Maintaining A Squirrel-Like Calm

You normally don’t associate squirrels with a calm demeanor. To the contrary, squirrels seem to be some of the most skittish, hyper alert members of the animal kingdom. They are always nervously chewing up a nut while on the lookout for a dog and ready to run like crazy.

So this squirrel, perched on one of the concrete stanchions along the St. Mary fence line, was displaying decidedly unsquirrelly behavior. It gazed into the far distance with a placid expression and attitude, oblivious to the world around him, perhaps thinking deep squirrel thoughts. It was only when I approached that the squirrel ended its reverie, turned my way as if wondering why I was disturbing his solitude, and scampered off into the shrubbery where it undoubtedly resumed its zen like meditation..

Springtime At Schiller

During the week we were out in Arizona, spring arrived in central Ohio in a big way. Trees are beginning to leaf out, flowers are showing their colors, the grass is a bright green, the flowering trees are in their glory, and there is a gentle, floral scent of spring on the freshening breeze.

It is a beautiful time of year, and there is no better place to enjoy the delights of spring than Schiller Park. The garden club has been busy, and the grounds of the park look marvelous. This morning, conditions were perfect for a stroll through and around the park, with cool temperatures and bright sunshine. I wasn’t the only person who thought this was a good idea, either; the park was packed with people, and dogs, all enjoying a romp outside in the beautiful surroundings. We’ve all got spring fever, and a great park like Schiller is an ideal place to let the fever take hold.

My Old School

Upper Arlington High School, my alma mater, was dedicated in 1956. By the time I started attending in the fall of 1972, the school has been pretty well broken in and was bursting at the seams with students, and the standing golden bear in the glass case near the gym had seen more than his fair share of proms, pranks, and shenanigans.

Now, 46 years after my graduation, my old school is being torn down. (And, because I went to high school during the early years of Steely Dan, I think of the song “My Old School” as I write those words.) The Upper Arlington Alumni Association has come up with a novel way to commemorate that fact. As the notice above indicates, it’s giving UAHS grads a chance to go to the school, walk through the halls one more time, and leave their handprint somewhere within those hallowed halls. On your last visit, you could check out the student center, where we used to play euchre on off periods, visit the library where masked students once “streaked,” and marvel at the fact that for students of my generation there used to be a student smoking area, too.

Based on the notice above, there will be one big difference between my student days and a last visit: social distancing. My graduating class was the largest class in history, with more than 800 grads. When the bells rang for class changes, the hallways were so crammed with kids clutching notebooks and textbooks rushing to their next class or their locker that you could scarcely breathe. I guess I prefer to leave those unmasked memories undisturbed.

Hike Ohio: Dripping Rock Trail

Yesterday was another ideal day for a hike in central Ohio, with clear skies and temperatures that started in the 50s and eventually touched 70. We decided to stay a little closer to home this time, and ventured just a few miles north of I-270, to the very conveniently located Highbanks Metro Park, to try out the Dripping Rock Trail. The Dripping Rock Trail is one of a series of interconnected trails in the park, which also features a designated dog trail, picnic areas, and open meadows where kids can run around and work off some of that inexhaustible kid energy.

The Dripping Rock Trail is so named, I suspect, because part of the trail follows a small stream that has cut through rock, as shown in the two photographs above, and groundwater leaks from the rock formations into the stream. The trail follows a loop that is a little over two miles, but if you want a longer hike you can link to adjoining trails that will take you to an Adena Mound, some ancient earthworks, and an overlook area The flexibility offered by the intersecting trails is a nice feature, because you can design your hike to suit your interest in exactly how much exercise you want to get.

The trails are natural earth and well-marked, and wide enough to allow for comfortable social distancing from passing hikers if everyone move to the edge and goes single file. Because the Highbanks park is so close to Columbus, the Dripping Rock Trail and other trails are very popular–or at least they were on our visit. Yesterday we got there at about 10:30 and had no problem finding a parking space next to the nature center, but when we left in early afternoon the parking lots were full and people were waiting for departures to find a parking space. If it’s a pretty day you’ll want to get there early if you want to be sure of getting a spot.

One section of the Dripping Rock Trail will give you a glimpse of a sluggish and muddy segment of the Olentangy River through the trees, but for the most part the trail is just your basic walk in the Ohio woods, winding through and around the trees with the small creek for company. There are some easy inclines and declines, but most of the trail is level. So long as you stay away from gangs of chatty hikers, it is blissfully quiet and makes for a very pleasant stroll. And if you are a big forestry fan, the Metroparks people have labeled some of the different kinds of trees that you will see along the hike.

We liked the Dripping Rock Trail, and think it would be worth visiting again in the fall when the leaves start to turn.

Ducks On The Run

This is the time of year when the ducks in Schiller Park are out and about. Instead of hanging out at the pond, as they typically do, at this time of year they clearly feel a certain wanderlust and could be anywhere–crossing the street, emerging from underneath bushes, or strolling across the lawns.

It can be a bit unnerving as you walk in the pre-dawn darkness. You’ll suddenly detect movement near your feet in the gloom and feel a surge of adrenalin in response to the unknown, and the next thing you know there are a pair of ducks waddling past, murmuring in apparent indignation at your presence. With the DuckShock over, you breathe a sigh of relief and continue on your way.

The roaming ducks always seem to be in female and male pairs, which makes me think the wandering is intended to secure a little privacy, away from the rest of the flock at the pond, for some springtime mating. I always feel a little bad for interrupting the roving of my waterfowl chums–whatever they are doing.

Getting Out Into The Sunlight . . . And Moonlight

With vaccines becoming more widely available to all age ranges — Ohio is getting ready to open vaccine distribution to everyone over 16 by the end of this month, for example — people are hopeful that we may be inching back toward what we remember as pre-pandemic normalcy. But I think everyone also realizes that a big part of the “getting back to normal” process depends on people, and just how comfortable they feel about returning to the acts and practices that we took for granted before March 2020.

And here’s a key question: how comfortable will people be about being in a crowd, even if they are vaccinated and/or masked up?

On Gay Street, in downtown Columbus, we’ll begin to get a sense of the appetite for the pre-pandemic activities next month. The Gay Street District will hold its first “moonlight market” on April 10, from 6-11 p.m., and its first “sunlight market” on April 18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The markets give visitors a chance to do some shopping from street vendors who will set up along Gay Street and grab some food from the restaurants lining Gay Street. Part of the fun of the events is being in a bustling crowd while moving up and down the street. This year, organizers no doubt are wondering how many people — vendors and visitors alike — will show up.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard, but small businesses, street vendors, and street festivals have been particularly devastated. As we work on making our way back to “normal,” keep an eye on events like the Gay Street District markets. They are the kind of leading indicators that will tell you whether there is a pent-up demand on the part of cooped-up people to get out into the sunlight, and moonlight, or whether people are holding back because of lingering concerns that the coronavirus is still lurking out there, and that maybe it is wiser to just stay home — again.

Broken Windows And Gutter Masks

As we inch closer to reopening America and trying to get back to the way things were before the Great Shutdown, here’s a thought for hopeful business owners, bar proprietors, and restauranteurs: remember the “broken windows” theory.

As long-time readers of this blog know, “broken windows” theory holds that the physical surroundings communicate important messages to people about social order. If you see a broken window in your neighborhood, and after a few weeks it becomes apparent that no one is going to fix that window, you get the message that your neighborhood isn’t as orderly as it once was, and it causes concern about personal safety and appropriate behavior. The same message is conveyed by the appearance of graffiti on buildings, and increased litter on the streets. All suggest a breakdown in the established social compact that will make people jittery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented broken windows theory on a national scale. Everything changed abruptly about a year ago. Many businesses closed during the initial shutdown, and some of them never reopened. There were fewer people on the streets, and many of those who were out were obviously fearful. Neighborhoods started to look more trashy because people who might otherwise pick things up and throw them away were afraid that loose trash and debris might be vectors for transmission of the disease. And all of those bleak visual cues have a compounding, reinforcing effect.

I was in downtown Columbus yesterday, and I thought about “broken windows” theory as I passed yet another gross, discarded facial mask in a gutter in front of a business. I think those gutter masks send a pretty unmistakable message that things still aren’t back to normal or even close to normal — because if they were, the business owner or a cleaning crew obviously would pick up that mask, and any other litter on the sidewalk. If I were a business owner trying to get the wheels of commerce to really turn again, I would go on mask patrol and make sure that the area around my establishment was free of dirty masks and other negative visual cues that might cause people to refrain from entering.

There are still a lot of nervous people out there. Many of them want the world to get back to normal, but they’ve been cautioned and conditioned to avoid risk. Filthy facemasks in the gutter subconsciously communicate that the risk is still out there.

Wine Whine

We have an excellent wine shop only a few blocks from our house. Called Hausfrau Haven, it has an extensive selection of wines of all varieties, from all locations, as well as helpful signs to convey Wine Spectator ratings and thoughts from the proprietor about particular bottles. People who really know wines would love this place.

As for me . . . well, the selection is a bit overwhelming. I really like wines — specifically big bold reds. I like all of them. But how do you expand your horizons and educate your palate? Just try different offerings? Start with a particular region and get to know it well before moving on? Decide you’re going to focus on cabs?

I’m flummoxed.

When The Weather Breaks

Yesterday winter’s hard stranglehold was finally broken. The temperature shot up to the mid-50s, we saw a huge snow melt that finally freed the streets and sidewalks from most of the snow and ice accumulation, and we got some very warm sunshine in the late afternoon. With patches of grass emerging after weeks of snow cover and our bushes showing their first, faint signs of green buds, it was hard not to feel a surge of optimism that spring might be not far away, after all.

The days when the weather breaks are special days, and I sat on our back porch to try to take it all in. We’ll still have some tough weather, of course, and some more snow and cold temperatures, but for now we’ll feel good that the worst of the winter may be behind us.

Walk/Don’t Walk

According to the trusty weather app, the prolonged frigid spell that has had Columbus in its icy grip is finally supposed to break this week. Today, for example, the temperature is supposed to briefly reach a point above freezing for the first time in weeks.

But this is no time to let down your guard, because we’re now entering the most treacherous period of all: when the snow and ice will melt, somewhat, during the day, but then freeze again overnight. The result of the melt/refreeze/melt/refreeze process is sidewalks that look like this one that I encountered on Third Street, on my way back from my morning walk around Schiller Park today. Try to navigate the icy patches, and you’re basically cruising for a (rear end) bruising in a fall. A good rule of thumb is to avoid stepping on any translucent area, and stick instead to the packed snow-covered segments. But soon, thanks to the melting and freezing, there won’t be any of those safety zones, and pedestrians will have to entrust their fates to the capricious whimsy of the winter gods.

If all of this weren’t difficult enough for the walkers among us, the weather app reports that we’re supposed to get freezing rain tomorrow. The mind reels at what a dose of freezing rain will do to patches like the one shown above.

Fortunately, the temperature is supposed to shoot up to around 50 degrees on Wednesday, which should take care of most of the ice. It can’t get here soon enough.

The Car Rocker

This year we’ve gotten more snow — snow that has stayed on the ground, and accumulated over multiple snowfalls — than any winter during the years we’ve lived in German Village. And yesterday, I had a chance to use my “car snuck in snow” skills to help one of our neighbors.

Kish heard that familiar, whining, spinning tire sound, looked out the window, and saw the neighbor, who had her car in a cattywompus position, with the wheels down deep in impressive ruts in the snow. She was trying to turn out of the snow, which was a fatal mistake, and had even taken the floor mat out of her car to try to get some traction. Unfortunately, her car was well and truly stuck.

I went out to help and try to rock the car out of the rut. The first step was to straighten the wheels out and then push the car back out of the deep part of the ruts and against the curb, so I could brace myself and push from the rear. The second step was to make sure that she accelerated gently as we pushed and rocked the car up and out of the ruts and into the street, since too much acceleration usually just digs deeper ruts. Kish came out to join me, we gave the car a few good shoves, and with one last big push the car finally came out of the rut and into the street. We retrieved our neighbor’s floor mat and returned it to her, and then wished her well as she went on her way.

We’re sick of this winter weather and prolonged cold snap, but at least it afforded us the opportunity to show, in a tangible way, that we are good neighbors. That’s a positive.

Snow Blow

On Game Of Thrones, the legendary saying of the Stark clan is: “Winter is coming.” In Columbus, winter isn’t coming: it’s here, in full force.

This central Ohio winter has been highly unusual by weather standards. There have been prolonged bouts with cold weather and lots of snow, without much melt. We got more snow last night and it is supposed to snow again this morning, and the snow mounds are really starting to pile up. And a glance at the cellphone weather app advises that there is no apparent relief in sight: temperatures are supposed to stay well below freezing as far as the app predicts, and there are multiple days with more snow in the forecast.

This is weird weather for Columbus. Normally we’ll get a few significant snowfalls and some cold days at different points during the winter, but with breaks of temperatures in the 40s when the snow melts. During this recent cold snap, we haven’t had any of those warm days to clear the streets and sidewalks. So the snow continues to pile up, snow shovels are getting more use than ever before, progressive layers of ice have sheathed the streets and the sidewalks, and the overall feel is a lot more like Winterfell than Columbus.

If you’re a cockeyed optimist trying to find a positive in all of this, here’s one: with many people continuing to work remotely, at least there are fewer people commuting to work in the morning and fewer traffic jams caused by snowy driving conditions. It’s a lot easier to find the negatives. If you’re a kid who is already taking remote classes, you’re not actually getting the benefit of those treasured snow days. And if you’re somebody who is heartily sick and tired of being cooped up in your house and are itching to get out and at least get some fresh air, the snow and the treacherous footing and driving conditions just accentuate that stifling shut-in and housebound feeling.

We’ve all had to endure a lot during this seemingly unending COVID period. A colder and snowier winter than normal just adds to the list.

An Abominable Snow Man

I don’t particularly want to be reminded of the abominable pandemic during a walk around the neighborhood, but I had to applaud the Calvinesque creativity of whoever came up with this googly eyed, mask-wearing, mop-wielding, disinfectant-brandishing snowman. I got a laugh out of it, and the German helmet is a distinctive touch for a German Village snow creation.

Scarfed Up

It’s been cold here recently. So cold, in fact, that some Good Samaritan put a colorful scarf around the neck of the seated lady statue in the Peace Park at St. Mary’s church in our neighborhood.

Don’t be surprised if the statue gets some more donated winter garb this week, because the temperature is supposed to drop even farther in the next few days. February tends to be the bleakest month of the winter, but it is also frequently the coldest. It’s the month where you root around in your closet for the fur-lined Mad Bomber hat that would be too hot to wear when the temperature is in the 20s, and the ugly, bulky, scratchy scarves knitted for you years ago by your great aunt Gertrude, and every other layer you can add to protect against the chill. In February, fashion goes out the window. For the hardy Midwesterner, it’s all about holding on to every scrap of warmth and covering as much exposed skin as possible.

Bundle up, folks! We’re heading down to the teens and single digits.