It might have been the garlic that finally did it.
We knew there was a polar bear out there. The carcass of a young bearded seal lay on the ice, stripped to the bone. Close by, a shattered vertebrae, the stripped and creepy fingerlike bones of flippers, a brilliant red chunk of frozen bloodsicle.
It felt like stumbling upon a particularly nasty crime scene.
Another tribute to the polar bear's prowess turned up on the ice lies a few yards away; a nearly complete seal skin, peeled away and left in a heap. This bear was well fed. Fastidious, too.
Heinrich sailed the boat into pack ice at the mouth of Lady Franklin Fjord, we got ready for dinner and waited. The boat filled with the smell of Italian cooking as Steve labored over a Norwegian variation on chicken parmesan.
Steering clear of the steam down below, I sat in the wheelhouse, glassing the empty ice. The white fog ebbed, and out of the blankness I saw movement; then the shape of a young bear striding purposefully toward us.
Tripods clattered and gear quickly assembled on deck as the bear walked to within 100 yards of the boat, sniffing the air, curious but cautious, circling and approaching us until someone knocked over a tripod with a clattering thud.
The spell was broken and the bear grew guarded, less curious, more aloof. He ambled off, and we sat in the wheelhouse staring at the white on white landscape for hours. He kept a good quarter mile away, rolling on his back, playful and tormenting us before finally vanishing into the fog.
But we had our first bear.
8/4/09 - Nordaustlandet, Svalbard