Walruses laze out on the beach. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)
Svalbard, Norway is home to a variety of Arctic life, some of which are quite intimidating. Living on Earth Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender recounts a close encounter with a large and wrinkled old walrus.
CURWOOD: Svalbard archipelago in Norway is a rugged frozen landscape near the Arctic Circle that’s home to polar bears, reindeer and walrus. As Living on Earth’s explorer in residence Mark Seth Lender explains he recently had an up close, maybe too close for comfort encounter, with a 3000-pound walrus.
LENDER: A finger of glacial till points into the fjord; on Svalbard at Poolepynten point, where the walrus haul out. The place is low but the slope is steep, for a walrus, and once the effort is made the herd prefers to stay there.
Do Not Disturb.
That is all they want.
They drowse. And stretch. A flipper like an open hand reaches into the air as if making shadows on a non-existent wall. Scratches the chin... the cheek…. then lets the hand fall. The walruses in their tans and browns all blending into the land where they recline.
Out in the frigid water a walrus head appears. Tooth Walker, his Walking Teeth strong where they show above the water and lined along the length of them with crevices and ivory-bright. His wrinkled skin like a parchment map of all the places he has been, shows his age, and the bulk of him a measure of his station. He paddles unconcerned towards Poolepynten. Runs aground. Rests. Then continues, laboring up the slope under the load of his greatness.
From the midst of the herd another walrus raises his head in greeting, the meeting of their eyes a nod of recognition.
And the small waves break against Tooth Walker’s chest.
All as it should be.
And then Tooth Walker sees… me.
He leans. He looks.
The eye that was soft and dark grows wide, then soft (not sure of what he’s seen), then on the double take, wide again!
And turns back!
And out he goes!
And his breath blows!
He finds his draft and swims.
At speed on short strokes below the surface that cannot be seen.
And comes closer.
And stops, and lifts, and shows his tusks!
He looks, both sides, from his left to his right.
Lowers his head.
But changes his mind! Up! The ring around the white of the eyes blood red!
And turns away…
Tooth Walker swims, returning as he came, through the sea. Then pulls, and tugs, and lugs himself out. Rejoining the herd, they raise their tusks to him and he greets them one by one. But again, and again, his gaze returns to let me know: He has not forgotten exactly where I am.
Having seen Tooth Walker and his Walking Teeth, up close? He has nothing to worry about. Not from me.
CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender is Living on Earth’s explorer in residence, and there’s more on our website LOE.org
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