Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Annual Austin Tradition: Splashing In The New Year At Barton Springs

One year ago on this very day, I posted a blog entitled, “Splashing In The New Year.” The posting was met with such a complete silence and incredible resounding indifference, that I decided to press my luck, and once again write about the same topic. Some people never learn (that would be me) I guess, but I figure that 2011 has to be better than 2010? If you don’t agree with that statement, you need to stop reading blogs altogether, including mine, and head down to your local community college to take a course on current events, or, whatever else you want to study.

Every year, on New Year’s Day, the Save Our Springs Alliance, in Austin, Texas, hosts the annual Polar Bear Splash at Barton Springs in Zilker Park. From quite early in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, Alliance members greet the “Polar Bears,” who faithfully migrate to Barton Springs from all over the Texas Hill Country, to splash around in the spring’s ever constant 68 degree temperature. Last year I had the distinct honor and high privilege of just being an observer and photographer, but this year, my sweet, considerate, and loving wife got my lazy butt out of a warm bed and insisted I throw on a pair of “Hawaii” swim trunks and accompany her to Barton Springs at some ungodly hour of the morning.

The Save Our Springs Alliance, the host of the “Splash,” is dedicated to protecting the hill country’s Edward’s Aquifer, as well as related waterways, and the natural and cultural heritage of the hill country, including Barton Springs. It’s a noble and worthwhile goal, which I fully support, and the organization makes the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Splash a lot of fun. People of all ages dress up in all sorts of ridiculous outfits and bathing attire to jump in the springs, including me, who stripped off a silly Hawaiian shirt, to expose an even sillier mismatched Hawaiian bathing suit, before I took the plunge. Others had pirate masks on, wore Hawaiian hula skirts, or tiaras with the words “Happy New Year,” emblazoned on the front. Like every year it seems, the people bundled up in jackets and taking photographs vastly outnumbered the swimmers. One tradition for those who actually venture out into the springs is that you don’t say “Happy New Year” to anyone until you actually dip your head beneath the cold water. To be honest with you, I can’t remember whether I did or didn’t, but my wife was certainly wishing every living thing that she swam by “Happy New Year,” including fish, turtles, and whatever that green stuff is that grows in the springs.

Another element of the annual event is for the visiting swimmers, or should I say, “Polar Bears,” to bring food to share with everyone. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but a lot of people I saw in the chow line never made it down to the springs for a dip. I can understand it I guess, why would anyone forgo another bratwurst covered with mustard for the opportunity to jump into some icy water?

Outside the springs, gawkers looked down at the swimmers, and the S.O.S. Alliance provided free coffee, sold commemorative shirts, and dispensed literature supporting its cause. Of course the event being in Austin, with that “Keep Austin Weird” philosophy, attracted a few others, who it seemed, had a different point of view. But, that did not stop the small children from having fun riding the small gauge “Zilker Zephyr” train around Zilker Park. I love trains, and have ridden this train before. After my swim, I would have liked to ride it again, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy a ticket, and deprive some small innocent child of the opportunity for a ride. But, I must admit, the thought did cross my mind, and not just once, but several times.

Given all the silly costumes I saw today, nothing was sillier than someone who wasn’t trying to be silly at all. A young bearded version of Ringo Starr, wearing those expensive “get darker as the sun gets brighter” sunglasses, walked around the pool for hours cloaked in an expensive white bathrobe, with a white towel slung over his shoulder talking on his cell phone. Perhaps he finally did, but I never saw him get into the water. My recommendation for his New Year resolution is quite simple, try to spend at least one hour a day without your cell phone smashed against your ear.

As in the past, I had a lot of fun today, and I’ll miss the event until it arrives again exactly one year from now. It’s for a good cause, and, hopefully someone from the S.O.S Alliance, or, quite frankly anyone else will actually acknowledge reading the posting about the “Splash” this year. “Green” is the new buzz-word apparently, but in my experience, “Old" and "West,” are tried and true buzz-words, and words which people actually like reading about.


  1. Bob - I can't speak for the S.O.S. Alliance, but you know I'm out here reading everything you write. One day, I'm going to have a really nice visit to the Texas Hill Country, and it will be because of everything you've posted here.

  2. Gary, I appreciate it very much. The Hill Country is a special place, and there is so much to write about, that it's hard to pick and choose. But that's a great "problem" to have. Hope you get out here again someday. Thanks for your support!

  3. Bob,

    I’m just like Gary; I read everything you write! I enjoy hearing about the history and unique places of the Hill Country. My family has visited the Hill Country ever since I was little, so I have many fond memories of it. Please continue to write!

    I’ve even made my own map of places that I’d like to visit thanks to you and The Day Tripper with Chet Garner (a show on PBS). My map:,-100.288696&spn=2.023049,1.571045&z=8

  4. Hi Mindy, I do very much appreciate the fact that you find my writing interesting, and I sincerely thank you for reading my blog. It's always nice to hear feedback, so I'm especially heartened by your comments. I'm glad you like the Hill Country as much as I do. I've traveled all over the world, but have not yet found a place that is so unique or so nice, and hopefully, I never will. That's quite a map you've put together. What a great idea. Your list of places to visit should make for a very exciting trip to be sure. Keep me posted once you get underway with it. I'd enjoy hearing feedback on your travels, expriences, and impressions. Thanks again for your comments. I'll keep writing, and I hope to hear from you again. Best Wishes to You in this New Year. Bob

  5. Greetings from Southern California.

    I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to :-)

    God Bless You, ~Ron