Patience of a Churchill Polar Bear

Polar bear and Hudson Bay Churchill

A polar bear waiting patiently for the hudson Bay to freeze. Michelle Viengkone photo.

by Michelle Viengkone

Some of us practice mindfulness, while others run free-throw drills or perfect our soufflés. Nonetheless, patience is required for the task at hand and if I may add, most generously so, towards ourselves.Polar bears could teach us some lessons.

Having spent time on the tundra, what continues to strike me most has been the patience that polar bears demonstrate when waiting for the ice to form. The bears that we are fortunate enough to observe are a part of the Western Hudson Bay sub-population. These bears are forced ashore during the summer months because the Hudson Bay undergoes seasonal ice break-up. By the time November strolls along, these polar bears have already been fasting for 5 months and it is not surprising that they can be more than a little “hangry”.

The male polar bear pictured waits patiently at the base of the spit in front of the Tundra Lodge watching the ice slowly build up. Restless, he may engage in some sparring with other males to pass the time. Swatting, pushing, and lunging are all in good fun on land. But it is also not uncommon to see bears lounging around within the willows or digging shallow beds along the coast awaiting their chance to take their first steps onto ice to catch their next meal. As the bears keep an eye on the Bay and forming sea ice, we as wildlife enthusiasts must be on the lookout for the bears; eyes peeled for a yellowish rock-like critter. This can be a challenging task as we bounce along on the rover with blowing snow impairing our line of sight. However, good things come to those who wait.

The sight of one’s first polar bear is magical. I have been lucky to witness these moments play out as travelers eyes light up with excitement peering from the rover. I have overheard the sing-song chatter remarking about the size and beauty of this iconic Arctic animal. I have given gentle reminders to pause the snapping of photos and have encouraged the simple act of watching the bear in that moment. Sometimes we rush through things – I know I have – paying little attention to the details, getting muddled or bogged down. Advice from one wildlife enthusiast to another: slow it down, and soak it in. Make like a polar bear and be patient, the Arctic may surprise you.

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