Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Snooze....You Lose

Last night I was exhausted.

I don't think I've ever thanked God for a Friday with more heartfelt gratitude. Juggling girl's conditioning sessions, GED instruction, and managing the student store alongside regular teacherly responsibilities has my brain and body reeling. When my head finally hit the pillow I was, as they say, dead to the world.

Most nights, that would be just fine, but just a few minutes ago I trekked over to the post office and discovered that my much-needed snooze session came with a price. Apparently, there was a polar bear in town and it was actually right outside my window!

Being dead to the world, I had no clue.

This is my ninth school year in this village. In that time, this is maybe the fourth polar bear that has ventured down from the coast. However, it is the first time that one has wandered among the houses. I heard from neighbors that the outside dogs didn't even bark (smart dogs...they know when to keep a low profile). No one knew the bear was there until one poor teenage girl, walking all alone, rounded a building and found herself face-to-face with what could have been her worst nightmare....only yards away.

Don't worry. The quick-thinking girl jumped into a nearby house immediately. She's fine, though understandably shaken. I heard that the bear was walking toward her as she scrambled into the building. I shudder to think what would have happened if one of our little ones had been in the same position. Would they have had the presence of mind to get away or would they have just stood there gaping or crying, frozen in terror?

Hopefully, we'll never have to learn the answer to that question, but there are murmurings that this bear was not alone (two more sets of tracks have been found), so it's a concern.

Polar bears are not easy for me to write about. On one hand, they are magnificent animals that fill me with curiosity and admiration. I would have been thrilled to see a polar bear sniffing around my window! I think most people feel the same way. I was completely mesmerized by the video about Klondike and Snow (the polar bear cubs that were raised at the Denver Zoo years ago) and I am envious of those who live in the coastal villages where bear watching is commonplace.

Unfortunately, when you live in the Arctic, there is always the other hand to think about. In spite of all the movies and commercials and photographs-in-emails that depict bears as cute, cuddly, fun-loving creatures...or even aloof, independent ones...the bottom line is that they are wild animals with no sense of right or wrong or sentimentality beyond survival. A hungry, wandering bear might prefer to eat fish or a seal, but if there doesn't happen to be any fish or seals around at the moment...a defenseless dog or even a person would certainly be fair game.

That leaves me with very mixed feelings...especially now that one has crossed the line.


Toklat said...

That's some big-time drama! Magnificent animals they are, and wonderful to actually see. But not in town. Let's hope that particular animal(s) doesn't become accustomed to hanging around the village. Maybe it was just curious about the lights and smells, checked it out and moved on.

Like you say, it's very fortunate that no little children were outside at the time, since their response would likely be to freeze or run, resulting in an unthinkable outcome. I'm sure everyone will be on alert for bears and keeping a close eye on the children, at least until the bear(s) hasn't been seen for many days.

If it comes around again, it will need to be strongly persuaded to move on and not come back. In the meantime, you'd better keep your head on a swivel during your treks to the Post Office, school, etc. And don't dress like a seal! : )

Novice Naturalist said...

I know I am always in for a good read when I see a post from you pop up. And I was right again about this one. Very exciting. You know of course in Barrow that we are always thinking in terms of BEARS--could they be right around the corner, right outside the door? I have seen only 8 in my 10 years here, and everyone was exciting. I know what you mean when you say that in the Arctic there is always an "on the other hand"!

Floridacracker said...

That could have gone very badly.
Got Bear Spray?

I understand the mixed feelings.
Watching from my boat, a big shark is a thing of beauty.
If I'm in the water with it, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is pretty scary, glad the end results were okay.
I think I will stick to dealing with water moccasins..they don't seem so bad now.

Sandcastle Momma said...

Wow! I can't even imagine how cool it would be to see a polar bear outside of my window - but at the same time I feel like FC. Cool only from a safe vantage point.
That poor girl must still be shaking in her boots. I can't imagine how scary that must have been.

How do villages like yours deal with that? Do they trap and relocate them like we do our black bears or just pray they go away?

Or are they too big to trap?

Your life absolutely fascinates me!

Kimberlee said...

It's very strange for a bear to be around here this time of year. The others that have made it down this far have done so earlier, when there is no snow on the ground. I'm pretty sure he was interested in all the fish and caribou hanging outside. I'm not sure if he scored any or not.

Thank you so much for your kind & encouraging comments! And yes, I'm sure you know very well about that "Arctic other hand." I've heard of deterrence methods for other types of bears, but I'm not sure a polar bear would pay much attention to a bell or a whistle if you look tasty. At least, I don't want to find out. :)

I completely agree! I actually compared the scenario to being in a tank with a big shark. I'm not too keen on either! :)

Well, water moccasins aren't too friendly either, but they do seem easier to avoid in some ways. your step down there!

Sandcastle Momma....
Good to hear from you! Yes, I was extremely disappointed to have missed seeing the bear, but I certainly wouldn't have wanted to meet him face-to-face, so I guess I can live with the disappointment. I've never heard of bears being trapped or picked up and moved. Sometimes people do chase them out of town, but when the bear is deemed to be a threat that probably won't go away, other measures are taken. It's just one of the many cold hard facts up here. I try not to think about it too much.

Anonymous said...

If such were to happen stateside,could the girl have found an unlocked door ? I also have that ?!? experience of sleeping with a bear outside my walls but it was a Kodiak and the 'walls' was a tent-frame.Ignorance does allow one to sleep.

Kimberlee said...

Great to hear from you! It's been a while. Yes, we have a definite advantage living here in a small village. Not many locked doors, everyone knows everyone, and communication is substantially aided by the VHF. I definitely wouldn't have been so eager to see a bear outside my window if I was sleeping in a tent! Oh, my!

Sandcastle Momma said...

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

S N B said...

Where have you gone?

seema said...