Bear and people – From myths to reality – Thursday, Friday and Saturday

After being inspired by the talk from Professor Huber, we gathered around the fire to share stories, myths and legends about bears.  We all had to present a story from our countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland and Spain plus a little help from our friends from Italy, Belgium, Serbia and Israel) around the fire. So we learnt about different symbols of the bear in different cultures – from a good and helpful friend, a strong and powerful animal, a symbol of fertility, a forefather, king of the wild, to a cute and a cuddly creature. The fire also inspired us to think a bit further about the role of the bear and its importance in our folklores and cultures.

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The next day was even more special for us and for our “reconnection” to nature – we had to spend a day in the forest. The group was ready and excited about the hike and was looking forward to reconnect with nature. In order to fulfill their expectations, the group leaders organized several games in the forest which were aiming at making the participants think about how they feel the nature and how do they see their personal relation with it. Surrounded by the great forest which is home to around 7 bears in the region of Kuterevo, we had the opportunity to walk around bear habitat, look for tracks, learn about different herbs and bears’ favorite food , as well as their favorite place to rest (under the poplar tree /Populus nigra/ if you are interested :-)).  We also tried to raise questions about deforestation, habitat fragmentation and the role of the people in the forest in general.

The evening was very special as it gathered all of us around the fire in the forest and we were all asked if we wanted to join the Friends of the Bear – Kuterevo club and devote four days each year for working for bears.  Of course, we all wanted, so Ivan was happy to welcome us to the club. The ceremony was mystical and surrounded by fire, stars, forest, wild animals and enthusiastic people who are all united together in this special place in order to create something that will raise awareness and challenge more people to think about bears and their role in our lives.

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And here we have a story from one of the brave participants who decided to stay at Kopija for the night… (not everybody was prepared for the cold):

Under the starry sky the ones who had it in them to sleep outside (all the six people) prepared for the night.  I choose to make my home on grass, near bear and wolf cemetery, armed with a space blanket, two blankets and a sleeping bag. With the shooting stars making their brief appearances between the constellations the relationship of man and nature was renewed; Where do we come from, Where are we and where are we going? And maybe most importantly is that were we want to go to? Wondering around these themes sleep embraced Kopija. The night was reasonably warm but the cold crept in a little bit because of the moisture gathering towards the morning.

Waking up with sunlight making its way across the mountain sky is not a bad way to wake up. Not at all in fact.

On Friday, we started to the projects that we want to realize for the Kuterevo Bear Refuge, based on myths, legends, tales, and other stories and aiming to inspire people to reconnect with bears and wilderness.

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As the main goal of the youth exchange is to try to understand the connection between bear and man, we were challenged to think about the destructive actions of humans on forests and bears and the consequences of them. By discovering the importance of the bear in the past and the different symbols and roles that it has in the different cultures and mythologies, we want to understand if we could learn from them and try to change our present actions.

For that, we had to define our topics and groups and we brainstormed on what we want to do and what will be the best way to present it. We wanted not only to make something that will last, but also deliver a message to the people, challenge them to think and find the missing link between bear mythology and present situation. We are now working 4 different projects, with 4 groups of enthusiastic people. What are the projects you will find out soon… 🙂

One evening was reserved for visiting Teta Dragica – also known as the “coklje lady” or “shoes-maker-lady” 🙂 We all had the chance to see how local traditions and customs are preserved and how recycled materials are being used for creating shoes. Some people even ordered coklje so Teta Dragica is now busy, do not disturb her  🙂

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Katrin, Juho, Iva, Kike, Niina and Amélie

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