By Vesper Jacks
The Polar Bear Plunge occurred last week during the coldest Saturday in recent memory. Temperatures for the second plunge dipped (no pun intended) to 32 degrees. The day before the plunge, the temperature was a comfortable 56 degrees. Kudos to those who freeze their extremities to raise funds for PACA, the Page Alliance for Community Action that promotes healthy lifestyles for school age children.
The plunge has a far-reaching impact with out-of-towners as well as locals traveling the Page County roads for miles to take part. Many plungers wear costumes. A human banana made an appearance. Chilly enough for a Tastee Freez banana split, the banana remained whole and upright, not sliced, flat and covered in fruit toppings, whipped cream and peanuts. An entire school of jellyfish also participated. The jellyfish stung no one probably because of the frigid temperatures.
Running at warp speed, a mist rises from Lake Arrowhead as folks of all ages and fitness levels splash through ice-cold water. Children and adults scream and flail as the bleakness settles in their bones. They head straight for make-shift icebergs, dancing the frosty walrus watusi in search of prizes on plastic snowflakes.The local rescue squad provides a presence in case anyone would fall or suffer from hypothermia. Fortunately the rush into the water on this day is just that– a rush. And as they emerge from the water laughing and wrapping their icy bodies in warm towels, the black bear who frequents the Morning Star area watches from the woods. The bear uses the lake as a water source and remembers when his ancestors had a tail.
According to the Oneida Indian Nation website, the forest fox is responsible for the bear’s dilemma. The legend is that the bear originally had a glossy tail that he loved to wave at all the forest animals. Fox, also the owner of a beautiful tail decided to have some fun at bear’s expense. One winter years ago, the lake froze over and the two animals often competed for a fishing spot. Bear required more fish for sustenance and the fox didn’t want to compete with his needs.
Fox cut a hole in the ice and stacked a pile of fish beside the hole. Fox told the Bear he caught them with his red bushy tail and he should try it for himself. He watched as Bear dug a hole deep in the ice. The bear stuck his long, rich looking tail into the freezing lake.
“And don’t even think about fish,” Fox said as he scampered across the ice and into the woods. “They can sense your thoughts. Stick your tail into the ice and don’t move. And don’t think. I will let you know when to pull your tail out of the water.”
Fox laughed all the way back to his foxhole as he thought of the bear’s naivete. He fell asleep inside his warm den. When the fox awoke the next morning and headed back to the lake through recently fallen snow, he found the bear covered in a mist of ice-pellets and snowflakes, frozen to the lake. Fox laughed.
Fox sneaked up and hollered at Bear, “Quickly! Do it now! Pull your tail up!”
Startled, Bear flinched. He pulled his tail up and heard a loud snap. Bear thought he’d caught a bunch of fish. But no fish existed. Bear’s glorious long tail had frozen and broken off into the water when he pulled his tail from the lake. He groaned and growled at Fox. Bear tried to catch Fox, but he ran swiftly while the bear fell and slid across the ice growling. To this day, the bear has no tail thanks to his frenemy the fox.
The story of Bear and Fox is Native American folklore. In similar fashion to the story, the polar bear, inspiration for the plunge, spends most of its time on sea ice, which is melting at a rapid rate according to the scientific community. The polar bears are considered a vulnerable species. This is not folklore. February 27 is National Polar Bear Day, created to bring about awareness to the plight of the animal. Let’s take the day (and beyond) to remember the original “polar plungers.” Again, accolades to all those who braved the icy water to raise money for PACA.
Biography: Vesper Jacks has called Page County home for more than 30 years. A former reporter, Vesper works locally and has degrees in both communications and English. Vesper loves dogs, coffee and folklore.