LIFE ON THE ICE

THE POLE AND A MESSENGER

Day 62. At 4 am this morning, Eric froze in his sleeping bag. Not from being cold, but rather to try to discern a noise outside that sounded a lot like footsteps in the soft snow.

There have been many times where both of us have mistaken a random noise as something more formidable than a snow flap blowing in the wind. On a completely calm night, even the thump of your heart beating resonates through the sleeping bag nylon like the steady footfalls of a stalking predator. But this was different than all those other sounds.

This was a polar bear walking a few feet from our tent. A polar bear exactly one mile from the North Pole.

We managed to quickly scare the bear away with a ‘bear banger’ flare. It wasn’t in a big hurry to leave and stopped frequently to sniff the air. By this time, Lonnie had the video camera running and caught a few farewell glances on tape. We hurriedly put our boots on to assess the scene.

The bear had followed our ski tracks into camp. It came from down wind to disguise its scent and used several small drifts to hide behind as it stalked us. Then, it circled slowly around the tent, coming 5 feet from Lonnie’s head.

It was not aggressive. It did not damage any equipment. It was 10 feet away on its way back to the lead when Eric first saw it. To us, it seemed more curious than anything else.

We are on fairly young ice. There are hundreds of leads all around. We have seen seals nearly every day for the last week. So, it seems plausible that a polar bear could be in the vicinity.

But 550 miles from land? On the very same day we would eventually attain the North Pole on an expedition whose mission was to protect the polar bear. Apparently so.

Yesterday, we were searching for meaning and not finding it. This morning it walked within 60 inches of us. We find it difficult to not draw a deep significance from this encounter.

Sure, it was just a polar bear doing what polar bears do: living and hunting on sea ice. Maybe it caught our scent from far off and was just curious. Maybe it was looking to assert dominion over its particular range. Maybe it was looking for an easy meal. But may, just maybe, it was a messenger from the rest of its race sent to remind us that the fate of the polar bear lies in all our hands.

We attained the North Pole at 12 noon CST in a moment of, considering our morning, complete anticlimax. We took a few pictures to document the moment, then watched the GPS coordinates scroll south on the screen due to the rapid drift of ice. In a few more minutes, the Pole was completely covered in water.

All of our emotions splayed in a winding trail between here and Ellesmere Island, we stood quietly for a while, then said almost simultaneously, ‘Well, should we set up the tent?’

Word of the day: stewardship – please draw your own meaning.

  • Sunday Homecoming
    Jul 14, 2006
  • Hot Times Up North
    Jul 12, 2006
  • First Shower Since May 1st
    Jul 08, 2006
  • Last Day, Last Lunch, Last Camp
    Jul 06, 2006
  • A Tough Decision
    Jul 05, 2006
  • Rest Day – take 2
    Jul 04, 2006
  • Rest Day for the Weary
    Jul 04, 2006
  • Back in the USSR
    Jul 02, 2006
  • Almost
    Jun 30, 2006
  • More Seals?
    Jun 30, 2006
  • Worst to First to Mashed Potatoes
    Jun 28, 2006
  • Making Watery Progress
    Jun 27, 2006
  • A Paddle to the Pole
    Jun 26, 2006
  • Deep Thoughts
    Jun 25, 2006
  • Seals at the Pole?
    Jun 24, 2006
  • One Degree to Go!
    Jun 23, 2006
  • Laughing All The Way
    Jun 22, 2006
  • Happy Summer
    Jun 21, 2006
  • Our New Friend
    Jun 20, 2006
  • R & R
    Jun 19, 2006
  • Seal Sighting
    Jun 18, 2006
  • Nine Hard-Won Miles
    Jun 17, 2006
  • Energy Conservation
    Jun 16, 2006
  • Not Easy
    Jun 15, 2006
  • Chess and Chocolate
    Jun 14, 2006
  • It’s all at 88
    Jun 13, 2006
  • Still Pressured Ice?
    Jun 12, 2006
  • Soft Snow Slow Go
    Jun 11, 2006
  • Snow and Ice
    Jun 10, 2006
  • Six Again and Sun
    Jun 09, 2006
  • Ice Puzzle
    Jun 08, 2006
  • On the Road Again
    Jun 07, 2006
  • Depot Day
    Jun 06, 2006
  • Waiting
    Jun 05, 2006
  • A Day at the Arctic Spa
    Jun 04, 2006
  • Houston We Have 87
    Jun 03, 2006
  • sunny day
    Jun 02, 2006
  • Half Way Birthday
    Jun 01, 2006
  • Poetry
    May 31, 2006
  • It was the best of ice, it was the worst of ice
    May 30, 2006
  • Ski Pole Comms
    May 29, 2006
  • Blizzard at 86
    May 28, 2006
  • Keep North
    May 27, 2006
  • Time
    May 26, 2006
  • A Seal?
    May 25, 2006
  • Rest Day
    May 24, 2006
  • Perspective
    May 23, 2006
  • Bon Appetit
    May 22, 2006
  • Rainbows and ’85’
    May 21, 2006
  • Mud and Ice Mayhem
    May 20, 2006
  • Skiing in the Rain
    May 19, 2006
  • Trail Jargon
    May 18, 2006
  • Vacation Day
    May 17, 2006
  • frida
    May 16, 2006
  • the good, the bad and the great
    May 15, 2006
  • It’s Worse
    May 14, 2006
  • more white out
    May 13, 2006
  • 84
    May 12, 2006
  • Daydream
    May 11, 2006
  • Not Easy
    May 10, 2006
  • Cheese Saves the Day
    May 09, 2006
  • Two Rabbits and a Cardinal
    May 08, 2006
  • Seven on seven
    May 07, 2006
  • Moving Forward
    May 07, 2006
  • May 5, day 5, 5 miles
    May 05, 2006

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