2015 Hudson Bay Expedition – The Gift


Once in a great while the universe conspires to make me look like I know what I’m doing.

Having slunk out of Repulse Bay, I fought through three days of pack ice and rough weather trying to put some miles between me and the Inuit hunting boats, I found myself right back where I started, ten miles out of town in the Harbour Islands.

As I motored into my anchorage cove, the sun ducked below the clouds and turned the landscape sublime. The northwest wind was still blowing hard, and I didn’t want to risk giving my drone any more chances for a watery grave, so I clambered into the zodiac to go shoot the old newspaper feature standby. When all else fails, shoot weather art. In this case it was going to be huge pack ice piled along the arctic shore, so it was admittedly a step up from the kids in a fountain I used to have to shoot.

Amidst all that scenic desolation, less than a quarter mile from my boat, I spotted the polar bear and her cub. If I’d stayed to finish my hot chocolate she’d have probably found me first. A tiny first year cub trailed right behind her, struggling to keep up on the rocky shoreline. She shifted direction when she finally made out the zodiac against the ice, and walked up and over the small islet taking her cub with her.

Bears will often head to water when they’re surprised or uncertain. That’s how they get to these islands, and how they move on. I struggled to move my small boat upwind against the chop, and as soon as I opened up my waterproof case, a wave covered me, my telephoto lens and camera with a shower of ice water. For once the heavens smiled, no damage was done and I could start shooting without hopelessly smearing the lens with a filthy fleece sleeve.

The next few moments were the stuff of dreams. Gorgeous light, a mother and adorable young cub swimming in the sea, then climbing out and standing on sea ice staring back at me with curiosity, the cub snuggling under mum’s belly to peer out at the new world.

You can’t anticipate these moments. You can’t plan for them. You can only be there and for the few fleeting minutes they last try to react and respond and record them. They’re a gift and if they came along every day they would start to lose meaning. The setting sun set the clouds overhead alight in the colors of flame, and the bears took to the water again. The young cub clung to his mother’s back, and they swam slowly toward nearby land. The light fading, I watched them go.

I turned my zodiac around and headed toward home. After so much time on the water, so much expense and effort and expense and disappointment, this moment felt like a benediction. Somehow the last 30 minutes seemed to justify all of the last month’s travails. Rounding the point and tucking back into my cove, a surge of sheer joy overwhelmed me, expressing itself in one long, loud and entirely uncharacteristic rebel yell.


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