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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

When Mother is a Hungry Bear

Air Date: Week of

The mother polar bear has been wounded on her forearm (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

A skinny polar bear walks slowly along the shore of Akpatok Island in Hudson Strait. Her cubs are nowhere to be seen, and her body bears signs of a fight. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender watches her painful progress and wonders what she’s feeling.


CURWOOD: Off to a much colder sea now, the chilly Hudson Strait off Canada. There you’ll find Akpatok Island and its many Polar Bears. They come there to hunt the large colony of seabirds called Thick-billed Murre; to steal eggs when they can, or to take the chicks on their first flight if they fail to reach the sea. But as our Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender observed, eggs and chicks are only snacks for a hungry polar bear. And by now, some bruins have been through so much with nursing and protecting their cubs that they’re down to their last reserves.

Bear, Walking
Akpatok Island
Hudson Strait
© Mark Seth Lender
All Rights reserved

LENDER: Left front, left back
Right front, right back,
Shluf, shlef, shluff, shliff,
She lifts –
As she sniffs –

Thick-billed murre fly low over the sea (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)


Looks behind, looks ahead

As she -

Shliff, shleff, shliff, shluff
And on, along, the sand…

And all above her the limestone cliffs of Akpatok two hundred fifty meters tall (artifact of an ancient continental thrust); cascading toward the beach the cone-shaped talus mounds (hourglass of an ancient tearing down). She is young beside the land, young among polar bears.

Inside herself, inside the place she knows, Polar Bear is growing old.

The polar bear stretches out on the snow (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Shoulders pointed, hips narrow, and low; she does not, cannot hurry. Nor is there need. She cranes her scrawny neck that was thick and muscled as a hundred-season oak, her black snout pointing, searching, singling out (a thing that only she can see).

She stops –

- And stares:

The cubs that nursed her substance away in the frozen snow cave and for all that self-consuming time prowling the land are gone without a trace (except for the diminished state of her).

Does she think of them now, reminded by her stapled gate, a forearm that cannot lift or lengthen with natural ease? The bloody puncture marks where his teeth sank deep; the dark patch on her shoulder raked by claws when she fought for them…

These are readily visible signs. As to what she feels? Thinks? Imagines of her past and future self? The absence? Like the turned face among the crowd, but only the movement is caught; the thoughts, the pain at living lost in the silence.

The polar bear walks towards the icebergs (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

She lies down, the wounded limb stretched out upon a last remaining patch of snow.

Seven, thick-billed murre row past, their little wings against the wind. Between their path and the polar bear the water drifts blue to green as it shallows along the shore. The sky is untempered in its clarity and not a single cloud. The flood tide rolls beneath the omnipresent sun of these longest Arctic days, this shortest time of Arctic year...

And the lingering scent of cold always pervades.

She rises, and continues toward the distant headland where the last blue icebergs are marooned, both polar bear and ice diminishing into the inexorable paradox that Being becomes Non-being.

CURWOOD: Mark took photos of this bear – and her habitat – you’ll find them at our website, LOE.org.



More of Mark Seth Lender’s photography

Adventure Canada

Parks Canada


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