Nowella and Uncle Threadbear
Nowella and Uncle Threadbear
by Oren Pierce B.A., B.S. , M.S.G.
MOur story so far: You may have heard of Nowella the “Bear”whose mother was a Black Bear and her father a white Man, although her mother brought Nowella up thinking her father had been a white BEAR… a Polar Bear. As a result Nowella spent many seasons searching from pole to pole and of course did not find her father, but did meet up with an independent hand, yes an actual hand, autonomous and with a will of his own, who became her sometime traveling companion, often appearing just when he was needed, or even just thought of, occasionally hanging in a tree by his thumb with a finger pointing, and she usually went in the direction the finger indicated. His name is Oneil. More about Oneil in the following: At the point where we now recommence the story, Nowella has pretty much given up interest in who her father might have been (she did not know that he had died in a snowmobile accident before she had even ceased her wanderings) and she had taken up residence with a trunk full of stuffed animals, Halloween costumes, toy boats and such, and was just fine with that, never intending to wander again. She had a special fondness for old Uncle Threadbear, though it is hard to say why. She felt responsible for him somehow, even though he didn’t need her, or much of anything else, it seems.
Chapter 14: Into the Outside
MWhat in their tiny INnside world could have inspired a trunk full of abandoned Teddy bears and other such Anthropogenic creatures (most of whom had never been outside except in shopping bags) to one day, not only step out into the Great Outdoors , but to proceed down the steps, across the yard, and along the hedge-row, hauling a fleet of pretend boats with no provisions nor any thought of the day after tomorrow, into a dangerous world of which they knew so very little?
In addition to the pretence of going fishing and their natural curiosity as life-long shut-ins about just what WAS out there, a large part of what inspired them was their growing boredom with Uncle Threadbear’s fishing stories.
MThe Trunk Bears were more or less trunk-bound, and whereas their mouths were merely SEWED on, so they could not talk much beyond mumbles and hums, Uncle Threadbear had an accidental mouth, so he was a talking Bear. He was not a great talker, but he talked a lot.
MAbout Uncle Threadbear: if you didn’t already know, or forgot, or just need me to remind you,Threadbear was originally known as Fredbear to the long ago boy who had rubbed him nearly bald in spots while in bed awake and worrying about a GIANT CAT in the attic, although there was no GIANT CAT in the attic. That boy, having worn and semi-abandoned Fredbear by age twelve, had retrieved him from the bottom of the trunk and used scissors to puncture the sewed mouth, so that Threadbear could seem to be smoking a cigar made from a stick when the boy dressed up as a hobo with a corn-cob bubble pipe for trick or treating.
MThe Trunk Bears had nothing else they could listen to except the radio that the man who came by once in a while to look after the little house sometimes left on to make the place seem to be inhabited or haunted while the people were away on a trip to see the Ocean or something . When the man did not leave the radio on, and sometimes even when he did, Uncle Threadbear talked. And talked. Uncle Threadbear talked mostly just because he could.
MThreadbear buzzed on and on about the Fine Art of Dry Fly Fishing: about hackles and quills, line tapers, May Fly hatches, and such fly-tech stuff that you would not understand.
MThe very dry nature of Threadbear’s techo-anecdotal talks was due to the fact that his own experience of the great outdoors was a one-time thing that happened when he had developed the habit of falling asleep in a wicker fishing creel and had been accidentally taken up the Oswegatchie river Trout fishing, coming home among a mess of trout in a bed of ferns and slimed so that he had to be washed and hung up by the ears to dry. This gave him a hard-to-loose fear of water, despite his romanticization of fly fishing exacerbated by the magazines in the bathroom: mostly Outside Life and Natural Geographics. The trouble was that he so often drifted from the vague and fantastical “recollections” of exotic adventures in the "Windy Mountains of Windoming" into techo-talk. Because of his wheezy voice, the Trunk Bears strained to hear him. After a while they strained just to stay awake.
M It was Nowella the WORLDLY Bear who finally acted to break through the boredom and to enhance the reality of these faux-fishing expeditions. This was not because she had any desire to go fishing or even to leave the house. She for one, had seen plenty of the Great Outdoors: she and her sporadically appearing companion Oneil the independent hand.
But let us stop again for a bit.
Before we bring on Oneil, it is important that we warn you(in case you have not met him before)that when you are introduced to him, DO NOT MAKE ANY MOVE TOWARD SHAKING HANDS.
MInstead, you might just nod to him, tip your hat, or say something nice about his own hat if he is wearing it at the time, with no remarks about how it might be ungainly for a hand to be wearing a hat. That Oneil does not speak should be obvious, though he does a lot of gesticulation which might mean something to him or in the private sign language he and Nowella have developed. Your understanding and sympathy might be helped if you could read his "Audobgraphy of an Indepenent Hand," which he sometimes titled "Audobgraphy of a Red Hand." But you can’t read it because he has not finished it yet. Oneil is a forever fiddler with the writing. Oneil can not speak or spell, but he can hold a pen as well as any man.
MHe would never be excellent at grammar, but he was very good at most manual tasks: was a good hand to have, was a LEFT hand, as it happened.
MThe mere existence of a living hand, independent of any living human being, but functional, self-sustaining and even helpful and expressive, does require some explanation.
MAccording to Oneil’s writing in progress, the man to whom he once belonged was the Oneil Clan chief known as Neil the Ruddy, who lived during a long-ago time of rivalries civilized enough that they were played out in boat races, rather than in actual battles. The round basket-boats called Coracles were powered by crews with paddle edges sharpened for the purpose of hacking at competing boats. Such a race could leave a bloody wake.
MThe last race of the complete Ruddy Oneil didn't result in any actual deaths, and wasn't bloody until the last few yards.
As the Coracles neared the goal shore, the Oneil craft was behind by only a few yards.
MThe chief Oneil then proceeded to draw his broad-sword and hack at his left wrist until his hand lay on the bottom of the coracle. He picked the left hand up with his right, and threw it to shore.
MThusly, the hand arrived ahead of all the other boats … so you might say that, technically, the Oneils won.
MAnd you might dispute that claim with paddles and fists.
MIn the fight to settle the controversy then and there, one of the competing boatsmen picked up the hand and flung it into the sea.
MAs far as we know, the dispute may never have been settled, and the hand itself was forgotten in the old country, but as we now know very well, it did not die. For a time, the vital left hand of Ruddy Oneil lay on the bottom of the sea that is the womb and cradle of us all. And, because he had returned to the source: to the salt and mineral loaded water, so close in its composition to our own bodily fluids, the hand hung on to life …lay there twitching for a long while, and then for a longer while, as the twitching slowed to resemble the slight heaving of a living breathing body, perhaps taking in oxygen through its skin by osmosis or by means of the squidly growing ends of his wrist-end veins. Gaining a measure of strength,mobility, and even human memory, he backed his wrist end into an empty Welk shell where he lived for a time, filtering the rich sea water, later crawling off in it like a Hermit Crab, for another shell before he abandoned that new Welk or Wonk or whatever it was for a long series of shells, migrating over time and across the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean until, now in a Conch shell, he let himself be rocked and rolled in the gentle surf of a tropical beach; and without any problem for his osmotic breathing adaptation, he crawled up onto a bright sand beach. There, bearing his own weight out of water was at first exhausting, but the beach was so warm that he relaxed right out of the Conch shell, naked as the day he was hacked; and he lay there until he felt himself turning red. So he backed into his Conch, but instead of going back to the sea, he followed his finger up the sloping beach to the shade of the jungle. And he stayed ashore, crawling along the ground of the understory, clenching and constrictor feeding on insects and spiders, taking up residence in a Banana grove, leaving his shell on the ground at night and sleeping among bunches and hands of bananas … which hide the deadly black Tarantulas, but in those encounters, Oneil the Red Hand (and he did glow red in combat) prevailed; then ate the spider.
MBetter than spiders though, he liked bananas. Bananas were right at hand, easy to peel, and easier than his usual crustaceans to mash and digest, but that grove-idyl ended when men with machetes came to harvest the bananas. Minus his conch. Oneil was carried away with the bunch he hid in, and loaded onto a boat bound for Boston.*
* In regard to Oneil’s viability: In his epochal journey across the ocean floor, Oneil had evolved and adapted to the dire circumstance, (so much worse than being a man without a hand) of being a HAND without a MAN. Oneil’s skin became his organ of respiration, his rhythmically clutching muscularity drove his circulation, and his body, such as it was, became his brain, developing the normal human capacity for what we call muscle memory, way beyond its ordinary limits. Oneil was a spectacular case of self-improvement: an example of what any pope would have to declare a miracle. Nevertheless, he had an exaggerated sense of shame, embarrassment, and inadequacy, which aggravated his emotional volatility. As a hand, still not a whole man, even when wearing his hat and shell, he blushed he felt naked if he was not also wearing his red glove. Being proud of his passionate nature, he intended to wear it in the author photo for his memoir in constant progress: Audobography of the Red Hand.
MAfter Nowella had first encountered Oneil in the hold of the banana boat, he sometimes manifested ahead of her like a pointer sign, sometimes following her, and sometimes nowhere … for all she knew.
MThen, and now during her settled life, Nowella would often first notice Oneil because of a barely detectable reddish glow: red like when if you turn out the lights and shine a flashlight through your hand. And so it happened that during Threadbear’s discourse about the long term utility of double-taper fly lines and the debt of modern fly rod technology to the graphite materials developed by SPACE SCIENCE, Nowella was thinking that if she was not all paws and had a hand, she would make some kind of a fly rod to liven things up. And soon enough, she noticed Oneil in the potted Fig Tree.
MThe people who belonged to the house must have been some kind of Nature Huggers. The As if the natural world of the Great Outdoors was about to be destroyed, they had brought in rocks of all shapes, some in use as paperweights, or door-stops. The absent people seemed to have adored the skulls of small animals and sea shells. Feathers of every sort, some cups with pens. And in the desk drawer that was always open, more feathers, along with the intermingled string, wire, and hanks of yarn.
MNowella’s idea, which she conveyed to Oneil with her gentle gesticulations and mumblings, was to give Threadbear a fly rod to enliven his presentation and inspire him in his disquisitions. Oneil got the picture right away, and in the rich litter of that little house, they soon found some suitable materials.
MSingle handedly he tied a few feet of yarn to the fine end of a Turkey tail feather, brought from the drawer by Nowella. At the far end of the line Oneil tied a ragged knot and that might seem to be a fly or a bug.
MThreadbear was so impressed with the fly rod, such as it was, that he stood there switching it in the air, flying the bug around for a very long while …. such a long while that, though the bears had been following the bug with intense interest, they began to tire.
Then Threadbear suddenly let the fly drop and carelessly allowed the rod tip to rest on the ground (as you would not do to a real fly rod) saying that the thing was very nice and all, but he could not help notice that it was really just a feather with a piece of yarn tied to it.
MOkay then. It took some time, some foraging around the house, and a tool or two, but in a Bear moment, or maybe a week of Bear moments, Oneil stripped the feather fibers off the main shaft of another turkey feather, bent copper wire into snaking guides, wrapped the handle with a strip of Velcro, made a reel from a bobbin loaded with string that had a hank of corner dust tied on the end like a bug.
MThreadbear went for the feather rod like a trout after a Fan Wing Royal Coachman. He grabbed the thing without a word of thanks and immediately began casting a bit awkwardly at first because other than with the full turkey feather and yarn, he had never cast a fly before, and though, from his reading he knew things such as that you cast the weight of the LINE and the fly will follow, but that is easy to say. Slowly improving his bodily understanding of that principle, Threadbear continued casting and eventually every Bear eye flew after that looping dust bug.
But then again Threadbear let the fly drop and the tip of his rod rest on the floor.
MThreadbear wondered aloud whether anyone else happened to have noticed that, as real as was the rod, there was no RIVER there. Without a river one has to feel a bit silly doing this.
Nowella and Oneil went off and came back in Bearely an a hour, dragging and rolling a long tube of brown wrapping paper.
“Am tham am rimmer?”
murmered Lamb, who had mobile lips,
though, like the others, no actual mouth.
Of COURSE that was not a river;
but they were not done.
MNowella and Oneil went off again. After a time immeasurable to Bears, Nowella and Oneil returned, pushing and pulling a large-mouthed, plastic, former mixed-nuts jar, that they deliberately spilled onto the floor: ball-point pens, lead pencils with and without points or erasers, colored pencils, tubes of paint, some without caps and hard as cement, also a tube of tooth-paste which might have been put there by mistake, along with paper clips, roofing nails, a few pennies, and one long curved rodent tooth. Now Oneil seized a fat blue crayon and scrawled on down the stretch of paper, streaming river lines and whirling pools. Oneil really made that river roll, flow through riffles, curling through eddies riffles, then dive in deep blue runs. The Trunk Bears were struck silent and still as if they were ORDINARY toys. Nowella took a broad felt-tip marker between two paws and tried to draw a bug on the bank, but the bug just became a larger and larger BLOT. Now Lamb took the biggest greenest crayon in the cleft of a hoof, scribbled a hill of grass on the river bank, then, in the excitement of creation, tried to eat the crayon. Which she could not.
One by one, and two by four, the Trunk Bears took up the pens, pencils, and other markers, and began scribbling and smearing with enthusiasm - though not with much dexterity, due to their lack of fingers and thumbs. After a moment out of time, Threadbear pulled himself up straight and spoke once again.
M“This is very good … very very good … but I believe I speak for all of us when I say that although the illusion is entertaining, it becomes somewhat difficult to believe in after a while because as a river, this one is so … flat.
MWell yes, a fair Bear would have to admit that, compared to everything else, the river was flat. After all, a river is not just a sheet of water. A river has rocks and things in it. This was not a problem for long. From the clutter of pebbles, stones, and baskets of rocks. Cattails, feathers, leaves, Juniper branches with berries on, pine cones, pieces of driftwood that looked like something else, small animal skulls, bird nests, and so on, the Trunk Bears took this, that, and the other thing.
They placed the stones and sticks and such in the river, then took up markers and scribbled in the river currents around them …..going on to add riffles, and rapids, the tooth paste applied as foam. Some Bears moved up along the side of the stream to add trees, and then more rocks until each was on her own project, or exhausted and sleeping under his tree.
MUncle Threadbear stood on the bank of the river, placed his paws thoughtfully together for a moment, then sighed and said “Did you Bears know that you can never step into the same river twice?” Of course this was beside the point,
seeing that Threadbear was not even
about to step into a river ONCE.
“Be that as it may,” Threadbear said
… and paused. “Be that as it may,” he repeated “a real dry-fly fisherman would not go fishing without the proper clothing.” All of them could see that, except for the various strings and laces he always used to brace himself, Uncle Threadbear was not only without proper fly fishing togs … he was Bearnaked, and when you are a Bear of little hair, that condition can be painfully obvious. Threadbear inhaled as deeply as his lacing and bracing would allow, then declared, in his papery whisper, “A rod alone … does not …
complete a fisherman".
M“For THIS river," he continued, “I will need water-worthy foot gear - not just boots, nor even hip boots, but proper, chest-high waders. Not to mention a hat, which is, after all a fisherman’s first line of defense, and his most outstanding mark of distinction, even off the water."
“A fisherman's vest would be essential, and maybe it wouldn't be too much to insist upon a pair of special-purpose, polarizing sun-glasses, so I can see through the glare and reflections of one's self that are normally a barrier between us and the watery, other world of fishes!”
MAs you know, and as they time after time evidenced, the Trunk Bears, Nowella especially, were not all that aware of time passing, which was probably because time doesn’t pass when you are doing nothing at all, not even breathing. But in pretty good time, Oneil, scissored off the bottom foot of the shower curtain, already a greenish, camoflagey shade from mildew. This would do for Threadbear’s chest-high wading pants..
And at the very bottom of the Bear trunk they found a crushed straw doll hat that they uncrushed to make serviceable.
MThen Oneil cut and bent wire to make the special fisherman’s glasses which, in his version lacked only the actual polarizing lenses. The idea was there. The lenses were implied,.
MThreadbear pulled on the chest-waders, and over them the many-pocketed vest; he donned the straw hat, he bent on the wire frames that represented polarized glare-piercing, fish-spotting glasses, then stepped onto the paper.
MBut he didn't leave the bank of the river. Until the last light of day, he stood in that one spot, casting toward the glass door.
MThe way things are going, you might expect that Threadbear would cast over this virtual river until he suddenly dropped the rod again and then called attention to the fact that this was not a real river, because there were no FISH in it. But that is not what happened.
MAfter a while, with the aid of his virtually polarizing rims and his concentrative powers, he was able to look THROUGH the reflective glare of the water’s surface to see, waving, rising, and falling in the current …TROUT. He stopped his casting, during which he had never let the fly drop. He let the tip of the rod rest on the ground, which you know one should never do. Threadbear could see a dimple on the water, as, as if a fish had kissed the tense film between the worlds of water and air. … one after another, rising to the surface for flies that were evidently so small that he could not see them. He did see trout, Brown Trout, he supposed, though the distorting and light affecting qualities of the moving water made the identification somewhat uncertain.
He also saw a Tuna, which seemed strange in a fresh water river, but to him that suggested that this river must have been close to the ocean. BEFORE making his next cast, Threadbear scouted the water and studied the fish … for what seemed like about a month … but was probably only hours in human time, Not wanting to alarm the fish with any jerky movement, the other bears stayed still as stuffed toys are supposed to do.
MThreadbear began working out line, waving his fly rod wandily but not letting the fly drop to the water. This went on so long that the Trunk Bears once again grew restless and bored. Even if you sleep day and night inside in a trunk of abandoned toys, the changing weather eventually gets to you;
MApril was the Foolest Month, with the weather turning one way, then another, ALMOST warm for a spell … then truly cold again … snow the same day as a spatter of rain against the glass door … then hot, and not just barely hot but beastly hot for several days on end, so that the Trunk Bears felt like wet cookies. With the warming weather, Nowella and Oneil left the deck door open a crack, so the house could cool off in the evening and either of them could sneak out to sleep in a crotch of the Horse Chestnut tree that spread its flower candelabras over the deck and house .
But as interested as they may have been in the outdoor world, the other Bears were still afraid to even step over the threshold into who knows what.
MOne warm, almost hot evening, Oneil and Nowella slid the door open a little further and left it that way. In the morning when the Trunk Bears rose from their sleeping pile in the trunk and saw the almost wide open doorway, some of them stared into the space as if something was about to enter. Nothing did.
BUT; with a flick of her tail, Lamb bounced right out the open door. Then bounced back in.
MMMMMMMAnd then out again.
MMMMMMMMAnd then in, and out some more.
MAs this went on, one, then another, and another of the Trunk Bears stepped over the THRESHOLD out onto the deck … and then pressed up against the outside wall of the house.
And then stepped back in again for a while, as if they were getting on and off a train at different stations.
MThe first surprise, to the simplest Bears, was that there were no Bears on the other side of their reflections on the glass.
MAnd then was the problem of distances, and, above all …. the mystery of the Sky.
Threadbear was not about to cross the Threshold.
M“The Threshold”, he grumbled, “is there for a purpose: To hold Thresh in so it doesn’t go out.”
If you were there, you could see that whatever it is, he identified with Thresh at that moment. There was no response to this assertion, and for an extended while, nothing happened.
“And besides,” continued Threadbear, after that bewildered pause, "this straw hat here, (though I appreciate your thoughtfulness) is not a fly fisher’s hat. This is a GARDENER’S hat. It provides some shade, but the wind blows rain right through it, and it is highly visible to fish. A fly fishing hat is made of felt so it keeps out the weather, and can be used to dip water if needed. It must be grey, or green, or some earthy color, and must have a woolly band for holding trout flies to dry when I tie on a fresh one."
M The felt hat would prove to be Nowella and Oneil’s greatest challenge in satisfying
MMMMMMMBut you guess correctly that they came up with something suitable.
MAll the exposed shelves in the little house were so dusty that it appeared the house people who seemed to be always traveling, had not bothered to do any dusting even when they WERE at home. Dust there was nearly as thick as the matted fibers in a clothes dryer’s lint-filter. Nowella rolled and gathered some between her paws, and began to form it over the copper hat that Oneil favored, but was not wearing a the moment.
MSeveral bears stood just inside and leaned out over the threshold looking side to side as if for a train, then up into ….. they were not sure what they were looking up into, or that they were looking up into anything.
MIt seemed to the Trunk Bears now that the Great Outdoors wasn’t so much about DOORS, as it was about the CEILINGS or lack of ceilings. They had never really much noticed the ceiling indoors, maybe because it was painted white to be inconspicuous, but standing out of doors, they realized that there HAD been one. The sky was obviously a blue domed ceiling, way up there.
MSeveral Bears stepped back indoors to check on the ceiling, and several bears stepped in and out repeatedly just to experience the transformative feeling of crossing the indoors/outdoors threshold. Several Bears remained hunched half on each side of the door. Then, without any conscious decision to venture out, but In a surge of instinct …the blood of his migratory ancestors rising in him, Walter the Catfish squirmed over the threshold and onto the deck.
If you are late in joining the story, have forgotten, or have just not been paying attention, you may be surprised to see a Catfish here: a Catfish as large as an average Dog, and with very little water anywhere near. Walter, you need to know, had arrived at this place a while back, having been sucked out of his native lake and natural element by one of those famous Water Spouts you hear so much about. Slammed against the sliding glass door of the house like a bug on a windshield. As a result of this trauma he had developed an understandable fear of water itself. But something was calling to him.
M Maybe he had been lured by a small school of Mackrel-shaped clouds that had just come swimming across the immense whatever that is Way Up There.
MWalter poked his head over the threshold and paused, his fleshy whiskers quivering on the deck boards as the clouds swirled slowly away looking more like Catfish. He squithered over the threshold and onto the dew-wet deck.
MFor the longest time, the Bears enjoyed the world changing game of going in and out and in and out, until they tired of that and stood staring up at the blue dome.
That afternoon, the Bears returned to the game of running in and out of the door.
Threadbear, despite all his talk about the Windy River out in the Big Sky country, was not all that curious about the Sky, and anyway, the river stopped short of the door and at an angle to it.
MIt was then, as Threadbear mumbled some more about holding the Thresh, that Oneil began reddening like an angry neck, as he scrabbled to the roll, he wrenched that river about by the end of the roll, and single handedly rolled it right over the awesome THRESHOLD, to where he banked it again at nearly right angles, then rolled it down a falls of steps to the ground . The Bears crowded together at the brink of the stair-fall, staring out over the vast and pebbly door-yard and the unknown shore beyond.
M A moth fluttered near, took the motionless Bears for nothing of consequence, and fluttered on.
MThreadbear, holding his fly rod with both hands as one would hold a gun, took one step on to, or you might say into the river... stood there in a half crouch for a tense moment, as if the surface might suddenly give way and he would sink over his head and past his hat, took one more big step over the threshold and stopped there. Then he removed his polarizing wire rim "glasses," paused for a moment, as if thinking, and then as he put the wire rims back on said,
“We are going to need boats; - lots of boats.”
That would not be a problem.