"Through the willows, through the river, over the rocks, I've seen them as a white speck on the horizon and they make a straight line for the lodge," says Mike Reimer during our three-hour sled trek from Churchill, MB, across the frozen tundra on our way to his family lodge. He's talking about polar bears.
Before I visited the Canadian sub-Arctic with Churchill Wild, I had no idea I had so much in common with polar bears. Like the bears, I, too, have a well-documented heightened sense of smell. Then there's the fact that here on the southern shores of Hudson Bay, in the transitional zone between tundra and boreal forest, polar bears travel out to the sea ice to hunt for seals - four pounds of seal blubber is all they need during a typical March day to replenish their diminished fat deposits.
While I, unfortunately, have no diminished fat deposits, I plan to increase my fat intake by feasting at the Dymond Lake Lodge, where matriarch Helen Webber and her friend Marie Woolsey have developed an incredible collection of northern-inspired recipes, served here and available in a self-published series. More than 100,000 copies of the books have been sold.
A favourite lunch is caribou soup served with homemade biscuits drizzled with raw white Manitoba honey, "the perfect accompaniment," says lodge chef Jeanne Reimer, Helen Webber's daughter and Mike's wife and equally amicable co-host, during our stay.
"We try to serve a variety of wild meats because we are a northern lodge," explains the male sous-chef, as he procures a tray of snow goose breasts that have been marinated in soy and garlic and stuffed with pickled jalapeno peppers. "It's a unique experience, people expect it."
Before heading outside with our prepped snow goose, I'm shown a can of liquid -jalapeno juice and bacon drippings, with which we'll baste the breasts. "You need the grease to give it a bit of moisture and that nice smoky flavour," the sous-chef says. "They'll take about 15 to 20 minutes on the barbecue in below-zero temperatures." (FYI: It is possible to barbecue in -20C and 32F!).
"One year, we were barbecuing goose breasts, like tonight," remembers Jeanne, "and our old chef left the goose on the barbecue, which was fine because it was cold enough. But we weren't watching and a polar bear came and ate every last piece of geese. The polar bears certainly ate well."
And after a few days of feasting at Dymond Lake Lodge, you can't imagine what a tragedy that must have been.
Media can indulge in gourmet northern cuisine and stalk polar bears in wild while participating in Churchill Wild's Great Ice Bear Tour. Tours start the end of October and finish by the third week in November.