Pointe-Claire, Québec, Canada
2019, Middle School, Prose
The winking sunlight danced over a vast expanse of snow. Summer was coming quickly, and the world was changing to welcome this new season. Snow and ice were whisked away into mists and little rivulets of water. Here and there, where snow had been cleared away, little green shoots sprouted up out of the frozen ground.
“It should be springtime,” Mother thought, “but summer is here instead.” She looked up at the glaring sun and sighed wistfully in her heart. Weather that was too warm meant that both she and her children would have to go hungry. With the warmer water and earlier summers, there were fewer and fewer fish. And without fish, there were fewer and fewer seals. And the few seals that endured were nearly unreachable without icebergs to hunt on. And as summer progressed, Mother knew that even this sparse scattering of icebergs would disappear. Mother did not know how to explain any of these phenomena, but she knew what it meant for her and her family. She waved away a bothersome fly and let out a long breath.
Summer months were hard.
They had always been.
But they had never been this hard.
She looked tenderly at her twin youngsters—this was their first summer, and they were unusually thin and miserable. In the springtime, they had rejoiced at the warm weather and bounded in and out of the snow as normal polar bear cubs ought to. But now that it was hot and they were tired, they curled up together in whatever shade they could find, their eyes dark wells of misery. Mother watched them anxiously, wishing with all her heart that she could provide for their needs.
One of the cubs tottered up to her and nuzzled her side with his little nose. She caressed him back and tried not to notice that his bones were sticking out from under a thin layer of fat. She knew that he only had a few days left to survive if things continued as they were. And she knew that she herself did not have that much time either.
“Come, little ones,” she said aloud, calling the other young one to her.
The little female cub lethargically got onto her feet and stumbled to join her mother and brother. “Where are we going, Mama?” she asked.
Mother pawed the ground, digging a small hole in the wet snow. She had thought long and hard about this. It was time for her and her cubs to leave the safety of the den and go out into the wide arctic world… indeed, this was their only chance if they wanted to live. “We are going to the sea,” she said after a silence.
“The sea? Will we be able to eat?” Her little son sounded hopeful. She could only imagine how his small stomach was growling and begging for a morsel to satisfy his hunger. Her supply of milk had nearly run dry due to her malnourishment, and it was taking its toll on her young ones.
“Yes, my child.” She sighed once again quietly. It was unlikely that they’d eat anything, but it was worth a shot anyway. She breathed in sharply and turned to her cubs. “Time to go.”
Things weren’t bad only for her. They were bad for everyone. On their long wanderings, Mother and her cubs would sometimes come across a seal or reindeer carcass. But it was nothing more than blanched white bones. So many hungry animals had stripped them clean of every scrap of meat and every morsel of marrow. There were barely any birds circling in the sky above, and what few there were stayed well out of reach, aware of how hungry Mother and her cubs would be.
Mother could feel the slushy snow under her paws, threatening to trip her with every step. She cursed the radiant sun, and growled as the heat of the day progressed. She began to wonder why she had even bothered to make her way to the sea, when there was no reason to believe there would be seals around. But then she would look at her young ones, and her heart would soften. It was only their first year of life. They deserved much better. Whenever they caught the scent of the sea, their eyes lit up and their pace quickened. They were young and naïve, and where there was a faint promise of food, there was a faint glimmer of hope.
For days and nights, Mother led on her dear little ones. Their white world seemed like a bleak desert, and all they wanted was a tiny drop of water to refresh them and give them strength. They stopped frequently to rest and nurse, as the cubs were easily tired out, though Mother could not provide much for them.
At one point, they reached a rushing stream, through which it was impossible for the young ones to cross. “Come onto my back,” Mother said, kneeling down on the snowy bank. As soon as the cubs were safely in position, she dove into the water, paddling with her huge paws.
“Mama, what’s the sea like?” her little son asked as he watched the swirling waves surrounding him.
“Something like this stream,” Mother said. “It is deep blue and sour tasting. But it is full of life. And where there is life, my son, there is food.”
Her son sighed in contentment. “Then will we have lots of sweet milk again?”
“Yes, my little one,” Mother said softly. Her daughter shifted slightly on her back.
“Is it dangerous?” she asked, her eyes wide.
Mother rumbled low in her throat, a hearty polar bear laugh. “It has its dangers, sweet one. But stay close to me, and I will protect you.” She could feel the small cub relax and burrow into her warm fur.
“Then I shall not be afraid, Mother.”
No, the small cub would never know fear. Nor would she taste sweet milk once again. Hunger, the great enemy, overtook them all in their struggle for life.
And months later, all that could be found of their meager bodies was a scattering of white bones that had been picked dry.
Ever since I was a young child, I’ve loved learning about the world around me. I used to be an animal documentary enthusiast, always eager to take in a little more about the complex inhabitants and systems that shared our planet. I had a special love for sea creatures such as dolphins and fish, and there was something about the sparkling blue water of the ocean that fascinated me. I used to imagine colorful underwater worlds, complete with sea castles and mermaids. As I grew older, I was saddened by the fact that my beautiful blue world was slowly changing, and not for the better. Once I was saw a picture of a seagull with a plastic wrapper around its neck, and I was shocked. I thought humans should have more care than to allow our disasters into nature. I can’t say that from that moment on, I became an activist and spoke out to prevent climate change. I can say, however, that I became aware of how beautiful the world that we live in is, and how sad it would be if it crumbled away in front of us. Through this story, I hope to let others recognize just as I did that we must be aware of the mess that our world is in, and that we must work to make it a better place, as it once was.