polar hugs

March 4, 2016

I have now resigned myself to the waiting, and to the low percentage of chance to getting good bear shots on this trip.  The bumpy ride out is the same, and I tune out the conversations in favour of reading a book. FYI I am reading “The Nymph & the Lamp” an amazing old novel written by and based on the life of Thomas Raddall, a telegraph operator on Sable Island.  I dream of being there.  I glance out of the window every few minutes, but the landscape offers little interest. The sky is blue however, which somehow lightens the mood. I notice a single cloud in the northern sky.  It is undoubtedly the shape of a running dog.  I take it as a visit from my white dog.  He is free on the other side of the rainbow bridge and has shown me a sign. I hear him saying “it took me a while to find you!”

Lunch time comes and goes in the usual way. At 2pm Morris the scout checks in.  “How you doing out there?” he says on the two-way radio.  It is the same daily greeting as always but our driver reads much more into the message.  “They have found something!”

“How do you know Frankie?”

“I can tell by the tone of his voice”.  He knows his brother well.


Days of monotony are now followed by a hyper sense of excitement.  The mad panic ensues to put back on layers of gear, add new hand and feet warmers to gloves and socks. Check settings on camera. There is a mother and cubs quite close and the scouts instruct us to follow behind their ski-doos.  They lead us to mother and cubs that are resting in the lee of a handful of stunted black spruce trees.

We bail out of the van in a rush to set up in a good location.  Luckily the bears lay in a clear area, unobstructed by trees or bushes and shooting is relatively unblemished by distractions.  Tripod set, camera and lens mounted, lens protector off, lens hood flipped, adjust ISO, take a test shot.  And wait.  The bears are sleeping and nothing happens for an hour or more.  It is the usual hurry up and wait.

Finally the cubs begin to stir.  They are so small and fragile looking. I don’t know why, but my sense is that they are brother and sister, as one seems a bit smaller and more feminine.  They are shy and stick very close to mother, and she keeps them well protected by wrapping her huge front legs around them as they nurse and occasionally poke their noses out to sniff the air.  It seems this may be their first day out of the den. The world is new and a little scary.





I am overwhelmed with a feeling of awe and gratitude towards these bears. The possibility that they may become extinct in the wild within my lifetime is a somber thought. I begin to tear up at the thought and my eyes start to freeze shut.  No more crying.

As the afternoon light begins to fade momma becomes restless, sniffing the air for danger. She gathers the cubs and strolls off towards the forest for the night.  Since this bear has been out and will likely stay around for a few days, I make the decision to extend my stay until the next train out on Tuesday. This is a big decision because it will add another $2700 to the trip.  In for a penny – in for a pound!

To top off the day the northern lights were spectacular and we kept shooting well into the night.

Light Show

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