Cross Island - where polar bears can come knocking at your door - or window - or just go through the wall
A nanuq on Cross Island.*
A polar bear punched this hole in the wall.
Mother and child.
Please note the unfinished wood behind Maniksaq Nukapigak. It was placed there as part of a major repair job after a nanuq smashed through the wall when no one was home and helped itself to all that it desired. It moved things around and trashed the inside of the cabin.
Handsome young one.
The fellow in the mirror fragment is Maniksaq's dad - whaling captain Isaac Nukapigak. After the bear went through the outside wall and entered the cabin it came face to face with itself in a mirror on the opposite wall. It smashed the bear in the mirror.
There she is - Ms. Nanuq with her two, nearly grown, cubs.
This is James Tuckfield, "Jamie." In the early morning of this day, he was inside the cabin, sitting against the wall opposite this window when he saw something round and black appear at the spot where his finger is. It was a polar bear nose.
The nose began to slide up the window. Jamie demonstrates the facial gestures and paw movements that he saw the bear make as it rose up behind the window.
The siblings seem to get along well.
Jamie continues to describe what he saw.
Momma nanuq, once again.
That bear got pretty animated. On the inside, Jamie and others in the cabin also got animated as they put on a frightening show, hoping to scare the bear away.
Cub follows mom.
The bear left. All was good. There was a new story to tell.
Jamie invites me in to visit. He is famous for his maktak soup and is cooking up a pot right now. I will have a bowl later - and another after that. Jamie's fame is well deserved.
As Jamie cooks, a young hunter peers through the window and spots more polar bears.
It was these three, who I first showed you last week, as they walked nonchalantly down the beach, ignoring the humans who they knew were watching them.
Now, suddenly, one of the cubs takes an interest.
Not far out of the frame, another adult bear shows up as well.
The people take an interest in the bears. He is not bringing the gun out to hunt, but, if need be, to frighten off the bears and, if absolutely need be, to down a bear in defense of human life.
The Iñupiat hunt bears and they hunt them on this island, but right now they are taking care of their whale harvest and want to save their energy for that. They do not want to be forced to shoot a bear.
They get checked out pretty closely.
He closely checks out the bear through the scope. The young hunter wants to take a closer look, too.
Buddy Napageak has decided these bears are not a threat - but he will remain ready should anything change.
I go back in to visit as Jamie continues to cook. Whaling captain Carl Brower, who owns this connex cabin, looks out the window and sees more bears. Willie reads a Louis Lamour western.
More bears. As the reader can see, the hour of deep darkness draws nigh. I have to push my ISO up to 6400.
Another mother has come with two smaller cubs, including this one.
The cubs. The one at the right will wander about 100 feet or so away from the other and a bit farther than that from the mother. Ivory, the dog who I recently introduced in a previous post, will chase after that cub.
And then the cub's mother charges Ivory. It was an amazing thing to witness the speed, power and determined force with which the sow charged after Ivory - and it was a little frightening, too. I did not succeed at photographing it - other than this blurry image. Given the low light, my camera just could not zero in on the focus in the brief moment.
Ivory comes running back.
Mom and cubs leave.
Buddy with Ivory, who is safe. Buddy loves the dog greatly, but is quick to point out that Ivory is as much the dog of his brother, whaling captain Thomas Napageak, Jr., as his.
The bears gather to pick scraps off of some bowhead skulls. It is now so dark that I can only shoot at a very slow shutter speed.
I should note that I have a special polar bear story and photo essay from this trip that I am saving exclusively for Uiñiq, so it won't be seen on this blog until well after Uiñiq has had a chance to circulate through its readership.
*A special thanks to Whaling Captain Edward Nukapigak Jr., my host and the man who made it possible for me to take the opening series of close photos. Up until the time we left, I had only been able to get distant shots, almost all in very low light. When it came time to go home, Edward's crew was the last to leave Cross Island. After we had traveled about a quarter mile offshore, Edward spotted six bears on the beach, very close to the place from which we had launched. He turned around and took me right to them.
I could have spent all day photographing those bears, but I am exceptionally grateful for the several minutes that Edward gave me.
I have thought about the Cross Island bears many times since. I want to go back and hang out with them some more. I just want to go back to Cross Island. It can be a cold, bitter, lonesome, dangerous place, but I want to go back.