Arrival back in Winnipeg at the end of a hectic, wonderful, whirlwind polar bear season means many things: sushi, watching The Hunger Games, getting laughed at by friends for looking back over my shoulder when we walk along city streets in the hours of darkness. And also finally an opportunity to sit down, reflect, and post the stories of this latest polar bear viewing odyssey. It was an incredible season this year, with some epic polar bear sightings, unreal northern lights, plenty of other wildlife viewing, phenomenal light for photography and, my personal favourite, groups of travellers who exuded energy, enthusiasm, and fun.
Over the next few posts I’d like to step back in time to the start of the 2015 season, and share with you some of the highlights and insider stories of the time I spent guiding polar bear vacations in Churchill this year.
And so, without further ado, let us begin at the place where all good stories start: the beginning.
Churchill is a one-of-a-kind type town. It gets under your skin, calls you back, becomes a part of your personal identity. My personal first trip to Churchill in 2013 was, I thought, just another 6 weeks of work in a transient seasonal work schedule. Three seasons later, and still the first trip into town brings a shiver of anticipation to my skin, and causes a quickening as I stare from the window of the plane at the seemingly desolate, barren landscape.
Desolate and barren is just a matter of perspective though. First Nations and Inuit people have found everything they need to survive here for generations. Arctic foxes and polar bears, among other Arctic wildlife, are as at home here as grizzlies in Alaska or pandas in China. Photographers find a mecca of striking light and charismatic mega-fauna. Many visitors also discover an unexpected peace and connection with this extensive land.
The tundra provides to those who have the patience to look, and even though the things we look for round Churchill in polar bear season are not really of the subsistence variety any longer (except when making a beeline to Gypsys Bakery for a much needed coffee and donut of course!), it is nonetheless true that the first arrival of the season provides a tingle of curiosity. I know we won’t be disappointed, but just what is the season going to hold this year?