It is 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, three times hotter than the surface of the sun. This is the temperature of a bolt of lightning, touching down on the earth from the sky. The bolt of lightning heats up the surrounding air to impossible temperatures, and is seen by the humans standing nearby much quicker than it is heard. The contracting of the super hot air creates the iconic "crack" of lightning, and the subsequent boom of thunder. Looking up from below, heard by the Ute Indians for millennia, the first boom of thunder indicates it is now time for the annual Ute Indian bear dance.
Every spring, men and women of the Ute Indian tribe gather together to participate in a long-held tradition. Men build the corral, the setting of the dance activities. Women weave the clothes and plumes the people will wear, colorful and thoughtful.
The act of storytelling is very meaningful for Ute culture and within the bear dance. So meaningful in fact, that it is very difficult for the novice researcher at her desk to find any information written down. Ute belief is such that, when a person is ready for information, mentally and age appropriate, it will come to them. To write down stories and lessons gives anyone access at any time, whether or not they are prepared and willing to receive them. Lessons within the stories are tailored for the recipient, passed down orally with forethought and care. The story of the bear dance, as gleaned from many sources, is as follows:
"Two Ute men were hunting in the forest. They became tired and laid down to rest. When they awoke, a bear was in their presence. One of the brothers left to continue hunting. The other stayed. The bear then stood up and began to dance. He taught the young Ute man the dance, as well as the song that went with it. The man went back and taught his people the same dance and song. To perform the dance and song was to show respect and reverence for the bear and its spirit. Respect and reverence makes one strong."
Instilling respect and reverence is as much a part of the bear dance as is its timing during the year. The bear dance happens in early spring, after the first sound of thunder. After the long winters, Ute people are ready to get outside, socialize and commune. Spring is a time of rebirth, regeneration, and renewal. After four days of dancing and storytelling, the Ute people throw off their costumed plumes and leave them behind in the corral. This symbolic gesture means leaving behind negativity and casting off one's troubles. The Ute are now ready for their own rebirth, regeneration and renewal.
So go forth, readers of this column. Go forth and leave your plumes behind. Use the warming temperatures of the year to get outside, casting off your layers of puffy jackets and fleece lined hats. Take your cues from the Ute Indians and cast off the layers of hardships and humility from winter. Use this time as your own rebirth and regeneration in preparation for the upcoming year and the struggles and triumphs it is sure to bring. Or at least just clean out the gutters.
Sandy Gilbreath is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. A recent implant to Colorado, you can find her hiking, skiing and admiring the state's peaks and valleys.