Guiding in Churchill is a flexibility workout. Daily schedules are action-packed and fun on a normal day, but rarely is there ever a normal day! Bear reports come in, unearthly sunsets create unexpected pauses in the unfolding of events, and the intricate dance of adventurous groups around town amazingly still stays balanced. It’s fun, with never a dull moment for guests and guides alike, but it can occasionally be exhausting!
We’re in the heart of bear season now, with more bears ambling up and down the expanse of coastline every day. Of course we still have to search for them, it is wildlife viewing after all, but the sheer number of polar bears near town is just incredible, and there’s still no sign of the ice really freezing yet.
This morning was this group’s last morning in town, so we weren’t heading out on the tundra. But that didn’t mean a bear-free day. In fact, we barely made it out of town before seeing wildlife! Just as the last buildings of passed behind us the first shout of ‘BEAR!’ was heard from the back of the bus. Pulling to a rapid halt, we watched in amazement as a beautiful big male bear wandered nonchalantly around the back of the last building, pausing every now and then to sniff the brisk air, his rich fur seeming to be made of pale gold in the rays of Arctic morning sunshine.
As we watched, the ever-vigilant bear patrol drove slowly past, and figuring out the safest way to ‘ask’ the bear to move away from town. Often we hear the sharp report of cracker shells as curious polar bears are hazed away, and sometimes they’ll even use helicopters to convince polar bears to avoid the town site itself.
It throws things into perspective when we see bear traps (humane sections of culvert that allow bears to be moved safely away from town) outside homes, evidence of the ongoing work and efforts to minimize human-bear encounters.
I know I am regularly as enthralled as my guests with the incredible sense of surreality that comes from encountering the world’s largest land predator in the wild, and experiencing such a unique town.