Bill Steigerwald

"Don't you worry," Grandpa chuckled. "I just get mad when humans make us look like sissies who can't handle a little change in the weather. We're polar bears, for Pete's sake. We're not helpless victims. We don't need the government, Keith Olbermann, Greenpeace, Leonardo DiCaprio or anyone else to protect us from Mother Nature.

"If humans just left us alone - and if their scientists stopped chasing us with helicopters and shooting us with dart guns - we'd be fine."

"Why don't you go to where the humans on TV live and yell at them?" wondered Junior. "Everyone always listens when you yell."

"They wouldn't believe a thing I'd tell them. But that's a good idea, Junior," Grandpa said, clicking off the nightlight. "A darn good idea. "

Part 2

"Junior gets brainwashed"

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and "almost a man." Some called the bear "the great lonely roamer." Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

-- Polar Bears International

TASIILAQ, EAST GREENLAND

"Guess what I learned today?" Junior asked as he came running in from school.

"I can't imagine," Grandpa mumbled.

"Shush, Dad," said Mother. "What did you learn, Junior?"

"I learned all about 'global melting,' " Junior began breathlessly. "The whole world is getting hotter because humans drive too many cars. The sea ice is going to go away forever and -- "

"Whoa!" interrupted Grandpa. "Who taught you that stuff? Rosie O'Donnell?"

"No," said Junior. "Principal Hansen. She came to homeroom today. Her big computer says Earth is getting hotter and hotter and Greenland is melting really, really fast. All the ice will be gone when I get as old as you."

"That's preposterous," Grandpa said.

"Principal Hansen said the oceans will get taller and taller," Junior said with a worried look on his face. "Principal Hansen said polar bears and lots of other animals will get 'stinkt if humans keep burning stuff like coal. It's really scary, Grandpa."

"Principal Hansen's even crazier than Al Gore," Grandpa said to Mother so Junior couldn't hear. "Didn't I tell you that boy should have been home-schooled?"

Later that same night, after midnight, Grandpa was at his desk sending his usual round of disparaging e-mails to the politicians in Washington when Junior's cry pierced the stillness.

"Grandpa!" Junior wailed. "Help me. I'm burning!"

Grandpa and Mother raced to Junior's bedside. Junior was crying in his sleep. "Help me, Grandpa," he pleaded mournfully. "I'm too young to melt."

"Junior, wake up," Grandpa said, shaking him. "You're dreaming."

Junior's eyes popped open. "Grandpa! Mother! The ice was all gone! We were stuck on a tiny iceberg. The ocean was boiling!"

"It was just a silly nightmare, Junior," soothed Mother. "The ice isn't melting. See?" she said, patting the rock-hard wall of their cave.

Grandpa was fuming. He gritted his big teeth and looked Junior straight in his teary eyes.

"Boy," he said firmly, "I'm going to tell you something I want you to remember for the rest of your life. We are polar bears. We are the largest land carnivores on Earth. We are the species ursus maritimus - 'bears of the sea.' We can swim 200 miles. We can walk 100 miles a day.

"We learned how to live on this frozen wasteland at the top of the world thousands of years before humans discovered fire. There are 25,000 of us alive today - twice as many as 50 years ago. We are not going to become extinct - no matter what Principal Hansen and her computers say. Now go to sleep - and no more silly nightmares."

"That was no nightmare," Grandpa whispered angrily to Mother. "That boy's being brainwashed by a bunch of kooks."

"That's all the schools teach," said Mother. "It's like a new religion. Every cub I know thinks the ice will be gone before they grow up. All the mothers are complaining."

Grandpa was fuming. "Polar bears having nightmares," he snarled. "That's pathetic. It's time somebody stood up to lunatics like Hansen and their doomsday stories."

Part 3

"Act of Endangerment"

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and "almost a man." Some called the bear "the great lonely roamer." Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

-- Polar Bears International

TASIILAQ, EAST GREENLAND

Grandpa, Mother and Junior were at Erik the Red's Sports Den. The place was crowded for the big Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.

Every bear in the bar had their eyes glued to the TV monitors. Just as the Bears quarterback was dropping back to throw a long pass, the game suddenly disappeared.

"Hey!!!" bellowed Grandpa and a hundred other Bears fans.

"We interrupt this program for important breaking news," said the announcer as two sunburned old humans appeared on screen.

"The threat posed by global warming to all life on Earth is very real," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as he and Senator Barbara Boxer of California huddled at a microphone outside the snow-covered Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. "Therefore, Senator Boxer and I have decided to introduce special legislation that will place polar bears on the Endangered Species list by the Christmas recess."

"Oh no," Grandpa moaned, putting his head in his big paws. "I was afraid it would come to this."

"These majestic creatures are innocent victims of the evil axis of Big Energy," Senator Boxer added, her voice cracking with emotion. "Our irresponsible burning of oil, coal and gas is melting the Arctic paradise of the polar bear. Without our help they will starve and soon become extinct. When our bill becomes law, however, the polar bear will be protected forever from man-made global warming by the Endangered Species Act."

Grandpa stood up. "Listen up, all of you," he yelled. Everyone quickly gathered around the wise and widely respected old bear.

"This is a very serious threat," Grandpa said grimly. "If we are put on that darn list, it will mean the end of our traditional way of life forever."

"What do you mean?" someone asked.

"An army of nature scientists, government bureaucrats and pushy celebrities will invade our land. They're all part of what I call 'The Axis of Environmentalism,' " Grandpa explained.

"They will say they are coming to protect us from global warming and to do us good. But what they will really do is slowly take away our freedoms and take over our lives. They'll force us to change how we live, what we eat and where we can travel. It'll be just like we're being kept in a federal zoo."

"But we'll we get free food and health care," said a young male bear sipping on his sixth Labatt Blue.

"Don't be foolish," Grandpa said. "Whatever the government gives us won't really be free. Once we're on that list, they'll have us all wearing radio collars and carrying government ID cards. We'll have wildlife scientists videotaping our sex lives and telling us where and what we can hunt."

"Will they take away our snowmobiles and satellite dishes?" someone asked.

"No, they won't take our snowmobiles or TVs or anything else," Grandpa snapped impatiently. "Humans don't know we have those things because they can't see them. If they did know, they'd take them away from us in a Newfoundland minute."

"Who will tell those humans in Washington we don't need their help?" someone asked. "And don't want it, either," added someone else.

The 100 polar bears had forgotten all about the football game. An uneasy silence fell over the bar. Then Grandpa spoke. "I'll do it," he said in a quiet but confident voice. "I'll explain how tomorrow night at the town meeting."

Part 4

"Polar bear democracy"

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and "almost a man." Some called the bear "the great lonely roamer." Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

-- Polar Bears International

TASIILAQ, EAST GREENLAND

The town meeting was bubbling with excitement as 400 polar bears sat on the uncomfortable metal folding chairs set up on the floor of the Southeast Greenland High School gym.

"My plan is quite simple," began Grandpa, standing at a podium in front of the assembled bears. Next to him was a large nautical map that showed Greenland, the Labrador Current and the East Coast of the United States. Mother and Junior sat to the side of the map on folding chairs.

"I intend to travel to Washington," Grandpa said. "I'm going there to convince the politicians that global warming poses no threat to us and that we do not want to be placed on the Endangered Species list."

Everyone began talking excitedly. Grandpa held up his hand to silence them.

"I will ride on an iceberg most of the way. And then .."

"You can't possibly ride an iceberg to Washington," interrupted the Mayor, who sat at a long table with the town's five frowning council members. Each of the officials had been darted and captured by wildlife scientists at least once and each wore matching radio tracking collars and yellow metal tags with serial numbers in both ears.

"Icebergs make it as far south as New York City all the time," Grandpa replied, stabbing the map with his pointer. "In 1926, an iceberg reached Bermuda. And as you can see, the Labrador Current hugs the coast all the way to North Carolina."

"But surely, with global warming, your iceberg will melt long before you get there," the Mayor said skeptically.

"It'll get us close enough. Then we'll swim. It shouldn't be more than 200 miles."

" 'We'? " the Mayor asked suspiciously. "Who is 'we'?"

"My daughter and my grandson," Grandpa said, nodding toward Mother and Junior. "I want the politicians pushing this foolish law to see exactly who will be harmed the most by it - our children and grandchildren who will lose their freedoms."

"But you can't just walk into the United States Senate," said the Mayor. "You'll be arrested. Or shot."

"I've already solved that problem, Mayor," said Grandpa, raising his voice over the murmuring crowd. "I've been communicating with a senator by e-mail. He's invited me to appear on Dec. 18 as an expert witness during the hearings on the Endangered Species bill. I plan to leave in three days."

Suddenly, Principal Jane Hansen stood up in the crowd and pointed at Grandpa.

"Sir, you are ignorant and backward. You are an embarrassment to all progressive polar bears. How can you deny what Al Gore and other great climate scientists have proven? We are in mortal danger from humans and the climate change they are causing. The global temperature data clearly shows that ...."

"Sit down, Hansen," a bear hollered. "We don't believe you or your phony computers. Garbage in, garbage out."

"We cannot permit this, this, this . stupid old yellow bear to speak for us in Washington," said Principal Hansen, who was so hot under her radio collar she collapsed in her chair.

"Why should we pay for your risky and quixotic scheme?" the Mayor asked Grandpa.

"I'm not asking taxpayers to pay a cent," Grandpa said. "All I ask is that you let the citizens decide. I believe they will entrust me to faithfully represent their best interests in Washington."

The gym exploded with cheers and thunderous applause. When a vote was taken, nearly every bear raised a forepaw in support of Grandpa. The only nay votes came from those wearing radio collars and yellow metal ear tags. The losers grumbled and growled, but there was nothing they could do.

The bears had spoken. G.P Bear was on his way to Washington.

Part 5

"Voyage of the Polar Bears"

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and "almost a man." Some called the bear "the great lonely roamer." Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

-- Polar Bears International

TASIILAQ, EAST GREENLAND

For their historic voyage to Washington, Grandpa carefully chose a special iceberg from among the hundreds slowly drifting past them on the Greenland Sea. Almost 500 feet long, and with two pointed peaks towering 200 feet above the water like sails, it looked like a clipper ship made of blue glass.

While Mother and Junior dug a new cave and fixed it up with some IKEA furniture they found at the town dump, Grandpa and Cousin Eddie hooked up a satellite dish, a small color TV set and a table lamp to a Honda power generator.

"God bless ExxonMobil," Grandpa said with a wicked laugh as he lugged two 10-gallon cans of gasoline onto the iceberg. "Solar panels don't work too well when the sun doesn't come up five months of the year, do they, Junior?"

Mother packed books for Junior's home-schooling sessions and her special sewing project, which she kept in the old brown suitcase she used when she and Grandpa immigrated to Greenland from Alaska in 1994.

Grandpa brought his ancient nautical charts, a tattered copy of Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" and a 1964 National Geographic tourist map of Washington, D.C., which had a big red circle drawn around the U.S. Capitol Building. Most important, he brought a letter he had received from Washington.

Addressed to "Mr. G.P. Bear," it was his ticket to the polar bear hearings being held Dec. 18 by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

G.P. Bear

Tasiilaq, East Greenland

gpbear@yahoo.com

Dear Mr. Bear,

We are pleased to accept your generous offer to appear as an expert witness at our Dec. 18 hearing to decide whether polar bears should be placed on the Endangered Species list. As someone who has lived among polar bears and studied them for 50 years, your credentials are most impressive. We look forward to hearing what you have to say about these magnificent creatures and we hope it will help us craft legislation that will save arsus (cq) maritimus from certain extinction from the effects of man-made global warming.

Yours truly,

Al Franken,

U.S. Senator, Minnesota

For the next two months, Grandpa's magical iceberg traveled faster than any had ever traveled before or since. Exactly as Grandpa planned, it sped south and met up with the swift Labrador Current, which swung it around the Island of Newfoundland, through the treacherous Grand Banks and down into the North Atlantic.

As Grandpa predicted, it was the coldest, most ferocious winter in North America in 1,000 years. By Thanksgiving the entire East Coast was locked in a brutal cold spell. For the first time since 1776, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay were frozen solid.

The Labrador Current carried their shrunken iceberg to within 50 miles of land. Then, putting mother's old suitcase in a garbage bag, the bears slipped into the sea and swam until they reached the thick ice covering Chesapeake Bay.

"Just like home," Grandpa said, climbing onto the ice and surveying the vast frozen wasteland.

The weather in Washington was perfect for polar bears. A vicious Arctic air mass had been parked over the city for weeks, pounding it with a series of blizzards that closed most government offices. Not even Al Roker could explain its mysterious origins.

Twenty-four hours later, as the three polar bears walked up the middle of the frozen Potomac River, they saw the Washington Monument shining in the distance. Grandpa smiled. "We've made it, kids. Now comes the hard part - getting the politicians in this town to do the right thing."

Part 6

"Grandpa does Washington"

Of all the animals the Inuit traditionally hunted, Nanuk, the polar bear, was the most prized. Native hunters considered Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and "almost a man." Some called the bear "the great lonely roamer." Many tribes told legends of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos. These bears walked upright, just like men, and were able to talk. Natives believed they shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

-- Polar Bears International

JEFFERSON MEMORIAL, WASHINGTON, D.C.

It would have been an odd sight if any humans had been around to see three polar bears walking across the Tidal Basin and climbing the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Open to the cold air and blowing snow, its cavernous icy marble interior was empty except for a 19-foot bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson.

"He's as big as you are," Junior said to Grandpa.

"He's much bigger than I am," Grandpa whispered as if he were in a church. "See those words engraved there on the wall. They're from the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is the human who wrote them."

"What do they say?" Junior asked.

Grandpa smiled and winked at Mother. "They say, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all polar bears are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

"Those words are some of the greatest ever written about freedom," Mother said. "Too bad so many humans no longer believe in them," she added, opening her brown suitcase and taking out a neatly folded stack of human clothes.

"These should fit," Mother said, handing Grandpa a dark herringbone three-button wool suit, matching vest and wide-striped tie like the one she had seen Jimmy Stewart wearing in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." "Your eyeglasses are in the breast pocket."

"And here's your costume, Junior," Mother said, giving him a pair of home-made blue jeans and a Chicago Cubs T-shirt to go with his backpack and Cubs baseball cap. "And your glasses. Don't ever take them off when we're in the presence of humans."

After Mother put on her black skirt, blouse and seashell pink blazer, she pulled out her pair of gray Kawasaki 704 eyeglasses and put them on. Except for her black nose, she looked eerily like Sarah Palin.

"What do you think, Dad?" Mother asked Grandpa. "They were a little pricy, even on the Internet. But I think they work."

The three bears looked at each other's outfits admiringly. They weren't the latest fashions, but as far as any humans who looked at them could tell the trio looked like an ordinary - if large - family of humans who'd come to Washington to see the sights.

For several hours the three bears explored the snowy, deserted streets of downtown Washington. Grandpa had a long list of places he had always dreamed of visiting and they were all carefully plotted on the old map he carried.

They walked across the frozen Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument, where Grandpa hoped to take an elevator ride to the top. But it was closed because of the horrible weather, so instead they visited the National World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

As they strolled past the brightly lit White House, two wary policemen in a patrol car slowed down to look them over.

"Wave, Mother," Grandpa said under his breath as the policeman driving the car shined a spotlight on them. "Wave, Junior."

The policeman hesitated. He squinted his eyes. Something seemed very, very fishy. He unlocked the shotgun attached to the dashboard of his patrol car.


Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..