My first post about Hudson the polar bear cub received a lot of attention – in a great way! Thanks so much to everyone who read and commented and otherwise showed their support for me, and affection for the bear. Knowing that the story touched so many people definitely helped to take some of the sting out of saying goodbye to Hudson on his last day at the Toronto Zoo.
In fact, so much happened that day that I wanted to write a sort of follow-up/addendum post to tell you all about it! My heart is MUCH lighter as a result, and I am feeling the need to write this little bit more, to properly close off Hudson’s chapter here in Toronto, and open up the one he’s beginning now in Winnipeg, because it truly is just another step in his already-amazing journey, and I am honoured to be able to share even a little bit of it.
So let’s see…we were nearing the end of that final week – the dreaded last day was inching ever closer – and I was still a weepy mess any time I thought about having to say goodbye to “my” bear boy. Out of nowhere, however, I was contacted by a Mr. Jeff Young, the Wildlife Care Supervisor of the Americas Pavillion at the zoo. The section of the zoo that includes the Tundra Trek, where the polar bears live. He told me that one of his staff had passed my Hudson post along for him to read, and he thanked me for writing such a heartfelt showcase of Hudson’s story. He said he enjoyed reading it, and asked if I could call him.
I apparently stopped thinking clearly for a bit, because I told him I’d call him the next day, when I was working at a desk with a phone. My co-worker…politely pointed out…that this was the “Supervisor of Hudson” and that I should go find a phone somewhere and call the man immediately! So we went to Tim’s desk to commandeer his phone for a few minutes, and made the call.
Best. Decision. Ever.
In short, the fabulous Jeff Young, on behalf of the wonderful Toronto Zoo, invited us to throw some fish to Hudson during the polar bear Keeper Talk on his last day!
I believe my response was something like, “ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY”
You know, because I can play it calm, cool and collected maturity with the best of them.
We were given instructions on how to check in when we arrived on the day, and I thanked the man a hundred times and tried not to burst into tears after I got off the phone. Happy tears, that is. I mean – Hudson was going to look right AT me! He was going to see ME and smile at ME and…oh my God what if I SUCK at throwing fish? What if they all fall into the pool because I throw like a girl and Hudson just looks at me in the polar bear equivalent of disappointment and disgust?
Nope, it’s gonna be amazing and I can’t wait!!!
Now, I tried really hard to keep the invitation a secret. I really did. I wanted it to be the most awesome surprise ever when Tim and I started Instagramming our fish-throwing prowess and the genuine connection we were bound to make with the bear. That being said, though, I told pretty much everyone in sight over that day and the next, and the only reason I still managed to surprise my mom with it was because she lives in a different city. Still, there was no dulling my excitement even without making it much of a surprise, and for the first time, I found I wasn’t dreading the day so much anymore.
Went home on the Saturday night, charged every battery for every camera I own, and cleared off my largest memory card to have more space than I would need for the big day. Did my weekly Injection of Doom earlier than usual to be sure I’d be well over the worst of the side-effects by the time I had to get up in the morning. Nothing was going to make me late – I was going to get there EARLY, just in case!
Tim gamely left his place uber-early and I met him in our usual spot to ride the rest of the way together. We got to the park around 11am, and checked in with Guest Services to let Jeff know we were there. He met us on the path to the Tundra (I think for the first time in history I didn’t opt to hit the loo before heading to the polar bears, actually), and together the three of us walked back over to where Hudson was currently entertaining a few spectators by playing with an empty bucket.
He sure does love buckets.
Now, I realize that we were with a guy that Hudson knew, and that said guy was wearing the very recognizable zoo staff jacket, but every time the bear runs over to where we are (or as close as he can get with a big pool between us), I get a little thrill out of thinking he’s come to say hello. So, when Hudson bounded over to grin at us a moment before heading back to his awesome bucket, I was instantly caught up in his web of cute. I think I even called out a greeting to him, and then I just stood and watched him for a few minutes.
Finally, I got my camera out and started snapping away – photo after photo, moment after moment – I didn’t want any of it to slip away without being captured through my lens. I became dimly aware of Tim and Jeff talking, and I was filing away little Hudson-y snippets in my mind as I watched him, but for the most part I couldn’t take my eyes – or my mind – off of the furry ham in front of me. I didn’t even realize until much later that I went a good half hour or so without even talking to Tim OR Jeff when we first got there! How rude! So sorry about that guys! I just find Hudson to be hopelessly distracting sometimes, apparently! Lol
I do, however, remember Jeff saying that “Hudson has his father’s head”. Inukshuk is massive, and his young son already has a head that measures almost the same length across as those of the adult females! That continues to make me giggle, for some reason.
I was also thrilled to watch as Hudson put the bucket on his head a few times – that just never gets old – and to see him discover a fun new game of his own! There was a small hill near one side of the enclosure, and it was pretty much solid ice. After a few failed attempts, Hudson figured out how to push his bucket up to the top of the hill, and then he’d fling himself up there, as well, only to turn around, flop down on his belly with the bucket tucked under his chin…and SLIDE head-first down the icy slope! It was only a few feet, so not much of a ride, but holy hell, was it cute!
Eventually noon rolled around, and the Keepers assembled to start the polar bear talk. Now, I am very glad that we were going to be able to go up into the Keeper Box after the initial talk was over, because so many people had arrived to see Hudson off that Tim and I had to get up on the rocks between the bears and the wolves (again, no judging) just to be able to see! Good crowd, cold day, handsome polar bear. What more could anyone want? 😉
Tim’s taller than I am, and he was up higher, so he videotaped the talk on my camera for me, while I just craned my neck trying to see, and yet not fall off the rocks at the same time. Do NOT try this at home, kids! There’s a reason for those signs!
Luckily, I avoided any potentially nasty spills, but I felt a couple of close calls while we were up there. Soon, however, it was time for us to join (Brandon? Brendon? There are so many of them, and now I can’t remember which one he was!) the Keeper in the Keeper Box. At last! Tim kept hold of my camera to take pics, and let me be the fish-thrower du jour, which was tres gallant of him, no? Jeff held the door and up we went.
There was a red bucket hanging at waist level with three good-sized fish in the bottom. Hudson was pacing along the edge of his rocky platform, grinning at all the people who’d come to watch him get fish tossed to him. I picked up the first fish and watched until he turned to pad back in our direction. Finally, Hudson fixed his black diamond eyes on the Keeper Box and bounced excitedly to let us know he was ready for more.
I’d tried to pay attention to how the Keeper was throwing the fish during his talk, but with three of us up there, I didn’t have the same space to wind up with.
That’s my excuse, anyway.
The reality is that my first fish barely cleared the pool, and landed on the ice that had formed on the shore a couple of levels below where Hudson was standing and waiting.
Is that dismay, disappointment or disgust I see in his eyes?
None of the above! The bear was drooling up a storm (he drools just in the anticipation of food more than any creature I’ve ever seen – with the possible exception of my nephew when he was a baby), bobbing his head some more, and honking out his assertion that I could do better than that, and that he would wait for the next one.
That’s when I realized – I had never heard Hudson’s voice before! Always when we’ve gone to visit him, he’s been behind glass (or we have) and I could never hear him talking! Apparently, the Keepers have never heard him shut up – he’s a vocal guy! THAT was almost enough to make me cry right there, getting to hear his Wookie-like honking as he wandered the exhibit, waiting for me to produce more fishy goodness from that red bucket in front of me.
I fished out the second fish (see what I did there?) and focused on making a better throw of it this time. I’d noticed that the Keeper had chucked them higher up on the rocks so that Hudson would have to climb up to get them, and thus be visible to more people than he was down by the edge of the pool. So I heaved the fish treat and managed to get it up a couple of levels, which was a couple of levels higher than the first throw – not too shabby!
Pleased with myself, I pulled out the third and final fish in the bucket, and waited while Hudson ate the one I hadn’t botched. He seemed to like wandering across the exhibit, making sure no one was feeling left out, and that everyone could see him from where they were standing. He especially wanted them to know he was eating fish, and that he had an amazing bucket to show them after the fish were done! When Hudson came back to our end of the exhibit, I paused to take some pics on my phone, commemorating the moment for myself, and for all time.
Then I got what I thought was a good grip on the fish’s tail, pulled my arm back as far as I dared, and snapped it forward, intending to make this the best throw ever.
I may have squeezed the tail too tight, and my gloves may have already been covered in fish goo, causing the fish to fall from my grip too early in its throwing-arc. I felt the fish slip out of my hand and watched in horror as it sailed too far to one side – and beaned the bear in the side before sliding down to join the fish from the first tragic throw.
Sorry, Hudson. That…should have gotten a do-over!
Luckily, Hudson did not appear to be angry at me, or anything. He wasn’t about to go get the other two fish while we were all standing up there with the red bucket, though, so we watched him for a few more moments before letting him off the hook and leaving the Keeper Box, red bucket in tow. I thanked him before turning to leave, though. Got a little choked up again for a second, too, so surprised Jeff with a thank-you hug when I stepped out of the box to where he was waiting. Made me feel better. 🙂
Not wanting to take up more of Jeff’s time than we already had, Tim and I thanked him some more and then headed off to re-orient ourselves and visit the other animals in the Tundra Trek before heading to another area of the zoo. My camera was so cold from being outside that, when we went to see the orangutans, I had to wait several minutes for the fog to clear on my lens before I could take any pictures. We got there to hear that Keeper Talk for our first time, though, so that was pretty amazing, too. And we saw another Keeper training the soft-shelled turtle, which was incredible. I am not sure why it never occurred to me to think that a turtle could learn anything, but there you go. Absolutely amazing.
The otter was asleep, the lemurs were asleep…the meerkats are quickly becoming another favourite, though, I have to admit! I adore those little guys!
And the gorillas! Charles was sitting in a bucket of his own over by a window when we went in! I’d never seen him that close up before! By his facial expression, I am pretty sure he was lamenting the state of the human race, but…what an experience, being in the presence of such a wonderful, intelligent creature. It was overwhelming. We’d gotten to that pavillion shortly after they’d been fed, too, so we were able to watch young Nassir work treats out of a tube filled with holes, too. He took a break to see what his dad was up to when Charles was on the move at one point, but mostly he just hung out and worked for his reward.
I swear – and Tim saw it, too – one of the girls (I think? I can’t tell them apart yet) made her way over to a side area where a Keeper had something for her. I believe she ate a piece of food, was handed a small towel or napkin-like object – and then wiped her lips with it before sitting in front of where we were standing at the window! I’m almost certain of it! I actually told Tim that I wished we could just go into the zoo and sit with the gorillas and, like, read a book, or something. Do something quiet, and just be around them. They’re so peaceful and calming to me. I always feel better being around them. Just, not usually when there are a bunch of other people around, because they are NOT calming to me! Lol
Eventually, it was time to go have our usual awesome lunch, and then head back to the Tundra to say goodbye Hudson. Walking up what I had come to think of as “Hudson’s Path” started making his imminent departure feel much more real, and a lump rose in my throat yet again. There weren’t many people up at the glass this time, and when we got up there, we saw why. Apparently, the lad had tuckered himself out putting on the Show of Shows for us all morning, and was now dozing peacefully over in a corner by the inside windows. Within moments of our arrival, his black eyes blinked open, looked right at us, then drooped closed again and he went back to sleep.
I could actually just sit and watch him sleep for a good long time, too, so we took some pics of his cute self from outside, then moved inside to wait in the short line leading up to the window he was passed out in front of. By the time we got that far, Hudson’s paws were twitching in dream sleep, and Tim remarked that we’d never seen him sleep so soundly before, either. It was a day full of firsts – and lasts – for us, I guess! I love his big bear paws, too, so I took a few shots from mere inches away – one of which I am actually considering printing out to frame and hang in my home.
Turning from the window of the sleeping bear, Tim and I simultaneously made the decision to head home, and leave our last memory of him like that – curled up in happy, bucket-loving and fish-eating dreams.
I still cried like a baby in the loo before hitting the Zootique and getting on the bus, but still…everything felt much lighter, and not having to actually say the word “goodbye” was a huge help.
As was Jeff Young inviting me throw the boy some fish, and Tim letting me be the one to do it.
Since that day, a co-worker has asked me to send her one of my favourite pictures of Hudson from my collection so that she can try painting him for me. I sent her this one to try (she’ll sharpen it up, too), because it’s the first time I felt like he looked right at me:
The Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, ON (where Hudson’s half brother, Ganuk, has been painting up a storm, and their huge dad, Inukshuk, had been residing, until his recent, temporary return to Toronto to spend time with his girlfriends) re-posted my initial Hudson post, and linked to my album of photos taken that last day.
Assiniboine Park Zoo, Hudson’s new home, did the same, and not only assured me that Winnipeg is ready to welcome the boy with open hearts, but they’ve been very good about posting pictures of his safe arrival, the announcement for his first day on display (Valentine’s Day! How perfect!), and they even built a huge ice sculpture as part of his grand welcome! How cool is that? Literally AND figuratively!
And the Toronto Zoo…they continue to meet and exceed any possible expectations I could have as a member, but this whole thing with Hudson has been a dream come true for me. A somewhat surreal dream that smells vaguely of fish and happiness, but a dream nonetheless. I can never thank Jeff and the zoo enough for embracing me into their community a little bit, and it is our intention here at the Mind Reels to keep putting out the occasional post about the amazing experiences we have while we’re there. ’cause don’t forget – the pandas are coming!!!
Because there’s always something. I learn something new with every visit, and sometimes I just have to write it all down and share it with everyone.
Disneyland is widely lauded as the Happiest Place On Earth and, to be sure, it is one of my very favourite places to be. But, for Tim and I both, I think our most happy place really is the Metro Toronto Zoo.
Even without the polar bear cub of love.
I don’t think I can ever properly convey my thanks to everyone at the zoo who rescued Hudson as a newborn and helped to raise him through the first year or so of his life. Nor can I ever give enough thanks to Jeff Young for letting me be a part of the cub’s last day on display in Toronto. It meant more to me than you’ll ever know, and more than helped to make saying goodbye to him so much easier than I thought it would be.
Though Hudson the Polar Bear Cub is most definitely missed here in Toronto – and not just by yours truly – I know we all wish him all the best in his new home. Tim had to help me come up with a different route to take when we go to the zoo now, because Hudson was our first and last stop of every trip for nearly the past full year. So some things will have to change, of course. As they do.
But nothing – no amount of time nor distance – can change the fact that the Little Bear Cub Who Could has made an impression on my heart. So much so that I may even find a way to go visit him again someday. I’ve learned a lot about polar bears because of him, and one thing I learned is that they have an incredible sense of smell. They can smell a seal exhale through a hole in the ice from a kilometer away, and go find that breathing hole to hunt down their next meal. So, the way I figure it is that Hudson knows me now. He caught my scent on that cold day in January when I feebly tried to throw treats his way. He looked me in the eye and felt the love I’d been emanating toward him all year long.
And he totally went back and got those other two fish. His tummy always wins. 🙂
Hudson can be seen starting TODAY (Happy Valentine’s Day!) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Tell him I said hello!