by Tara Ryan
A few good things to know:
- Polar bears have about 20 vocalizations – one of which is a hiss.
- In Churchill, Manitoba the trick or treating set are accompanied by gun-toting bear patrol enforcers.
- Wearing any white costumes (ghosts, brides… polar bears) is generally frowned upon (see gun toting bear patrol enforcers for rationale).
- Did I mention polar bears hiss when they are angry?
“Halloweening” in Churchill takes on a paramilitary edge as kids out trick or treating are shadowed by gun-wielding bear patrol officers. This is not unexpected.
Kids are used to the bear patrol presence year around but these patrols are especially heightened during the months of October and November, when the bears are starting to gather around the edges of the Bay in greater numbers awaiting the freeze up. There are other restrictions local kids must endure at this sugar-laden time of year – most importantly: “Thou shalt not dress in white; ghosts, brides and especially no polar bear costumes.” This is polar bear central after all.
Being a polar bear guide working away from the bright lights of the ‘big city’ of Churchill (about 60 miles north) in the remote Churchill Wild Polar Bear Lodge at Seal River, my fellow guide (Andrew MacPherson) decided to try his luck at bucking this long-standing no-white for Halloween northern tradition.
For October 31 we came as “problem bears” – me as a garbage addicted grizzly bear and Andy as a bear from the old ‘polar bear jail’ days (when they used to dart the bears and then spray paint numbers on them to keep track of repeat offenders). While putting the finishing touches on our costumes, we began to hear a shushing/hissing noise from outside – not unlike the air being forced out of a tire with a puncture.
Andy was silhouetted in one of the many bedroom windows looking out over the tundra. He was stunning in his white long johns appropriately padded with pillows for a fat bottom, a white fuzzy hat with ears, and matching gloves and claws.
The fall light had dimmed the immediate surroundings outside to near black. A ghostly movement accompanied by continued agitated hissing – and a nose print on the window – finally clued us in. There was a very annoyed polar bear outside our window that was letting the ‘polar bear’ on the inside know in no uncertain terms – that his presence was not welcome.
Andy hissed back.
Only at Churchill Wild!