My things are partially packed as the routine for this last morning is breakfast, a bear walk, and then the first group will depart for Churchill. The last of the clean clothes are being donned. My roommate is “flattening” her hair and putting on makeup for a return to another civilization. The suitcase is overflowing…but all of this stuff got here so it will all get home.
Our plans are evolving as the snow squalls come and go. The ceiling is low and it looks like it will get even lower as the day progresses. We hear that we will just have to play it by ear. The first group, of which I am a member, is supposed to lift off mid-morning. I am not ready to leave anyway.
A mother with a cub heads towards the compound and coats, hats and cameras are ready almost instantaneously. I am getting good at this drill. A big male is following a mother and cub and she, with the shake of her head, hassles the baby along, hopefully out of harms way. A bear entertains us by stuffing his nose through the fence while folks pose and wonder all at the same time. There is a surreal quality about this entire experience.
A small group heads out with Tara and Andy. As we walk the flats, the footsteps of the mom and cub are clear in the snow. Ptarmigan flutter around in the willows for no particular purpose that I can see. The grasses are heavy with new fallen snow.
We are all watching for bears and starring at the snow as it gently falls. We head back towards the lodge. The sky is still menacing towards the south.
A snowy owl is perched on a rock outside the dining room window. He is just past the limit of my 400mm lens. Maybe this would have been the time for my teleconverter! All in all, I am not complaining, the equipment has worked well. The operator just needs fine tuning!
As the tide comes in I follow a bear as he moves out to sea. He climbs up on a totally submerged rock — a white icon in an icy sea.
A caribou chili, curried squash soup, egg salad and tuna salad with fresh bread and herb scones with cranberries—that’s lunch. Clearly we are not going to starve if we have to stay another day. Jeanie hands out WWF bags with small polar bears in them and has scarcely left the dining room when she is back to announce that the plane for the first group will be here in 20 minutes. No time for Johnny Cake. Time to load up and start the trek to the runway.
The new folks are arriving and I guess we may have looked similar just three days ago but really the aura of our group was spectacular in terms of being like-minded and flexible about the journey. This has been an amazing experience with a good group of people. Birds of a feather flock together????
Group I stands on the runway as the food for the new group is off loaded. Our luggage precedes us and is stowed behind the aft seats. We climb up the ladder and buckle in. I get a seat with a longer buckle this time….probably should have been extra long to accommodate all that I have eaten.
I am on the land side for the trip to Churchill. The flats of Hudson’s Bay are often below me and the freeze up from the shore out, is well underway. The trees become more prevalent and the snow comes and goes all the way to Churchill. Canada North spreads to the horizon.
The fact that the streets are muddy, like after any spring thaw, doesn’t help but my overall impression is that the hard times of the Canadian recession have impacted this town. While tourism is a big moneymaker, most of the folks are out on the tundra buggies this time of day so the Parks Canada exhibit and the few stores are really pretty empty. I don’t think the cookbook I bought at Northern Images will do much to stimulate the economy.
I wander up to the Anglican Church to see the stained glass window donated by Lady Franklin to St John’s Church in York Factory. It was later moved to Churchill. Lady Franklin sent it in memory of the efforts made to save her husband, Sir John Franklin, a renowned arctic explorer who perished in the north in the mid 1800’s. The exterior windows of the small chapel are more traditional than Lady Jane’s. The memorial one is leaded and has many small panels that appear to be etched. It is lovely. I thank the caretaker and head cross the street towards the shores of Hudson’s Bay.
The rocks and grasses along the shore bring back memories of my first trip to Churchill in the early 80’s. It was a long time ago. I am glad for the memories.
By 4:30 the second flight has arrived from the lodge and we start congregating near the Seaport Restaurant. Some folks have found carvings to take home. As our numbers grow there is chatter that supports the fact that we collectively think that the staff at the lodge have their work cut out for them this coming week. Some of the expressions that I saw made me think that at least some of the new folks are in for a real surprise. I’m not even sure they realized that you get to the bears by walking! Some of the ladies looked like they were scanning the horizon for the shopping center, not bears. I hope I am very wrong.
Due to some confusions regarding our reservation, supper is a bit rushed, but the kitchen rises to the occasion and before you know it our dinner vouchers are handed in and we are ready to pile into the bus one last time to head out to the airport. Bonnie had picked up chocolate bars for everyone and we munch our way past the remnants of the old military base. As we pull into the terminal we are on the last refrain of our final rendition of Mr. Polar Bear. It’s not much of a wait before our 6:30 flight to Winnipeg is ready to board. No security check here!
The sun is setting with pale pinks and blues as we bank over Hudson’s Bay and leave the private jets, including Mr. Belushi’ s, behind on the runway.
I have been stunned by the beauty of the land, the opportunity to walk with the bears and the hospitality of the north. As the icy waters of Hudson’s Bay pass beneath me and I move ever closer to Canada South, I remember the bear up on his haunches, looking out to sea. i think he had it right. We need to be wary. We need to guard and protect this land from anything that threatens to destroy it. Such truths become more real to me when I walk on the wild side.
(Information on trips to Seal River Lodge is available at http://www.churchillwild.com. My advice….Just Do It!)