It started in the most innocuous way.
It is often rather difficult to spot a polar bear. The distant white spot that you might see on the dull brown landscape might just be a white rock. Or a spot of snow that was still stubbornly refusing to melt away.
Until it starts moving.
And this spot was definitely moving. Slowly. It was small enough to lose track of, if you moved your eyes from it, but what was most important was that it certainly was moving.
That warranted the Zodiacs to be lowered and for all of us to line up and get into them. By now, of course, we were doing it as if we have been doing this all our lives.
The spot continued to move slowly but deliberately on our right. Right opposite us was the an amazing glacier and if…if we are fortunate, the bear will come to a position where we can get that lovely blue as the backdrop.
For that, the bear will definitely need to get into water and for that to happen, there needed to be a strong reason.
And what could be a stronger reason than a seal, sunning itself on an ice piece, thoroughly oblivious of any cares of the ordinary, dreary world ?
That does look like the perfect place to laze, doesn't it ?
We saw the seal rather late, focused as we were on searching for the bear who had gone missing behind some rocks. However, now we knew why the bear was so purposefully walking in that direction. Polar bears can smell a seal resting on ice from miles away !
We positioned ourselves as well as possible in the moving Zodiacs, we admonished each other to maintain absolute silence and not spook the seal.
The polar bear silently entered the icy waters and stealthily swam upto the ice piece. These guys can stay under water for as long as three minutes and that seemed more than enough for him to to reach the ice.
Just when we tightened our grips on our cameras and stopped breathing to ensure that our hands don’t shake even that wee bit, the seal slid off the ice piece with a plop… just as the bear emerged next to the ice.
Drat !! Missed !!!
The bear climbed onto the ice piece and stood there for long minutes pondering at the loss meal and occasionally looking at us, as if sizing us up as a potential meal.
Nope, the bear on the ice piece was not the breathtaking photo I was talking about. We got that. Many shots.
He stood there for a long, long time
The bear, after a long period of deep thought at the vicissitudes of life, entered the waters again and swam towards the opposite side. It got out, gave itself a vigorous shake and then started ambling across the rocks over to the far side of the land.
The ease with which he moved over this terrain was fascinating
There was only one problem. A sizeable problem.
There was a cabin that lay on his path. There were people in the cabin. Folks who were on a walk and from where they were they would have no idea about a bear approaching them, hidden as it was behind a slope of the hill.
If they were to meet face to face, one could be almost certain about what would happen. The law of the land mandated that people be armed with guns and the chances were very high that the bear would be shot.
We sped in our Zodiacs over to the group wanting to warn them about the bear that was coming their way. We stood in our Zodiacs, waving furiously indicating with rather wild gestures that a bear was coming their way. We will never know if they got the exact message we were trying to send but they definitely got the sense that something was wrong and stood away from the path.
The bear appeared over the rocks and passed them with nary a glance. Phew !
He came round the corner, paused for a moment and continued...handsome guy, isn't he ?
Nope, a worrying bear-human conflict was definitely not the breathtaking image I was talking about.
We were surrounded by small hills and roughly at the 7 o clock position if we were facing the bear as it appeared around the bend was the slope of the hill we were behind. Behind the slope, stood other hills and right now they were a sight to behold.
At Svalbard in the summer, you have light throughout the 24 hours of a day, and right now, the there was a tiny sliver of a lovely shade of golden light that fell across the mountain slope. The muted yellow contrasted softly against the dull brown of the mountains. White splashes where the snow stubbornly held on provided the occasional relief. Wispy clouds hovered tentatively above. The scene was gorgeous.
If the bear were to go up the side of our hill and stand where the sliver of light fell we just might get the most gorgeous silhouette ever.
The bear on his part was in no hurry. He went off to the edge of the water, stood sniffing at it and then finally decided to humour us. He started walking exactly in the direction of the ridge, to the exact position where we could get the best possible image.
The thing about silhouettes is that there are some very basic rules. And these are not rules that can be broken at the altar of creativity. And Rule 101 says that, the silhouette of the animal should have all four legs clearly discernible. The animal should not be just a blob, an unrecognizable lump.
Our bear walked upto the ridge, stood at the exact position we would have wanted him to, but untrained as he was about the rules of a silhouette, never turned in the right direction to give us THAT perfect silhouette.
Imagine, if he had been walking at that spot, exactly parallel to us
We groaned in frustration. We smacked our foreheads in irritation. We slumped our shoulders in disappointment. We cursed that poor animal for teasing us so.
And then we laughed at ourselves.
Yes, we did get a load of lovely photographs that afternoon. We had a lovely experience of the anticipation of a successful hunt. But often its those moments that we missed that make the whole experience even more memorable.
And the bear that did not provide us with the perfect silhouette was certainly one of them.