Last week in Part 1, I delved into the natural world through the eyes of Jillian Tamaki’s irrepressible explorer from They Say Blue. Through her eyes, readers are launched into a whirlwind of endless curiosity and individual inquiry. I absolutely love the childlike energy of her quest. But as the spring weather pulls my attention outdoors, I also find myself drawn to slow down and spend time in the quieter, more contemplative world of Daniel Salmieri’s Bear and Wolf. As much a visceral journey of the senses as Tamaki’s, Salmieri’s ramble through the woods takes its time, pausing to examine and appreciate each new facet of the wilderness that his furry friends encounter.
When Bear and Wolf meet each other in the snowy woods, they observe each other from a distance before padding forward to observe each other up close. Golden eyes see deep brown eyes, smooth gray fur contrasts with soft black fur, wet black nose mirrors wet black nose. Both out to feel the crisp cold of a wintry day, crunch the snow under their paws, and enjoy the stillness of the woods, they decide to continue on together. Each in their own thoughts, but companions nonetheless, their shared journey beautifully evokes the transcendent peace that can come from immersion in the natural world.
Through the eyes and noses and ears of our wild companions, we are thrust into an exploration of individual perception. As they walk, Bear and Wolf smell the bark on the trees and listen to the snowflakes softly landing on their backs. But their sensory gleanings are opaque to us. Does bark smell the same to a Wolf and to a Bear? Do their ears pick up the same nuances from the sounds in the stillness? I don’t know the answer, and the book offers none. But we know that they’re sharing the experience nonetheless. We briefly see their walk from the bird’s eye view of an owl, and we know that theirs are not the only eyes and ears and noses taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the woods.
Salmieri sneakily draws the reader into an experiential role too. A full spread of magnified snowflakes demands we stop and look at each one. A transparent window is brushed from a lake’s frozen surface, uncovering a window to the sleeping fish below. And then the perspective flips so the slumbering fish take center stage, the faces of Wolf and Bear dimly silhouetted through the icy window above, unobserved by those floating beneath. Which fish captures your attention, the upside down yellow one or maybe the peaceful gray? Readers are invited to wonder, what do fish dream of in their frozen sleep?
And then their paths diverge. The fantasy of friendship is that it is regular and without interruption, but I love books that explore the push-pull we all face in life between sharing ourselves with our friends and following our own paths. Wolf returns to his pack, chasing caribou in single file, one of many stretched in a long silent line to the horizon, united in common pursuit. Bear returns to her family cave for a long winter’s sleep, lost in her own dreams but secure in her connection to her family, furry back against furry back.
While Bear is dreaming and Wolf is hunting, the blues and purples of winter transition to the fresh yellows and greens of spring. Salmieri’s text simply states, “Some time passed and winter faded from their part of the earth”—a statement elegantly crafted to describe a globe in which seasons don’t exactly disappear as much as migrate. When spring comes and the world awakens, our friends find each other walking the woods again. With no big fuss they fall comfortably back into step in a forest now filled with fresh, rippling green.
With spare simple text and perfect pacing, this is an ode to the joys of heading into the natural world to see what’s there. It’s a testament to experiences shared and unshareable. As someone who has always valued my time in the woods, I hope it sends kids on their own journeys, alone and with good friends.