12/6/2012 6:00:00 AM
It's one of those questions that stays in the back of your mind: when will the freeze come? In your heart you want it to come early so the bears can hunt seals again, but there's that selfish part that wants the bears to be there, just one more day. Just one more day to let me find some bears! Then you realize how selfish this is and appreciate the time you have left.
I have been asked which shift I prefer and to be honest they both had their positive sides. The morning and afternoon shifts seemed to find bears sparring, wandering, and eating equally. In the morning you had the thrill of finding that lone bear as he wandered through your camera lens. The anticipation of what he would do, would he find a friend and spar for us, or would he wander out of sight? Either way it was an exciting moment. In the afternoon the action was usually already happening when you first started. I think some of the most beautiful sights I saw in the area were the sunsets (excluding seeing a bear, of course). The sun would seem to just hang there for a while and then suddenly drop out of sight, leaving that warm glow spread across the horizon.
Maybe it's just me but seeing the bears doing simple things like laying down was exciting. Polar bears don't just plop down, they usually ease down. This means putting that long neck and head down, pushing through the snow a little, and finally bringing the rest of the body down, sliding into position.
As the migration season progressed, I started to notice fewer bears, and they were getting harder to find. There were times when I would go for hours and see nothing on any of the cams, just the blinding snow forcing its way through the tundra, seeming like it was in a hurry to get nowhere. All the while I would be thinking: Could the polar bears be gone, they didn't all go at once did they? Of course not, those were just my frantic thoughts about the day when it would happen.
In those waning days, the "catch" would become all the more precious. You knew the males were probably already out on the sea ice or hanging out along the shore, so that left mainly the females, who are the last to leave. The hope was always to find a mom with her cub(s). The first sighting always forced that "awwww" right out of the lips. I mean what could be cuter then a polar bear cub? Those little round, white rears bobbing along, trying their best to keep up is simply adorable. I loved it when they would try their little pounce, just like mom.
One afternoon I logged in and saw a sight to behold, Buggy One was parked near a mom and two yearling cubs. It was fantastic seeing these youngsters, knowing that life's amazing cycle was once again continuing. The trio stayed put for awhile before they decided to move on. I panned and followed them until they had all but disappeared. I was hoping to see them a little longer when suddenly I got the word that Buggy One was going to try and locate them. The one thing I noticed, other then their uncanny ability to find these guys, was the distance the buggy drivers gave the bears. It always seemed to me they kept a respectful distance as to not disturb them in any matter. That's what the zoom lens is for!
Almost all day we watched the family wander and play. Incredible as it was, the mother would stand and play-spar with one cub and then the other. The sight of this adult giving her cubs a valuable life lesson was incredible. The hours passed all too quickly. Sunset was coming when mom ambled to the edge of some brush, sat back, and began nursing her two cubs. Was I actually seeing what I thought? I had to zoom in just to make sure, and then this rush of adrenaline came over me. I was seeing one of the most beautiful moments nature has to offer. As I sat watching, tears started falling down onto my cheeks. I was literally unable to move my eyes from the screen. How unbelievably lucky was I to be in this situation, bringing the world this moment!
As the days grew shorter and most of the bears were gone, I knew our time was waning. They would be on the ice doing what polar bears are supposed to do. I was left with an uneasy feeling, thrilled that the ice had formed, but feeling oddly alone and sad.
Sports fans sometimes say things like "Wait 'til next year." Those words have never meant more to me then now.