The Bipolar Polar Bear

by Bendu on 週一, 29 十二月 2008 評論
Once upon a time, there was a rather short and stocky polar bear living in the vicinity of the North Pole. This particular ursus maritimus was probably the first bipolar polar bear ever recorded in the Annals of the Carnivores Psychiatric Society. As the mere mention of his mental condition might awaken some fears in the reader, let us hasten to add that Polar was an amicable animal, and prone to make friends. Mentally and physically, he had kept some features of a cub, which explained why people and mammals alike thought him to be much younger than he actually was.

How could our likeable Polar be diagnosed as bipolar? This was due to a strange mixture of genetic and ecological factors. From his youth, our bear had indeed shown a propensity to wander by himself throughout the Arctic immensities - at times retreating north when he was beaming with such energy that even in the hardest winter he was feeling so hot that he would have willingly relinquished his prized and immaculate white fur -, at other times feeling so lonely, lifeless and cold that he would advance south in search of a place where the overwhelming coldness pressuring his body and soul would somehow be mitigated.

It so happens that our bear was living at a time where man-induced global warming was transforming the ecology of the North Pole. In the southern marshes where Polar was looking for warmth and comfort the change in fauna had finally induced the arrival of troops of bees that were actively growing a local industry of Arctic honey – not the sweetest you could eat, for sure, but still a hitherto new treat for Polar, who soon developed some features and habits of his close cousin, Grizzly Bear. Genetic and ecological factors were thus mixing in a strange alchemy: by the very fact of going south and eating a healthy dose of honey the psychological balance of our bear was indeed restored for a while – but the new diet was also making him progressively feel manic, hot and restless, till he had to retreat again towards the icy solitude of the North Pole. There, after a few weeks or months he was miserable and cold again, thus migrating southwards and going back to the habits and habitat proper to a well-behaved grizzly bear. This was still a livable condition after all, but the lack of balance, the endless wandering from his white to his brown psychic poles were giving Polar a feeling of helplessness that was weighing on him even during his most manic periods.

One day, as his mania was recessing and he was once more on his way towards the southern marshes of the Arctic and their booming honey business (in places when, a few years back, there had been only blocks of frozen ice), he stopped for a while, and engaged in a conversation with a large band of migrating birds. Our bear, I have noted, was an amicable and considerate Polar, and even in the midst of depression he always tried to be sociable – even if sometimes the effort proved to be too great for him.
- Polar, sang the birds, are you again going southwards to get your cure of honey?
- Yes, sighed Polar, and after a few weeks or a few months, feeling again hot and manic, I will be compelled to go back to the Pole. The only thought of this absurd travel is enough to make me gulp a full barrel of fresh honey, even though my psychotherapist has told me to beware of honey addiction.
- But you do not have to go back!" cried a bird. "As a matter of fact, I have meant to tell you for a time: We, birds, circle around the whole surface of the earth. Did you know that, if you continuously walk southwards you will finally encounter a place - a much bigger place than even this one - that is still fully covered with ice and snow?
- No, said the bear, suddenly interested, I did not know this.” (He was much more versed in psychology than in geography.)
- Well, you’ll first have to go through really hot countries, but it’s worth the trip. My advice is as follows; make the most of your depressive span for travelling southwards, without ever stopping. Since it is during that time that you always feel hopelessly cold, the heat should not indispose you. With a bit of luck, as your depression usually lasts for a few months, you will feel hot and manic again just when you will be approaching the South Pole.
- The South Pole?” repeated Polar, intrigued.
- The South Pole, yes. In my opinion, this is where you belong. There, you will find a species of flightless birds (May Heavens spare me to ever meet with such a destiny!) who are even more bipolar than you are. It might kill you as it might save you...”

Bipolar animals... Where he had been living, Polar had never met with anyone suffering the same fate as his. That sounded most interesting. Maybe they could work out a kind of support group of something.
- How do you know they are bipolar?” he asked, hoping to learn a little more.
- Being a flightless bird is bad enough, and it makes you develop all kinds of psychological troubles I suppose… Anyway, their plumage is all black in some parts and all white in other, and this seems to reflect the endless changes in their mood. You, polar bears, are all-white mammals, and, as a rule, quite stable in mood - except when you are feeling really, really hungry. You were ill-lucky to get that sickness, but all of this might not have happened if the climate had not changed so much – look, honey is now harvested where good, solid ice used to be the only thing to be found. Be careful: one day, if you stay in this land of the doomed, the heat and the honey will make half of your fur turn a dirty brown...”

The threat was enough to scare Polar (He was very proud of his white fur, the one thing that was anchoring him into normalcy.). So, pushed at the same time by fear and attraction, he underwent his long and perilous trip towards the South Pole. He took advantage of his depressive stage for travelling under the hottest climates, feeling cold and miserable even at the Equator. How he survived such a trip is not part of our story. His natural sweetness, the crush for polar bears that men have inexplicably developed, his canny abilities and mere luck, all of this explains why he was already well into the southern hemisphere when he realized that the all too well-known transition from depressive to manic stage was about to happen.

Exactly at the point when he was feeling dangerously ebullient he entered the Antarctic. His excitement was even greater as he was experiencing so strong a cold that his usual feeling of surrounding hotness was admirably balanced by the meteorological conditions. He met with an agitated troop of penguins, which soon surrounded him and started to deluge him with questions. At first, Polar was surprised by the short size of his new friends, by the noise and agitation that seemed to reign everywhere, and by the casual style of their questions and conversation. He was used to be treated with more deference. But he was in a splendid mood, happy to discover a new white continent, and he was very much amused by the jocosity of the penguins.
- Hi, Polar! My name is Pingu…” said a young female penguin, probably the prettiest and most impertinent member of the band.
- Hmm, hello Pingu…” said Polar.
- You’re truly impolite, Polar, responded severely Pingu. I am giving you my first name and you should tell me yours. What are you called besides Polar?”
- I am just… Polar,” said Polar hesitantly. (All bear anthropologists know that, like Eskimos, Mongols and Tibetans, polar bears use only one name.)
Pingu thought for a while.
- Then, you’ll be Teddy!” she decided.

This did not truly enchant Polar, who liked to be just called Polar, but he said nothing. Anyway, he would soon realize that there was not much to be said when Pingu had spoken. So, Teddy-Polar started his new life on the Antarctic with his new friends and his self-appointed girlfriend (though they were not able to go very far in their relationship, for reasons too obvious to be stated here). He soon realized that penguins were indeed decidedly bipolar animals, and that they lived their bipolarity in an intense, bellicose but sometimes almost playful fashion. Overpopulation was making things even more explosive. On the ice field it was a constant outburst of psychodramas. Weirdly, this atmosphere had a therapeutic effect on Teddy. He was feeling calm and self-controlled in comparison. He was often called for being the arbitrator of penguins’ quarrels, and, on the whole, the change of surrounding proved to be most beneficial. He was just somewhat apprehensive of Pingu’s sudden furies, laughter and melancholies. She was so intense in the expression of her emotions that even her fellow aquatic, flightless birds were calling her the Bipolar Queen. Still, when listening to her anguishes, drying her tears, smiling at her jokes, Polar was feeling less and less bipolar, and he decided that the Antarctic continent was indeed home to him, a land where he would dwell happily and forever.

The problem arose because of the long tales he was serving penguins about the lost, spoiled Arctic kingdom. They were met with fervent interest by his listening crowd – no auditor listening to him more intently than Pingu. The idea of a land that was becoming kind of geographically bipolar, where you could dine on seals or honey according to your mood, where brown earth and white icecap were now fraternizing with each other, where you could at will harmonize outer climate and inner feelings, all of this was most appealing for a structurally bipolar species. Still, most penguins could not yet envision such an intercontinental travel. Not so with Pingu. She soon was pestering Polar, imploring him to go back to the Arctic with her and to settle together in a land so adapted to their common mental condition. For once, the usually weak and subservient Polar firmly refused - he was not going to forsake his so difficultly won equilibrium, he would not leave the white paradise where he was by far the least bipolar of all surrounding sentient beings. The discussion became heated to the extent that, at some point, he flatly told her that he did not want to be called “Teddy” anymore – that was infringing on his identity and dignity. For Pingu, such a rebellious, insensitive claim was the final straw. She plunged into the icy water, took a deep dive towards the north – and she was gone.… Needless to say, in the weeks and months that followed, both of them wept bitterly over their quarrel and would have happily reunited. But it was too late. Pingu and Polar were too proud for coming back on what had been. Besides, it might be that their fate was indeed sealed from the start: Pingu was made for living on the Arctic, and Polar on the Antarctic.

In the course of years, they received frequent news from each other through obliging migrating birds. Pingu had safely reached the North Pole and had found a land of ice and honey that suited her needs and her dreams. Still subject to emotional ups and downs she was at home in a country ravaged by climate change the way her soul was permanently affected by inner and outer currents. And there were around white and (more and more) brown bears with whom she could relive her polar days… Pingu was eventually able to make the most of her condition. In her new environment she developed her ingrained sense of leadership to such an extent that she came from being called the “Bipolar Queen” to becoming simply and grandly the “Polar Queen.” The news about her that kept being brought by the birds took on such a mythic dimension that they were at the origin of the large-scale migrations of penguins from the south to the north that the two following centuries would witness.

Similarly, Polar found a solitary ice field where he could remember Pingu while achieving through meditation the balanced, wise and peaceful outlook for which he would be so celebrated afterwards. He had truly overcome his bipolarity (maybe caused more by ecological than by genetic factors after all), and the birds would celebrate the “Sage of the Antarctic” till the farthest reaches of his land of birth. Traumatized by the continuing warming of their territory, in search of a new home and of a leader, the depleted population of polar bears would then start its exile from the North to the South Pole.

And this is why, several centuries later, when Polar and Pingu have now become enduring legends, white bears live on the Antarctic while penguins proliferate on the Arctic.


Photography by Kevin Dooley (some rights reserved)
See Kevin Dooley’s photographs on Flickr

Attached media :
{rokbox}media/articles/polar.jpg{/rokbox}

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