Polar Bear

Polar Bear

-John Eickert


Children see things in ways adults cannot and sometimes they see things, which adults cannot see. As a boy, I was fascinated with the Artic North, the land of the Midnight sun, Eskimos, igloos and polar bears. The largest member of the bear family living on our planet, a relic from the last ice age and an extraordinary predator; the polar bear invokes mythological stories and tales. These white bears live in a vast yet simple ecosystem. Legend tells they are great swimmers and patient hunters. This fabled land of indigenous people who live on seal meat and thrive on solitude has long captured my imagination.

When I was eight years old, we lived out in the country and it was a wonderful adventure playground. In the winter, a savage storm struck the area where we lived. Snow fell and the temperatures dropped until anything left out of doors froze. The conditions were so desperate that our school canceled all classes. This is a delightful situation for a child. The storm carried on without letting up for more than a week. After a week my mother grew tired of our constant company, at last, she relented and I hurried out the door into the raging white storm.

My father understood the necessity of responsibility and my outdoor freedom came at a cost; there was a duty to perform. A half mile from our house was a large area of cottonwood trees and during the summer, we had cut and stacked a small mountain of firewood. It was to take my wooden snow sled to the stacked wood and retrieve a supply, as much as the sled would hold. My mother did not like the plan, but gave in, glad to see me outdoors and away. The wind swirled the falling snow and tried to find weakness in my clothing. I tromped through the knee-deep snow pulling the empty sled, it was hard going for such a small child and I passed the time pretending I was pulling a sled across my frozen artic.

I made it to the woodpile and loaded my sled with all I dared, arranging it with pride for balance. Finished and warm from the work I surveyed my loaded sled, now if I could pull it. I looped the towrope over one shoulder and across my waist. I peered down the track I made in the snow on my outward journey, it would be easy to find home, but the wind was against me and it took great effort to pull the sled, despite the slick-frozen surface. I pulled, and worked and made decent progress into the teeth of the cruel wind. I was about to give up when I stopped to catch my breath and something made me look up. To this day, I believe what I saw was a polar bear, but it would have taken a wandering bear forty, fifty-mile days to reach our ranch and so it was not possible, but then……..?


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