Ursa Minor

Lyric Essay by Talia BarNoy & Photography by Anthony Maes


The Little Bears were young girls who followed Artemis and danced around the rural land of Brauron in a sanctuary outside of Athens by the sea; salt tinted breezes paired with the ashiness of always lit flame, encasing the forms of little girls in a chiton of mist and a himation of smoke. They were left there before they were of age to marry; before husbands were found for them and they grew into mothers. The Bear, the name for the sanctuary keeper, took care of them as priestess and parent, acting as Artemis and caring for their maidenhood; their wildness before domestication.


Had not the Greeks held the severely anthropocentric view of the world which they did, with its unequivocal and untypical elevation of man over animals, anthropomorphism in Greece would never have reached such a perfectly developed state.[1]


I became a polar bear activist at the age of five because of a VHS tape of a TV mini-series called Tales of the Wild about a fictionalized polar bear following her from youth into motherhood. I was a child armed with sadness towards a dying world and a polar bear figurine named Tasha whom I had bought from the Natural History Museum in New York. As I grew older, I read about how the ice was melting, how cubs were stranded, how food was scarce. Up until high school I told all that I met how we needed to Save The Polar Bear.


The Little Bears were Artemis’ retinue, following behind her in their youth. Young girls in hibernation, asleep from what growing up could do. Young girls amidst the tamed untamed, becoming and being at will. Tumbling naked around the coast, picking berries and fruits, still safe.


I can’t remember when the fervor left me.


There were a few movies I had labeled as unacceptable for watching when I was younger. Spirited Away, Treasure Planet, and Brother Bear. Something about the loss, the loneliness, the forced adventure, and the act of transformation embedded into each of them was too much for me. Becoming a pig, a pirate, and a bear was frankly frightening.


New York-based artists William Wegman and Carolee Schneemann were each making art in which their pets played a major part. Schneemann, a filmmaker and performance artist, insisted on acknowledging the contribution of her cat Kitch to her work: “Her steady focus enabled me to consider her as an aperture in motion.”

Wegman, meanwhile, was making a series of short video pieces with Man Ray, his first and best-known Weimaraner. Susan McHugh has persuasively argued that artist and dog were involved in a highly unusual form of cross-species artistic production that briefly succeeded in replacing “anthropocentric aesthetics” with what she calls “pack aesthetics.”[2]


I eventually became capable of watching these movies without much apprehension. I’ll watch the scene in Spirited Away where her parent’s greed transforms them into pigs and still feel an uncomfortable pain in my gut, revulsion in the form of fear. But Jim Hawkins grows up and Kenai becomes comfortable as the bear he had always been meant to be and I feel this tugging pull in my chest, tasting jealousy on my tongue.


It is said that the sanctuary at Brauron once held a gentle bear. A bear that had gotten used to the loudness of humans and their smell. But humans, new ones, young ones, can be mean; can be frightened; can want to show that they are strong. Little boys – little cubs sharpening their teeth – became men or monsters when they killed the bear as he slept. Their actions made them.


Until the 19th century, however, anthropomorphism was integral to the relation between man and animal and was an expression of their proximity. Anthropomorphism was the residue of the continuous use of animal metaphor. In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy.[3]


I used to tell people I was a bear.  I was rough, hairy, and strong. A thing made of tawny muscles, claws, fangs. I was a bear who would not hibernate, whose soul could not rest, who remained in a perpetual springsummerfall. I was alive. I was rough and tumble. I was free. Free of clothes, free of others, yet never alone. Claws bared and teeth sharpened by words.


Kenai is a bear now. The spirits made him so. He is annoyed with a cub who keeps following him as he tries to find a way to become a man again. The cub tries to tell Kenai a story, the one about how Kenai tried to kill the cub’s mom but we the audience don’t know that yet and neither does Kenai. He and we have yet to understand his transformation. Kenai tells the cub to save the story for when they meet up with the cub’s friends. His REAL friends. Not Kenai. And then the cub starts to sing: [4]


I started to learn about the stars in high school. Not all of them, but I identified the Crab, Orion and his belt, Cassiopeia, the Big Bear, and (with difficulty) the Little Bear. Staring up at the sky, I can’t help but think that without their names and the shapes we gave them, they are just lights in the distance.


Tell everybody I’m on my way Kenai tries to make the cub stop and I don’t understand- Join in and sing, Kenai, I will if you won’t New friends and new places to see Kenai muffles the cubs’ mouth With blue skies ahead The background art is so beautiful, I want to roll in the grass and throw snow in the air Yes, I’m on my way Kenai stuffs the cub into a log And there’s nowhere else that I’d rather be But the cub is persistent Tell everybody I’m on my way And this is where the voice actor for the cub stops singing and Phil Collins takes up the song And I’m lovin’ every step I take And then there’s a montage of brotherly affection With the sun beating down And there’s the way their bodies move, like men, like me, that if only I can Yes, I’m on my way But what if I did just drop it all and walked the land like they do, took off my shoes and felt the grass between my toes and ran across the mountainside until there was a stitch in my side And I can’t keep this smile off my face-[5]


I used to say I was an overprotective mother who roared at those who harmed my friends. And then my friends were no longer cubs, or never had been, left me like cubs do to most mother bears. I became what I had always said was the part of the bear that I was not: A bear, not lost, but in the wild, alone, defending the self and surviving. I armed myself with little tools; army knives, rope bracelets, compasses, whistles, harmonicas, stories, and the stones of crumbling ruins. I would not be tamed.


Anthropomorphizing animals is frowned upon in scholarly circles. The worst of ethological sins. I should not see myself in another species. I should see another living being, not another human; a breathing thing, not a metaphor. But that’s boring. Where’s the art in that? Where is the essence that makes up humanity? The thriving need to empathize by comparison? To make myself into nature? To feel that the wilderness never left me? To refuse the animal as an inevitable kill? An inevitable death? Where is the inherent intimacy of the simile? For Pete’s sake. Let me witness myself.


We’re going on a bear hunt and we’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared! Uh oh,[6]


Somewhere in the storm between growing tall and maturing, it became winter while I wasn’t looking. The bear that I had been fell asleep, allowing the world to quiet and the wildness to bottle itself up. Contained. I forgot that the world was bright and changeable. That it was worth looking at and finding kinship with.


In moving from a childhood in the woods to the university I had unknowingly shifted between worldviews, from natural history of experience, in which I knew plants as teachers and companions to whom I was linked with mutual responsibility, into the realm of science.[7]


Artemis had raged at the bear’s murder. She was a cruel protector, and she would punish. She looked at the town. There were the boys – now men through their bloodshed – laughing at the world, boasting to the girls. And then there were the girls, finding ways to boost them in their terrible ways, separating the bear from themselves in order to become appealing. It hurt Artemis to see their bodies change.


My friend works at a children’s bookstore. I came to buy books visit her and they handed me a children’s book[8] that had made them cry from seeing herself in it. The cover has a big brown bear reading a book while leaning on a tree with a little girl leaning on the bear reading a book beside him. It was about growing up, leaving things behind and passing them on to the younger generation through the guise of a teddy bear. I read it and felt kinder to the earth.


There were other boys in the village who had refused to join in on causing the bear’s senseless death, but they now joined the other boys in gathering the meat from the bear’s bones and the girls- they had not yet destroyed, Artemis thought. She could save them through punishment. She could watch over them this way.


If I look at the hairless flesh that is my hand and the way that I need to cut my nails short enough so I don’t dig them into my skin as distraction – punishment – from panicking over little things like order, I know that I am not the mother bear I had thought of myself. I never had been. But it was enough that I had seen it.


Artemis came down from Mount Olympus, her hair streaming behind her, her body bared to all of Brauron. With gravity, she delivered the fate of the girls.


Saying ‘it’ makes a living land into “natural resources.” If a maple is an ‘it,’ we can take up the chain saw. If a maple is a ‘her’ we think twice.[9]


I’ve decided to stop naming myself simple things. If I am named, I have become trapped in your mind. I am too complicated to be kept. Too malleable to be a thing. As long as I am seen, that is enough.


Artemis watched as her priestesses – her bears – took care of the girls – her cubs – as they shed themselves over and over and over again. Soon their parents would take them back, take them to become wives and stay that way. But for now, Artemis thought, Run naked and free from the prying eyes of those taught to own your ability to transform.



[1] Renehan, The Greek Anthropocentric View of Man

[2] Baker, Picturing the Beast

[3] Berger, About Looking

[4] Disney’s Brother Bear

[5] Phil Collins, On My Way, from Brother Bear

[6] Michael Rosen, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

[7] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

[8] Jonathan Stutzman, Bear is a Bear

[9] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass



Talia R. BarNoy is a Queer Jewish writer and archaeophile from New York City. Talia has been previously published in New Voices Magazine, Lilith Magazine, Door is A Jar as well as in other locations. You can find more of Talia on Twitter/X @teateemple or just shout in the direction of the Hudson River and they’ll find you.



A native of Denver, Anthony Maes is a Chicano Visual Artist who is well known for his editorial & documentary photography. Anthony’s eye has allowed him to beautifully storytell with his work as well as encapsulate a very intimate view & cultural identity of his subject. Anthony’s work has helped him to create a diverse portfolio of art works ranging from photojournalism, concert & fashion photography to portraiture. Additionally, Anthony is a cofounder of the Denver Photo Swap and a member of the photography Collective Theyshootn.