Two polar bear cubs scrambling after their mother (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)
In Akpatok Island in the Canadian arctic, writer Mark Seth Lender watches an enormous male polar bear comes frighteningly close to a mother bear and her two young cubs. Will she flee and surely save herself, or heed her instinct to protect her cubs?
CURWOOD: Arctic history is written in isotopes found in the ocean, and frozen in layers of blue glacial ice. Arctic wildlife also has its history and continuing displays of loyalty and animosity. On Akpatok Island in Hudson Strait writer Mark Seth Lender witnessed both.
The Wages of Fear
© 2015 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved
LENDER: She comes down the slope slipping and sliding on the scree and not quite at a run (an exercise in self control): just about keeping up behind her, two white cubs-of-the-year. Button noses, rounded little ears and the size of a sack of coal, each one of them. They don't know what or why, only the urgency and follow blindly in her track as if she were breaking trail in deep snow.
Good for them if they keep up and keep going.
Bad, if they stop to ask what for.
All in a scramble they make the beach and along until the coarse limestone sand comes to an end in shelves of rock like a pair of overlapping hands. She strides over, stepping easily from one upturned palm of stone to the other, and the cubs stretched full length hoist themselves after; as if, something is after them.
Something is after them...
He is big. Even for a polar bear. He climbed, high. Like, nothing better to do. Like boredom. At random. On columnar limbs near five feet tall at the shoulder. Traveling in the steep ravine on the far side where he could not be seen but only scented, nosing here and there as if looking for murre eggs...though much too low for that. For fledglings...though much too early.
Which he certainly knows.
An obligatory charade that abruptly ends in an ambling-lumbering gait which looks like an easy stroll. But isn’t.
The female and her two cubs have almost a hundred meters on him. He wasted time. Now he has to make up for it. He holds close to the cliff where the ground is firm keeping the high ground. Between him and them, a diminishing line of stranded sea ice and the distance they are ahead, which is also...diminishing.
Again she widens her lead. But the cubs cannot keep this pace and she has a decision to make: To fight a male twice her weight, or break, leaving them to save herself.
The polar bear in his stride opens his mouth and roars!
She smashes into the sea.
Spray leaps, her shoulders rising on the pull, and in the confusion of her wake one small, white head, now the other, both being carried into the rip further from her, toward him, the great male roaring, roaring not thirty meters up the beach.
She turns back for them.
[MUSIC: Aine Minogue, “Blessing,” Celtic Pilgrimage, Aine Minogue (Little Miller Music Company), Sounds True Records]
CURWOOD: Writer Mark Seth Lender says that’s a story that ended happily for the cubs. Check out his pictures of this drama at our website, LOE.org.
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