September 6, 2012
279 days until the Arctic Circle expedition
As in, I was seeing the world from the perspective of a polar bear. I was very hungry and there was a delicious smell, a hot, living, promising smell. I followed the smell to a smallish, bluish lump, which I then ate. Then, as often happens in my dreams, I was both the bear and the bluish lump, which was in fact a person asleep in a sleeping bag, and i was that person. I was both the polar bear and me asleep in the sleeping bag, inside the bear. These are the impossible insights of dreams.
When I woke up, I started to think about polar bears. What is my polar bear gestalt?
There is the polar bear of the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1990’s, the affable, rotund cartoon swilling sugary liquid alongside cavorting penguins at an idyllic pole where it is always Christmas. The idealism is sickly-sweet and hard to take, and it’s difficult to forgive the basic geographical impossibility of penguins (Antarctic) being anywhere near polar bears (Arctic) except perhaps in a zoo. Or in dreams. Or in a fantasy where a natural predator has become a slothful, sentimental tool.
The next image that popped into my head was that of Iorek Byrnison.
He is one of the heroes of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. This is him in his battle gear. He’s both savage and kindhearted, and like most characters in books, he is not an actual polar bear, but a Polar Bear: a cipher constructed of fears and wishes. He’s indomitable strength, tempered by a human sense of honor and chivalry. He’s more powerful than pain, as he can’t not fight to the death. he’s a dream bear, and a story bear. He is how we bear (oh yes, pun intended) to deal with how merciless actual survival can be. That’s the beauty of characters in stories- they can force the world to be a place where things make sense, and where fairness and safety can be won, and even sustained.
With that alarming synchronicity that often accompanies dreams, I saw this article today on the BBC: Arctic ice melting at ‘amazing’ speed, scientists find
In it, the Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) says:
“…we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”
This is the moment where the dream and the day collide: if an animal, a real animal in danger of becoming extinct within the next 50 years is dreamt of as this:
but actually looks like this:
then it is time for the dream to change.