Polar Bears, Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada
It may be a little self-flagellating to choose to stare at windswept snowfields with the dim promise of polar bears—I know there won’t be polar bears, I’m not really here for them despite the camera’s name, but more for the flat expanse of white where the tracks of the wind are etched into the snow, an animal in its own right and everywhere at once. There’s no sound, but my husband’s streaming in the other room and I need some sound to block it out and concentrate on the emptiness. A separate recording on YouTube of “Pure Arctic Wind” works well. The sun is out and when it pans far left an inch of blue sky is visible at the top of the screen. This angle also shows the structure on which the camera is mounted, a screenless porch or platform open to the elements, weathered white paint encrusted in old snow and ice, the grain of the floorboards peeking through in whorls of tree rings sanded flat. The only other human structures: a metal cage sunk in the snow, and a sign perpendicular to the camera so its informative face is unreadable, but its heavy wooden buttress half covered in snow drifts suggests it’s a message meant to stay relevant for awhile. I’m avoiding describing the snow field. It resists description—white, yes, but stippled like the bottom of a sandy creekbed, the horizon a black band where the sun blots out the finer details and light gets warped by processes not fully understood. It feels like luxury to stare into the emptiness for so long and be unaffected by the elements. It also feels like trespassing. On the wind, on silence, on the Cree, Sayisi-Dene, and Inuit communities to whom the land belongs, if it can be said to belong to anyone. A pop-up appears in the corner with the message “ADORABLE BABY EAGLES NOW IN VIEW!”, and a link to a different webcam. An encouragement to leave this barren wasteland—a waste of land, a waste of space, land that’s wasted is generally just undeveloped—to stop looking at nothing and watch something cute instead. But I want to keep looking and thinking about marks of absence, territory of the wind, names and empty meaning, because as far as I can tell it was white men who named the park Wapusk, which yes, is the Cree word for ‘white bear’, and this palimpsest may explain why there are none to be recorded.