North Knife

"Al Bear"

A quite amazing string of posts have been appearing on facebook and in my gmail via kickstarter almost daily since last week.  Photos of polar bears and beluga whales along with short, in-the-moment accounts, even some witty verse.

They’re coming from Mark Lender, who said bye to his wife Valerie in Clinton, Connecticut nearly two weeks ago and flew to Churchill, Manitoba.

Writing this from SW Hudson Bay. Internet sketchy at best. Looking out on wide rocky expanse of the Bay at low tide, in gold last light of 9 PM. Single polar bear, golden also in this light – & color & shape and size of the boulders – working his way into the gathering twilight. More than two hours till full dark, and dawn begins at 3:45 AM.

Bears sharing Beluga carion

Couple of days later, he was close enough to photograph a group of adult polar bears as they feasted on a young beluga whale caught bereft on the rocks of Hudson Bay.  The bears had not hunted the whale (polar bears fast in summer), but as Mark wrote, it is bounty for them.  They gather round the remains in twos and threes and though the truce between them is temporal, for the sake of supper an uneasy peace abides.

Now, nothing for the last 3 days.

I know Mark is okay.  What this means is that he and his Inuit guide have finally gotten beyond the web. They are in the Nunavut territory; Latitude 61 degrees north.

They are not hunting caribou–summer is not the time for hunting.  Their destination is North Knife Lake, a place you will not find on Google maps.

Radio Expedition

Mark is a writer (1st), radio producer (2nd) and photographer (3rd he swears, but consider his pictures).

Rainbow at sunrise

His compelling purpose for this expedition is to see eye to eye with wild creatures.  He’s been in that place many times before, with foxes, osprey, bears, seals…you name it.  The seagull with one red eye who visits the seawall behind their house on Long Island Sound, daily for dinner.

Climate change is progressing faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on earth.  Mark’s goal is to present portraits–in words and pictures–compelling enough to engender empathy for wild creatures and their increasingly unstable habitats.


In the Inuktitut language, Inuit means the people and Nunavut means our land.

The Inuit people inhabit the territory north and south of the Arctic Circle from the Chukchi Peninsula of Russia, across Alaska and Canada to Greenland.  Countless generations of hunters and fishers living through extreme winters along with polar bear, beluga whale, caribou, ringed seal, foxes, millions of migratory birds.

Three Beluga

Perhaps the most important thing I will do in the arctic will be the time I spend with Inuit hunters in and around the far north community of Arviat. The relationship between traditional hunters and their prey is as important a part of the picture as anything else. Inuit lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, exterminating not a single thing. It is their perspective I want to reveal.

Salt Marsh Diary

I first met Mark in April when his book Salt Marsh Diary: A Year on the Connecticut Coast was published.  He came to R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison CT for a reading and book signing.  I’m an events host there, and when I introduced him, I held up my copy of A Sand County Almanac, the classic of environmental ethics by Aldo Leopold (given to me by my Dad).  The comparison was a tribute to Mark’s writing, which shares that spirit, although his style is really more like prose poetry than essay.

That evening he told the story of a Maine moose and her calf in late summer–a calf too small to survive the coming winter.  A few weeks later, I heard the story again–this time as a first-rate radio piece.

For years, Mark wrote a nature column for the chain of weekly newspapers published along the Connecticut Shoreline.  More recently, he’s found his largest audience on radio.  He is a prolific contributor to Living On Earth on National Public Radio.

Uggianaqtuq: The weather is no longer itself

A year ago at the bookstore, an advance copy of Heidi Cullen’s book The Weather of the Future arrived and I scooped it up.  Cullen is a climate researcher; she focuses on 7 regions on the planet, the people who live there and the stresses they are likely to face in the century ahead.  One chapter is about Nunavut and the future of the Canadian Arctic–I made a copy of that for Mark.  Good airplane reading.

Cullen describes how the traditional ways of navigating over sea ice in winter are becoming increasingly risky; forecasting is unpredictable.  On page 154 she writes:  “Until recently, little was known about Inuit perspectives on climate change.”

A climate researcher named Shari Gearheard, (who moved with her husband to Clyde River, north of the Arctic Circle), sought to find out. She heard a descriptive (discouraging?) word from an elder named Zacharias Aqqiaruq:  uggianaqtuq.

For example, I’m very close with my sister.  Say I wasn’t feeling myself one day and I went to visit her.  As soon as I walk in the room or say something, she would know right away that something is wrong.  She would ask me, “Is there something  wrong with you?”  She would say I was uggianaqtuq.  I was not myself.

Heidi Cullen writes:  “This was something Gearheard would hear again and again.  The weather had become a stranger; it was no longer itself.”  You can be sure the Inuit are recording for themselves (and their children’s children) the glacier melt, the unstable sea ice, the changing wildlife patterns.  Simultaneously, ‘powerful interests’ are banking on the Northwest Passage becoming open to year-round shipping in the years ahead.


Mark will come back from Nunavut with enough material for at least six radio pieces for which he will receive his usual fee.  That fee, however, does not begin to cover the distance he’s traveled or the expenses he’s incurred.  The program simply has no budget for its correspondent’s travel.  His opportunity came when an eco-tourism outfit named Churchill Wild signed on to cover all of his in-country expenses, including his guides.

So back in May, Mark posted his project on Kickstarter, with a goal to raise $8,625 by the June 30 deadline.  That is D.I.W.O.–Do It With Others.  See his project page here.

A day from the deadline it looked like he wouldn’t make it.  In fact, Mark sent out an email  saying he was going to have to figure out some other way.  Then, by end of day June 29, a pledge of $2,500 came in–the last of 24 total backers.

Your link to the Arctic

Here are three ways to see the remarkable pictures and accounts Mark has been posting:

The Living on Earth blog site.


If you’re on facebook, search Mark Seth Lender, Writer/Producer or use this link to his page.

In the next few days, as his party re-enters internet range, Mark will again be posting some of his bounty.  I can’t wait.

All photos in this post are copyrighted and used with permission of Mark Seth Lender


About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Long-time writer/producer for television, now organizer of Repairs Cafes in the Hudson Valley (13 & counting!) -- Program Manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, non-profit, state supported, community sponsored renewable energy program. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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3 Responses to North Knife

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  3. Thanks for this very interesting post. Lender’s photographs from the Arctic are stunning. “The weather had become a stranger; it was no longer itself” – so telling and sad.

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