Tin Man Polar Bear Encounter

再別北極 (Please scroll down for the English Version)

人生第一次看到北極熊,我沒有拍下照片。

那一剎卻永遠烙印在我腦中。

那是二零一二年九月二十四日下午, 我在阿拉斯加, 一艘五人小船上。

船一直向前駛。 我正觀看著遠處的雪山,享受著北極的漂亮風光。

忽然聽到約五百尺外傳來撲通一聲。隨著聲音望去,看到岸邊濺起一片水花。

待水面平靜後, 我看見了她們。

原來是熊媽媽帶著兩隻小熊跳進水裏,我隱約看見熊媽媽正回頭察看小熊是否安全。

來得太突然,我還沒做好心理準備。

真的是北極熊嗎?

我全身凝住了,不能自己。

徐徐放下相機,我完全沉醉在這一刻。

當時我不明白為何有如此大的沖擊。

直至有一年在阿拉斯加一所博物館看到星野道夫的遺作和文字,被深深感動,才開始有了一些理解。

From the Museum of the North, Fairbanks.

這次回香港搞影展, 認識了一位好友梁先生, 幫我找到了夢寐以求的星野道夫中文版「與時間的河約定」。其中有一章,說他在北極雪地看到了灰狼的腳印,他寫道:

我經常在想,在我們生活中最重要的環境之一,就是圍繞在人類身邊的豐富生命,牠們的存在不僅療癒了我們,更重要的是,牠們也讓我們理解,人們究竟是甚麼。終其一生有幸親眼看見灰狼的人,我相信少之又少。姑且不論是否能遇見灰狼,灰狼與我們同樣生長在這個地球上的事實,以及清楚意識到這個事實的行為,才是人類最寶貴的事物。不只是灰狼,任何生命在人類眼中的意義都是一樣的。

這段話的深刻意義,我想了許久。

大自然的確療癒了我, 令我對世事寵辱皆忘,煩憂盡掃;也讓我開始了解自己,了解自己在野外的極限,也從野生動物如何在牠們神秘的世界生存下來,令我對牠們肅然起敬,也意識到生命的無奈,哀愁,淒美和那永恆的愛。

畢竟,我們都只是被困在時間和命運的塵網中,徘徊在生命的愛與痛之間,這個行星的過客。--亨利比斯頓

一三年十月中旬,我又重回這片極北的土地,準備再用四天拍攝北極熊。

一年之隔,想不到和最敬愛的婆婆已陰陽相隔,連說再見的機會也沒有,噩耗傳來前機天亦剛剛經歷分手。本來已準備取消行程,因為真的沒有心情,但一年前已訂了機票和付了團費,已退不了,便帶著沉重的心情出發。

飛機抵達愛斯基摩小鎮後已是黃昏,離日落只有一小時,我們八個人本來訂了兩艘小艇,卻只得一艘出現,原來另一位船長有急事已離開了小鎮。

八個人躋不進四個位的小船。正在猶疑誰先坐。

「你們先去吧,我們來過好幾次了。」

兩位領隊和一對夫婦讓我們今天先乘船,至今我仍對領隊和那對夫婦感激不盡。

快日落了,天黑前找不找得到北極熊也是很大疑問。​

船開了半小時, 海上滿是一片片剛凝固的冰塊, 不斷聽到船身與冰塊碰撞格格的聲音。

說是小艇不如說是機動舢舨, 引擎發動後不斷傳來陣陳的鐵鏽和汽油味。這氣味總把我的思緒帶回童年坐船回鄉探望婆婆的回憶。我那時候總喜歡站在甲板上倚欄遠眺,希望看到鯨魚浮出水面呼氣。

冰水時而濺進來, 船的地板是濕濕的, 我一手抱著600mm鏡頭, 一手夾住租來的200-400mm,  雖然重三十磅, 但我不想放到地板上去。

寒風有種清新但刺骨的感覺,早已把我的臉凍僵了,手指也開始發麻。這些短暫的痛苦,總讓我感到生命力。

船一直前行。我們四處張望,尋找北極熊的蹤影,遠處的雪地白茫茫一片,沒有本點動靜。

北極黃昏的陽光十分柔和, 像是天然的柔光鏡,大地被灑上一層迷朦的薄紗。

還有十來分鐘便日落了,看來是空手而回。期望總會帶來失望。

也不錯啊,能身處小船在北極過一個漂亮的黃昏。

愛斯基摩土著的船長傑克見時候不早,便準備回程。

這時,我看見遠處的雪地有一團稍微隆起的小山丘。

我指著問傑克:「那是甚麼?」

傑克:「可能是頭北極熊。」說時已把船駛向那方向。

船越駛越近, 距離約二百尺時, 我們看見了,果然是一頭北極熊。

不,是一頭母熊和她的小熊!

她們正安詳地躺在雪地上睡覺。

我們不想打擾她們, 船長馬上把引擎關掉, 讓小船隨著海浪載浮載沉。我們靜靜的看著她們, 感到世界好像只有我們和這北極熊母子。

這樣過了十來分鐘, 天空被夕陽染成一片金色。就在這剎那,她們醒來了, 微微抬起頭好奇地看著我們。

我問傑克可否把小船開到左邊一點,因為背景會比較好看。傑克點點頭,船慢慢向著左邊開動。

意想不到的是,原來還有另一頭小熊躲在母熊身後。只見他偷偷探出頭來, 生怕我們見到。

不一會她們又睡著了。

過了幾分鐘, 太陽已在地平線上。晚霞的餘暉把十月剛剛凝固的薄冰照得一片鮭肉色, 色彩延綿數十公里,一望無際。

只見趴在前方的小熊突然張開了眼睛,望了我們一下,然後伸了伸懶腰,一個翻身竟像人一樣坐了起來,背倚著熊媽媽, 腳掌對著我們,好像穿了雙草鞋。他把雙掌放在膝蓋上,突然張開小嘴深呼吸了一下,就像對這極北的家園感到無限恩喜。

小船被海浪沖得左搖右擺,時而漂得離她們越來越遠,時而卻很近,為了安全起見,船長得馬上輕輕開啟引擎駛遠一點。

這樣時近時遠,令攝影變得非常困難。我站在搖晃不定的小船上,一方面要在轉瞬之間對好焦及更換沉重的鏡頭,另一方面要保持平衡以免掉進冰水裡,我紮好馬,雙腿仍不斷顫抖,結果也把腰弄傷了。

但看著小熊優悠而輕鬆自在的動作,像完全接受了我們幾個來到他們世界的訪客,我再一次被凝住了。

我又放下相機,凝望著眼前的景象,淚眼盈眶。

小熊坐了一會, 把熊媽媽和他的兄弟一下子吵醒了,但她們馬上又睡著了。

看到媽媽和他的兄弟都睡得這麼酣,小熊又骨碌一聲躺下到雪地睡去了。

我這才看看一直在我旁邊的好友卡爾, 我的眼睛在問他是否相信剛才的一幕, 他點點頭, 也激動得說不出話。

四周又回復寂靜。這時我回頭看了看我身後的海洋, 一輪明月剛剛升起。海洋另一邊的繁囂文明世界, 人們都在營營役役, 忙過不停吧。我在那邊究竟在幹甚麼。人生是為了甚麼。

我這又望向前方,看著這北極熊家庭, 與世無爭, 千萬年如一日。

大自然永恒不變,在這渺無人煙的世界盡頭, 她們的生活,應該和十年前,一百年前,一千年前,一萬年前也完全一樣吧。

我脫下手套,俯身碰一下離船邊最接近的那片冰塊, 感受那凹凸不平的表面, 手指觸碰的冰冷感覺把我和她們的世界拉近了。我彷彿坐進了時光機,回到了遠古的過去,感受到我們祖先如何和這些龐大又神秘的野生動物共同擁有這片土地。如今,聽說在未來幾十年北極熊將會永久消失,心裡不禁無恨惋惜。

我身後的世界,是否正在一步步令我眼前的, 與我們共同生活在這一行星的其他弟兄姊妹們逐漸步向滅亡?

最近看了衛特的「攝影旅程」一書,他引用了赫斯的名句: 「美麗的東西令人心痛,最痛的時候我按下快門。」

千言萬語,都表達不了此情此境。雖然我的手臂早已酸軟,但我仍用盡氣力,把這可一不可再的一剎拍下來。

If you are interested in purchasing a print, please click HERE.




Tin Man Polar Bear Encounters (English version)

The first time I saw a polar bear, I didn’t take a photo.

But that moment was forever in my heart.

It was Sept 24, 2012. I was in a small five-person boat in Alaska.

The boat was moving forward, and I was looking at the distant snowy mountain, completely lost in the beautiful scenery of the Arctic.

Suddenly, I heard a splash about 500 feet away.

I turned my head towards the sound and saw a big splash of water next to a small island.

Once the water surface calmed down, I saw them--- three bears. The mother bear and two cubs had just jumped into the water. The mother was turning back to make sure the cubs were safe. I could only see their heads above the water.

It happened so fast that I wasn’t prepared mentally.

Were those really polar bears?

I was frozen, and didn’t take a pic. I soaked in the moment in awe. The impact this experience had on me was huge. I wondered why.

Then, one year later, I visited the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. I came across the photos and writings of the late Michio Hoshino and was deeply moved. I wanted to learn more about this legend by buying all his books in English, including Hoshino’s Alaska.

From the Museum of the North, Fairbanks.

But what I found was that he wrote a lot more essays in Japanese--- including one that was only translated into Chinese. I searched for the book for a long time without success.

Then, while attending the opening ceremony of my HKUST exhibit in Hong Kong, I got to know a good friend Edwin from the exhibition committee. He was very kind and resourceful, and was able to help me track down the book of my dreams— The Eternal Journey by Michio Hoshino.

I loved the book so much. I read it slowly, not wanting to turn the page until I read each line again and again. In one of the chapters, Michio said he saw a wolf track on the snow one day in Alaska. He wrote:

"I often think that one of the most important things in our life is the rich living things surrounding us human beings. Their existence not only heals us, but most importantly, they let us learn and understand what we human beings really are. I believe that only very few people would ever see a wild wolf in their whole life. But, whether we would meet a wild wolf or not, it’s not important. It’s the fact that the wolves and us both live on and share this earth, and that we understand and be grateful of this fact--- that’s the most precious thing for us. Not only wolves, but the meaning of all lives in our eyes should be the same."

I pondered the meaning of this paragraph for a long time.

Nature did heal me physically and emotionally. It allowed me to appreciate the simple pleasures in life and forget about the expectations of our society. It also enabled me to understand more about myself. It let me know my limit in the power of nature. From learning the behaviors of these wild animals and how they survive in their secret and disappearing wilderness, I learned to salute them with high admiration, and also learned that life is poignant, fleeting, and unpredictable, yet still beautiful and full of love.

"And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."

-- Henry Beston

So true! We are all brothers and sisters, caught in the same moment with a limited amount of time as prisoners on this planet.

I came back to the Alaskan Arctic again one year later, in mid-October 2013. Little did I know that between two Alaska trips, my most beloved grandmother would pass away--- just days after I went through a tough breakup. I was in mourning and wasn’t planning to go, but since I had booked and paid for the trip a year before, I went anyways, as an escape.

After two days of driving and flying from Fairbanks, it was already late in the evening when our plane arrived the airport. There was only one hour left before it turned dark. We had originally booked two small boats, but only one showed up. The other boat captain had an emergency and had left the town. So we had a total of eight people, but the boat could only seat four.

While we were wondering who should go into the boat first, a couple said,

“You guys should go. We have been here several times before.”

So this couple and our two tour leaders decided to let us go first. I have since been very grateful to the couple, David and Kathy, and our leaders, Hugh and Patrick. 

The sun was going to set very soon, and so far there had been no sightings of polar bears that day.

The boat took off right after I got in. After half an hour, we came to an area where the sea was filled with pieces of ice. We could hear the sound of contact when the boat hit the ice.

I could smell a mix of engine oil and metal in the boat. That smell always carried my memory back to  trips to my native village when I visited grandma. Every time on the ship in my childhood, I would scan the surface of the distant ocean, dreaming to see a whale coming to the surface to breathe.

The ice-cold water from the sea got into the boat from time to time, and the floor was wet. Though my 600mm lens and the rented 200-400 weighed more than 30 pounds, I was holding them both by hands, as I didn’t want to leave them on the floor.

My face and fingers were already numbed by the fresh yet cold Arctic wind. Pain was temporary. It made me feel alive.

We scanned the area near and far. Nothing. Nothing at all in this white winter wonderland.

The evening sun in the Arctic Circle was very soft. Like a soft focus filter, everywhere appeared to be covered with a thin orange blanket.

Only 10 minutes remained before sunset. It seemed that we would be going back empty handed.

Expectation only brought disappointment.

But it’s not bad at all, spending a lovely evening in a small boat in the Alaskan Arctic.

Jack, our boat captain, who’s a native of the Eskimo town, saw that the light was fading and there wasn’t much to see, so he turned the boat around, ready to return home.

At that moment, I saw a little mound in the distant.

“What’s that?” I asked Jack.

“That may be a polar bear,” Jack had alreadymotored the boat in that direction as he spoke.

As the boat closed to within 200 feet, we were able to see clearly. It was indeed a polar bear!

No!

It was a mother polar bear and her cub. They were laying on the snow, sleeping.

Since we didn’t want to disturb them, Jack immediately shut off the engine of the boat, letting it drift with the current.

We all quietly watched these two sleeping polar bears. It was as if the world was made up of only us and them. 

It felt like we were in a fairy tale.

After 10 minutes, the sky suddenly turned golden.

At that moment, they woke up and raised their heads slightly, looking at us curiously. 

I said to Jack, "Could you please move the boat a little to the left? The background may be better that way."

Jack nodded and moved the boat slowly towards the left. I kept my lens focused on the polar bear family.​

What we didn’t realize was that another polar bear cub had been sleeping behind the mother bear this whole time. He popped his head up behind his mom, thinking that we couldn’t see him.

After a while, they all fell back asleep.

A few minutes later, the sun was disappearing from the horizon. The afterglow of the sun turned the field of freshly frozen sea ice behind this polar bear family a salmon color, extending for miles and miles.

The sleeping cub in front suddenly opened his eyes and looked at us. Then he stretched and flipped around, and sat up on the ground like a human, with his back leaning against the mother bear. The bottom of his feet were facing us, and they looked like snow boots. He rested his paws on his hind legs, and started to look at what was in front of him, his eyes shinning. Suddenly he opened his little mouth and breathed in deeply, as if feeling content with what he had in his world of the Arctic.

The current was rocking the boat up and down. At times it would push us farther and farther away from the polar bear family, then suddenly it would pull us to a distance too close for comfort. If that happened, Jack would open the engine gently and drove the boat a bit farther away.

Because of the abrupt change in distance and the rocking of the boat, photography became very difficult. I stood in the boat. I needed to switch the heavy lens for suitable focal lengths, while trying to focus on the bears, while my feet tried to grab a-hold of the boat so that I didn’t fall off into the water. My legs were shaking because of the fatigue, and in the end I hurt my back.

However, I was so moved watching how elegant and relaxed the motion of the cub was, as if he had completely accepted the presence of these few visitors from another world.

I put down my camera and soaked in the present moment in awe. It was so intense that tears filled my eyes.

The cub sat for a while. At one point, both his sibling and his mother woke up briefly, and then they went back to sleep.

Seeing that his mother and sibling were sleeping so deeply, he dropped to the snowy ground and joined them again.

That’s when I remembered that I was actually in a boat with my friends. I turned my head and looked at my good friend Carl next to me. I didn’t speak a word. My eyes were asking him if he believed what we just saw. He nodded, and was so emotional he couldn’t say a word.

We were surrounded by complete silence. I turned around and tried to look at the end of the horizon of the Beaufort Sea. That’s when I realized the moon was rising.

I thought to myself, "On the other side of the ocean, people of the crowded civilizations must be so busy workin, trying to meet expectation they have on themselves, or what society has placed upon them." As Michio said, “How strange, human emotions. We’re pushed left and right by the petty details of our everyday lives.”

What had I been doing on that side of the world? What was the meaning of life? What was the meaning of meaning?

I turned back and looked at the sleeping polar bear family. They had nothing to do with the world on the other side. And this happened years after years.

In the face of nature, everything repeats in the circle of life. In this remote wilderness, life had been the same 10 years ago, 100 years ago, and 1000 years ago.

I took off my glove, bent down and touched the piece of sea ice floating next to our boat. Feeling the cold and irregular structure on the surface, the painful sensation running through my fingers brought me closer to their world. It felt like I had traveled in a time machine and come back to an ancient time, feeling how our ancestors had shared this land with these mysterious and humongous wild animals.

I had heard that polar bears would be extinct in a few decades, and disappear forever.

Was our world behind this boat slowly and gradually pushing these brothers and sisters to their end?

I recently read Landscape Beyond: A Journey into Photography by David Ward. In it, he quoted Ernst Haas, saying “Beauty pains, and when it pained most, I shot.”

The serene beauty in front of my eyes couldn’t be expressed in words. Though I barely had any strength left in my arms, I pulled together whatever I had left, and aimed my camera at this unrepeatable moment in life.

If you are interested in buying a print, please click HERE.


Facebook Comments

Leave a Comment