To be more precise: one bear. On Wednesday I was, briefly, part of a Climate Pilgrimage in which a polar bear and his companion are walking from Shropshire to the Cop 26 in Glasgow. Seeing all ten feet of Clarion the Bear being moved with great care and tenderness along Kendal’s busy main street was profoundly, unexpectedly moving: all that attention being lavished on one, vulnerable creature—he looked so ectopic in the blare and bustle of town—while the actual vulnerable creatures are unprotected. It was simultaneously beautiful and appalling.
For me that moment of seeing the bear being manoeuvred through traffic, amongst buildings and streetlights and signs, allowed some things to come back into focus, or awareness. It was a painful, vivid, necessary and motivating experience. If part of the purpose of pilgrimage is that the pilgrim be changed the experience, then this pilgrimage has already done its job.
The experience led me to look up this lovely poem, ‘Planet‘ by Catherine Pierce, in which the poet reminds us of how easily we ‘forget this planet’, getting lost in thoughts of ‘dentist appointments and plagiarists/ and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself’. We lose our sense of wonder and forget our responsibility to care. The speaker is ‘ashamed’ of this. What shifts things is the experience of registering how powerful the wind is, how blue the sky: how life is various and vastly abundant despite our worst efforts. The speaker is shocked out of taking things for granted, and thus returned to appreciation and awe. Hearing how the ‘planet is so loud with itself’ she’s reminded to ‘[try] to see this place even as [she’s] walking through it’. Which will, of course, change how she walks through it.
Clarion the Bear helped all this happen for me, this morning. It was a shock, a privilege and a wonder to be “reset” in this way. It shouldn’t be necessary, but sometimes it is. Don’t it always seem to go…