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Published: March 8th 2020
Watching the mama bear and her cubs was so entrancing that even our driver/guide forgot about lunch. When no bears were any longer in sight, he drove to a place known to him. He and the naturalist served vegetable soup, our pre-ordered sandwich and a cookie with tea, coffee or water. His stern injunction was that we must each be seated before we could be served, and no one was to help. This kindergarten-level rule was to prevent undue spillage in the vehicle, which could harmfully attract bears.
During the afternoon we saw individual bears minding their own business.
One was stretched out on his belly in a bed of rocks. As uncomfortable as that sounds to us, the rocks do hold some heat from the thin sun and from the animal itself. Quite often he lifted his head to sniff and survey his surroundings, then sank back to his snooze. Another bear was doing much the same, except his bed was of kelp. That he was not eating it gave an indication of its being a long way down on the list of desirable foods for bears. They will eat it if necessary, but kelp is
no substitute for seals.
Again I was amazed at how easily bears fit into the seemingly barren landscape. Collections of rocks and bushes enabled them to hide in plain sight. One bear was napping on his haunches, upper body stretched out on the snow. He could have been a pile of boulders. Another was stretched out along the shore of the Bay, blending in with the stripes of rock on the land and islets of snow on the water.
Beside some bushes our buggy slowed. A Ptarmigan was tucked up under its own wings, fooling us into thinking it was a soft ball of snow trapped under the branches. Until it got too curious, lifted its head, and revealed its black beak and black button eyes.
Our guide pointed out a hotel in the distance, consisting of buggy-style vehicles linked together, with some being barracks and at least one having large windows. A far more expensive version of my tour could be taken in these over-night accommodations.
The most comical bear was a huge male sleeping under a small bush! His head was fully under the leafless bush, but his large body was not. Wonderfully, the
pads of his big paws were visible, one of the few places not covered by insulating fur. As we watched he stirred, turned over, stretched and returned to sleep, keeping his head under the bush. After a while, he stirred again, stretched mightily, got up and meandered out of sight. I watched with fascination as the pads of his feet lifted with each step, and with our vantage point, I acknowledged the natural evolution of a flat short tail to cover his sensitive rear body part.
We moved again and watched a solitary bear walk slowly towards, in front of, and away from our buggy. Most obligingly, it departed along a pristine drift of snow, letting us see its compact pattern of motion as represented by a neat trail of paw prints.
The sun descended in the west, drawing us away from the bears to visit the town of Churchill. I was filled with the sweet traveler's regret that a magical experience was over, only to be revisited by memories and innumerable photographs.
Our town visit of thirty minutes disappeared quickly. I took a few photos of the streets and modern condos in the dusk light. Suddenly,
I had the inspiration to do my Christmas shopping in the Arctic Trading Company. Thus, my gifts would be unusual, and the commerce would support the struggling local economy. I whisked around making almost instantaneous decisions, while an assistant started wrapping the gifts in the store’s distinctively printed brown paper. Clinging to parcels not chosen for their size or suitability for carrying on the airplane, I stumbled back to the bus barely on time. Others of our group were picked up at the bar, perhaps a long-standing tradition. We drove directly to the airport and underwent “facial recognition” security – the leaders looked at us as we walked out the door onto the tarmac (their joke). Once in the air, supper was served with a large glass of red wine – very welcome!
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