People ask me if I see polar bears on my trips. I do. Not often, but they are there now and then, creating realities that pop up unexpectedly in my day dreams, somehow, when I most need them.
I saw bear scat on a mountain pass, not in the right place. A long way from salt water and a couple thousand feet up. The carnivore’s scat full of sea weed and grass. A free spirit, not even aware there are rules to be followed.
I saw a bear down the barrel of my gun. Too close to camp. A hundred feet away and closing, a handful of lives in the balance. Bangers, rubber bullets, a slug into the dirt. Don’t pass that rock. Please. I’ll have to kill you, I don’t want to kill you. Fuck. Please . . . then … luck. His flank turns, hair ripples like a wheat field in the wind.
I don’t know what I could have lived with.
I saw a bear dancing on a stage of ice. We were preparing for a hike, a route across Ellesmere, not sure if we would be able to complete it. But that bear, she danced across those melting floes, gleeful. No threat, not a care in the world, searching out seals. She was grace and power in one movement that neither began nor ended. Hope. Beauty. She was freedom at it’s most powerful.
I saw a bear dead on the ice. Thirty miles out of town. Skinned out, a carcass, hide destined for a cash market. Blood and future trickle away. Wasted.
It’s true, they do look human without the skin.
WHAT IS THIS! Red anger. But who am I. I feed my kids on the proceeds of an eco show and tell. This hunter, he feeds his children on pure reality. I have less than thin ice to stand on.
Polar bears have become the poster child of climate change. They may be that, but for me they will always be the promise of the best we can be. The promise of grace, strength and a wildness inextricably linked to what it is to be human.
I saw a bear once that wasn’t there. She spoke to me, brought me here. To the north, but more than that. She brought me to a place of meaning, to a place that teaches beauty and peace. To her, I owe the best of who I am.
On a glass shelf in my office, is the tooth of a polar bear. It sits to the right of a carpenters plane that my grandfather made. Sometimes, when searching for an answer, I look to that tooth. More than once, I have carried that tooth, safe in my pocket and urgently caressed by the pad of my thumb, when I knew I needed strength.
Yes, sometimes, when I am lucky, or unlucky, I see bears on my trips. But more than that, I know that they can always be there, and if I reach inside myself, I can find the grace, the strength. The wildness that neither begins nor ends.
This is the bear that I see, that I search for.
Author: Dave Weir Photo: Mark Scriver