Archive for January, 2010


Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I was stirring the stew on the firepit when I heard the knock. 

At first I dismissed it as the wind, and did nothing.  With the second rap, I thought of it as coincidence, and stirred all the harder, as if to banish it forcibly from thought.  With the third, I feared it was a bear, come in the snowstorm by the drifting smell of cookery, and I snatched up my spear and hurried to the doorway.  By the time the fourth thump came, I was shoving the rough driftwood hatch open, feeling it grind against the iced and slick snow-walls. 

The figure beyond was no bear – far too small, too slight, even for a cub – and it jumped in surprise.  Bulky, upright, small, dark in colour, with odd face markings, and textures that just didn’t match up.  Its forelimbs were held upright, next to its skull, and it was making the strangest noises, a complicated cacophony that was half-lost in the blizzard. 

I blinked as I listened.  They sounded familiar.  What were they…. words.  Yes, that was it.  Words.  Were they English?  I wasn’t quite sure.  I’d taken up talking to myself a long time ago, a very long time ago, but this was strange.  It was all too fast in some places, too slow in others, and some of the bits didn’t sound like other bits.  Too much all at once.  And if those were words – English words? – then this must be a human.  Another human.  Did I look like that?  Strange indeed. 

It had stopped its words, and was watching me.  Warily, probably.  I did have a spear pointed at it.  Did I need to do that now?  We had a lot in common – species, desire to avoid the cold, and probably hungry.  I remembered the hunger quite well now. 

“Come in,” I said, and I let the spear down (gratefully – it was heavy).  “Stew.”

It was magical, watching that.  I said some words and moved my arm and all of a sudden it wasn’t frightened anymore.  Then we both walked inside, just like that.  Can you believe that?  Some words and all of that happens.  Amazing. 

My guest liked the stew, although it took me a while to figure this out.  It was still hard to understand it.  “Slower,” I said.  “Slower.”  It would nod, blink, eat some stew, and then start over again, still wrong in some odd way that threw its ever breath of air out of joint with my mind.  Still, we made progress, and by the end of the meal we could understand each other half-decently as we sat on my furs next to the firepit.  It had laid its gun to one side, out of the way.  It looked much more complicated than mine, and seemed well-looked-after.  It probably even still worked. 

The first thing it asked after we’d established this was what was in the stew. 

I thought for a while.  What was the word?  Ah, yes.  “Mice.”

It looked surprised.  “That’s a lot of mice.  How many?”

I shrugged – another thing I hadn’t done for a long time.  It came much more easily than conversation.  “Lots?  Can’t remember.  Collected them before winter.”

“Cached them, huh?  Are you that hard up for food?”

Another shrug, and something I thought I recalled mother saying once.  “Every little bit… helps.”

The guest laughed, and the sound was the most alien I’d heard from it yet.  It seemed too loud.  “Hah, yes.  Thank you for your mouse stew, stranger – and you shouldn’t stay a stranger, for giving me somewhere to hide from that snowstorm.”  He stretched out his back, rubbing at the base of the spine.  “”What’s your name?”

That particular detail came to me more easily than anything else I’d struggled with.  “John.”

“It’s good to meet you, John,” said my guest.  “Tim.”

I thought for a moment.  “Yes?” I asked. 

It shook its head.  “No, sorry.  I’m Tim.  My name is Timothy.”  He – that was a man’s name, it must be a man – looked at me in a way that I thought was odd.  “When was the last time you saw someone else out here, John?”

“Not sure.  Hard to keep track of time.”  A phrase leaked back into my head.  “’Land of the Midnight Sun.’  Hard to say.  A long time.”

“How?  You can’t be more than a few days north from Fairbanks.”

I stared at him, and he must have sensed my blankness.  “Fairbanks?  You know, Fairbanks, Alaska?”

“Alaska?”  That was maybe the strangest word I’d heard yet. 

“Alaska.  The United States of America.” 

All the words in the sentence I understood, yet together they meant nothing.  I shook my head.  “No.”

Insofar as I could read expressions – there were so many muscles moving on his face, all dancing and jumping – he looked very… something.  I’m not sure what.  “How do you not know that?  You’re not native, so you sure as hell weren’t born out here, and you don’t even know that you’re in the state of Alaska?  You’ve never heard of the US?”

More sensible words that added up into senselessness.  “No.  I haven’t.” 

He – Tim, yes that was it – slumped, and his body language spoke to me more than his face had.  I remembered something now.  “You got lost?” I prompted. 

He nodded.  “Yes, and I’m damned ashamed to admit it.  Flew north out of Fairbanks and landed on a lake, was just planning on a little bit of winter hunting.  Storm came up out of nowhere, faster than I could blink – not a single warning or hint.  It was there, I was stuck in a whiteout, and by the time it cleared up enough for me to move the plane was gone.  Damned if I know how, but the temperature’d dropped like a stone.  So I struck out east, towards where I’d seen some trees on landing, – get any shelter you can, you know – must’ve got turned around, kept walking to keep breathing, and then I stumbled into your house.  Probably saved my life.  Thanks again, by the way.”

“You are welcome.”  Old memories were thawing inside my head, bit by bit, revealing frail and chilly contents.  “On the lakeshore,” I asked, hunch growing stronger, “was there a rock?  A point?”

“A what?” he asked, puzzled. 

“A rock, a point.”  I thought over my words again.  “A rock on a point.  A big rock.  A big round rock.  On a point,” I clarified.

Tim got that strange look on his face again – probably confusion – and then it melted into something else.  “Yes.  Yes, there was.  I tied the plane to a tree right next to it.  When the snow calmed down, it was gone.  Just gone – not a trace of the line left.  Or the tree.”

Certainty filled me, the same feeling I got when I had a deer standing in my sight, bow in hand, with the wind at my back.  “You moved,” I said.

He looked confused again.  “No, I didn’t.  I’m not an idiot, I stayed right where I was and hunkered down next to the rock.”
“No, no, no,” I said, firmly.  I smacked my right hand on the floor near his foot, making him jump.  “You were here,” I said.  My other hand came down hard, across from its brother.  “I am here.  The snow came, and then –“ I swept my right hand over to meet its brother “–it brought you here.  To me.”

“Forgive me for saying this, John,” he said, almost slowly enough to be clear and sound for once, “but you aren’t making any sense.”

“I got lost too,” I said.

There was a long silence then.  I used the time to clean out the rest of the stewpot, seeing that he’d had his fill.  It was a good stewpot, made out of soapstone.  It had lasted for a long time, but was scarcely my first.  With each replacement, I’d gotten better at the fiddly bits of the carving, and by now they were quite pleasant to look at. 

“So you’re saying,” said Tim, as I scraped out the last of the meat – almost as if he’d been waiting for it – “that you got lost, in the same place, and it brought you here, and now the same thing happened to me?”

I nodded.  It had been a long time since I’d done that, and it felt good.  My sharing of the stewpot had garnered something quite useful after all. 

“Tell me why I should believe you, and not write you off as an old survivalist who’s spent too much time with no one to talk to but caribou.”

“Caribou?” I asked. 

“You can’t honestly not know about caribou.  They walk past here every six months!  Your spoon is made from one of their antlers!” 

I looked at the handle of the spoon, and recognition came.  “The deer?”  Caribou was an odd word.  Why rename a deer?

Tim’s movements were growing more jerky and impulsive.  I must’ve been frustrating him.  “It doesn’t matter.  What are you trying to tell me?  That the snowstorm took me to… never-land or something?  Narnia?  Make sense or show me some proof.”

I looked down into the stewpot, thoughts bubbling and hissing inside my skull.  It had been a very long time, but I believed I knew something that would make him change his mind. 

“Wait,” I said.  I set the stewpot to one side and arose, then began to rummage through the big woven-branch hamper I kept my things in.  There was something in there that couldn’t be found where he came from, something very different from the old, younger place that I’d been in before I came here.  At least, I thought it was. 

It was at the bottom of the hamper, because it was very heavy.  I used it as part of my sledge when I packed up home and moved.  With some difficulty, I pried it loose and bundled it into my arms, then brought it to him.  “Here,” I said, and placed it upon the ground.”
“Polar bear skull,” he said immediately.  “Big one –“ and then he stopped, and began to touch and examine it.  I let him look, and waited.  Time was long, and we had much of it. 

At last he raised his eyes from my skull, and spoke words again.  “This isn’t a normal bear,” he said. 

I thought back again to those long-ago times, and recalled the bears I’d seen.  Were they normal?  “No,” I agreed, deciding that they might’ve been.  At the time. 

“It’s too big.  Much too big.  And this isn’t a fossil.  Either you killed the biggest bear ever to live in the history of the world, John – and not more than a few days from Fairbanks – or you’re not making up everything you’re telling me.  And I can’t think why you would.  One way or the other, something’s wrong here.”  He was having trouble keeping his eyes from my sledge-base, they kept alighting upon it, like a nervous mother bird unwilling to leave its nest.  “And of course, there’s the extra eye sockets.”

Bears with four eyes had extra eyes?  I’d forgotten that – was he really telling the truth?  “More proof?” I asked, mind already feverishly ransacking those old memories once more, comparing them to the contents of my home. 


The hamper was carefully sorted through, and other tokens and emblems came out.  My knife, carved from one of the teeth of the whales that I’d found stranded on a shore, long ago – a score or so, I recalled, and I’d never seen anything like them since.  The furs we squatted on became an example – the woolly pelt from a calf of one of the rhinoceroses that roamed near here in the late winter, claimed from its owner after I found it dead in a snowdrift.  Normal things, strange things, and each examined and explained haltingly to this odd man, with odd words. 

There was another very long silence after that.  It was very strange – it felt misshapen, unpleasant.  Not at all like normal. 

“So it’s never-land then?” he asked after a time. 

“I do not understand,” I said. 

“Narnia then?  Where am I?  You’ve got mutant bears and giant killer whales and some kind of woolly rhinos.  Maybe you’re a head case with one weird trophy, but with three?  This is too much.  What the hell is this place?”
“I do not,” I said carefully, “understand.”

Tim was staring at me again.  “You’re nuts.  I don’t care how long you’ve been stuck out here, you’re crazy.  What.  Is.  This.  Place?”  He was standing up now, talking down at me, nearly shouting, and I wasn’t comfortable with it.  “What’s outside – what’s out there?”

Oh.  That made more sense.  I thought about my answer carefully. 

“Cold,” I said.  “All the cold.  Ever.”

He stood there for a time, at least until I passed into sleep.  I do not know if he did the same. 


In the morning, my guest was moving before I awoke, examining and preparing his strange gun, organizing his backpack.  I knew preparations for departure when I saw them, and asked what he planned. 

“I’m heading back where I came from,” he said.  “I got… wherever here is from the rock.  I might as well head back there.  No offence, John, but I don’t want to end up like you.  However long you’ve been here, or half of it, is too long.” 

Would the place send him away?  I wasn’t sure.  Had I tried?  Maybe once.  Couldn’t remember.  “Good luck,” I said.  It seemed fair enough – the right thing, surely?  I wouldn’t diminish my own luck by giving him any.  Probably. 

He slung the gun into some sort of container on his back.  I thought I remembered doing that once, and felt an odd twinge of nostalgia.  Tim had started talking again, too many words, too fast, and I dragged my attention back to it. 

“… for the food, and the shelter,” he said.  “If I can’t get back the way I came, I guess I’ll strike out south and see if it gets any warmer.”  What an odd idea.  “Anything you can tell me about the land that way?”
“Cold.  This time of year, not much deer.  Some wolves.  Then, trees.  Lots.”

He sighed heavily.  “More good news.  Could be worse.”  He held out his hand, and I stared at it for a moment before remembering handshakes.  It felt very strange, and quite soft – disturbingly so, like a maggot.  I had to resist the urge to wipe my fingers on my coat.  We emptied out the entrance, pushing back and tunnelling out the snow.  My house was a little lump in a great snow-dune, barely worth noting. 

“If I make it through, I’ll tell someone you’re out here.”  He looked very small against all the white, and I was sure he knew it.  ”Wherever here is.  They won’t think I’m too crazy – Tim White’s not local, but he’s known well enough for a bit of trust.”

Tim was a colour?  Oh, yes.  Second names – last names, that was it.  What was mine again?  It wasn’t a colour.  They were too long and bulky to use everyday, but I was sure I knew it, somewhere. 

“I am fine,” I reassured him.  It was true.  I thought.  What else was there?  Wherever he was from, it had too many words. 

“Suit yourself,” he said, squinting through the glow and shine of sun-on-snow.  The blizzard’s vanishment had left quite a bright day, only illuminating the cold further.  “I can’t say I can argue.  You’ve lived out here too long for it.  If you run across my body later, use my rifle to put a bullet through whatever got me, will you?”

“Yes.”  It seemed fair enough. 

“Good.  Mighty thanks and farewell to you, John.”  He marched off and away, a little smaller with each step.  He didn’t look back once, which was good.  No sense in looking back.  There’s nothing good back there anyways. 

Oh.  There it was.  I knew I knew it.  Names. 

“Hudson,” I said aloud.  It was much better to speak this way, the right speed, the right way.  None of the chattering haste of Tim White.  “Hudson, Hudson.  John Hudson.”

It was just enough words to be too many. 


“Whiteout” copyright Jamie Proctor 2010. 

The Life of Small-five (Part 2).

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Small-five-point-burst-of-light wove slowly and unsteadily about the dips and valleys of the reef, shallowed as they were.  She was a bit older now, but not as large as she should’ve been.  Where her sides should’ve been sleek and compressed with nourishing fat they were thin and clung to her internal structures, her glowshine erratic and often soft and faded rather than clear and bright, their tubes half-filled.  The loss of her sisters (still unfound, still all too harsh and new in her mind) had done more than hamper her mentally, it had disrupted her hunting behaviour, and so far she was adapting poorly.  Try as Small-five might, there was little she could do alone.  Scraps and small fry were not enough to fuel her body’s harsh demands for yet more and more growth, but it was all she could catch.  Perhaps Gloudulite young would’ve helped to feed her, but she had been unable to bring herself to go anywhere near one since the tragedy.  Just the smallest glimpse of the looming shell-spire or the rumble of its distant, destructive grazing would send uncontrollable shivers up and down her body until it passed out of her senses.  Even if she had managed to bring herself near them, doubtless the lack of extra eyes to watch for the Kleeistrojatch cleaners would’ve made the task much more dangerous – a single well-aimed blow from one would still cut her apart.  So she crept and hid in corners and fed upon the weakest and least aware of all that she could find.  The mere sight of a predator made her fearful, and the lack of sight of one more fearful still – she was sure they were just behind her, in her blind spot, where her sisters would’ve seen them.

Small-five became a timid creature, emerging only in the depths of night, when the Stairrow were abed in their coral lairs and the Verrineeach descended away and out into the deeps.  The food was small and shy, but it was there, and she could feed peacefully if meagrely, safe from the feel of the nonexistent eyes of the predators upon her back.  And feed little; she grew thinner.  It was pure luck that saved, her and that came in the form of losing a meal herself.

Small-five emerged late from her torporous shelter that night, and found that the reefcolony was already well into the quiet bustle of the night.   Hunting time had been lost, and she would have to make as much haste as she could to make up for it.  She scurried out and stayed low, keeping in the lee and shadows of the terrain, darting forwards and snapping up a stray Ooliku infant in the wake of its school, missing three more quick stabs as they scattered expertly.  A mouthful – an important one, yes, but it could so easily have been three.  Disappointed, she floated back towards the seabed, and there she saw her chance: a lost Verrineeach, separated from its school, spinning gently in the current, devoid of purpose, intent or initiative, fins limp.  Alone, it was far more lost than Small-five could ever imagine being – its very capacity for action, instinct, and intellect depended on the presence of its fellows and the linked net of their interwoven electrical field, many acting as one in perfect, voracious harmony.  Its teeth hung uselessly in the open from a slightly-agape mouth, vicious fangs made as gentle as a soft-bodied plankton.

Small-five watched it warily, glowshine rising and lowering in intensity as she sought to gain its attention, checking to ensure that its school was truly absent and not merely very late to depart.  All it would take would be for it to become a deadly needle of hunger would be one or two of its comrades, and if a school had shed several of its members nearby they could drift into range and awaken one another.  Try as she might, she couldn’t see any sign of others nearby, and every second that the Verrineeach lingered aimlessly was a second in which it might be noticed and swept up.  It was a nearly fleshless mouthful, but an important one.  She tensed, ready to surge forwards, and then the sand beneath the little predator erupted and it was gone, clamped tight behind the stubby, sucking jaws of a Mtuilk, its flat, scaled body rippling as it shed its camouflaged patterning.  It was slightly longer and thinner than Small-five, with far less of her cruising power but a capacity for blindingly fast movement in a pinch.  As it settled back to the seafloor, it was already fading away, the scales transforming into a pebbled, brown surface that looked all for the world like coarse sand.

The water shook, and Small-five saw that its strike had not been quite as sudden and unexpected as it may have wished it to be.  A mature Stairrow thundered in, the biggest of those that bordered between small and large, an alpha predator of the beta food chain.  Its jets boiled the water behind as its big, blunt, broad face opened up the jaws that made up most of it, grasping hastily at the flattened form beneath it.  For a moment there its meal was in its grasp, and then it was gone in a single sharp, twisting, convulsive movement on the Mtuilk’s part that was nearly too fast for Small-five to witness, leaving the Stairrow alone, confused, and immersed in a cloud of digestive juices and small scraps and nuggets of semi-digested meat.  It pushed through them contemptuously – each speck was smaller than its teeth – and cruised away, deprived of food.

Small-five watched the stray particles in the water very carefully, and then she crepy from cover and picked them up, one by one.  A very large piece was the majority of the swallowed Verrineeach, only slightly scoured by acid.  She ate it with care, thoughts turning over and over inside her head.

Finding a second Mtuilk took some time, but not too long.  They preferred flat surfaces, and though they could mimic more than just sand it certainly did tend to end up as relatively flat ground.  She moved her glowshine over the surface in quick sweeps, watching where the sand altered and attempted to adjust to the new light in unnatural ways.  She made sure of its size (big, but not that much larger than her, or she’d find herself a meal in a completely different manner), then darted straight at it.

It was just as fast as she’d recalled it – faster, even.  The Mtuilk was up and away before she could even register it as having moved, leaving her in a cloud of regurgitated stomach contents.  Small-five pecked and nibbled and gulped with enthusiasm, ejecting the bits of bone and gristle after cleaning them of all flesh.  She had found a new source of food, and one that required little effort.  She startled four more Mtuilks that night on her rounds, the second-to-last of which was larger than she’d guessed and tried to consume her.  A hasty flare of glowshine interrupted its strike – barely – and she departed, saved by instinctive reaction for the second time that night, this time her own.


She was more careful the night after that, which nearly didn’t happen; she spent most of the day shivering over a sickened and queasy belly, reacting poorly to the trace acids and bile of the Mtuilk.  The next night was a little easier, and within twelve days she was practiced at overcoming the painful cramps that always came several hours after consuming her second-hand prey.  It made little difference – hers was a shadowed and cautious life now, creeping from cover to cover, making quick snaps and forays at her prey or to provoke her unwilling seafloor food donors, a far cry from the free-swimming, rambunctious antics she’d enjoyed alongside her sisters, veering openly over the reefs in midday and charging headlong into schools of young prey.

Small-five was not introspective, but she missed those days on a level slightly too deep for her to actively understand it.  Her body wasn’t built for this sort of behaviour – she was lithe and strong, able to swim blindly fast for metres or strongly for hours, made to swim fast and high rather than chug along slowly at the reefcolony’s feet like a plodding miniature Gloudulite.  In some ways she was atrophying even as she began to rise to prosperity again, muscles warping and withering in strange ways even as others bulged unnaturally, body following a path ever so slightly different from that which it was planned to do.

Her belly no longer grew gaunt, but it was far from firm, and although she was getting more food it wasn’t exactly the best on the reef.  Bottom feeding wasn’t killing her anymore, but merely maintaining herself wouldn’t do when he body screamed for growth.  A full stomach merely reminded her of what an empty one felt like, and she became more aggressive as time floated by, willing to stand on her own more as caution became more innately bound up in her natural thoughts and movements.  Slow and careful movements became bolder, and each time her rounds were made they were quicker than before.  Alone, she was deprived of the eyes of her sisters, but her compensating was leading her towards recovery, if not of her physical strength, then of her natural behaviours, if altered to fit her situation.

Small-five did not know it, but she was in a great minority by this time.  Of all of her sisters, she was the only one without siblings at her side that remained living, the rest had been killed before they could rejoin.  In total, only eleven of her sisters and a few dozen brothers remained alive at all – she had been lucky to survive to the point of midyouth, and luckier to learn caution without being killed by it.  Midyouth for a female, that was; the males were already teetering towards the slightly-distant horizon of adolescence, enjoying the advantages of a momentary growth spurt granted to them by not having to support the energy demands of glowshine.  Their hides were drabber, their ability to startle predators gone, but they slipped along easily in the currents, bodies perfectly streamlined without the slight ridges and juts of an emergent glowshine-tube or so erupting from their hides.  They were a rare sight, and too fast to bother hunting.


Time passed, and Small-five grew – a little slighter, a little slower than she would’ve had her sisters remained with her – but she grew.  Her confidence came back bit by bit, and one evening she heard the tremors of a Gloudulite passing, followed them cautiously yet firmly, and left its back with a full stomach and fragments of shells upon her proboscis.  She was nearly the same length as an adult Stairrow now, if much lighter and less bulky than the jet-propelled clumsy things, and she took to exploring the daylight reef again, hour by hour, day by day, sinking back into the sunlight and leaving her nighttime prowls behind, ranging farther afield each day.  In hindsight, what happened was inevitable as soon as she began this.

It happened as Small-five was crossing a chasm between reefcolonies, coasting over deep water.  A thing that had wracked her nerves the first time she’d managed to muster the courage, a little over six days ago., yet grew easier with each attempt.  Larger things may have lurked there, hovering in the space between the deep blue and the rainbow of life that were the upper reaches, but she was just large enough and fast enough that she felt secure – the least among unfriendly and dangerous equals, at most.  Verrineeach schools bided their time, flicking their fins idly in midwater, sternly blunt-nosed Raskljens stroked their way between the gaps, secure in their massive builds, and once she’d seen a great slithering presence far below that could’ve been an infant Gruskomish, emerging from its deep home to poke its snout out at the world that could one day, centuries from now, behold its ascension into adulthood.  The Raskljens were the only real threat to her – the rest idled, or considered her as beneath their notice as the Raskljens themselves would’ve no less than two months ago.  Stairrow may no longer have threatened her as they once did, but almost no creature ever reached a size that was truly free of predators.  She was cautious as she crossed, as she’d been since the Gloudulite’s destruction, and kept her lights dim and low.  And thus it came to be a great surprise when she saw light in the blue, a short distance away, winking and sparkling.  And not just any light – glowshine.  Memories of Dim-glowing, Pulsing-two, and Three-second jumped into her with the force of a storm, things she’d forgotten for half her short life, and she swam to the source faster than she could believe, glowshine tubes winking erratically, stammering out her name as clumsily as a child – Small-five-point-burst-of-light, Large-five-point-burst-of-light, Eruption-of-all-points-of-light.

The new lights flared in alarm, dazzling her, and before her surprised, unprepared membranes had finished uncloaking from her eyes she felt strong bodies disturbing the water around her, angry pulses of light and unfriendly chitters.  She hopped midwater in alarm, and felt the swish of a proboscis scrape her side.  She was surrounded, and these were not her sisters, not at all.  Panic brought clearer thought than hope had – they smelled nothing like any of her sisters would’ve, either those she’d lost at birth or at the Gloudulite’s death.  Small-five fled downwards, towards danger and safety.  They were better-fed and fitter but she was desperate, and little pursuit was had, her adversary’s triumphant exchanges of light blurring away against her back after only a brief time.

This was far from ideal.  Small-five was out of her depth and comfort zone.  There was too little light, and too little colour, and the surface was dizzyingly far overhead, a shimmer too far away for her to feel comfortable.  It was frightening, but exhilarating, and although she knew that she could rise at any time, something in her found the concept of staying in this odd, self-forbidden place interesting.  She coasted still deeper, keeping close to the reefcolony walls, lights absolutely dark.  Her nighttime-honed vision was enough to keep her watching, without letting anything else watch her.  The bones of the bones of the reefcolony’s coral builders passed her by, their particles and pieces and fragments massive and sprawled, the occupants of their hollowed chambers having had a long time to grow before the currents changed and the rest of the reefcolony’s population moved on and upwards, depriving them of their food.  Some of the largest might live still, a tiny fleck of life struggling to survive in a graveyard of its failed fellows, imprisoned in a self-made carapace hundreds of feet across, evading prowling Gloudulites time and time again until eventually even they departed for the newer reaches, and they were alone with the dead and dark and tiny fragments of food.  Small-five, of course, knew none of this, only that she felt nervous around so many broken and crushed shells and the memories they brought.  She turned tail and stroked her way back to the bright lights, letting her own shine through once more.  A faint sound rumbled up from below, deep as the planet’s core, and she wondered if she’d agitated the Gruskomish again.  It didn’t matter.  What did matter was that she’d fled, was bleeding very lightly, and was now hungry.  She set about correcting all of these, and successfully ambushed and speared an unwary member of an Ooliku school before its fellows spotted her, fleeing their pursuit as she ate.  A net gain – subadult Ooliku were fattier than their filmier younger or leaner, hardened adults.

The rift called to her, in a way.  She passed it frequently, torn between expanding her horizons and the comfort of her home grounds, and took to passing through lower and lower each time, every incident without alarm a reason to go deeper.  The denizens gave her no injury beyond occasional thoughtful looks, although she nearly swam into the center of a Verrineeach school once.  She emitted a bright flash and darted away, probably saved as much by surprise as by the dazzle of her glowshine.  Now and again she would hear the rumbling of the maybe-Gruskomish infant, but that stopped without warning after a score or so of days, its owner likely departed back to its own, abyssal realm.  The loss of that particular thrill struck at something in Small-five, and she began scaling back her exploits, finally terminating them after an incident some months later.  She was returning to the surface, shaking off the clinging chill of the deep canyons, lights flickering back on as the darkness fell away with the need for stealth.  Her hide yet tingled, for no reason she could think of, and if not for an idle turnabout she committed on fancy the extremely large Raskljen following her quietly from a distance of maybe three times her body length would’ve been at her in a moment.  Its secrecy revealed, a short and frantic sprinting contest followed, with Small-five’s superior streamlining and the Raskljen’s dislike for bright light winning out narrowly over its tenacity and brute-force water-pounding.

That put an end to much of her deep-water adventurousness, but not her exploration.  Small-five was reaching the cusp of adolescence now, and she ranged farther and farther afield.  One day she swam away from the reefcolony she was born in, and she didn’t return.  Instead she moved forward, onward, meandering wildly, resting in a different spot each night, crossing deeper and wider bands of the dark, dangerous blue.  Everything old looked wrong, and everything new looked old.  There was no rest in her, no calmness anymore.  Her mind and body were screaming at her to move, to do something, but she didn’t know what.

Her answer arrived in the late evening, hundreds of miles from home, patrolling restlessly along the broad borders of the reefcolony she found herself on.  It had been almost one full year since her birth, and the moons had lined up properly.   As Small-five stuttered back and forth along the stretch of coral, something was touched in her, and all the rest of the reefcolony’s life.  It was soft and slow and trancelike – predators and prey alike ceased their restlessness, drifted closer to the edges, away from the closed-in, hemmed-in centers of the habitat and out towards the openness.  It reminded Small-five of the truce at the Gloudulite’s death, but larger.  They waited there in stillness, bobbing in midwater.  The water trembled lightly, a great murmur from below.

Then with a yawning sigh, the reefcolony opened up.

Thousands, tens of thousands, millions, billions; the numbers were insufficient to describe the population of shelled little creatures that made up the reefcolony, from great to small.  Most of those little hatches were too small yet to perform the task that awaited them, yet even so, the number of shells that opened wide at that time were staggering.  And from them, wiggling, squirming, swimming their way into the world, came their young: the Fiskupids, billions and billions of them, one from a tiny shell, a few dozen from the average adult, scores and from the big ones, uncountable all together, darting, diving, wide-eyed little things. The reefcolony was bursting with life at most times, but next to this, its closest-kept inhabitants, it was as nothing.  It was if the water itself had come alive.

The feast was staggering.  All from the scrawniest Mtuilk to the fattest Stairrow ate all they could eat and more and more yet.  It was easily the greatest meal of Small-five’s life, and the most exciting – the Fiskupids were determined, swimming out and away, over to the blue, past the web of predators and prey alike that were determined to feed upon them.  It was inevitably pushed back – out and over into the bottomless blue spilled the reefcolony’s inhabitants, over a height that would stagger them if they could understand it, removed from their fortress, suspended in a blanketing whirlwind of food.

It went on for hours and hours, and it was some time before the first denizens of Small-five’s world gave up and returned.  First the bottom-feeders, then the slow, and then the small or tired petered out one by one.  Others sank away with their bellies filled: the Verrineeach schools glutted themselves to a member, to the point where one or two individuals might die from overeating, then returned to their rests, trekking home.  The Fiskupids were bound for the deep ocean, to roam the world, and that was no place for those not made for it.

Some came with them.  Strange large Raskljens followed the swarm closely, mouths shut, minds already calculating the distance till they would next need to feed.  A host of adolescent and adult Ooliku swarmed alongside and intertwined with the Fiskupid, in numbers that in any other circumstance would’ve seemed great.  And Small-five and every one of her sisters and fellow-species followed too, swept up in the storm of life, carried away from the coral mazes of youth and into the wild blue yonder.

The Life of Small-five.

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

The life of Small-five-point-burst-of-light, or Small-five for short, began as her mother hunted down her father.

It was a great chase over the reefcolony, back and forth, her father using every inch of the greater manoeuvrability his smaller frame gave him, her mother carefully conserving strength and waiting for him to tire, taking each turn with caution lest her greater bulk cause her to overshoot her quarry.  It was a great chase, but in the end her father’s strength began to flag, and he twisted just a little too little, made a tight turn too loosely, and the bony proboscis of Small-five’s mother caught him in his midsection.  He screamed that whistling cry that males used to stun small prey, but it was useless against the thickened and reinforced hide of his captor, and his protest soon faded away as the numbness of her toxins set in, a pleasurable paralysis.

The docility of her mate now assured, Small-five’s mother dragged him – gently – down and into the shelter of the reef, out of sight of any predators that might happen by.  There she began the business of implanting her eggs, each packet of them guided gently from their nestling-spot on her underbelly to the male’s receptacle by her rear fins.  Exposed to the currents for several days now against her skin, their shells were toughened enough to resist the corrosion of the male’s insides, yet not so thick as to prevent fertilization.  Before long the last egg was in place, and Small-five’s mother withdrew her proboscis and moved off, her duty done, her appetite awakened by the energy she’d expended over the past hour.

Small-five’s father hovered there in the water for a brief while as the venom cleared his nervous system, as its nutrients were absorbed into his bloodstream.  His mate might not be around to care for their young, but she would ensure that he was fit enough to protect them as they matured.  There were strange catalysts and triggers hidden inside that sedating fluid, ones that would alter him significantly over the course of the young’s maturation.  Not that he knew it, of course.  He was a male, and nonsapient.  All Small-five’s father knew was that he felt very good and wanted to go lie low somewhere for a while so he could rest.  So he did.

For the next nine days Small-five’s father lay low and rested, hidden in a small coral chamber in the sunnier part of the reef, close to the surface, dreaming.  What finally brought him forth was sharp, itching hunger – and for something bigger than the small fry that he’d devoured for the bulk of his life.  He squirmed his way out of the cave and into the wide and whirlingly chaotic world of the reef again, his sides ablaze with new colours triggered by strange hormones and odd genes, movements quickened with fresh hair-trigger muscles.  He ignored a school of his old favourite food, soft-finned, slow-swimming, immature Ooliku, and chased a lone Stairrow around the corals, its wide-eyed, blunt body suddenly too slow to escape his new speed.  He ate it quickly – he did everything so quickly now – and moved on, hunting, nosing.

Small-five’s father ate and ate and ate for days with barely a rest as the eggs matured inside him, every bite and sup of nutrition going to his young and to fuel his own gradual transformation, day by day, leaving him hungry and fierce.  His bulk grew along with his quickness, transforming him from a predator of the meek reef-dwellers to a powerful hunter of the swift in the open seas, where he swam boldly now, far from his old home grounds.  Tusks grew from a mass of little prickly teeth, giving him long spears to grip and pierce with, to mash his prey into those now-serrated banks of needles inside his mouth before his jaw movements shredded its skin and flesh apart.  He ate and ate and ate, in the heart of great swarms of darting Ooliku as they mated, under the chillier cold of the poles where things that could consume him in two bites lurked, and once even in the panicked wake of a Gruskomish Godfish.  He was insatiable and bold.

Come two-hundred-and-fourteen days after Small-five’s father had been hunted down by her mother, his hunger calmed.  He was nearly thrice the size he’d been before, all bright colours and sharp teeth, and he was ready to give birth.  He eschewed his canny and elusive prey and set his fins for the softness and colours of the reef he’d been born in, a swim he made with slow and sure strokes, saving his strength for the birth.  His arrival sent schools of smaller life careening away in alarm, sending tremors of worry and fear up from the fringes down into the bustling heart of the slow-growing shell-dwellers whose corpses built the reef upon their backs.  He ignored them, careless of the chaos his path brought as he reached the sunniest shallows, so slight in depth that the flatness of his great red back, broad and bent with muscle, nearly broke the surface.

Small-five’s father gave birth to her then, along with some eight-hundred-and-forty-four brothers and seventy-six sisters.  He showed little emotion other than concentration and some discomfort throughout the twenty minutes this took, and when it was finished he took his leave immediately, setting out back to the deep waters, where he could feed again and regain his strength.  But this was not his fault.  Behind him he left many confused and disoriented young lifeforms, operating on instinct and wonder.  Before the day was done there were five-hundred-and-twelve brothers and forty-three sisters of Small-five hidden around the reef in small places, operating on instinct and fear.  The reef was a small, soft place only for their father.  For them it was a dangerous and very large world.

Small-five’s brothers dispersed far and wide, and she never saw any of them again.  They hid in dark corners and nooks and fed upon the tiny particles of matter and meat in the water, timid and fleeting and alone.  Small-five’s sisters were closer – they banded together in small companies of three-to-five, keeping as many eyes as possible on all sides and angles, each ready to flash out a warning to the others from the bioluminescent jelly-filled tubes that snaked around their bodies, just under the surface of the skin.  At this age all that the sisters could do was shine brightly or remain dim and hidden.  The former they used to startle predators and prey alike, the latter they used to hide or wait in ambush.

As they fed – on larger prey that their brothers did, on the slow and the dying and dead – they grew, and as they grew they learned small semblances of control over their glowshine.  Names came soon afterwards, half-thought-of patterns of habit that came to mind whenever their sisters lit up as they each flexed and turned and tumbled into their own particular patterns and habits.  Before this Small-five-point-burst-of-light had been in company with three of her sisters, but now she was in company with Three-second-glimmer, Dim-glowing-four-point-pulse, and Pulsing-two-point-fin-shine.

By this time they had begun to grow past the living detritus of the reef as their prey, and they started to feed upon the small and the slow.  Their small proboscises were now strong and hard enough to poke small holes in the shells of the young of the great Gloudulites.  While they sat, firmly attached to the invincible carapaces of their parents, the company would descend upon them and jointly crack them, eating their flesh from the inside out as they squirmed.  Eventually the cleaners of the Gloudulites would arrive to quell their feasting – the multi-legged, cadaverous Kleeistrojatch – and then it would be time to flee, shining brightly to dazzle their assailants and halt their sickle-scything limbs as they swam out of reach.  If they were quick and daring enough they might dart past those claws in that one moment of shocked surprise and snap their proboscises into their soft and vulnerable eyes, snagging a fresh if lean meal as they escaped.

The one downside of preying upon the Gloudulite young was their small size and the effort involved.  If the Kleeistrojatch were particularly hasty in their defence of their host’s offspring, Small-five’s company might depart with naught to show for their shell-drilling efforts but a few nibbles of flesh, or maybe nothing at all.  Still, they were an excellent fallback food, and easy to find – an elder Gloudulite, shell-spire grown so massive as to erupt out of the water, ponderously heaving its way across the reefcolony floor with a cacophonous scrabbling of its many gripping legs against frail and crumbling shell-matter, was scarcely difficult to locate, although they ranged far apart and wandered constantly, if slowly.  Small-five and her three sisters grew to memorize the positions of the giants, and note the directions of their wanderings.

They were growing still larger and stronger by then, yet were still young.  They were now larger than the Kleeistrojatch, and would often linger to sup over a meal until the cleaners arrived in overwhelming numbers, gleefully flaring at them and sending them scuttling back with pained black eyes.  Secure in their youth and burgeoning strength and cushioned by time from that traumatizing first day of life, they’d forgotten fear.  Oh, they were careful of predators, taking to the nooks and crannies when a Stairrow cruised by, a flat, stupid mouth attached to a sharp and predatory brain, or worse still, the sleek and delicate forms of a school of Verrineeach, each individual in the hundred-strong school linked firmly in thought and motion to each other, tiny brains sparking with electrical impulses against each other to create something larger and more dangerous.  But they avoided them by route, by instinct, as a precaution rather than the very real hazard that they were.

This changed the day Small-five and her three sisters meandered their way out to near the edge of the reefcolony and found themselves hungry.

This was neither scarcely rare nor scarcely alarming.  There was a Gloudulite near, questing in its eternal trek of bottom-feeding, a truly exhaustive kind that ate the actual seafloor out from under it.  With the ease and practice of familiarity, the four descended upon the upper reaches of its swirling shell and flew upon its young, wriggling in excitement as shells cracked apart and soft meat was exposed to the air and snapped up into underslung maws.  In this brief, practiced blitzkrieg they could claim perhaps two each if fortune and speed favoured them, rippling lights on their sides suggesting thinly-defended targets or incautious young that yet peeped from their lairs.  This was a good one; the cleaners were slow, buffeted back from their advances in the rippling currents that breathed their way up from the deep edges of the reefbed.  New pulses rippled in the water, even throwing some of them free from their host’s back, claws waving wildly and tails flapping as they attempted to return to home.  Small-five and her sisters thought little of it, then sparkled in alarm as they too began to bob uncontrollably in the water.  The Gloudulite was turning under them, faster than they’d ever known one of the plodding behemoths to move, spinning towards the blue wall beyond the reef.  As their eyes – their large, sensitive, oh-so-vital eyes – turned to it, the maw appeared, so quickly that it could not be seen approaching.  One moment it wasn’t there, the next it was.

The next next moment it slammed into the Gloudulite’s side, a blade of teeth backed by tonnes of muscle and flesh.  The giant’s shell fractured and shattered, splinters of fang-sharp calcium-based protective armour slicing through the water and impaling young and cleaners alike.  A large sliver sped by Small-five’s right fin, and it neatly clipped off its tip.  She was filled with such momentary shock at the injury that it took the flow of blood in the water for her to notice that the same shard had struck her sister directly – her head hung on a tiny strand of meat, body limp and twitching as its lights shut down.

The terror she felt probably saved Small-five’s life.  She fled – somewhere, anywhere else – and was aided in her panic by a chance of current, a byproduct of the struggle occurring beneath her.  She had never met a Jarekindj before, and it would be years before she saw another or learned anything of them or their habits, but she would never forget that moment, where there was nothing to be see in the whole universe but a gaping mouth, ring-shaped, studded with silvery tusks.

Small-five swam a long way in her panicked flight, unguided by anything but instinct, which served her well, directing her away from the reef-verge and the cataclysmic struggle that consumed it, away from the deep places and towards the softer shallows, where the world was smaller and warmer and there was less food but it was far safer, oh so much safer.  When she stopped, trembling with exhaustion, there was nothing left to do but think, and her thoughts did not please her.  She did not know where her sisters had gone.  She was alone, for the first true time in her life, and it terrified her.  No eyes to watch for hers, no strengths to aid hers, no reassurance, no soundless exclamations of light and thought to be passed back and forth.  The loss of the group was a blow to her chances of survival, but far greater injury was dealt to her psyche.  The sun rose and fell four times before she overcame her newfound timidity and poked her head out of the cranny where she’d shoved herself, a chink between two great masses of reefcolony that was barely wide enough for her to fit through.

It took her some time to extract herself, slowly and fearfully, tensing at every sound, not a single light showing for fear of what might see her.  Only quiet and darkness met her worry, and she swam silently and slowly until the sun rose, belly empty and screaming for food.  That problem, at least, was solved rapidly – a school of Stairrow larva swarmed into her face as she nosed about the reef floor, startled and alarmed.  Small-five lashed out, and her instincts once again saved her, bringing her three or four larva as a meal in several passes before she had the time to think about exactly what was happening.  The larva had been hiding, yes, but relatively out in the open for the day – they were night dwellers, who took refuge in tiny crevices during the daytime for fear of predators like herself.  The reef was quiet even for these shallow strands, and she felt an inkling of puzzlement.

A full belly gave her mind strength, and with effort she was able to force back both despair and apathy to rest her thoughts on a cause: she must find her sisters again.  For all she knew the other two had been sent spinning any-which-way just as she had.  The best thing to do would be to return to the last place they’d been and search, as she was sure they would.  Fear rose, crawling along her light-tubes like an infestation of worms, but she overruled it.  She was full, she was as rested as she could expect, and she had a goal.  There was no room left for fear at the moment – it may have saved her life, but now it was inconvenient and must be ignored.  With difficulty.

The swim took some time – more than it had to arrive.  Small-five had no wings of panic, no strange currents to aid her, and the daylight had flown out of the sky by the time she drew near.  She had mustered the courage to draw a little glowshine from herself, enough to light her way without making herself obvious, and felt it drain away with her courage as she approached that blue-black void ahead, the murky wall that had given her the mouth.  Yet it was not without detail or feature, not anymore.  Shapes of all sizes flittered and eeled across it, surged and cruised.  The reef’s verge was aswarm with predators from the smallest to the largest, the missing bounty of the reef, and they were ignoring each other, streaming over and about in their haste to swarm over the gigantic, broken husk of the Gloudulite’s shell.  Even half-shattered it seemed indestructible, – its smallest fragments thicker than her entire body and then some – even as it bared its secret insides to the world.  The Gloudulite itself was missing but for small shreds, the last bits of a feast that must have feted the entire reef’s carnivores for all the days of Small-five’s retreat into herself.  The Jarekindj had fed upon it thoroughly by its standards, leaving only what it must’ve dismissed as tiny scraps.  All things are relative.

Small-five hovered there on the edge, watching as the last bits were cleaned away.  She saw the truce of bounty beginning to fray around the edges, the first snaps, first aggressive movements, first threat displays, and she knew that she must leave before the second, violent feast began.  But she lingered for just a moment longer, searching for lights that she could not see.

And We’re Back.

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Allright.  I vanished off the map due a myriad of site-hacking related issues (PROBABLY not my fault, seeing as they didn’t use the opportunity to hijack any of my other password-related things – no, that is NOT an invitation!) and stayed off for a time because it was impossible to upload pictures and oh who am I kidding, I’m lazy.  Almost too lazy to handle two university courses at a time, online or not.  A single update of trivial essaywork or pittance of story?  WORK OVERLOAD!

Expect a short story up tomorrow.  Until then, enjoy the rehashed, ancient, pap-like bear info below.  After that, normal low-quality service should resume. 



On Bears: Alternative Pronunciation: "Bahres."

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

It’s been too long since the three people reading this were subjected to another vague, unspecialized, layman’s lecture on animals.  Sadly, I run lower and lower on fuel with each I deliver, so you lucky sods are going to be privileged enough to hear me mindlessly repeat the exact same information I gave you in the bear attacks article.  Yes, you have my permission to yell “woo,” and maybe stick your hands in the air as if you just do not care.  Don’t say I’m not kind to you. 

Bears are members of the Ursidae taxonomical family, with their closest living relatives being the members of the superfamily Pinnipedia – the earless seals, eared seals, and the walrus, which is left out of both groups and made fun of for having funny teeth. 

There is nothing funny about these teeth.

There is nothing funny about these teeth.

Note the family resemblance.

Note the family resemblance.

Bears are mostly omnivores, bar the giant panda (which eats bamboo, and is in danger of extinction) and the polar bear (which eats meat, and is rapidly becoming endangered).  Aside from these two, the rest are pretty much willing to eat whatever, possibly for fear of being next on the line.  Bears as a group share the following traits:

  1. Furry.
  2. Bulky.
  3. Like daylight for the most part, though if they’re raiding trash cans they’re smart enough to go for them at night. 
  4. Mostly live in the northern hemisphere, except for the African Atlas bear (which we shot to death) the South American spectacled bear and Andes bear, and the Southeast Asian sun bear (none of which we’ve shot to death – yet). 

At any rate, it’s time to move onwards and upwards.  We’ll start off with a local favorite. 

American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

The graceful, roman nose of a black bear's profile is best appreciated when wedged inside your backpack looking for Snickers bars.

The graceful, roman nose of a black bear's profile is best appreciated when wedged inside your backpack looking for Snickers bars.

Well known as by far the most populous and generally widespread bear (or bahre, if you should so deem to call it) of North America, the black bear is both timid and tiny compared to the other local American: the grizzly.  So, as said previously, it’s unlikely to attack you unless it’s trying to kill and eat you – a very encouraging thought, particularly since, like the grizzly, it mostly gets along on roots, berries, nuts, bugs, fish, eggs, and whatever else it feels like eating, such as that tasty, succulent pile of garbage some idiot camper carelessly left lying around.  As a rule people prefer their bears timid and afraid of humans and therefore less likely to hang around their houses cozying up to them, something that’s hard for even the humblest of black bears to maintain when they’re scarfing our leftovers out of a camper or a car or a dumpster every evening.  This gives one more excellent reason to be a responsible twit about your garbage, as opposed to an irresponsible twit, because those end up being the subject line of an article that contains the phrases “lacerations” “mauled” and “habituated” several times too many to be comforting. 


Brown Bear (Ursus arctos

In formerly soviet territory of Kodiak, Alaska, teddy bear hugs YOU.

In formerly soviet territory of Kodiak, Alaska, teddy bear hugs YOU.

The brown bear is all over the place.  Northern Eurasia, northern America – you name the vaguely chilly upper half of a continent that comes in close proximity to the Arctic circle and it’s there.  As such, it varies quite a lot from place to place, especially on size.  Bear bulk is already highly variable due to the issue of what time of year you’re weighing them (hibernation mass and all that), to say nothing of food supplies (coastal brown bears get so much good fish-food out of it that they outpace their landbound pals by a remarkable amount), but brown bears cover so much land that they’ve splintered into a beautiful grumpy, hirsute rainbow of bear subspecies that can range in number from ninety to five, depending on who’s asking.  Genetically, however, they’re all quite similar.  Size-wise, they can range from the Syrian brown bear, which isn’t much bigger than a black bear, to the alarmingly enormous Kodiak bear, which loses to polar bears in the “world’s largest land-based carnivore” competition solely on grounds of its decadently omnivorous lifestyle (also, although thinner, polar bears tend to be a bit longer and lankier). 

Brown bears are overall more aggressive than black bears, seeing as they’re large and usually can’t climb trees, thus removing one line of defensive options and replacing them with “intimidate the epidermis out of anything that seems to threaten me.”  So although brown bears (PARTICULARLY grizzlies) tend to go for people a lot more than black bears, a much greater percentage of the incidents are based around displaying how much bigger their bearsticles are than yours, and thus are free of predatory intent.  Though this doesn’t preclude you getting eaten. 


Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

A panda pondering its inability to get it up.  Every day of its life is like this, plus bamboo-binging.

A panda pondering its inability to get it up. Every day of its life is like this, plus bamboo-binging.

The panda bear gets much hate – or at least disdain – for its famous lack of willingness to screw even when its entire species is on the line.  Well mister smartass, let’s see YOU get raised in an alien environment surrounded by completely alien creatures and then get shoved into a room full of monitoring devices with a member of the opposite sex.  You feel like getting it on?  Do you?  I thought not. 

For all this, the Panda HAS bounced back quite a bit from its most desperate straits, and it’s getting a bit better at the whole “breeding” thing.  They work out in terms of mass and size to be around the same size as very small brown bears, although they’re much less crotchety.  Still, don’t hug them.  Those claws are there, the muscles exist, and even though they only really eat bamboo, that doesn’t mean they’ll turn down fresh protein if it falls in their path.  It’s mostly just bamboo, though – and since they aren’t running the most efficient plant-matter conversion gut in the world, they have to eat a lot of it.  A lot.  No, more than that.  Like, tons.  Constantly.  Incidentally, the giant panda has a modified bone on its paw that creates a “thumb”-like protrusion, and has the second longest tail of all bears – four to six inches, as opposed to the epic 6-7 inch length of the Sloth bear.  Hah, bet you thought you were going to get through this article without useless number-based trivia, didn’t you?

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Despite their predatory instincts, polar bears love cubs, especially ones that aren't theirs, because those are edible.

Despite their predatory instincts, polar bears love cubs, especially ones that aren't theirs, because those are edible.

The polar bear is the largest land-based carnivore in the world, so long as you discount the omnivorous Kodiak.  Come to think of it, since polar bears can be quite comfortable over two hundred miles from land and can doggy-paddle at 6 mph comfortably for the entirety of it, perhaps they should be in the marine predator bracket, in which case they lose out to saltwater crocodiles, Nile crocodiles, many large sharks, killer whales, sperm whales, and a bunch of other things.  Well, better a disputed title than none at all.  They’re still the largest bears.  Unless you count the Kodiak’s tendency to be slightly heavier and stubbier – but look, it’s close enough, okay?  Quite being such a prick. 

Polar bears are exceptional in many other ways – for one thing, they live in one of the earth’s harshest environments, yet still manage to find enough fuel to keep that big furry body efficient.  There’s only so much heat loss you can cut out with the ol’ “shrink the size of the ears and thicken the fur” and so on, and a big body helps trap all that warmth inside your big guts, where it can’t escape.  Still, that means you also have to find food to allow that big body to grow into maturity and keep ambling around with all those guts in it.  Polar bear seal hunting involves long, long, long patient waits at ice holes found by the lingering traces seal’s terrible breath, followed by very quick bursts of violent skull-clubbing and yanking the seal up and out of the water.  Even if the hole’s too small for the seal.  Eurgh. 

When it comes to humans, polar bears have none of the timidness of black bears and none of the surliness of browns.  They’re confident.  Of course, there’s decent odds they’ll kill you, but they’ll usually do it because they feel like eating something rather than tetchiness.  Although this may be because very seldom is anything stupid enough to get in their faces and annoy them. 


Picture Credits:

  • California Sea Lion: Public domain image from Wikipedia; “Zak,” U.S. Navy sea lion, taken Jan 29 2003 by Photographer’s Mate First Class Brien Aho.
  • Grizzly Bear: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Harry Watson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Black Bear: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Harlan Kredit, taken in Yellowstone National Park, 1976.
  • Kodiak Bear: Public domain image from Wikipedia; David Pape, March 17th 2007, Buffalo Zoo.
  • Giant Panda: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Jeff Kubina, March 2004, Smithsonian National Zoological Park. 
  • Polar Bear: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Schliebe, Scott, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.