Written and posted on 11/22/18
For each photo set below, I recommend clicking on the first photo for a pop out window with larger photos and then click the arrow on the right to scroll through the series.
The bear and walrus encounter
I have honestly been thinking about how to share this story for the past six months. I mean, how do you adequately tell the story of a polar bear + walrus encounter? I think photos tell this story the best. And maybe that's where a bit of my angst arises. You see, the day before, after our on-land excursion, my camera fell, lens down, in the ship's mudroom. I sat in our cabin for awhile after that, sitting with my broken camera in disbelief. I cried a bit, wandered around the Global Gallery with delusional thoughts of miraculously finding a comparable camera to mine for like, um, 100 bucks. I ran into a travel mate and told him my sad news. It helped to share my news with a fellow photography-lover. I knew he'd understand my pain. Then, I went to find the photo guy on board and he outfitted me with a Canon PowerShot SX60 HS, not a bad camera at all, but the 200-400mm lens I'd rented for my Fujifim camera was now rendered irrelevant and the comfort of my own beloved camera had been crushed on that cold, metal floor.
So, while witnessing this incredible, indelible polar bear + walrus encounter, I was using a foreign point and shoot (albeit, with a pretty kick-ass zoom.) This was a hard pill to swallow, and I honestly was reluctant to look closely at these photos because of how vulnerable, awkward, and disappointed I felt without my camera. Over the next couple of days on ship, as I reconciled with my broken camera, broken 360 camera, broken luggage tag, broken necklace, temporarily fritzy- iPhone, broken pencil bag zipper, and, alas, an easily-fixed but broken harness tie on the binoculars I'd borrowed, I had no choice but to put it into proper perspective, get over it, and just move on.
OK - back to the polar bear + walrus story.
We were alerted to a polar bear and promptly raced to bundle up and assume a spot on deck. Standing on the bow, the bear was at ten o'clock. At two o'clock were two walruses. Over the course of 30-40 minutes, we watched the bear meander and traverse ice flows in the direction of the walrus, getting closer and closer and closer. Naturalists on deck were astounded, having never seen anything like this with their own eyes.
It was riveting. What was about to happen?!?
The walruses seemed pretty non-pulsed even while our human hearts were racing, until finally the bear’s proximity provoked one walrus to lift its head for a more direct look. As the bear gained ground, the walruses sat up, exposing their imposing, impressive tusks.
The bear pounced!
Postures were drawn, and I wonder about the noises the walruses might have made to warn the bear that his was a losing battle. The bear circled the walruses and must have assessed its own folly in this endeavor before it began to amble away.
The bear never had a chance. Talking through this extraordinary encounter later, the naturalists plotted out why the bear's retreat was not only smart, it was possibly the key to not being critically injured. First, it was estimated that those walruses weighed up to 2,000 pounds each, hundreds of pounds more than this adolescent bear. Second, had the bear tried to bite into a walrus, it would not have been able to sink its teeth far into the tough, thick skin. And then there are the tusks. Long, sharp, lethal tusks that could seriously hurt or even kill a polar bear.
We watched the walruses watch the bear retreat before they resumed their prone posture, and, in my narrative of this encounter, they held their bellies and laughed at this silly bear.
Other bear antics
We watched the bear for a long while after he had been schooled by the walruses. He did not walk toward us; at best, he walked parallel to our position, but, over time, he edged further and further away until was was blending into the landscape. We watched him walk and leap over ice floes. We giggled as he threw himself onto his back and rolled in the snow, offering a definitive view for the naturalists to definitely announce that this bear was, indeed, male.
I'd gone through much of these photos in these past months, but the gift of this Thanksgiving-week deep dive back into my Arctic experiences was the time I took to go through each and every photograph. Some were obviously slated for the trash; many were similar iterations of other iterations; many were familiar as I'd plucked them from the masses early on as they stood out because of their beauty or because of the intense emotional response it would illicit from my heart. But, oh, there were so many surprises. So many photographs I'd overlooked. I had not realized I captured this beautiful, bold, ego-bruised but still busy bear leaping and landing on floating ice. I did not know that I caught him rolling in the snow twice, including a picture of his bear butt in the air! And I had missed the marvelous progression of the bear walking to the edge of the ice, sitting down, sprawling onto the ice, and then slipping into the water for a swim. Reliving the experience through these images while sitting in my pajamas on Thanksgiving morning has been enchanting and, quite frankly, miraculous, to truly comprehend just part of the beauty, fortitude, fragility, and resilience of life on our planet.
I may never recover from this Wonder-Induced ADD.
The series of photos that makes me giggle every time
The other series of photos that makes me giggle every time
As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I traveled to Svalbard in May 2018! Thanks to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for supporting teachers and encouraging us to be explorers.
Some of the text shared here was written in my journal or through social media posts while I was on expedition.
But much of the writing shared here was written in the months following my return home.
I had this idea that I would embark on my journey and, in real time, reflect and write and create blog posts and videos and online albums and photo books and postcards. I had fantasies of sitting in the ship's library with my pen and notebook, collecting and composing what I'd seen and experienced and manifesting deep, profound thoughts.
Yeah. That didn't happen.
My experience was so intense, so surreal, that I had difficulty finding adequate words to describe it all. Silly, inconsequential, and unsatisfying words were all I had - great, amazing, unbelievable, incredible. At the end of each day I would try. After dinner, somewhere between 10pm and midnight, I'd make my way up to the library to write. But I would get distracted. The large, glorious, gorgeous windows were too inviting and each moment was unique. The clouds were shifting, the water was moving, the ship was in motion, the ice upon the water was drifting. Each and every moment was unique.
My eyes were up and wide open. I was outside on the deck feeling the cold air and the lightly falling snow on my face. Or I was sitting on the bridge, snuggled in warmth, with a pair of binoculars looking looking looking. Oh, I tried to shift my thinking to writing something more than a bulleted list, but I just couldn't pull it off.
To put it simply, I couldn't focus.
I coined my condition Wonder-Induced ADD.
It is a beautiful affliction to have.
This blog is dedicated to my aunt, Tina Chavez, who is always my biggest fan and supporter. When I told her about my expedition to the Arctic, she asked, "So, when do you go on the Polar Bear Express?"
She also told me to run fast from the polar bears, but naming this blog "Run, Jen, Run!" isn't as charming as calling it "The Polar Bear Express."