Mar 102012
 

Swimming with Beluga Whales, Hudson Bay

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLo-f1pXmwA 580 380]

 

How “Swimming with Beluga Whales” was made

I was staying at The Seal River Lodge and had the opportunity to go out in one of their pontoon boats to swim with Belugas. Beluga Whales, tolerant as they are of arctic water, will congregate at the mouths of rivers where it’s warmer. Warmer means in the low 40’s F, an immersion temperature that will kill you in less than an hour and a dry suit is a necessity even on the surface. After I suited up, I was towed behind the boat at a couple of knots, using a snorkel to breathe. The towing makes it easier for the whales to keep pace. And they do, deliberately making eye contact as they swim alongside.
What calls the whales is to sing. I began with the Flower Song from Lakmé (a duet for soprano and mezzo – obviously I am neither) and I can say with authority, Beluga Whales are aficionados of the opera – and – the most tolerant critiques you can imagine.
Actually, any relatively high-pitched sound will attract them, even the squeak of teeth against mouthpiece which you can also hear in the sound track. Perhaps what fascinated me the most, despite that I my underwater vocal repertoire was crude and inept, they sang back to me with great variation and complexity, as if the effort to communicate itself was both appreciated, and understood.
– Mark Seth Lender

 

 

Audio MP3

Recording of Mark Lender’s Reading

 

Ishmael
© 2012 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

From the crows nest Hudson Bay is verdant, all aglow, green as the land. Ploughed by flukes and pectoral fins the surface churns in lazy furrowed rows. The hours grow short. The day drifts. The season of sun is coming to an end.
There she blows! White Whale! We tack toward the spray…
Less than a fathom down, herded close in the wavy light that bathes their spouts and warms their bones; steady and slow. On the black ground of the sea, calved from snow and floating ice, these are the full-grown. Between them, all in gray, are the young and the very young who cling at the breast that is full as a world. From the low boat, I watch whales rove. Their backs rise like half-moons, and their spray rainbows.
There she sounds!
Hudson Bay opaque blue, rough as a cooper’s file.
Weather crowds her now. A hard peace abounds…
In hood and dry suit I tumble in. I am patient, face buried in the coal-cellar dark of water. Only the perilous emptiness now. Not one whale… It is said if you sing to the whale, whales will come, and sing in reply. I give them opera in drowned tones. And as the notes drift down shadows play below, and at the second stanza I am surrounded. And if I stop they leave and if I sing they stay and now sing back to me. Then, with no warning, as if to mark and take my measure, a whale takes the fingers of my right hand gentle into her mouth, and lets me go.
Now the Arctic winter sets and the pack ice grows thick as rock pressure ridged into giant loaves. And I think of that parting kiss and wonder if she dives to great depth and with that same mouth rips squid pod from limb and tears the codfish from his fins or swallows him whole? Or is she now among the eyeless carcasses I’ve seen, Belugas stripped of their fat and the meat left to rot on the bone?

 

Churchill Wild contributed major support to the fieldwork for this segment.
 
Special thanks are also do to the many backers of North Knife, A Radio Expedition to Hudson Bay

E. Harris
Susan Louise Moyer
Dianne Mumola
Penelope Pettis
Stephen Kramer
Jim Le Moine
Hannele K.L. Dzubas
Denton Froese
Christine Flaherty
Dick Kagan
Ruth S.
Harold Taylor
Scott Askew
Arthur Johnson
Peter Riva
Mary Glickman
John Wackman
Honey Sharp
Carolyn Sophia
Mary Shane
Sitwell Fund for the Visual Arts
Hellie Neumann
Dr. Arnold Saslow
Josh Temes
Dallas Art Salon
Patricia A. Kiefer
Katrinka Greger
Jack Bleck
Stephen Potter
Robert “Snorkle Bob” Wintner
Barbara Carr
Nicole
Peter Riva
Tom Fulham

 March 10, 2012  General, Mammals No Responses »
Mar 012012
 

Sled Dogs, Hudson Bay

Lead Sled Dog Barking

Sled Dogs

A thousand years of dogs: Running pressure ridge and ice ridge, skirting every crevice, loping frozen tundra through permanent day and the long months of near dark. They are a special breed. Their sense of snow; their sense of smell; long hours without shelter in wind that freezes human flesh solid as a wall of ice and the dogs did not lie down, not once. Forward. Panting. Steady on broad feet on short legs made to endure, sure footed as Magnetic North.
Behind the loaded sled, following, Inuit come. Drawn toward the loadstone of Viking iron offered in trade for meat, for fat, for furs. And sled dogs led them on that journey – every inch – and by heart and will and sinew allowed Inuit to stay.
Now this Canine Continental Drift is done, what will become of Arctic in a civilized imagination? As the Arctic melts away the Inuit dog remains. Bred now for speed racing the leads that crack the shelf ice like liquid lightning; across bare snow in a blizzard minus 40 below, their job is not to carry but to win, and keep alive at least the sound, that deep-throated growl, the barking howl of the team.
In the dappled winter dark, light-echo of a sunrise that never seems to come, what Arctic Dreams do Inuit Elders dream?

 

Hear Mark Seth Lender read Sled Dog on Living on Earth (Public Radio International):

Audio MP3

 

The field work for Sled Dog was conducted in the traditional Inuit community of Arviat, on the north west coast of Hudson Bay, and was made possible by the generous support of the following organizations and individuals:

Mike Robbins, The Tourism Company

Olivia Tagalik, Tourism Coordinate, Arviat

Travel Manitoba

 

Special thanks are also do to the many backers of North Knife, A Radio Expedition to Hudson Bay

E. Harris
Susan Louise Moyer
Dianne Mumola
Penelope Pettis
Stephen Kramer
Jim Le Moine
Hannele K.L. Dzubas
Denton Froese
Christine Flaherty
Dick Kagan
Ruth S.
Harold Taylor
Scott Askew
Arthur Johnson
Peter Riva
Mary Glickman
John Wackman
Honey Sharp
Carolyn Sophia
Mary Shane
Sitwell Fund for the Visual Arts
Hellie Neumann
Dr. Arnold Saslow
Josh Temes
Dallas Art Salon
Patricia A. Kiefer
Katrinka Greger
Jack Bleck
Stephen Potter
Robert “Snorkle Bob” Wintner
Barbara Carr
Nicole
Peter Riva
Tom Fulham

 March 1, 2012  General, Mammals No Responses »
Aug 092011
 

Mark Lender with Polar Bear

Mark Lender sees Polar Bear

Polar Bear looking for food

Day 2:  Churchill, Canada

 
The bear perambulates the perimeter with a mild curiosity, looking occasionally, vaguely, towards where I stand.  He lies down like a big white dog.  Gets up. Sits down in the grass.  Turns and yawns… As if there is no one there. Certainly, he knows exactly where I am.  And yet, though he sees at least as well in daylight as a human being, if I did not know better I would tell you I have not been seen.  That is his sine qua non:  Apparent disinterest.  When in fact he is aware of every smallest thing. Invincibility is a very particular thing.

 

 August 9, 2011  General, Mammals No Responses »