November 10, 2009
I wish I could describe the feeling I get every time I see a polar bear. The polar bear is one of the most magnificent animals I’ve witnessed in its natural habitat. The weather was perfect for spotting bears today and the bears were quite active. It’s been one year since I last saw the bears of Churchill and seeing our first polar bear today made the small Arctic town feel like home.
The picture of the bear to the left is actually the third bear I saw today. The first one was out near some Tundra buggies, moving away from the vehicle and the group of people trying to catch a glimpse of him. I did capture a picture of that bear, but it’s at quite a distance.
The second bear I saw today was lying peacefully along the horizon. We observed him for a while. He was huge and didn’t budge an inch. He was also quite far away, but I’ll include a picture of him below because it gives a sense of his size.
The third bear we came across actually came across us. He was crossing the road we were driving on. Ironically, we were looking to the right, toward the bay, in the same direction we’d seen the other bears. “There’s one on the road ahead of us,” somebody in our group called out. It was a classic case of looking for something and not seeing what is right in front of you. We slowed the bus and watch the handsome bear walk up the hill, along the road. He was a really cool bear. He’d take a few steps, look at us to let us know he knew we were there, and then keep on walking. It was just about dusk, and as the sun was approaching horizon, the bear seemed to be appreciating the setting sun. Eventually the bear made his way down the hill, behind some rocks, and we lost sight of him.
The next bear we saw was also crossing the road. This bear was running from some trucks that were following (or perhaps chasing it). Once the bear crossed the street, the trucks stopped to take photographs. We were told people may have been trying to move the bear away from some sled dogs. The Arctic is a strange place – it’s mysterious. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and think you saw something, but ask a few people and you’ll hear as many different perspectives as people you asked. Sadly, a bear was killed today (further North than where we are). The hunter and his grandson say it was self defense. We’ve also heard that they were out hunting, with the intention of killing a bear. Another person said the news reported that the grandson got stranded on sea ice, with a mother bear and her two cubs for a couple days. That doesn’t sound quite so innocent to me. I cannot imagine how or why people hunt polar bears.
Thankfully, this bear crossed the road and realized everything was okay. We saw the bear looking out at the water and looking back at us. Then, the bear seemed to disappear. We traveled a bit further down the road, rounded a corner and saw something I’d previously only seen on TV — the bear was swimming.
We looked at his fresh tracks in the snow and watched the bear swim for a while.
We saw several more bears walking across the tundra, and down through the trees. Then, we saw a spectacular sunset and called it a night. . . almost. . .
As I sat here writing this, a few of us on the late-night shift heard the Northern Lights were out. We quickly grabbed our boots and ventured outside again, this time in our pajamas. Before we left the building we looked left, right, up, and down to make sure there weren’t any bears hanging around the door. We sat in a vehicle, watching the glowing green lights in the sky morph and change shapes before our eyes. This is the second time I’ve seen the Northern Lights (the first was from the train last night) – a perfect bookend to an amazing day. Just before we headed back to the Center we saw a shooting star among the Northern Lights.
Here are a few pictures from today: