Uptown Columbus Friday Night

Yesterday was a beautiful day, with cooler temperatures and a crisp, decidedly autumnal feel to the air. Last night we decided to stroll up High Street and do some random rambling through the Short North, perhaps to have a drink and dinner if the fates were kind. We weren’t alone in our thinking: there were a lot of people out and about, enjoying the weather and the many streetfront taverns and restaurants.

One stop on our ramble was the Lincoln Social Rooftop Lounge. I’ve walked past it many times, and last night we decided to pay a visit. Regrettably, the place was jammed, with every table and seat taken and not even much room to stand, so we couldn’t stay–but we were there long enough for us to enjoy an overhead view of Columbus, including this interesting perspective looking north up High Street, toward the Ohio State campus. The view of the downtown area in the other direction is even better, but the crush of people was such that there literally was no way to squeeze in to take a photo. We decided we will have to visit the Lincoln rooftop again one of these days and get there earlier so we can enjoy the view, a drink–and a seat.

Although we had to leave the Lincoln rooftop behind, we found another place to dine outside along High Street, which allowed us enjoy an excellent meal and adult beverage while watching the world walk by and hearing some deafening blasts of bass notes from some cruising cars. It was one of those nights that shows off Columbus, and the fine fall weather, to very good advantage, .

Skin Story

Many of us have spent significant chunks of time this summer dabbing and smearing lotion on ourselves and our family members. It used to be called suntan lotion; now it’s called sunscreen or even sunblock. Some worried people search constantly for ever-higher SPF numbers due to fear of sunburns and dermatologist cautions about sun-related skin cancers.

The sunscreen issue is interesting when you think about it. Our ancient ancestors obviously spent a lot of time outdoors, hunting and gathering, and they didn’t have ready access to drugstores that provided rows of 50 SPF lotions. So how did they deal with the sun?

I ran across an interesting article by an anthropologist that tries to answer that question. He notes that the early humans didn’t fear the sun, thanks to their skin–specifically, the crucial protection provided by the epidermis, the outer layer of skin that adds new cells and thickens with increasing exposure to sunshine in the spring and summer, and eumelanin, a molecule that absorbs visible light and ultraviolet light and causes skin to darken due to sunshine. Because early humans didn’t radically shift their sun exposure by, say, hopping on a jet to Costa Rica in the dead of winter, their skin could adjust to their local conditions and provide all the sun protection they needed. In effect, their skin became well adapted to providing the protection needed in their local area. (Of course, they may have looked a bit leathery by modern standards, but they weren’t worried about such things in their desperate bid for survival in an unpredictable and unforgiving world.)

The article posits that the change in the relationship between humans, skin, and sunshine occurred about 10,000 years ago, when home sapiens began to develop more of an indoor life and exposure to the sun began to distinguish the lower class from the upper class. People became more mobile, too. The disconnect was exacerbated when people started to take vacations to warmer climates that abruptly changed sun conditions without a ramp-up period allowing their skin to adapt. In short, the trappings of civilization and class removed the previous balance between skin and local conditions and deprived our skin of the time needed to adjust to gradually increasing sunshine.

Does that mean you should try to recreate the former balance by staying in the same place, spending as much time as possible outdoors, and accepting the wrinkles and leathery look that are the likely result? The article says no, because your skin probably isn’t matched to your current location, and your indoor time is going to interfere with the process. That means we all need to keep dabbing and smearing to prevent sunburns and skin damage.

Incidentally, the highest-level sunscreen that is available now is 100 SPF, which is supposed to block 99 percent of ultraviolet rays. The ancients would shake their heads in wonder,

Our Misty Morn

This morning was my first really foggy morning since I came up to Stonington a few days ago. As always, I’d forgotten just how blanketing a fog bank can be, and how the ghostly mist and absolute quiet can turn familiar views into interesting, otherworldly landscapes.

I like the fog because it makes for an interesting walk. I also like it because it means that our east-facing bedroom isn’t invaded by blazing sunshine at 5:15 a.m., and it’s actually possible to sleep in until 6 o’clock.

120 Degrees

What’s on your “bucket list”? Is taking a walk in a place where the outdoor temperature is 120 degrees one of the items? If so, Marana, Arizona in July is a place where you can check that box.

To my knowledge, I’ve never been anywhere where the outdoor temperature has exceeded 101 or 102 degrees. In the Midwest, if you top 100 by a degree or two it’s remarkable, and cause for extended weather discussions. But I’ve now smashed my personal record, and I doubt whether I’ll ever be anywhere hotter, unless future travel takes me to Death Valley or the Sahara. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine hotter conditions.

To be sure, the heat here is a “dry heat”—thank goodness for that!—but . . . heat is heat. And at 120 degrees, heat becomes an oppressive, ever-present thing. The outdoor thermometer cautions that when you get above 110 degrees you’re in severe heat risk territory, and you can definitely understand why. When you are walking, taking sips from your water bottle, you’re always acutely conscious of the sun, the heat, your water bottle, and your reaction to the heat. It makes it hard to enjoy a stroll.

The only good thing about 120-degree heat is that it makes the early morning temperatures in the 80s seem like a cool breeze.

That Spring Thing (II)

A glorious spring weekend continued today in Columbus. The grass was lush and bright green, the sky was blue, and the air was warm and bore a light floral scent. It was a perfect day for a walk on the Scioto Mile and the Olentangy River trail—as countless cyclists, joggers, walkers, and skateboarders recognized.

Spring never seems to last long in Columbus; we tend to move directly from winter to summer with barely a breath of spring in between. Even the temperatures this weekend have been more like summer than spring. It’s important to enjoy these beautiful days when they are here. Regrettably, they’ll be gone soon enough.

That Spring Thing

After a bout of remarkably foul April weather— featuring some late snow, cold temperatures, and incessant rain—things took a turn for the better today. The sun came out, the thermometer touched 70, and on the Statehouse grounds tulips, daffodils, and flowering trees were all in bloom.

Hooray for spring! And with fine weather like this forecast for the weekend, too, it’s time to get outside, take some deep gulps of fresh spring air, and shake off winter, once and for all.

Keep Cancelling Until It’s Warm Enough To Play

We all could use a little baseball right now. Unfortunately, the ongoing labor dispute has put the regular season in peril, and Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred responded last week by cancelling the first two series of the 2022 season. Today, after more unproductive talks, the Commish announced that another two series would be cancelled, which means Opening Day won’t occur until April 14, at the earliest.

This stinks for the fans in warm weather cities, where you can reasonably expect bright, sunny, warm weather–that is, baseball weather–on Opening Day. For fans of the Cleveland Guardians (formerly the Cleveland Indians), the cancellations mean that the really iffy early season dates, when snow is as likely as sunshine and moderately warm temperatures, have gone by the wayside. Deep down, fans have to be thanking the powers that be that they won’t have to be bundled up and trying to survive watching ridiculously cold home games that never should have been played.

Thanks to the cancellations, the Guardians won’t host the Kansas City Royals from March 31 (shiver!) through April 3, or the Minnesota Twins from April 4 through April 6. The cancellations announced today will affect away series with Kansas City and the Cincinnati Reds, and if a few more series get cancelled we can gratefully avoid the specter of baseball in Cleveland in all of April, too. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that it will snow in Cleveland during at least some of the days when baseball was to have been played.

I wish the players and owners would reach agreement, but I do acknowledge that the labor issues have at least introduced a kind of scheduling rationality that major league baseball has stubbornly refused to implement. It’s just dumb to play baseball outdoors in northern cities in March and April. Shorten the season, reintroduce the true doubleheaders many of us remember from our childhoods, or just avoid scheduling games in cold-weather cities until at least April 20 or so–just do whatever you have to do to avoid April baseball in Cleveland.

How Now, Snow Plow?

Walking to work during a Midwestern winter poses many challenges. Storms pelt the pedestrian with snow, sleet, and freezing rain, and frigid temperatures turn the precipitation into sheets of slippery ice ready to produce a fall.

But the most galling challenges of all are man made: the huge snow piles that are plowed into existence after a big storm like the one that hit Columbus last week. They are galling precisely because they demonstrate beyond dispute the second-class citizenship of the walker. The streets are cleared, to allow speedy passage of the almighty cars, buses, and even bicycles, and in so doing new and absurd obstacles are created for those who are hoofing it to work.

At intersections, the plows seem motivated by an evil, anti-walker animus, because they shove the snow into huge piles placed precisely at entrances to crosswalks–like the these piles at the intersection of Fourth and Main that I had to navigate yesterday. You almost need a sherpa to climb them and find just the right pass. And, as the snow piles melt and refreeze, ultimately turning black and filthy with cinders, asphalt pieces, and captured car exhaust, they will pose a new, ever-more disgusting impediment to safe passage for days to come.

Of course, the snow plow operators aren’t motivated by hatred of walkers. Instead, they are oblivious to walkers, and simply don’t care that pedestrians might be inconvenienced by the plowed piles. That’s what makes the piles so galling. No one even thinks of the walkers.

It’s ironic when you think about it. Cities like Columbus make big shows of adopting “green” policies and creating bike lanes and other nods to environmentally conscious forms of transportation, yet at the same time they not only ignore the basic needs of those who commute by the most environmentally friendly method of all, but also create new and totally unnecessary obstacles for them. Columbus’ green policies would have a lot more credibility if snow plow drivers were simply instructed to not create ludicrous barriers at crosswalks.

Precarious Snowman

I’ve always been an admirer of a good snowman. Building an acceptable snowman takes patience, the fortitude to work in the cold, the right kind of good packing snow, a practicable giant snowball rolling technique, gentle assembly skills that allow you to stack the three balls into the classic snowman shape without splitting one of the balls, and then an artistic flair as you add the final facial decorations and other distinctive touches.

So I’ve really got to tip my cap to the anonymous snow artist who not only created a credible snowman, but also balanced it on the very tip of one of the stone fenceposts along the St. Mary’s School property, at the corner of our block. As feats of engineering go, that’s a pretty strong effort. And seeing a midair snowman can’t help but lift your spirits as you slog through the ice and snow and slush.

Thank you, anonymous snow artist!

The Single-Digit Days

We’ve been experiencing some very cold weather over the past few days in the Midwest, with the temperature falling to the single digits during significant chunks of the day. On many days, we go about our lives without really paying much attention to the weather. When the temperature falls into the single digits, however, there is no ignoring it: Mother Nature is demanding your serious and careful attention.

It’s amazing how physically invasive frigid weather can be. You can bundle up, wear multiple layers, don a scarf or two and your warmest wool cap, and scrunch up to protect your core from the cold, but after a few minutes outside, your most vulnerable spots have been identified and you notice that extreme cold seeping in. And don’t even think about removing your gloves to check your cell phone! If you do, your fingers will immediately feel like desensitized wood, and you will never get them warm again until you get back inside. In fact, if we wanted a surefire method to reduce cell phone usage by teenagers, we would insist that they go outside on the icy days. We would see an immediate drop in texting, Snapchatting, TikToking, and every other sign of cell phone use.

When you’re walking outside in the arctic chill, there’s no real opportunity for daydreaming, either. The cold is too immediate and intrusive to permit that. You feel the cold with every intake of breath, with every steamy cloud that appears when you exhale, with your face becoming stiff with cold, and with your fingers becoming numb inside those gloves. And if your walk requires you to take a turn into the wind, all you will be able to think about is how to get the heck out of the way of those icy blasts and back into a place that is reasonably warm. And even when you do, it takes a while for your fingers to thaw so that you can unlace your boots and remove all of those layers.

In the classic movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors–the Bill Murray character–spent hundreds of lifetimes reexperiencing the same wintry Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He taught himself to speak French, mastered the keyboards, saved a falling child, helped old ladies, and learned everything there is to know about every person in town. In the process, he became so enlightened that he could even appreciate the dismal, cold weather, and speak movingly of a “long and lustrous winter.” In my view, that last change in the character’s outlook was the single most unbelievable part of the film. I’ll never reach the level of enlightenment needed to appreciate the single-digit days.

Bombs Away!

This is a fine time of year to be outside in the Midwest. The high temperature hits the 70s, and conditions tend toward dry and sunny. But if you’d like to enjoy that weather by reading a good book in our backyard, you’d better bring along your hard hat—just in case.

We’ve got a tree back there—a black walnut, maybe?—that drops these little green bombs, some of which are shown in the photo above, on the unsuspecting. The green pellets are just under the size of a tennis ball and solid, with the green casing covering a black nut underneath. If you’re sitting outside, they drop unexpectedly from the tree branches far overhead, first rustling the leaves and then hitting the ground with a noticeable thump. It’s unnerving. The green casing then dissolves, leaving the nut underneath to be enjoyed by the neighborhood squirrels.

I haven’t been hit—yet—by one of the green projectiles, but this time of year I tend to stick to the screened-in porch, just in case.

Big Sky Above

Tonight the rain clouds finally moved through, and as we walked to dinner the clouds were piled on top of each other to the east as the setting sun backlit the boats from the west. The gathered cloud banks seemed to stack up to the very top of the sky. It was spectacular.

And all the time I was thinking I would have a cheeseburger for dinner.

Appreciating A Wet Walk

It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.

I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.

But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.

Ida’s Impact

We’ve had multiple tropical storms move up through New England this summer, but Ida–which blew through last night and today–was by far the most memorable. The remnants of the storm brought high winds and sheets of rain that dumped multiple inches of water on our community. And that impact doesn’t even compare to the chaos that Ida produced in New York City, according to news reports.

The amount of rain associated with tropical storms is impressive. I can’t find an official announcement of just how much rain fell in Stonington over the last 24 hours, but it was enough to totally flood our down yard, submerging the beds I’ve created and turning some of the lupines and ferns into underwater greenery, and to convert the drainage ditch on the northern border of our property, which normally carries a small trickle down its narrow channel, into a loud, raging torrent of whitewater.

Fortunately, the ferns and lupines that are planted in the flooded area are hardy and capable of withstanding a water onslaught. It’s going to take a while for the yard to dry out from today’s drenching, however.

Summer Heat Relief

The mercury climbed up to about 80 yesterday, which constitutes “extreme heat” conditions on Deer Isle. There was only one viable heat relief option in an area where no one has air conditioning: join dozens of other residents at Lily’s Pond for a refreshing swim.

I dog paddled out into the pond, dodging the two older women chatting in the shallows, the kid who was using a beach ball and a circular float to play a kind of water basketball, and the new mother who had her baby out in the water. By the time I got to more open water I floated happily, listening to some teenagers play Marco Polo and marveling at the water temperature differences you can experience in natural bodies of water, with warm sections right next to cold spots—just one of the things that distinguish pond swimming from pool swimming. By the time I emerged to towel off it was as if my internal body temperature had readjusted, and the outdoor heat felt a lot more endurable. A nice breeze ruffled the leaves overhead and completed the cooling process.

And as I sat and enjoyed the day I pondered the age-old question: why did the name of an Italian merchant and explorer from the 13th century become the key element of a game of water hide and seek?