As Much Insight as Irony in Some Juxtapositions

As the midsection of the country descends once again into a deep freeze, I thought that some reference to stories that emerged during the first “polar vortex” might help to keep things in perspective.

Several weeks ago, two stories from Chicago seemed especially illustrative of just how cold it was, though it turned out that the first story was somewhat misleading.

That first story involved the decision by Chicago zookeepers to keep their polar bears inside during the worst of the cold. The headline was surely intended to cause readers to exclaim about how it had become even too cold for animals perfectly adapted to the Arctic. But it turns out that polar bears that become acclimated to temperate climates lose much of the heavy coat of fur that insulates them from very extreme cold. So, much like the people who live in greater Chicago, the polar bears in the zoo have become more used to the climate of the upper Midwest than to that of the Arctic.

The second and, to me, more telling story was about a peacock that escaped from its indoor enclosure and twenty to thirty minutes later was found frozen to the branch of a tree.

But mixed in among all of the U.S. news about the bone-chilling cold, I found a story that should really help to put things in perspective. Here are the opening paragraphs:

“Brazil is sizzling, and with the heat index sometimes soaring above 120 F, keepers at the Rio de Janeiro zoo are giving the animals ice pops to beat the heat.

“The homemade treats come in various flavors. For the big cats, there are bloody, 66-pound (30-kilo) blocks of ice and raw meat. There are bucket-sized cornucopias of iced fruit for Ze Comeia, a brown bear rescued from a circus, and a supply of chilled bananas for Karla the elephant.

“The simians’ treats, strawberry or mango-flavored frozen yogurt pops on sticks, looked the most appealing to the crowds of human visitors who stood Wednesday in the blazing sun and 94-degree weather to gape at the apes.”

Much of Brazil, like Australia (and California), is literally as well as figuratively burning up.

If you are interested in much more extensive information about and even photos of about the over-sized and sometimes disgusting popsicles that the Brazilian zookeepers have been making for their animals, the rest of the story can be found at:

I’ll close by citing one last related story. In “Deep Freeze has Silver Linings for Natural World,” Associated Press reporters Steve Karnowski and Seth Borenstein point out the many ways in which an extended deep freeze can have a positive impact on the natural world, especially in the upper Midwest: “The extreme cold may help raise low water in the Great Lakes, protect shorelines and wetlands from erosion, kill insect pests, and slow the migration of invasive species.” For instance, a single night with temperatures of -20 degrees will probably wipe out 50% of the ash borer larvae decimating Midwestern woodlands. That, in itself, ought to be reason to endure a couple of very frigid nights with a little more equanimity.

But, I am recovering from surgery, and except for weekly follow-up visits to the surgeon, I am for the time being like an indoor cat (albeit one very huge cat) sitting by the window and looking out. So it is easy for me to be so philosophical about the extreme cold.

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