Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Day at the Beach

If you don’t think it’s been cold this winter, here’s proof that it has been an exceptional December. This morning the annual Polar Plunge, which has taken place for at least 30 years at Simmons Island, was canceled. According to its organizer Diver Dan (not my son-in-law, who is also a diver named Dan), it has only been canceled twice in all those years. The water temperature today is about 32 degrees F, and you can see chunks of ice in it, but that’s not the reason for the cancellation. It is because of the ice buildup on the beach. Waves pound the shore; the wind blows the water on top of already existing mounds of sand and ice, making it impossible to get into the water.

The Polar Plunge, for those who may not know, is an annual New Year’s Day ritual. It consists of a bunch of brave people, dressed in bathing suits and sandals, plunging their bodies into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. These events take place in many northern cities and in many cold bodies of water. I think in order to qualify as a “plunger” you have to completely immerse yourself in the water. It’s not enough to just stick your toe in, or even go in up to your knees, the way I do in July. The event here in Kenosha has had as few as six people and as many as 400 participating. For the past five years Michael and I have been – no, not participants –faithful observers.

This morning, with temperatures about 25 o F and winds about 15 mph, we bundled up and walked over to the Island to once again watch the event. Although we can see the site from our side of the harbor, you have to walk all the way around the harbor to get to the beach. It’s about a 20-minute walk. We arrived at 11 AM, the scheduled time for the big splash, only to hear about the cancellation. We decided to walk on the beach anyway.

We were not alone. There we quite a few people, several like us with their dogs, walking on the sand and ice. And taking pictures, like the ones I have shown here. On the walk back, we passed the small boat harbor and I took a picture of the ice fishermen there. There were also fishermen at the edge of the harbor. Michael commented that the people who fish at this time of year must really need the fish for food. “Or they are just crazy.” I said.

Yet we were out this morning, walking with the wind in our faces, and by the time we got back home almost an hour later, we had frozen hands and red checks. It wasn’t exactly a plunge, but it was a bit crazy. But what do you expect from two people who grew up in Buffalo? We won’t jump in the lake, but we will walk in the winter.

However, yesterday I booked us for a trip to Florida in February. I want to wear beach attire, not fleece, for a week and put my toes into some warm water. I may even go in further than my knees, too.

Best wishes to all for a happy – and warm – new year.

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