Polar Bears of Hudson Bay-Part 3

The next morning it’s well below freezing, there are 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, and it’s still dark at 7:45 when a bus pulls up to take me and a dozen other tourists to the staging area where we climb aboard our tundra buggy. It’s a ponderous over-sized vehicle with huge tires, ideal for what passes for roads out here – really just ruts and bumps alternating with low spots filled with water already turning to gray slush as the temperature continues to fall. Operating our tundra-buggy is a garrulous character named Mac, who keeps up a steady patter for some 20 minutes – interesting information about the tundra and the wildlife here. 

By now the visibility has worsened and the snow is at least six inches deep. Abruptly, the buggy jolts to a stop and Mac turns to face us. “Now it would be a good idea if we all remained nice and quiet,” he says. And he points out into the grayness. 

Sure enough, an inquisitive polar bear is ambling across the rutty road, swaying side-to-side as he approaches, peering at our huge vehicle through the blowing snow. Passengers crowd against the windows and begin snapping pictures. I push open a door and struggle out onto an open platform at the rear of the buggy, right into the teeth of the icy wind. My fingers stiffen and start turning numb. No matter. When I look over the side, the bear is right in front of me and I hurriedly click the shutter.

We come across more bears during the rest of the afternoon, including two young males who entertain us for well over a half hour as they roll and tussle and chase each other in circles. “Just a couple of 800 pound puppies,” says Mac. “But step outside, and in five seconds those cute little guys would have you for lunch.” 

The light begins to fail as we arrive at the staging area and transfer onto the bus for the 20-minute ride back into Churchill. Jouncing along in the darkness, I take out my camera and sneak a look at the photo of my bear. He’s right there, completely unafraid.

The people in the bus are chattering excitedly about what has been a truly remarkable day and discussing where they would like to go for dinner.

And all I can think about is Michael Goodyear’s most optimistic prediction. 

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