November 7, 1998

My alarm went off at 6:15am, the power doesn't come on for another 15 minutes and the propane tanks that heat the bath water have been cranked up yet so the water will be ready about 6:45.  I basically am laying down and peering out of my window and shining my flashlight out there.  Well, there is a polar bear right there!  I wonder if everyone got one during the night!!  After awhile, a faint hint of orange appears on the horizon and the sunrise is upon us!  It is gorgeous.  After getting a quick tundra shower and then having breakfast in the dining car, there were all kinds of photo opportunities.  Wow, which cameras am I going to use?  I hope I have enough floppy disks to help capture all of this!  Yesterday alone I used 4.   There are bears all around us!  Some are dipping their heads, or at least trying to, into a container that catches the sink drippings from the kitchen of the lodge.  Mmmm, the smells of breakfast is making its way from the dining car, the lounge and into the sleeper cars part of the bunkhouse.  Eggs, cereal, rolls, juice are the bill of fare. At 8am we load up.  Everyone back into the buggy if they chose.  Some folks decided to lounge around and hang back at the bunkhouse until we return for lunch.  What is incredible, is that during all of this three day stay, we will never touch the ground.  We are separated from the dangerous tundra by rubber wheels about 7 ft high and a lot of space.  Wait 'til you see the photos!  I really have no idea how to describe what took place today, except that the entire day was "awesome".  But anyway, here's a quick overview.  We departed the bunkhouse and viewed our camp surrounded by more bears.  The photo opportunities are endless.  But the film supply is!!  There was a very large male bear watching us.  There were bears sparing on the edge of Hudson Bay.  Just all right in the area.  Soon, other tundra buggies started to appear.  The light was changing.  It was incredible to see a bear walking along with the morning sun illuminating its hairs, giving it a silvery or golden like shine.  We worked  a good portion of the morning attempting to position the buggy in a great spot for photographs and seeing more polar bears.  Suddenly, Mrs. Garrison, her son Jon, and my name were called out.  It was time for our helicopter ride out across more of the tundra to head out to Cape Churchill.  Yesterday, we were asked if we would like to do this.  It really expensive, but splitting the cost three ways makes it seem more affordable.  The buggy pulls away from the bears to a clearer spot.  Then, the helicopter drops down from the sky.  The whirlybird is from Hudson Bay Helicopters based back in Churchill.  Our pilot is Steve Miller, the well known polar bear pilot the flies the "dart gun missions" to check the bear and also transports bear away if they are 'trouble-makers" in town.  I knew at this point we were in for a treat!  Lisa and Jon were in the back, and I sat in the front of the glass bubble of the helicopter.  We put on our head phones so we could communicate and then we lifted off!  Oh my!  The half hour went so incredibly fast.  We wound up going over Cape Churchill, which is the final bit of land the bears will wind up on before actually heading out on the ice.  This is the place where the Polar Bear Lodge (the bunkhouse) will move to in the next few days.  We could see polar bears in the small arctic willows, some right along the waters edge, and others standing on pieces of ice that were forming in the bay.  Some bears ran as we approached and Steve would back off of them, so not to frighten them.  We even saw a mother and cub!!  A note aside here, everyone out here is very environmentally conscientious and there is always great practice for care of the bears and the entire ecology of the area. The ice that is collecting against the spits of land and gravel is coming from the freshwater rivers to the north.  The ice washes out of them, collects here, and then refreezes, along with the freezing water of Hudson Bay.  The lumps of ice are remarkable to see from the air.  Our flight takes us over "Knights Hill" which is a general marker for the entrance to the new National Park called "Wapusk".  This hill is only 30-40ft high.  I should mention, that the sun is still out, as it was the entire day.  This is the only day, so far, where it was clear and bright.  Soon, our half-hour flight was over.  The buggy had taken the rest of the group back to the lodge for lunch, so it had to pull away (as there are bears at "camp") and come and pick us up.  One neat thing about doing the helicopter is that you can actually touch the ground for a few seconds! Then lunchtime!  After lunch, we headed back out.  Some folks remained behind, as they were already pretty worn out from the intensity of what has happened the last day and a half!  Off we went.  Our first mission was to watch the supplies arrive and the incredible maneuvering that took place to hook the supplies to the bunkhouse system.  At one point, our driver/guide, John, had to quickly get out of the buggy and help with the hitch.  We were all watching for bears.  No problem for a couple of moments.  No sooner than he got back in and a bear appeared looking into the supply wagon!  We headed off after awhile.  After our talk to the other people about the helicopter flight, more people wanted to do it!  We went in search of more polar bears and other wildlife.  We saw arctic ptarmigan, a quail or grouse-like bird that has feathers over its feet and at this time of year is snow white.  To find them in a camera viewfinder was down right impossible!  They look like the snow on the ground!  Then without warning, a very rare to witness event took place.  A gyrfalcon (a white falcon limited only to the far north) swooped down and attacked the ptarmigans.  It grabbed one, they bounced around a couple of times, then the gyrfalcon dragged the crushed ptarmigan into the willows to eat it.  At that moment, a snowy owl swooped over, then continued on to sit on a nearby rock to watch the proceedings. The day on the buggy was soon to end and we returned to the bunkhouse.  Dinner was absolutely incredible.  We sat at candle-lit tables.  Food was brought to us, salads, an oven baked chicken and more.  It went fast, it seemed.  After dinner, while eating freshly baked chocolate cookies, John gave us a slide show on the botany and geology of the area. Incredible photos.  Then, bedtime.  These days are going so so fast.  I can hardly keep up.  Tomorrow is our last day, and we leave the bunkhouse experience.