Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Expedition’

Teacher Learns About Polar Bears in Icy Arctic

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Sometimes even polar bears just want to have fun.

Not everyone would consider sleeping in a tent on the ice the perfect vacation, but Bobbie Henderson thought it a great adventure. Over the past few years, she has made not one, but two trips to the far, far north just to get up close and personal with polar bears.

While she’s had a long-time passion for animals, one day while teaching an eighth grade class, they watched a film about polar bears. At the end of the film, it told about possible tours on the tundra where you could see polar bears just outside your window. Bobbie was hooked.

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Three polar bears relax in the setting sun on Hudson Bay.

Her first polar bear expedition headed to Churchill on Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada. Northern style shops lined the streets of this small town. Sirens went off to alert people when a polar bear came to visit. They even had a polar bear jail, where they placed tranquilized bears until they could be taken back to the wilds by helicopter.

At Churchill, a group of 32 boarded Tundra Buggies set high off the ground to take them exploring. Once they reached camp, the group settled in for a week of visiting polar bears.

Headquarters consisted of a stationary area with seven modular sections. Camp here was spartan, but comfortable…with excellent food. Showers were limited to two and a half minutes as all water had to be heated, while outhouses stood on the edge of camp. Overall, a relaxed atmosphere.

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The highlight of the trip for Bobbie was when this polar bear stuck its nose in the tundra buggy window right beside her.

Half the group would go polar bear watching in the morning, while the other half went in the afternoon. On one of these trips, windows were left down to take better pictures. The thrill of the trip for Bobbie was when one polar bear, 10′ tall, actually stuck its nose in the window right where she sat. She could have reached out and touched him…but took a picture instead.

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Forty polar bears were sighted on her first expedition.

One strict rule here states: “Don’t even think about feeding the bears.” Feeding was discouraged as it would make the bears too familiar with humans, perhaps causing both of them problems. If anyone did feed a bear, they were taken from camp in a helicopter at their expense. Bears find their own food and enjoy a steady diet of seals. They can eat a hundred pounds of blubber in a single sitting.

On that first expedition, Bobbie saw 40 polar bears in their natural environment. There’s a reason that Manitoba is called “The Polar Bear Capital of the World”.

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Their yellow tents were the only sign of civilization in this Arctic wilderness.

Her second polar bear adventure began in Nunavut near Pond Inlet on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Now she was 700 K north of the Arctic Circle! This small town said their biggest problems were drugs, family abuse, and alcohol. They did have a couple television sets and computers, which broadcast in their native Inuktitut language.

Snow machines pulled them to camp this time on 18′ komitak sleds…three people to a sled. The ride took eight bumpy hours. Camp consisted of bright yellow tents on the ice with an insulated pad underneath and a very warm sleeping bag. Native Eskimos served as guides and someone stood guard around the clock to make certain no bears invaded the camp.

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Bobbie, their guide Dave and Jenny from Australia listen through hydrophones to the world beneath the ice.

The reflection of the midnight sun off the ice gave members the worst sunburns on their faces that they could imagine. They would reach outside their tents at night to get ice to cool off their burning face.

Perhaps it was due to the weather, but on this trip they only saw four polar bears. They first faced blizzard conditions but by the end of the week, it started to rain, so ice was melting in spots especially along the crevices. Now the komitak sleds had to jump the crevices making for a very rough and wet ride back to town.

Living on the frozen ocean, they explored ancient ruins of the Thule people, followed tracks of polar bears in the snow, built snowmen and created snow angels. Each day provided another unique adventure, which made this magical place a once in a lifetime experience.

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Ms Henderson brought back her experiences and used them in the classroom.

Upon her return, Bobbie shared her Arctic adventures in her Florida classroom. She used the trip to teach spelling, vocabulary, map skills and wildlife conservation. Bringing personal experiences to the classroom always enhances learning. Now she enjoys sharing her experiences as a substitute teacher here in southeastern Ohio.

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Her house is overflowing with polar bear memorabilia.

While Bobbie was glad she did both trips, she wants to return to Churchill again because she saw more bears there, and camping was a little more relaxing. Since she likes cold weather, Greenland, the North Pole, and Arctic regions are places she would enjoy visiting.

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Bobbie volunteers at Dickens Victorian Village, where she dresses as a lovely Victorian lady.

Animals like Bobbie. At her home near Cambridge, she keeps several dogs, cats, and rare macaws. Deer hang out at her back deck. But if you happen to see a polar bear there, it’s just Bobbie in her polar bear costume.

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Sometimes she enjoys dressing as a polar bear.

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York, Slave of William Clark, Once Felt Freedom

Tracker… Negotiator…Ambassador…Doctor.  All these words were used at one time or another to describe York, Captain William Clark’s black manservant, who was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back to the East. York’s story was told under the red and white striped tent at the 2012 Chautauqua celebration in Marietta, Ohio on the campus of Marietta College. This year’s theme, “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”, introduced characters that played a role in Ohio’s early history. York, being from Virginia, spent much time on and along the Ohio River.

As the first recorded black explorer, York created much excitement as he traveled across the Western frontier.  Due to his large size and black skin, his presence amazed and intrigued the Indians along the way. Thinking perhaps that he was painted black, at many stops the Indians would spit on their fingers and try to rub the black color from his skin. Indian tribes considered him a friend and referred to him as Big Medicine, since he frequently gave them liniments and herbs to heal their ailments. Some even called him Giant Medicine due to his size, and felt that his skin had sacred power.  This was a time in York’s life when he said, “How great it felt to be admired.  I felt ten feet tall.”

Because he enjoyed storytelling and drinking, York was very popular in taverns wherever he went. His speech was much like “the white man’s” since he had grown up in his master’s household. Never having been taught to read or write, he relied on his tall tales, some higher than the mountains, to entertain the explorers and those he met along the way. The Indian squaws favored him with special treatment, and he entertained the children with stories of being wild. His contribution as a peace maker with the Indians helped make the expedition more successful.

Life was not easy on the journey as they were often cold and hungry. They drank bear fat and even ate candles to survive. At times when food was scare, York was entrusted with a musket, something that never would have been permitted this slave while in Virginia. There were times when they were fortunate to encounter a herd of elk.  Then they ate elk, elk, and more elk all day long. If no other meat was available, they even ate their dogs and found them quite tasty. The children in the tent at Marietta that evening were quite concerned about the expedition eating dogs, and were assured it was only done during an emergency when no other food was available.

When they returned to the East, York reverted to his position as a manservant. He only wanted freedom to be with his wife but this was not to be. Instead he was flogged, even jailed and then hired out to a severe master where he was given spoiled food and further mistreated.

Even though York was married, he seldom saw his wife as she too was a slave. They lost contact completely when she was sent to Mississippi to work on a plantation. So even though he knew she was expecting their child, he never got to see the child or even know of its whereabouts. When he asked Captain Clark if he could be sold as a slave with his wife, Clark said it was out of the question. York said the most painful time he encountered in his life was saying goodbye to his wife.

What really happened to York? Some accounts say that he was eventually freed, but given the fact that he had no knowledge of business was not able to make his way in the world.  Other accounts say he was spotted later with the Crow Indians in the Rocky Mountains. Hope it was the later!

As York sat at the tavern on the Chautauqua stage, he said he was thankful for the Expedition as for a short time he knew what freedom felt like. There his color was not a curse but a blessing. His dream was to eventually go back to the Indians.  His presentation concluded with a toast to the Great Expedition, the beauty and majesty of our great nation, Captain Clark, the Indians, and Big Medicine.

Marvin Jefferson did a very believable portrayal of York. His background as an educator and historical scholar has given him incite into Civil Rights issues and he frequently portrays Martin Luther King, Jr and Paul Robeson in his stage performances.

2012 Ohio Chautauqua continues throughout the summer with week long performances and workshops in Urbana (June 26-30), Gallipolis (July 17-21) and Warren (July 24-28).  Hope you find time to join them and learn a little more about “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”.

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