Having Tea with Polar Bears – Part 1

As Central Texas thaws from one of its rare (although becoming more frequent) ice storms, I realize it’s time to share stories and pictures from my time with the Polar Bears

But first: A huge hug and many thanks go to mom for the pictures. My photography skills extend only as far as my phone. Many, if not most, of these pictures wouldn’t exist if not for mom’s telephoto lens and quick thinking.

I hope you enjoy.

Looks like a Potato Chip in full sun, but don’t take a bite. He’ll bite back.

Golden like the sun upon the snow, walking, looking, then back to sleeping. Waiting for the ice, waiting to eat, waiting to live, dreaming the ice, the dive, the swim, the tearing of flesh, the dripping of fat down the throat. To gorge and to do it all again, before the ice melts, before the flowers bloom, before the long wait, before the long rest. Before it starts again. 

Will this bear return to Churchill’s shores in the Spring? With less ice in the arctic, survival rates continue to drop. Don’t let the size of this bear fool you. He’s hungry. He hasn’t eaten since last winter. Without the ice, he can’t get to the seals. Without access to the seals, he starves.

Stillness. The sun passes, shadows slide. The wind blows, shifting flurries. Stones stopped before memory. Waiting. Waiting for the ice to build the path to survival. The waiting grows longer, the bear grows stiller, until, like dust, both blow into memory.

Polar Bears are easy to see in photographs, but without an expert guide and a telephoto lens, we would have missed this guy.

Hard to imagine not seeing these giant bears, but this one looked like another rock until the head lifted off the ice.
This is how I felt by the end of day 1.

Impatience waits for no one except the Polar Bear. Survival is patience. Waiting for the cold, for the ice, for the hunt. Waiting alone, left alone, leaving alone. Being alone. Patience.

At the end of a day full of searching and watching for polar bears, I empathized with this bear.

Surprised at the number of bears hanging out together. Once the ice forms, each will be alone.

Waiting, companions, brothers or friends, but not lovers. Youth escapes them. Adulthood tickles. Soon the ice will come and they will part. One will not return to Churchill’s chilly shores, fallen, beaten, drowned, hungry before the final sleep. The other may return. No guarantees. A brief time together: a lifetime, alone.

Willows break beneath paws, planted, lifting the beast. He looks, knows what we are. He sees beyond the reflected lens, beyond whispers, beyond clicks, and beyond sighs. His nose confirms what his eyes see: He walks away, uninterested, unimpressed, knowing what is.

Polar Bear Alley is a protected area. Humans may visit as long as we remain on the giant rovers that move through the area. The guides and drivers know how to search for the bears. My naked eye only saw the bears walking of sleeping on the shallow ice fields. Bears like to curl up in the arctic willow. It provides protection from the weather, other bears, and us.

Had to look hard to see this one watching me.


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Published by L.K. Latham

Author of dark, speculative fiction.

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