Many of you will remember Dennis from the years when he was our camera man on the Tundra buggies featuring the polar bears. Then he wrote his diaries of growing up and living in the area where the polar bear roams. The town of Churchill is actually built in the migrating route of the polar bear.
Here is one of his stories ............
Other than the North wind trying its' darndest to blow the house over
it was a quiet evening when the phone rang. No mistaking the voice,
Sonny had to squeeze the words out, years of whiskey and tobacco had
seared his throat raw.
"What ya doing Denny"
"not much Sonny whats' up""
"c'mon over I want to show you something"
There was usually only one reason Sonny would phone me on a Sunday...
he was out of whiskey or close to it.
"and bring a bottle if you have one"
"what do you want to show me" I asked.
"you'll see when you get here...do you have any cigarettes?
Looking out the window through the swirling snow I could barely see the
orange glow from the light over his door, too bloody cold to go
anywhere I thought.
It was awhile since I sat down and talked with him, he was always good
for a story or two and I had the price of admission. Curiosity and the
need for company got the best of me so I geared up, slipped a bottle of
whiskey down the sleeve of my parka and bowed into the storm for
Cold clung to me like smoke when I opened the door and entered into
the small tidy kitchen, the two at the table filled the room, with me it
was a crowd.
Sonnys' eye's found the bulge in my sleeve, relieved he emptied the
bottle on the table into his glass and placed it on the floor beside his
chair making room for the new one.
" Hey Denny...have a seat." kicking the remaining chair out from the
Russel was a tall burly metis, a shock of curly black hair graying
around the ears added to his rugged good looks. I remember him as a good
man and a friend. A few months later he would be buried, killed by an
accidental bullet while hunting with his buddies.
Circumstance hasn't been good to Sonny, it was hard to find any
resemblance of the skinny kid of my youth whos' only suffering at the time,
to our great pleasure, was from the bad haircuts his father would
administer. I took no pleasure in his sufferings now. Crippling arthritis
twisted his hands and feet, the disease reaching deeper into his body
raising hell with every movement he made. A cocktail of whiskey and pills
kept him going. His home now his infirmary.
Being on the land hunting, fishing, trapping, sometimes for weeks and
months away from town, the camaraderie of like minded fellows sharing
an otherwise lonely cabin, telling lies, arguing over a game of crib or
whose turn to add wood to the stove was what Sonny lived for, that was
all but taken away from him now. He had to relive those days through
visits from friends. Along with stories, those who dropped by brought
rough cuts of caribou and moose, gutted fish, geese and ducks, a willing
tariff paid out of friendship to a buddy who couldn't.
"OK whats up." I said
"Have a look in there....the boys brought me something."
The bathroom was just off the kitchen, they watched me cross the floor
and open the door, waiting for a reaction.
Like the rest of the house the pocket of a room was curiously clean.
Given Sonnys' condition and his status as confirmed bachelor I wondered
how he kept it so.
At first glance I couldn't see what Sonny was talking about , for an
instant the white paint on the walls and ceiling, the white porcelain
sink and toilet kept it invisible but I could sense it, the air in the
room was crackling.
It took up two thirds of the bathtub, the enormity of it shrunk the
room even more. The severed polar bear head, white as winter, was starting
to thaw, the process giving light to the animals piercing eyes.
Droplets of dark blood clung at the edge of the ragged cut. Even in this state
the polar bear was a force, you could feel it drawing the heat out of
the room into its' frozen mass in exchange filling the devoid with a
chill that clarified the air and caused me to shiver. I never could get
used to the killing.
The power of the scene held me.... too long for the guys' at the table.
"One less to worry about" I heard Sonny say in response to my
On the way back to my chair I tried to make sense of the troublesome
image but that all vanished once I looked at Sonny and saw again what
time and familiarity made us forget.
I see the scars high on his cheekbones opposite each eye where the
bears' teeth had sunk in to lift him off the ground and shake him like a
rag trying to snap his neck, I again noticed the deep furrows criss
crossing his skull and down the nape continuing unseen underneath his
clothes along his back, on his buttocks and back of his legs, his body
traumatized by the bear who had anchored him to the ground with his massive
paw to feed. I now see the trauma lingers and knowing any debate over
the senseless killing would be lost before it began I sat down at the
table and poured myself a drink. Time heals' all they say......in that
there is hope.
Eight years have past since the attack, by all rights that should have
been the end for Sonny. When the guys' in the cabin heard him screaming
and went with their guns to rescue him the bear had already dragged him
into heavy willows taking away any chance of a clear shot. They knew
they had to kill the bear, there was no way to scare him off, a hungry
polar bear doesn't give up his prey easily and would have dragged Sonny
for miles if he had to. So they opened fire, a small miracle a bullet
never found Sonny. The bear was killed. The first hurdle to save Sonny