As a guide for Churchill Wild for many years I have had the pleasure of introducing people to polar bears and the Northern Experience on many occasions. This year was no exception, and it just seems to be getting easier every year.
I land with part of my group at the airport runway on the tundra near Seal River Heritage Lodge. From there it’s a 5-10 minute walk to the lodge with our resident guards, Andy and Terry. But wait, look at that. Two large polar bears wrestling down on the Hudson Bay ice just a stone’s throw away. We stand mesmerized, cameras blazing away in the soft afternoon light while two huge males push, shove and pummel each other to exhaustion. The only sound is the shock of their blows as they make contact, and the sharp exhalations of breath caught in the clear crisp air.
No other animals would fight so intensely or with such power without a lot of anger involved. But these bears seem to be enjoying it as much as we are. Then, just as dramatically, it is over. Thirsty and over-heated from the extreme exertion, they scoop up great mouthfuls of snow before drifting apart and finding their own quiet spot to have a rest and cool off only a short shuffle away.
Just as we attempt to continue the walk to the lodge, a sik-sik, or arctic ground squirrel, comes bouncing our way. Stopping at only 2 meters, he rears up and gives us all a thorough military inspection! Satisfied that the intimidating group before him is not a real threat, he spins away, spurts around us, and finds his favourite burrow. For me he is a big surprise because, apparently, he doesn’t know that he should have been in bed for the winter by early September at the latest, and it is now well past mid-October.
Soup is waiting, so we hurry a little more now as we start to feel some hunger pangs. But still another bear is blocking the path to the gate as we approach. Walking up as close as we dare, he finally yields the right of way reluctantly.
You would think all that excitement would be a good enough start for a four day experience at Seal River Heritage Lodge, but Mother Nature isn’t done yet. That evening, just as we are about to begin dinner at 7:00 PM, Terry announces that the Northern Lights have begun to appear in an ever-clearing sky. Dinner will have to wait, much to the chagrin of our hard-working and dedicated kitchen staff.
The Aurora display is breath-taking. Wave after wave waltzes across the sky’s dome in great undulating curtains of green, tinged with red. What a show! Finally, we have to go for dinner, but the aurora continues to dance well into the night.
The next morning a perfect sunrise over the steadily freezing bay, dotted with boulders of lunar style and proportions, is a special omen that the best is yet to come. Are those two bears outside the window really going to start another shoving match? Yes, they are! Without regard to the faces pressed against glass at less than 4 meters away, the titans of the tundra tear up the turf once again.
Nobody on a wildlife trip deserves so much good fortune, but we’ll take it, thank you very much.