Polar Mathematics

Delaney Nolan

A polar bear travels two hundred miles and arrives in Iceland. It climbs onto the shore with a great lumbering. It is an accident of travel. It is an animal in a country with no animals like him.

I live in a house with no other houses around it, here in pink sky country. Dawns are long and dusk is long. There is nothing wrong with it; it's just the way the light works. The arc of sun if calculated in its swing from mountain to mountain, there in a small corner of the clean iced sky, would be minimal. A small distance travelled from the perspective of earth. The sun is not moving at all but the movement of the surface creates an illusion of movement in the atmosphere. Iceland is moving and the sky is not an object which can move.

Here it is white and brown. White mountains. Brown grass. Silhouettes in the distance say: those are horses; those are reindeer. There is a need to be exact.

A polar bear travels two hundred miles and it is the first polar bear to be seen in Iceland in 15 years. Polar bears are in danger due to rising global temperatures. The temperature of the earth has risen approximately 0.8° Celsius since 1880. As the temperature rises, polar bears are at risk of drifting out to sea on chucks of glacial ice, where they drown or slowly starve to death, slowly, slowly, over a period of days or weeks or months.

The bear does polar math in his head. The math of a bear is not numeric. It is a white shape, it is a snowdrift. If it is a number it is one. The number to represent ice is one. A number solid and present. The time of ice is singular. If ice is quantified, it is decreasing. The bear does polar math in his head and it is one since he left the mainland, the time on the ice is continuation of one, the time spent swimming cold sea with no land in sight is the number one, singular. The distance is zero. Distance is a great blank space. It is blank from here to America and it is blank from here to Greenland and it is blank from anyplace to here. The space between ice and ice, if quantified, is a blank.

The distance between white mountain to white mountain across brown grass is a blank space. It is six kilometers across the horse-strewn field in the long pink January morning. The distance over frozen hay with no moving thing moving across it is not any kind of distance at all.

A polar bear spends days or weeks or months crossing the sea, from Greenland, to arrive on a white island in a gray sea where he is the only bear alive. There are people, citizens of Iceland, who want to save him. A great uproar. Save the bear. A white bear who is, to children, a furry and soft thing, something loveable. A campaign is started. The number of dollars spent on trying to save the singular polar bear on the singular country in the north Atlantic: tens of millions. One plane is hired to fly from Copenhagen to pick up the bear, tranquilize him with drugs designed for this sort of rescue, and transport the bear back across the sea he swam to Greenland. People want to save the animal that came to them over a great distance.

I do the math of time and distance in my head. It is 103 days until I return to my home country. I have 463 American dollars. It is 193 days since I saw the man who is not my husband. I do not write these numbers down. I calculate them again and again, remembering what 103 days feels like, calculating where I was, what was on the news, 103 days ago. I'm testing the enormity of that time. I do human math in a human head in a country of great spaces, spaces which go on through long pink January dawns.

A polar bear travels hundreds of miles or a distance of zero over many weeks or months or a time of one. Zero over one is zero and thus the distance(over)time, equating speed, is zero. The bear has not been moving. It hasn't moved at all. When the bear arrives, it is weak, injured, having starved for many days or weeks or months, disoriented in a strange country. The bear stands at the side of the road and watches the people watching the bear. A woman with a small child stands outside of her car one hundred meters from the bear, saying, "líta," saying, "look," in Icelandic. A polar bear can travel one hundred meters in ten seconds if it wants to rip open the throat of the woman or child. The speed of a hypothetically violent bear is ten meters per second. The polar bear has not moved at all. The bear is still standing. The bear is standing still.

I have travelled hundreds or thousands of kilometers to be in a cold cold country in a house alone. I am hundreds or thousands of kilometers from the man who knows the texture of my hair. My hair is black black opaque, like the skin of a polar bear. A bear appears white due to the refraction of light through transparent fur. I have moved and I am not moving. I am in a country of great distances. The distance from mountain to mountain is zero. It is an empty space. It is a single note suspended.

The bear as symbol of rescue. The bear becomes a symbol of animal vulnerability and a human capacity for good. The white bear and the people crowded around it trying to help mean that mistakes can be retrieved, that a living thing can be returned to the place it left and instinctually craves, churning great lumbering paws, how it is standing on bad legs in a small country of pale faces that cannot feed it. The bear can smell the air and it does not smell like the country it knows. The arc of small sun over pink corner sky is unfamiliar, is too southern, it takes too long.

I came here deliberately and I will leave here alive.

The polar bear is approached by the people who want to save it and it panics, it charges a group of journalists. It is immediately shot and killed. The bear dies in a field on the side of a highway. The bear dies in seconds. The millions of dollars which have gone towards its rescue have been transferred already to international banks and will not be retrieved and the bear will not be retrieved. It is a body on an island in the middle of the sea.

The movement from living bear to dead bear is a negligible distance, it is a distance we cannot cross. The bear was alive and it is dead because of its movements; when it died it did not move but to collapse. The distance to its country is 1,212 kilometers, is unimaginable. The distance between the present place and the point of origin, named here as home, cannot be quantified, cannot be counted, we do not know these numbers, we do not have those tools of measurement at all.