After a week of warm weather, the temperature has dropped, rain clouds have rolled in, we’ve got snow in the mountains, and we are back to February. Today’s temperature is more than 20 degrees below normal for this time of year.
And it’s county fair week in Calaveras, so the chilly temperatures are a serious concern.
Here, county fair is so important that the schools actually close for the week. Most of the kids have animals that they’ve raised in 4-H or FFA – cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, poultry or hogs – and the week is dedicated to getting their animals ready to show, and displaying and auctioning off the animals.
However, this year’s weather is causing havoc with what many consider the most important aspect of the fair – the frog jump.
Surely you’ve heard about Calaveras County’s world-famous frog jump.
This county achieved celebrity status more than a century ago through Mark Twain’s short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." That story was about a frog named Dan’l Webster.
Dan’l could out jump any other frog and his owner used that talent to earn a living. People would pit a frog they’d pulled from a pond or creek against Dan’l and would promptly lose their wager.
Until a stranger came to town. The stranger filled Dan’l with buckshot when no one was watching, then bet $5 that Dan’l couldn’t beat his frog, and walked away with the cash winnings.
The story, published in 1857, made Mark Twain a literary star.
And in 1928, the City of Angels Camp decided to capitalize on that story by holding a Jumping Frog Jubilee. Later the Jubilee became part of the county fair. And for all these years, the frog jump has been a good moneymaker for the area. It attracts folks from all over. The visitors spend their money at the fair and in town. They come to watch, or to compete with frogs of their own, in the hope of winning some sizeable prize money.
People have flown in from as far away as Africa with frogs they’re sure can out-jump the local amphibians.
And those who organize the yearly frog jump collect frogs from local ponds and creeks the week before the fair. These local frogs are held in a kind of froggy luxury hotel on the fair grounds until the competition is over. Visitors who want to compete but who don’t have frogs of their own, can rent one of the locals.
There are strict rules regarding the care of the frogs, the number of jumps each frog can make before they have to go rest in the hotel, and so on.
And all frogs are returned to their ponds and creeks when the competition is finished.
The problem this year is the weather.
Usually by mid-May, the ponds and creeks are bursting with athletic, energetic frogs, singing their loudest and jumping their highest.
But our wintry weather has sent the frogs into hiding. Those responsible for filling the rooms at the froggy luxury hotel are empty-handed. Or the few small frogs they’ve been able to round up have no heart for jumping.
Last weekend, at a preliminary frog jump, the frogs didn’t jump.
The way a jump is measured is this: the frog is set on a starting pad. Then the "jockey" shouts, beats the ground, blows on the frog, whistles, illustrates a jump, and does anything short of touching the frog, to try and get the amphibian to jump three times. A measuring official keeps track of the three leaps. The total distance of the three jumps is that frog’s score.
But if there are no frogs to rent, or if the frogs won’t jump because it’s too cold, what then?
I think, then we could say that this year’s Jumping Frog Jubilee is a perfect reflection of Dan’l Webster’s predicament in Mark Twain’s celebrated tale.