Nature Revisited

Candice Gaukel Andrews January 5, 2010 25
Like most fall visitors, I first went to Churchill to see its polar bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

Like most fall visitors, I first went to Churchill to see its polar bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

It was fall when I saw the little town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, for the first time. Like most of the other visitors there at that time of year, I went to see its polar bears. That trip also marked the first time that I ever set foot outside the United States. That milestone, along with the natural charm of the place, worked its magic on me. At the end of my eight-day tour, I vowed that I’d return someday.

The second time I went to Churchill — almost five years later — it was winter: a full-blown, blizzard-shrouded February. By the third time I went to Churchill, summer had come to the sub-Arctic.

While two trips to a much-loved location may not be all that unusual, journeying to a small dot on the map three times may seem a bit excessive. Given all the places in the world I haven’t been to, you might wonder about the soundness of my spending my limited travel dollars on a town I’ve already seen — twice. But the thing is, I still feel like there’s so much more to explore in Churchill’s seven or eight blocks. To this day, I wonder if I’ve really seen it all.

Time Travel.

Often on the trips I’ve taken over the years, I’ve run into some very well-traveled people. I’m awed by those who can claim they’ve visited every continent on Earth. Inevitably, during the last day or two of these tours, the conversation will turn to “where next?” Most people then run down the roster of places on their “wish” and “bucket” lists. Rarely, I’ve noticed, does anyone ever mention returning to a place they’ve already seen.

Northern Lights

Later, I saw the northern lights dance in its winter sky. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

I understand the allure of going to a new place: such a journey holds a certain excitement; the call of the “unknown.” But I look upon returning to the same place over and over again as a different sort of adventure. It’s a form of time travel, for not only does a return trip show me a place in its different aspects and colors and moods, but repeating a voyage pulls into focus the changes that have occurred in me since I was last “there.”

In Churchill, I’ve seen how locals — like Dave Daley, who runs a dog-sledding outfit in winter and a general store in summer — adjust to the seasons. I’ve seen his just-born Husky puppies in warm weather, and his fully-charged sled dogs in winter. I’ve seen the town transition from “Polar Bear Capital of the World” to beluga whale hotspot. I’ve seen the northern lights dance in the winter sky and then watched them light up a July evening. On my last trip to Churchill, I thought I caught glimpses of my younger, wide-eyed self, sitting in a tundra buggy and watching polar bears in the wild, while the older but wiser version (I hope!) got a new perspective on the town from a kayak out in the river. How far I’ve come, I mused, how much deeper I’ve seen into this town and its people, from the parka-clad women of just a few years ago who had never ventured outside her own country.

An Illuminated Letter.

Tundra

A third trip revealed the tundra’s different aspects and colors and moods in another season. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

Several years ago, I visited an art gallery that was exhibiting the works of American artist Andrew Wyeth. In a small display case in the back of the room, beyond the great works hanging on the walls, was one of Wyeth’s handwritten letters. It was addressed to a friend and dated February 23, 1961, when Wyeth was in his mid forties. The letter was included in the show because it contained a watercolor sketch of a red sled, propped up against a barn wall in winter. However, more than the illustration on the page, it was one of his sentences that caught my eye. It read:

“It is very odd, but I find myself going back to the same places I have walked all my life and getting more and more excited.”

In one simple statement, Wyeth had captured the joy of “going back.”

Are there places in the world that you never get tired of seeing? If you could, where would you go, over and over again?

 

For me, it’s a little town on Hudson Bay.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

Candice Gaukel Andrews’s account of returning to Churchill will appear in an upcoming book titled An Adventurous Nature: Tales from Natural Habitat Adventures.

25 Comments »

  1. Fern January 5, 2010 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Cheetos still taste good…

  2. Travis January 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    If you really love something, it deserves more than a cursory look.

  3. Jack January 5, 2010 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Having a “bucket” list is a completionist’s tool. It’s got little to do with the destinations. That’s not to say people don’t wind up enjoying themselves once they arrive. But really ADORING a locale begs more than a vacation or two there: you wind up happily living out your life in multiple places.

  4. Sandra Drissen January 6, 2010 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    The Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland are the place for me. Three visits so far and I hope more in the future. I even subscribed to the local newspaper, The Orcadian, published in Kirkwall for several years. I felt like I knew everyone in town and the family names that appeared again and again throughout these windswept bits of land. When the farmer’s break into the ground each Spring they often unearth some amazing bits left by earlier Viking visitors. I feel these islands offer me greath wealth just below the surface.

  5. Dorothy Klinefelter January 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    I love revisiting familiar places and learning more and more about them. Yellowstone Natl Park is a place like that for me. I feel like I am walking on a piece of earth before everything was overwhelmed by a human imprint. The quality of the light on that high plateau is always spectacular and always different no matter how many times I visit. The light is what makes me want to go back to the Grand Canyon time and again. I have floated through on the Colorado River and marveled at the sun and shadow mosaic on the rock walls. Also, both of these places are habitats for wonderful animals and seeing them in their wild location is always a thrill. I can hardly wait to see them both again. However, I agree with Candy that Churchill, Manitoba has something special. Repeat visits there are always interesting and welcome.

  6. NineQuietLessons January 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    For me, it’s the Pacific coast of Mexico, in Nayarit. It’s a great place to see the whales that swim in for the mating season.

  7. John Howard Gaukel January 10, 2010 at 10:16 am - Reply

    We all should have at least one favorite place where we known we can go to and recharge are mind, body and spirit. It might be some place we have to fly to, drive to, or if we are fortunate enough we can walk to it. Some place we can just relax, or have a adventure, or a discovery whenever we need to take the kinks out of are lives. Eventhou your favorite place may seem familiar to you, if you visit it at different times, each time will give you a new perspective of it. Like the photographer who visits the same location to shoot a subject in a different light, sunrise or sunset, or in the different seasons. It will always shows you something new!!

  8. Art Hardy January 10, 2010 at 11:42 am - Reply

    I guess there are as many different reasons to travel as there are travelers. Some start with their homeland and later travel to more exotic locales. Others want to add as many different destinations to their trip list as possible. I’m in agreement with you; there are many places that can’t be appreciated with only a single visit. I’d rather know some spots really well than to know a lot of places in a cursory manner.

  9. Sandy G. January 11, 2010 at 9:02 am - Reply

    For me, I think the Polar Bear trip is still my highlight. It’s the first time I had been in a natural habitat with animals.

  10. Judy Kaplan January 12, 2010 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I would never get tired of looking into the Grand Cayon. I can almost believe there is a God, it is so beautiful! JAK

  11. Wendy Redal January 12, 2010 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Having experienced encounters with the polar bears around Churchill this past November, I am already yearning to go back. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I share your enthusiasm! And while I am constantly itching to see new places and find new natural and cultural surprises, there are places that draw me back. The island of Kauai is one — I could spend weeks on the verdant north shore alone — and Southeast Alaska is another. I was a tour director in Alaska for almost a decade, and the allure of the islands, forests, sea and wildlife in the Southeast Panhandle remains as strong as it ever has! Oh, for three or four parallel lives to experience all that I’d like to. Two of me might go only to new places, while the other one or two would become intimately familiar with all the dimensions of my favorites.

  12. Joan Campbell January 21, 2010 at 11:34 am - Reply

    While my husband and I enjoy exploring new places, a few destinations call us back again and again. We return each summer to the Canadian Rockies because we never tire of their beauty. We always hike some new trails, but we also insist on revisiting some of the same spots every time, because they’re never the same twice: External factors – a change in the weather or in the angle of the sun – may make a familiar view look completely different. Internal factors – a change in our state of mind, perhaps – accomplish the same thing.
    Some other destination call us back because of their complexity and evolution. When we first traveled to Bhutan 4 years ago, we knew by the end of our visit that we had to return in the next few years. This was not only because we were tantalized to see other parts of the country, but also because the society was starting a period of rapid change, and we wanted to see what was going to happen. Having just returned from our second visit, we’re already planning our third, for exactly the same reasons.

  13. Muriel Shiff January 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Dear Candy:
    As usual your description of Churchill was remarkable. I can fully identify your desire to return there often. As you know, I love to travel, but like you my husband and sons and I found a place to return to time after time. In fact, we sailed the Caribbean for 20 years, 3 or 6 weeks at a time. We never got bored or jaded with the beauty of the ever changing sea and the many islands. The underwater life, coral reefs and colorful fish are always changing and eerily beautiful.
    The remarkable feeling of open ocean sailing with a black sky sprinkled with thousands of sparkling stars, a warm caressing breeze, and the green phosphorescence bubbling bow wake is a feeling I shall always remeber as an everlasting feeling of being truly free.
    bow wake

  14. Mrs. Rose E. Bodette January 29, 2010 at 11:22 am - Reply

    I first visited Churchill in 1997. My Mother passed away and we had to hold an auction to sell the family home. I was very depressed about this, and stopped at my travel agent on the way to my house after the sale and asked “What do you know about seeing the polar bears?”
    Well, this lead to 3 more trips to see the bears, one to see whales and the last one 2 years ago to experience the Aurora.
    I am going to Baja next month, hopefully for a lot of whales there.
    I will be 82 years old in April, and am thinking of one more trip to Churchill for the bears this fall. Why does Churchill keep drawing one back? I have met people on their third and fourth trip also, and they also “just keep coming back.”
    I have visited all the continents-in fact, Antarctica twice.
    The African continent ranks with Churchill for me, having visited various places and times for a total of 8 visits.

  15. Candy Andrews February 4, 2010 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Rose,

    That’s an inspirational story — I know how you feel.

    Say “hello” to Churchill for me, again, this fall!

    Candice Gaukel Andrews

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