Monthly Archives: August 2011

Blog Post 9

Ancient Inuit stones

Ancient Inuit Stones

ancient stone circles

Polar Bear at ancient Inuit Stone Site

Inuit Hunter

Blogpost #8: Arvia’juaq

© 2011 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

Billy Ukutak is someone you immediately trust.  Wiry, compact, an experienced hunter.  To see the bear up close so you can photograph the bear – without the bear taking your picture in the only way he knows how – requires the same knowledge a hunter owns. Knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of observation and the inevitable close calls he’s had in the past (have to learn fast to survive out on the land). You wouldn’t want to come out here with just anyone.

Arvia’juaq – “the island where we hunt Arviq, the bowhead whale” – is a line of stone and sand low enough at the low point a tall man can see over it, strong enough to keep the ocean out – no more. Here the Paalirmiut Inuit have come in the summer months for almost a thousand years. Close to shore – no matter – it is a wild and ancient land. Stone circles where the People made their tents dot the high ground. Pairs of upright blocks mark out where kayak were cradled after the hunt so their skin hulls wet from working the sea could dry in the sun; There are alter stones where offerings were made. Mounds of large pebbles where blubber was safely cashed close to frozen ground are everywhere, for in the past, polar bears did not venture here. Not so now…

Five bears have swum from shore to feast on the carcasses of whales. Not the Arviq for though the name survives the namesake does not and where there were many now there are almost none. The Americans and the Brits and lastly the Japanese and the Norwegians took care of that. Instead, Inuit men hunt belugas. Small by the standard of the great whales, you see them glistening, whitecap white against the blue and green water of Hudson Bay in late summer. They congregate this time of year in the warmer inlets and the mouths of rivers where fresh water, having drained down off the tundra has been heated by arctic days that are almost pure light, and all those hours of sun. Inuit when they kill one (unless they have dogs to feed) take only the fat. The bears would prefer that also but make do with the meat, seven or eight hundred kilos left behind for every whale butchered on the beach. Thus Polar Bears around here associate us with food but nevertheless react to us in fear, most of the time.

Billy tosses the anchor up on the reef, a natural breakwater of surf-rounded stones, and we share our own small feast. Caribou and onions cooked all together, and nothing else. “Hunter’s Meal,” he says, “it’s whatever you’ve got.” And the next thing he does before we head inshore is fire a host into the water. A two foot circle boils where the slug discharged it’s energy, ripples spreading out in a turbulent circle. All the arctic terns that were fishing off the reef scatter and if the bears did not know we were here, they do know. “Gotta make sure it’s working right,” Billy says and slings the rifle over his shoulder. Safety on, nothing in the breach, and a pocket full of cartridges at easy reach.

Sure enough, at the top of the ridge, we are seen. One polar bear, then another, start coming this way. I have put us where people around here do not, and should not go. You can’t blame the bears. The bears are just being bears. Though there is no imminent threat, for the first time (and not the last), we are the ones who are being hunted.

Churchill: Day 7

A big Polar Bear Head

Blogpost #7: Al Bear

© 2011 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

What I like about Al Bear is the Whiteness of his hair,
And he doesn’t seem to care how close I stand.
He doesn’t rise to greet me –
‘Cause he knows that he can eat me –
I hope his dinner wasn’t made of Spam.
And I hope his breakfast isn’t who I am.

At Churchill Wild, en route to Arviat





Churchill: Day 6

On the rocky arctic shore

Blogpost #6: Morning Chorus

© 2011 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

Early, well before the sun when the arctic light is still shallow, and all is silhouette and shadow the birds (more birds than you have ever heard) begun to chorus, loud.  Flocks of Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Common Loons, an Eider Duck with her young, and a flight of Arctc Terns all carry on their conversations.  Sometimes, one alone calls out, startled perhaps or merely moved by the moment to shout about – who knows what? To this add in the beat of wings passing awesome close, and the lap of the incoming tide, and behind it all the quiet roar of the perpetual Boreal wind.

At Churchill Wild, en route to Arviat, N.E. Hudson Bay


Churchill: Day 5

A double rainbow over Hudson's Bay

A white Polar Bear appears Black

Blogpost #5: The Long Rise

© 2011 Mark Seth Lender

The storm of the night before is gone. There was a rainbow, huge even in the vast expanse of Hudson Bay and the rocky flats that go on for miles and miles.  It lasted for a long time, almost till the sun went down.  Now, only a thin edge of cloud which always lies in the east at sunup creases the horizon. It is not a perpetual dawn. Just long. A light that begins at half-past three and continues two hours more before the sun, orange and harsh and stripped-down, rises unceremoniously.  Unceremonious because despite all this waiting when it happens it happens all-at-once.  Stripped-down because it is the elemental of itself, without a touch of moisture in the air to clothe the nakedness.

All that is an hour away, this world still ruled by the dark of the inlet, the sea strangely brighter than what it reflects and studded with boulders, all black, like a mirror backed in mercury the polish here and there worn through.

In the shadow-lit landscape three polar bears come out of nowhere. They climb up and onto the point. Two together move further out. One stays, a cutout of bear just above where the razor of the sea makes a distant line.  He is a mountain, of darkness, the hump of shoulders and the bump of hips two worn peaks. And suddenly I am seen. And suddenly, he runs. This startles the other two and they run also and though it does not look fast because their improbable size destroys all scale, it is fast enough, and a good thing they’ve chosen to run the other way. Only memory reveals the whiteness of their hair.

And now the sun. And now the day. And that perpetual wind that warns of the cold that is to come.
Churchill Wild
Hudson Bay
5:31 AM 2011-8-10


Churchill: Day 4

Whales in Churchill

frolicking Beluga Whales in the artic ocean

Blogpost #4 Beluga

© 2011 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Resered

Finning and frolicking, and rolling on their sides to get a better view (flukes cutting the water like a blade) a clan of Beluga Whales comes through, so white against that southern arctic ocean blue. They are whiter than foam; whiter than pure white stone. Cavorting and blowing they dive – head breaking free, round as a melon, then the smooth curve of back sounding low.

They have come for the succor of warmer water, here where the Seal River pours out, like a thin blanket, light and sweet on the salt sea. It is the color of strong tea, brewed in the dark brown peat of the tundra where the rivulets, rain fed and melt fed, join to seek Hudson Bay. Rich in nutrient here in the mix things breed, tiny things; so many must be taken to nourish a white whale, even one (as whales go) so mignonne as these.

Such is the whale as seen from the air by human beings. But to know the whale, you must enter the elemental of the whale.  And I do.

For all their numbers, Belugas stern and starboard and off the pot bow, Hudson Bay is still vast. To find a whale you must not only skim the water like a whale, you must sing, like a whale: High. Melodious.  And in an instant you are surrounded!  Side by side, face to face, eye to eye  and me I am floating in every sense that word was ever given, and unwilling, to ever come out again to dry and lonely land.

At Churchill Wild
Hudson Bay