Once upon a time there was a polar bear named Wilbur. Wilbur lived in a little space within a deep cave, which was only big enough for his own family. This cave curved and stretched down into the heart of a very large mountain. Wilbur was born in that very spot in which he now lives, and was the only one in his family that had never been outside of it.
Wilbur and his two siblings (Amelia, his older sister, and Bosco, his older brother) spent all of their days huddled close in the cave with their momma and papa. In the morning, Wilbur and Bosco would wrestle with each other, and Amelia would growl and make the brothers quit if the fight got too rough. In the afternoon, the three little bears would cuddle up and listen to momma tell a story about the “outside world.” Lastly, in the evening, the whole family would snuggle-up together and hum their favorite song. This routine repeated itself day after day after day.
But one day, when Bosco had just begun biting Wilbur’s left ear, Papa polar bear lifted his head and said, “Children of mine, the winter is deep. I feel chills in my spine, so now we sleep.” Then, Momma bear, Amelia, and Bosco closed their eyes without even the slightest growl, put their paws over their eyes, and went to sleep. Wilbur crawled over to Amelia and poked her in the eye.
“Hey, Amelia… wake up…” He whispered.
Her eye opened, “what?” she whispered back.
“What is everyone doing?” He asked.
“What’s hi.. hi.. hiv…?”
“Hi-ber-nate-ing.” Amelia interrupted. “It’s fun. You close your eyes for a little bit, then you wake up… and everything’s different!”
Wilbur wasn’t sure how he felt about this whole “hiverdating” thing, so he decided he was going to stay up as long as he could. Wilbur held his eyelids up with his paw, and circled around his family. He made it 9-and-a-third times around before he toppled down into a deep sleep.
Wilbur did not know he fell asleep. He thought he was still walking around in circles. Wilbur became bored and nudged and pushed and growled at his sister, but she did not wake up. Wilbur clawed and bit and jumped on his brother, but he did not wake up. Wilbur whimpered loudly near momma and papa, but they didn’t even wake up! Wilbur was frustrated, so he decided to walk away from his family and find out what was out there. Wilbur soon came across a different family all cuddled-up, much like his own. He found another bear walking around in circles, and they bumped into each other.
“Hi! I’m Wilbur!” He said.
“Hi! I’m Vilbur!” Said the other bear.
“Has your family gone hiverdating as well?” asked Wilbur
“Yep, and now they won’t wake up to play with me. It’s very sad and lonely.”
“I know how you feel.”
They both looked at each other, and then looked at the ground, and then back at each other.
“Wait.” Said Vilbur
“Maybe.. well I don’t know…”
“What? What? What?!” Wilbur pleaded.
“Maybe we can play together.”
“I would love that!”
So Wilbur and Vilbur played together for quite a long time. They wrestled together, and hummed together, and ran around together, and even shared stories together that their mommas had told them. After a while, Wilbur had a thought.
“Wait. You’re not my brother…”“Yeah?” Vilbur was confused.
“…or my sister…”
“…. Or my mamma or papa…”
“So, what are you?”
“Oh! I’m your friend!” Vilbur exclaimed.
“What’s a friend?”
“It’s… it’s… well, it’s someone you play with, and talk with. And you pretend like they are one of your family, but they really aren’t!”
“Oh! I understand! I like friend!”
Vilbur smiled, and then Vilbur’s papa let out a loud sigh and started to rise up. Wilbur got very excited and thought his family might be waking up to. Wilbur said goodbye to Vilbur and they promised to play together again sometime soon. Wilbur bounced back to his family with a giant smile on his face and his tongue sticking out. He saw papa already awake, with a long frown on his face. Wilbur kept bouncing even though his entire family looked very serious. Wilbur didn’t know what to say, so he blurted out loudly.
“Papa! Momma! I met another bear named Vilbur! He is my friend!”
His whole family gasped.
“You did what?” His papa questioned.
“I met a friend!” Wilbur said again.
Momma fainted; Amelia and Bosco yelped.
“Wilbur, my son, have you forgotten the First Rule to Being a Good Bear?
Wilbur remembered the ancient verse:
The best of bears must strive to be,
forever just with family.”
Wilbur felt really bad, but he had such a fun time with Vilbur. Wilbur didn’t understand why he had done such a bad thing. His whole family was asleep, and they didn’t even tell him why! They didn’t wake up to play with him, and they expect him to sit by their side and not go explore on his own? On the other hand, Wilbur loved his momma and papa, and would never want to go against their rules. Especially not the most important rule of being a good bear! Wilbur felt so stressed that the walls of the cave starting spinning and spinning until they were going so fast that Wilbur fell over and everything went dark.
The sun snuck its way into the little room where Wilbur and his family had been sleeping for several months. Slowly, each of the bears woke up, and they all felt rested except for Wilbur. Wilbur was still stressed. He understood now that he had just been sleeping, but he wondered what he would do in real life if he ever met another friend.
He rolled over to Bosco and said.
“Hey, how does the First Rule to Being a Good Bear go again?”
“Silly little brother, you should know that. It goes like this: The best of bears must strive to be, forever just with family.”
All of a sudden, Wilbur became worried that he might not be a good bear. And he started to cry.
Bosco bounced over to Wilbur, and Wilbur wiped away the tears just before he was tackled down. Bosco smiled and growled “Are you ready to go?”
“Go where?” Wilbur asked.
“Family Valley! It’s where our whole bear-family comes together to wrestle each other and to tell stories to one another about the caves we were in! You’ll get to meet all your cousins and aunts and uncles, and maybe Grandpop will even tell you his fish story.
Wilbur didn’t realize that he had such a big family. He had never been outside of the cave before, and he had no idea what to expect when they would leave. He was really nervous, and his fur started to shake a little bit. Wilbur didn’t want to appear nervous, so he tried licking and biting his skin to get it to stop. Papa bear looked back at the whole family, and waved his paw forward. And off they went.
The family walked in a straight line through a little tunnel that lead them right outside. Wilbur couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw all that the ground wasn’t grey or rough, but it was white and soft. He looked to his right, and instead of seeing rocky walls, he saw the grand mountainside that dropped into a valley and stretched all the way towards a large body of water. At the edge, where the land meets the water, there were large pieces of ices that floated in the water. They looked like giant puzzles pieces that had been broken off from the main land.
Wilbur ran towards Papa bear and jumped on his back.
“Are going that way?!” He said while pointing right.
“No,” Papa chuckled, “that would lead us towards the Ice Isles. We are bears, of the bear-family. Therefore, we must go left towards Family Valley.” Wilbur’s papa pointed to his left, towards a valley that stretched past the horizon. There were little spots of water scattered across the valley, but nothing like the big water that Wilbur saw when he looked at the Ice Isles. Wilbur then looked forward and saw a line of mountains that separated Family Valley from the Ice Isles.
“Has any bear accidentally gone the wrong way out of their cave and ended up at the Ice Isles?”
Papa Bear roared with laughter. “A bear losing his way? That would be absurd! If a bear has been somewhere once, he knows exactly how to get there again! I could walk to our family’s section of Family Valley with my eyes closed.”
Wilbur chuckled too, bears did have a great sense of direction, he thought. This thought became truer as they began to climb down the mountain. From afar, Wilbur saw a bunch of other bear families climbing out of their caves, and little bears just like him following their papas. They were all headed towards Family Valley. Not one bear family was straying from their path or looking for a way to go. Wilbur became very excited because he knew all families of bears would be in the same place!
“I can’t wait to meet other bear families” Wilbur burst out.
His father stopped; the whole family turned their heads to him.
“Other bear families?” Bosco and Amelia giggled together.
“No, Wilbur. We will only be spending time with our bear family. That’s the way it works.” Momma Bear said softly.
Papa Bear walked over to Wilbur and pick him up, and plopped him on his back.
“Wilbur. Do I need to remind you? We are polar bears, and we are of the Bear Family. We are pure bears. The best kind of bears! Any interaction with other kind of bears, or other kind of animals, would bring harm to the integrity of this family. You’re going to stay right here with me.” Papa Bear said.
Wilbur didn’t understand what was so wrong with what he said. He just wanted to have a friend like the one he dreamed about. Wilbur let his eyes wander towards the other families travelling down the nearby mountains. He could see other white bears like himself, brown bears, and black bears. He wondered what other families did in their free time, how they wrestled with their brothers and talked with their sisters. He wondered if other families gathered together and listened to their Momma tell them stories. He wondered if they liked to eat fish as much as he did.
But, Wilbur remembered the First Rule of Being a Good Bear. He knew that he would never be able to know what other families do. He would only know his own, and he would only be able to interact with his own. He knew that he was born into a “higher-class” of bear, and that he would have to respect his papa’s command.
Wilbur stopped looking at the other families coming down the mountain, because they made him sad. To cheer himself up, he asked him Momma to say his favorite poem like she would when he got afraid of the dark in the cave. Bosco and Amelia loved the poem too, so they begged and pleaded for her to tell it as well. Momma Bear said okay, and she begun:
Once upon a time, in a cave just like ours
Lived a polar bear, who never cowers.
Amidst the dark and scary depths
He would keep the same paced breaths!
He protected his family against all foes
And he could comfort them with just his toes. (Wilbur always laughed at this part.)
His name was Theodore, or Teddy for short,
And his family loved him, he was such a good sport!
One time, a bear who was bigger than he,
Came strolling in like a big bully.
But his growl and howl scared it away,
And it’s said the bear is still running to this day!
So, hear this, you little bear you
You can be strong like Theodore too!
Wilbur felt more peaceful and more inspired after hearing the poem this time, and he vowed to himself that he would be as strong as Theodore. Or maybe, even a little bit stronger. Wilbur fell asleep in his papa’s fur, and sometime after was woken up by his cousin who yelled.
“Wake up, little one! Welcome to Family Valley!”
Wilbur rose up on his papa’s back, and stretched out his little arms and legs. He opened his mouth wide and poked his tongue out as far as he could. He shook the sleepiness off of his fur, and then stood on his hind legs and surveyed the area like a little prairie dog. Wilbur could hardly see the snow on the ground because a flood of polar bears was covering most of the area. A feeling of amazement flowed into Wilbur, and he was so in awe of the great number of bears that he was forgetting to breathe! Wilbur toppled over off of his papa, and was immediately bear-piled by a number of other little bears like him.
“Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” All of his cousin-bears said.
They finally hopped off of Wilbur and took a step back, one came forward.
“I’m Veronica. What’s your name?”
“I’m Wilbur.” He smiled.
“Do you want to play with us?” She asked.
“Yeah!” Wilbur shouted.
And so Wilbur played for the rest of the day. The bears wrestled and ran and tackled and slept. And at night, they all gathered round one momma of the family (at which time Wilbur first used the word “aunt”) and listened to her tell a wonderful story of fun, and excitement, and family.
During storytime, Wilbur crawled over to Bosco and Veronica and whispered as quietly as he could.
“Today was so fun. Are we going to be able to play with each other forever?”
Bosco and Veronica giggled to each other.
“No, silly! It may feel like a long time, but soon Family Season will be over, and we all go back to our caves to sleep again.” Bosco said.
And it did feel like a long time to Wilbur. A few months went by, each day Wilbur grew bigger and bigger. Each morning, the little boy bears would wrestle each other and tug at each other’s ears, and the girl bears would break up the fights if they got too rough. Each afternoon, all the bears would gather around one of the mommas and listen to a story. And each evening, all of the bears, of the Bear Family, would huddle up together and hum a song.
This same routine happened day after day after day.
Wilbur had grown in size. He was a big bear, bigger than Bosco but not as a big as his Papa. He had also grown bored of doing the same routine, every single day of his life. Wilbur woke up one morning, and was once again reminded by his Papa that hibernation day was coming soon. Wilbur wished he didn’t have to go back to the cave with his family, and that he could spend the time he would be sleeping with a friend.
He was sitting by himself, a little ways away from everyone else, thinking to himself. Wilbur faced the mountains that divided Family Valley from the Ice Isles, and he wondered what it would be like to go over there. It’s not that far, Wilbur thought. But I can’t leave my family, it’s against the rules. I doubt Papa has ever gone away from family, because he is such a “good” bear. So, how does he know it’s a bad thing? Wilbur felt bad for thinking such a thought, and shook his head so furiously as if trying to shake the idea away.
Veronica noticed Wilbur sitting all by himself shaking his head, so she ran over and sat down next to him.
“What ya thinking about, cousin?” She asked
“Nothing.” Wilbur said quickly.
“Why aren’t you wrestling with the other boys? Bosco is winning and he’s started to boast about how good he is. It’s kind of annoying, you need to go beat him like you always do!”
“Nah, I’ll pass.” Wilbur said nonchalantly.
They sat quietly together; Veronica didn’t know what to say.
“Hey, Veronica,” Wilbur started. “Do you like adventures?”
“Of course! I love to run around Family Valley pretending to be somewhere else.”
“Except I’m not talking about pretending, Veronica. I want to go over those mountains and see what the Ice Isles are like.”
Veronica gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
“Why not?” Wilbur questioned.
“It’s dangerous, first of all. Secondly, it’s against the rules. What about our entire family? We’d be worried. Not to mention your Momma and Papa, and Bosco and Amelia. Why would you leave them?”
“It’s not that I want to leave them, it’s… it’s complicated. They don’t get it. They’re too simple. Bosco and Amelia are okay with just listening to our parents, but I’m not. I want to see the world for myself before I decide to live ‘only just with family.’”
“If you go; I’ll tell on you.” Veronica threatened.
“Fine with me. But if you don’t go, you’ll never know what’s over those mountains.”
Veronica hesitated, looked back at the family, and then looked forward.
“Fine, I’ll come. But only because I’m worried about your safety.”
So the two of them ran off, without letting their parents or siblings know, and they ran all the way to the base of the mountain. They both stopped and looked upwards.
“This is taller than I remember…” Veronica said.
“We better start climbing, I want to get as high up as we can before nighttime comes.” Wilbur said.
Veronica nodded, and they began to climb. They tried to find as level of paths as they could, but they often found themselves growing weak and sore from walking up paths that were too steep. I don’t remember the mountainside being this steep on the way down. Wilbur thought to himself. They climbed as far as they could before they finally passed out from exhaustion and plopped down to the ground.
“Tonight, we’ll sleep. But tomorrow, we won’t stop until we get to the Ice Isles. Okay?” Wilbur said.
Veronica had already fallen asleep, so Wilbur decided to sleep as well. Wilbur woke up once throughout the night, and noticed Veronica shivering in her sleep. He didn’t think much of it and went back to sleep. The next morning, Veronica woke Wilbur up and turned away from him.
“I can’t do this. I have to go back to the family.” She said.
“Veronica, no! You said you would come. Don’t you want to see the Ice Isles?”
“Maybe, I do. But, not enough to leave the family. You should come back too, Wilbur.”
“No, I can’t. I’ve made my decision; I’m going.” Wilbur said
“Goodbye, Wilbur.” She sighed and went down the mountain as quickly as possible to get out of ear shot from Wilbur.
Wilbur watched her until he couldn’t see her anymore, and resumed climbing the mountain.
Papa bear woke up and roared, “It’s time to go back to the caves!” And all the bears rose as well and stating gathering into their immediate families. Momma Bear saw Amelia and Bosco, but no Wilbur.
“Wilbur!” She shouted. “Wilbur, where are you?” She yelped.
Veronica had just gotten back from the mountain and heard her yells.
“He’s gone up the mountain! Wilbur is going to see the Ice Isles! I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t come back.”Wilbur’s whole family looked at each other, Bosco and Amelia covered their eyes and dug their chins into the snow. Momma Bear jumped towards Papa Bear and cried, “Papa Bear, what are we going to do?”
Papa Bear stared at the top of the mountain and sighed, “We’ll have to go back to the cave without him.”
All surrounding families gasped.