With Whom I Enjoyed a Hair-Raising Conversation About Bear Encounters
He was also the one who happened to be out on the back road, emptying a septic-tanker when I needed a lift after getting myself stranded.
Within minutes after my arrival at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in July of 1996, I had a conversation that I have never forgotten with Ray, the Centre's technical director at the time. He has since moved on.
We had been discussing what I should expect if I came face-to-face with a polar bear while out walking. Please read Ray's comments with an English accent. Mine will be strictly California.
RAY: If you see a polar bear while you're out walking, and he's standing on his hind legs just looking around, you're probably safe. That particular body language indicates that he's smelled or heard something, probably you, and that he's just curious.
ALICE: I learned from my last trip up here, a year ago last November, that it's considered a very bad sign indeed if you find yourself eyeballing a polar bear, and his head is lower than his neck, and he's swinging it back and forth.
RAY: It's considered even worse if, while he's doing that, he's also making clicking and hissing noises. That's a sign he's feeling very threatened and is about to charge.
RAY: But not to worry. Most of the time, it's only a false charge, meant to frighten you.
ALICE: What if he's serious?
RAY: If you have no means of self-defense, then you should throw yourself onto the ground in a tight fetal position, with your head forward and your hands clasped against the back of your neck. Since most of your vital organs are in the front, you'll stand a better chance of surviving a mauling.
Only later did it occur to me to wonder what Ray meant by "most of the time." Did he mean 51 percent? 65 percent? 87 percent? 99 percent?
When I asked him about it later, somewhat complainingly, he laughed but gave no definite answer.