Outside the den it was cold. The white snow covered the ground, dropping in great sheets from the tree branches above. Spring was still weeks away and the forest was calm and quiet. The only sound was the gentle whistle of the wind as dawn broke in the eastern sky.
Inside the den it was warm and cozy, the floor and walls were dry. Mama Bear had chosen well for herself and her two cubs. Mama Bear and Girl Bear lay nestled close together, a bundle of soft fur, dozing and snorting. Boy Bear was restless. He rolled to his back, paws kicking in the air. He flopped on his side, grunting and sighing heavily
“Go back to sleep, Boy Bear.” said his Mama. “It’s still sleepy time for bears.”
Boy Bear jumped and climbed on his Mama’s back, thrusting his snout against her ear. “I can’t sleep anymore!” he cried. “When are we gonna go Outside?”
Mama Bear gently shook the cub off, pulling him in close to her chest. “Soon, Boy. Just a few more weeks and you’ll see the world.”
Girl Bear yawned and eyed her brother with amusement. “You’ll just be scared when we go Outside.” she teased. “You’ll probably run like a baby rabbit at everything you see.”
Boy Bear cuffed his sister on her nose. “I will not! I’m gonna be as big as the trees! Mama said so!” He nodded vigorously. “Ain’t that right, Mama? As big as the trees?”
Mama Bear chuckled. “Yes, sweet boy. As big as all the trees.” With those words Mama Bear fell back into a deep sleep. Girl Bear yawned and closed her eyes, sleeping peacefully close to her Mama.
Boy Bear sat on his haunches, fully awake. He huffed and crawled to the mouth of the cave, looking out on the world, transfixed by all he saw. “Would it be really that bad if I went out for a quick look?” he said to himself. He looked over his shoulder at the dark forms of his Mama and sister. “I could go out, look around, and be back before they even woke up.” He jutted his jaw in determination and left the den, full of the courage and fearlessness of the very young.
Boy Bear stepped carefully over the ground, gingerly lifting his paws, shaking off the cold snow. The sun was just beginning to rise and the forest shone gold and yellow, the light on the snow almost blinding to eyes more used to darkness. The tiny cub ventured forth slowly, looking around in awe of all he saw. Soon he reached a small clearing in the trees. The snow under his feet was less here and he could trudge with more confidence. He walked to the very middle of the clearing and sat down, lifting his head to peer up at the enormous trees that surrounded him. “As big as the trees.” he whispered.
Suddenly, a small dark shape dropped to the ground in front of him. Boy Bear jumped up, startled at the sudden visitor. “What are you??” he asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
“I’m not a what.” said the little shape. “I’m a crow!”
Boy Bear’s eyes widened. “A crow? What’s a crow?” He had a sudden and terrifying thought. “Crows don’t eat bears, do they?”
The crow laughed raucously. “Of course not!” he said. He lifted his black wings and looked up into the trees. “Hear that, brothers and sisters? This guy wants to know if we eat bears!” The sound of loud and sudden laughter filled the clearing as scores of crows reacted to the joke.
Boy Bear looked up nervously, now seeing what appeared to be hundreds of crows perched in the trees. “That sure is a lot of crows.” he said.
The crow on the ground strutted proudly. “We always flock together. Safer that way, you know.” He looked at Boy Bear curiously. “Speaking of safety, ain’t you supposed to be asleep in a cave somewhere?”
Boy Bear bristled and puffed out his chest. “My Mama and sister are asleep. I’m Outside, seeing the world.”
The crow whistled. “Well, you’re a brave one, aren’t you?”
Boy Bear nodded. “Yup, and someday I’m gonna be as big and brave as the trees!”
The crow laughed. “That’s pretty big. I think you’re …” Suddenly the crow stiffened and stretched his wings, calling out, “Lion!” as he lifted into the air. The other crows jumped from their perches in the trees and took up the cry. “Lion! Lion! Lion!”
Boy Bear pouted and said, “I’m not lyin’! It’s true! Big as the trees!” But the crows were gone. The forest was suddenly very still and quiet. Even the wind had died down. Boy Bear looked around the empty clearing. His ears twitched as he heard a low growl behind him. He turned slowly in time to see a large and sleek mountain lion emerge from the shadows. The big cat licked his lips, green eyes shining, staring directly at the frightened cub. Boy Bear gulped and began backing away, the lion slowly following. The cub found himself backed into a tree. He squeezed his eyes closed tight and whimpered, “Mama?” just as the lion leapt into the air towards him.
Suddenly a great whirring noise filled the forest. A huge shadow fell from the sky, diving directly at the pouncing lion. The cat roared and swiped at the shape but was soon overwhelmed. With a cry of frustration and rage, the lion ran back into the trees. At the very same moment a second shadow fell over Boy Bear. He felt talons in his fur as he was lifted off the ground. The crows had returned to save their new friend!
The crows carried Boy Bear up, up, up, high over the trees, and carried him safely back to the den, then they flew off, squawking in victory.
One crow stayed behind. Boy Bear looked at him in wonder. “You saved me.” he said.
The crow nodded. “Can’t have you missing out on being bigger than the trees, now, can we?” With a chuckle he flew off, calling back, “You come back out with your Mama in the Spring! I’ll see you again!”
Boy Bear watched his new friend until he was just a dot in the sky, then he crawled back into the den. Mama Bear woke when her boy cub cuddled against her. “Able to sleep, now?” she murmured. Boy Bear nodded. “Yes, Mama, now I can sleep.”
And he did, dreaming of snow and the forest and crows (but, fortunately, not mountain lions) and he dreamed of growing as big as the trees.