January 2nd, 2010
07:39 AM ET

Dear President Obama #348: Cold comfort

Reporter's Note: President Obama, some hundred years ago (or so it seems,) asked for the public’s advice on how to run the country. Ever since I have been writing a letter a day to the White House with my ideas. One of which is, “don’t spend too much time on the mail.”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/science/07/07/arctic.explorer.climate.change/art.polar.bear.greenpeace.jpg]

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

My daughter was given a Venus Flytrap by a friend for Christmas and we’ve enjoyed tracking down tiny moths and feeding them to it. Perhaps not the most charitable of acts in the “all creatures great and small” sense, especially for this time of year, but certainly entertaining.

I enjoy reconnecting with nature during the holidays. I love a brisk walk or run when the temperature is well below freezing, the crackle of ice underfoot, the clouds of breath boiling out into the air, and the muttered oaths of the less hearty souls I pass.

Of course, it doesn’t always go so well. Last Sunday after church I was walking to the car when, in a heartbeat, I found myself staring at the sky, flat on my back on the pavement. I’d stepped onto an invisible patch of ice and been taken out as surely as if a New York Ranger had caught me loitering in the crease. (That’s hockey talk, btw. Still not so sure how into that sport you are…but if you need help, give a call.)

Some years back I went up to Hudson Bay, to do a story on the annual polar bear migration. Now that was cold. I think the warmest it was during our whole visit was 9 below zero Fahrenheit. Still, I had a blast. One morning at dawn we rode out to a river inlet, where in the gray light, every hillock of snow looked like an ideal hiding place for a bear. Our guide stepped out of our vehicle first and loaded a large bore rifle to scout the area.

When he sounded the all-clear, we stepped into the frigid morning and walked toward the river. There, we saw a broad expanse of broken ice, grinding and flowing into the bay. About two hundred yards away, we spotted a sow bear and a cub making their way across the ice floes toward the far shore. Not far behind, we saw a male bear lumbering along behind them. “Sometimes the males will chase them down like that for a while, hoping to catch the cub and eat it,” our guide said, matter-of-factly. Over the next few days we saw dozens, perhaps a hundred or more of the great white carnivores.

Polar bears are the only bears on the planet that live almost exclusively on meat. I say “almost” because if I don’t I’m sure some arctic expert will inform me that at least once in a while they have a salad with their seal. Anyway, that knowledge sharpens your awareness and respect when you are around them.

No bear had attacked a person in the town where I was staying for years, but there were still plenty of signs around reminding people to be mindful of the possibility. And interestingly, that’s a big part of what I admire about nature. Sure, I like the beauty. But I am awed by the perfect, brutal logic of hunters and hunted; the bite of cold that does not care how you feel about it. It makes me humble. Not only for myself, but for all mankind. It reminds me that we are not as big, or powerful, or untouchable as we often imagine ourselves to be. And that, I think, is a good thing to remember any day of the year; whether or not you are walking beneath the northern lights, and wondering if eyes are watching from the freezing darkness of the long arctic night.

Hope all is well and warm for you. The temperature is dropping and I think I’ll go for a walk.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Lori

    It is survival of the fittest. We are not above it. We are more sophisiticated in our approach, but in reality just part of the animal kingdom.

    January 2, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    Hi Tom!

    I'm in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, with my family well and safe, but on New Year's Eve, in a city near here there were heavy rains, with many deaths. A couple lost two daughters (12 and 9 years) and they are hospitalized. I read the interview the grandmother of the girls and I saw so much suffering, so much pain.

    After I read your letter of today and the words "It reminds me that we are not as big, or powerful, or untouchable as we often imagine ourselves to be" is plausible for both situations.

    This was the first sad moment of the year and the first tears of solidarity!


    January 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  3. Jan

    A healthy respect for your enviroment is what we need to survive. I always remember watching the poor caribou crossing the river in National Geographic specials. I like to think I would make it over first and have the weakest on my back, but the truth is, I would be the first course.

    January 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  4. Crystal C.

    Nature does humble us, at the end of the day, we really can control whether it rains or not. That's the beauty.

    January 2, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  5. Terese

    Informative and interesting

    January 2, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  6. Tim Gibson

    It is often we hear of someone who stepped onto an invisible, or overlooked sheet of ice and find themselves flat on their backs, some of those stories we can look back on in 2009.

    2010 is the warning sign ahead that none of us, our President included, in not as big, powerful or untouchable as often imagined. Knowledge he should share with his cabinet and his congress as we walk the ice into 2010, eyes will be watching.

    January 2, 2010 at 8:15 am |

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