Lights

(taken from 1968 edition of 'Mrs Pepperpot in the magic wood' by Alf Proysen, illustrated by Bjorn Berg).

I have seen The Northern Lights only once in my lifetime, many years ago. Usually you must go somewhere very cold like Norway to see them. But I was standing in the very north of Scotland that night - the night the Bear came with his lights.

There is a tale that old men used to tell each other as they sat around the fire in their red wooden houses with roofs as steep as ski slopes. It is about a huge invisible polar bear that leaped through the sky following the Fu fu bird, looking for a new home on the other side of the mountain. As he dived from one side of the sky to the other, putting every last gramme of energy in as he stretched out his huge bear paws to find the ledge on the other side, a swirl of greeny/yellow lights traced the path he left behind him.

Every night, the old men said, when the lights were there, it meant that the Bear was not far away, still searching for a new home with his friend the Fu fu bird. Sometimes he would drop coins and lucky children who happened to glance up and catch sight of the lights might find a coin fall into their lap.

A coin like this one, Molly Moo, said the Mother as she put down her sewing and picked up her pin cushion. And there, sewn on the corner of the tiny pincushion was a coin with a hole in it.

'Look closer', said the Mother, and as the girls did so they saw the image of a tiny bird with outstretched tail feathers.

'The Fu fu bird, Mummy,' they both said together.

'Yes, but do you know why the Fu fu bird must carry its tail feathers pointing outwards when most other birds have theirs pointing down?'
They shook their heads.
'Now that is a tale for another day,' she said.
And she put them to bed and kissed them goodnight.

But that night when the North Star crossed over the moon scattering moon dust over the sleeping children, they woke and crept out to the Magic Meadow, hoping that the Bear and the Fu fu bird might be there. And sure enough, they were.

The bear was in no mood to talk. He was washing himself by a stream. The Fu fu bird was reminding him to wash behind his ears (something bears are not very good at) and to hurry up as she was hungry and wanted to catch some fish.

'Catch your own fish,' said the bear, swiping away a nosey fly that wouldn't leave him alone.

'If it wasn't for me you would still be lost in that huge forest. If it wasn't for me being able to swoop to the top of the tallest tree to look for directions, we would still be heading downhill deeper into the woods. And who knows how many more days it would have taken.'

The girls looked behind them and there stretched mile upon mile of thick pine trees; their tops were in the clouds and their bottoms packed tightly together. There didn't seem much room for the light to get through, nor for a large white polar bear and a rather stroppy Fu fu bird.

The Fu fu bird was admiring her reflection in the water. She looked at her nails.
'Tut tut,'she said,'that will never do.' And she picked up a pine cone to polish her nails on.

'If it hadn't been for me, then you would have been picked up by that snowy owl's great talons and fed to its babies for supper.' The bear, who had finished cleaning himself, had now ambled off to chew a small twig and get to that impossible bit of food that had been stuck behind his back teeth for three days now. 'If it hadn't been for me then you would never have got your tail back from the teeth of that fox. You would never have been able to fly again, my friend. It's a good thing I'm a pescetarian.'

The Fu fu bird looked down and decided not to ask what a pescetarian was. Her tail was pointing outwards where the fox had held her tight. Only her loud squawks had brought her friend the bear running. She found him a tasty bit of wild thyme to freshen his breath (as all that raw fish had a habit of colouring his breath a most peculiar colour).

If they were to set up house together then there were going to have to be a few changes around here - personal hygiene being most definitely one of them, she thought.

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