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A Guide’s Notes – Faces of the Tundra

November 09, 2015 | Heather Chrystie

In my experience, all people who travel to Churchill find more than they are looking for.  Ask any group, in Winnipeg, what they have come to Churchill for besides the obvious polar bear viewing, and you’ll find that many would like to see arctic foxes, arctic hares, snowy owls, and northern lights.  Rarely does anyone say that they have come to experience the beauty of the tundra.

In fact, just the word – tundra – seems to epitomize loneliness, desolation, barren ground, and austerity.  Perhaps it is this common preconception which allows such wonder and fascination to come from the discovery that there is indeed a stark elegance and deep hidden tenacity to the tundra.

Take that iconic flagged tundra spruce tree for example.  At first glance you see nothing but a stunted tree.  But as the story unfolds, you realise that the tales of the landscape are written on this tree for all to see.  The prevailing wind direction is told by the direction of the branches growth.  The winter snow-pack depth can be seen in the height of the ‘skirt’ of lush branches low on the trunk.  The telltale signs of the howling winds of winter, laden with razor-sharp ice crystals, are inscribed in the bare gap between the skirt and the higher branches.  Share the fact that these plucky little trees are sometimes hundreds of years old, and all of a sudden this tundra landscape takes on a whole new sense of reality.

The changing light in the gathering dusk is another show-stopper.  Sunsets of molten gold that melt into a night that you can see approaching.  Pink-hued dawns overhung by aurora borealis flickering in the retreating darkness.  Even the monochrome greys of a tundra snowstorm are unexpectedly mesmerising, full of snow wraiths that writhe across frozen surfaces making the ground itself an intangible unreality.  It’s easy to see how poets, artists, photographers, and dreamers alike are enthralled by the muse-like qualities of the Arctic.

Of course, the magical nature of this surprisingly photogenic landscape is only accentuated by the fact that it is home to some of the most fascinating wildlife on the face of the planet!

So when you’re planning your polar bear vacation, remember that Churchill is more than just bears, and get excited about the incredible landscape that you will be honoured to spend time in!