Last Of The 30s

It’s obviously stupid and pointless to get mad about the weather, because there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.  We’re human, though, and we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

max-min-font-b-vintage-b-font-brass-font-b-thermometer-b-font-multifunctional-humidity-hygrometerI try not to let the weather bother me, and appreciate the crispness of a cold morning.  But when the cold morning is temperatures in the 30s in May, such that people have to put throw rugs and garbage bags and towels over their planters and window boxes to avoid the untimely demise of their flowers due to freezing temperatures, I admit that it does bug me a little.

Today, though, I celebrate.  Today, I will glory in yet another in an interminable series of unseasonably cold, clear spring mornings.  I will bundle up and don my oft-used stocking cap and gloves.  I will walk with head held high, breathe in deep gulps of frigid air, and note, again, how the chill tends to sharpen the smells as I clean up after Betty on our walk.

Because today is the last of the 30s temperature days.  It’s 34 right now, and once the thermometer rises past 40 we won’t see the 30s again for months.  In fact, the weather apps suggest that we’re going to pretty much go straight from November weather to mid-June, with temperatures getting up into the 80s by next week.

We know it’s silly to let the weather get to us, but since it’s part of the human condition, why not embrace that fact?  If you live in the Midwest, join me!  Take this opportunity to celebrate the turn and the final, long-overdue departure of the 30s temperatures.  Let’s give them a really good send-off, bid them a happy adieu, and let them know that we want them to stay away for a long, long time.

Am I The Midwest?

Hello Emerson is a rising band from right here in Columbus, Ohio.  Kish and I have had the chance to see them perform several times, and they’re great.

They have a new song out called “Am I The Midwest?”  I’ve linked the YouTube video for the song above.  If you’re a born and bred Midwesterner — even if you’ve since moved away — I bet the song will strum some mystic chords of memory for you.  It’s a great song that really captures a living, breathing piece of this part of America that so many of us call home.

Hat tip to the GV Jogger and Dr. Science, whose son Jack plays keyboards for Hello Emerson.

Arizona Sunset

On my last night in the Southwest, we were treated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. We just don’t get them in Ohio during the winter months.

We came to the Southwest in search of the sun — and we found it, and how. The temperatures have been a bit cooler than normal, but seeing Old Sol everyday makes up for just about anything. I’d recommend the desert in winter to anyone interested in combating the Midwestern gray sky blahs.

The Winter That Wouldn’t Leave

Last night we received breathless reports of another winter storm “bearing down” on the hapless residents of the Midwest.  I groaned when I heard them.  The winter storms always seem to be presented as evilly “bearing down,” as if they are a malevolent living thing bent on doing us harm and moving intentionally in furtherance of that goal, rather than the random product of atmospheric conditions, ocean currents, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, solar flares, butterfly wings, and other unthinking variables that produce what we know as weather.

Sure enough, this morning, when I woke up and looked out the front door, an inch or so of snow had already fallen and large, heavy snowflakes were pelting down like raindrops and accumulating rapidly.  Sirens sounded in the distance because — of course — the latest winter storm just had to hit Columbus on the front edge of rush hour, when it could cause maximum disruption and havoc and misery for the unfortunate souls commuting to work.

Maybe there really is something to this “bearing down” stuff.  Maybe a Midwestern winter really is a living thing that just wants to hang on, like the unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave, and make us cold and wet and drippy and put us in an ugly funk for as long as it can.

When another winter storm hits on February 20, you can’t help but think grim, gray thoughts.  You wonder when it will finally end, and we’ll finally — or ever — get to see the blossoms and green shoots of spring.

Winter Samaritans

Winter is not the Midwest’s finest season.  It’s bleak, and sloppy, and often bitterly cold.  It’s the primary reason so many “snowbirds” head south to Florida for the winter.

But if winter in the Midwest has one redeeming quality, it’s this:  it tends to bring out the best in people.  The snow and polar temperatures seem to be linked to neighborly qualities that aren’t quite so evident during the rest of the year.  In the spring and summer neighbors might pass by with just a wave, but during the winter you’ll probably get into a friendly conversation with the people down the street as you’re cleaning the snow off your car and scraping the ice off the windows, and as likely as not you’ll go down and lend them a hand as they are working on their cars, too.

You’ll see people helping complete strangers rock their cars out of the snowdrifts on icy mornings, or shoveling their elderly neighbor’s sidewalk, just because it’s the right thing to do.  I took the photo that appears with this post yesterday, on the morning after a storm that dumped about six inches of snow and ice on Columbus.  That trail of cleared-off sidewalk was accomplished by the single, bundled up guy with a snowblower you can just see in the distance; he’d worked diligently to create a walkway for his entire block.  I suppose it’s possible he was being paid for the job, but somehow I doubt it — it was too early in the morning, and the idea that all of the neighbors got together to hire someone so quickly seems unlikely.  The much more plausible explanation, and the one that’s consistent with my experience, is that he got out with his snowblower, took care of his own property, and just thought that as long as he was out there in the cold he might as well do something nice for his neighbors.

The Winter Samaritans of the Midwest help to make a brutal season a bit more tolerable.

 

Too Cold Too Soon

Yesterday I walked to and from the office with temperatures in the 20s and a sharp, cutting wind reddening my face and sending my suddenly flimsy raincoat flapping around my legs.

This morning I woke up and, as I stood in our warm kitchen sipping a blessedly hot cup of coffee, I heard rain on the roof.  I looked out into the backyard in the pre-dawn darkness and saw the glittering evidence of the Queen Mother of Crappy Weather on every plant, tree, shrub, and fencepost.  Yes, that’s right — a dreaded onslaught of freezing rain has coated every object in ice.  Freezing rain, for those lucky people who’ve never experienced it, means that it’s not quite cold enough for precipitation to fall as snow, but just cold enough for the rain to turn to ice once it hits the ground.  It’s the worst winter weather of all because it’s cold, and wet, and frozen all at once, and it means the commute this morning will be slick and treacherous for drivers and pedestrians alike.  There’s a breeze, too, and the weather page helpfully reports that it feels like 22 degrees out there.

It’s the kind of weather that makes February in Columbus inarguably the worst weather month of the year.  But, it’s only November 15.  Hey, Mother Nature!  What gives?

We’ve once again experienced an abrupt mash-up of the seasons here in the Midwest.  True fall weather has been fleeting, and it seems like we’ve moved directly and too quickly into winter.  For those people, like me, who think autumn is the best season of the year — well, we feel cheated.  We know Old Man Winter is going to arrive sooner or later, but can’t he at least wait until after we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner before he hits us with freezing rain and another round of “wintry mix”?

If you’re in the Midwest, brace yourself, because it’s too cold too soon . . . again.

 

Dreaming Of A White . . . Spring?

It’s very Christmas-like in Pittsburgh this morning, with snow-covered treetops and landscape, and still more snow falling. Too bad it’s March 21, and officially the start of spring, rather than December 25!

Every time we think we’ve finally turned the corner on this crummy winter, another storm and cold snap gives us a wallop. The Stark Clan with their annoying “Winter Is Coming” saying would love the American Midwest this year. Of course, if they showed up here in their fancy fur-trimmed duds and used that phrase, they’d probably get slugged in the jaw.

Enough, already! It’s time for Mother Earth to start tilting on her axis in earnest and give us some relief from this Winter That Just Won’t End.

Heartland View

Flying out of Columbus today on a clear, cold day, looking at the familiar grid pattern of the farmland below, I was reminded of an enlightening conversation I actually had on a flight some years ago. The well-dressed, older woman sitting next to me, who apparently hailed from one of the coasts, was looking doubtfully at the countryside below and finally asked: “What is going on down there?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Why are those squares and rectangles on the ground?” she asked.

“Those are farms,” I explained.

“Oh,” she replied.

I know they call our neck of the woods “flyover country,” but don’t the folks on the coasts at least know what they are flying over?

Beachless Winter

Over the past few years, we’ve gotten into the habit of trying to put a little beach into our Midwestern winters.  At least once during the cold months, we’ve gone somewhere that allows us to puts toes in the sand, drink a pina colada or two, listen to some steel drum music, and mostly revel in baking heat and glorious sunshine.

hammock between palm trees on untouched beach in the CaribbeanAnd we’ve done a good job of picking the weeks we’ve gone, too.  One year we missed a crushing ice storm that knocked out power to many homes and left people scrambling for alternative lodging in local hotels until power could be restored.  Another year we missed a freakish spate of ultra cold weather.  In both cases, when we returned from our trips, happy and rested and relaxed, and learned about the crappy weather we’d missed, we felt especially grateful for our beach sojourns and shared a secret smile about it even as we listened sympathetically to our neighbors and friends telling us how bad things had been.

This year, though, we decided not to go with the beach trip.  That was a mistake.   A terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad mistake.

As a result, we’ve been exposed to unrelenting months of cold, bleak weather in every form the creative Mother Nature can devise — snow, frigid temperatures for weeks at a time, freezing rain, and blustery, driving showers with temperatures in the 40s.  The last bit of weather might be the worst of all, leaving you feeling raw and red-faced.  Who really likes windy, rainy days in the 40s?  And, because it’s the Midwest, almost all of these forms of weather were delivered with the accompaniment of gray, overcast skies that feel like a funeral shroud has been tossed over the world.

With each passing year, having even brief exposure to bright sunshine, blue skies, and blue water seems more and more important, just to break up the winter months into two manageable chunks and give us some warm weather to eagerly anticipate.  It’s nice to know that we’re now in March, and the nice spring weather is just around the corner, but Kish and I have vowed that we’ve learned our lesson:  next winter, we’re going to hit the beach again.  No excuses.

Umbrella Jousting

We’ve had rainy, blustery weather in the Columbus the past few days.  It’s been unpleasant, but it gives all of us Midwestern walkers a chance to demonstrate a little appreciated, but essential, life skill:  umbrella jousting.

0002ced9_mediumAt least, that’s what I call it.  It comes into play on rainy, windy days when you’re trying to use an umbrella.  Unless you position your umbrella very carefully, an unexpected blast of wind will turn your umbrella inside out and pull the canopy off the umbrella ribs, leaving the fabric flapping in the wind, the ribs exposed in unseemly fashion, and the walker completely unprotected from the elements.  It’s not an easy thing to master, and it takes some practice.  That’s why it’s not uncommon to see umbrellas ruined by Mother Nature sticking forlornly out of trash cans on downtown streets.  Until you acquire the knack of umbrella jousting, you’re likely to lose a few Totes.

The only way to prevent unwanted umbrella shredding is to position the umbrella precisely against the maximum amount of wind pressure, brace yourself, and lean into the point of the wind as you walk forward.  You’re like a knight using his lance in a medieval joust, or a fencer using his foil.  Either way, it’s you against the wind.  And it’s not just a matter of brute force, either.  Because the wind is an unpredictable, devilish adversary, you have to be able to sense the shifts in the wind direction and promptly reposition your umbrella at the first movement, or risk disaster.

Veteran Midwesterners become remarkably adept at umbrella jousting.  It’s one of the skills that distinguish us from the desert dwellers.  I’m proud to say that I’ve had some umbrellas that I’ve navigated through the wind currents for more than 20 years.

In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

Negative Positives

Midwest America is viewed by many as pretty boring territory.  Flyover country.  Farmland.  Flat as a pancake, without soaring mountains, beautiful beaches, or other natural scenic wonders.

hurricane-irma-puerto-rico-01-rtr-jc-170906_4x3_992But boy!  Reading this morning about a killer storm like Hurricane Irma, which has left the Caribbean battered and Floridians panicked as it bears down on places like Naples and Tampa, from the quiet comfort of my kitchen here in Columbus, makes me reflect on what we don’t get here in the Midwest — like hurricanes.  Or tsunamis.  Or deadly earthquakes that stretch the Richter scale.  Or raging wildfires sweeping across dried-out hillsides, avalanches, and colossal mudslides.  Here in America’s heartland we get a bad thunderstorm now and then, a river might flood here and there, and tornadoes are always a risk, but when it comes to bad weather and natural disasters that’s about it.  We’re shielded from the worst by hundreds of miles of non-coastal buffer zone and natural topography.

It all depends on how you look at the risk-reward calculus, I suppose.  We might not get the stirring vistas — unless, like me, you think that well-tended rolling farms and barns have their own special appeal — but the angry weather and natural disasters that we don’t get here are definitely a positive when the killer storms come calling.

Our thoughts are with the folks down in Florida and the south, many of whom are transplanted Midwesterners, as they ride out the storm.  Here’s hoping that everyone was able to get out of harm’s way.

Freezing Rain, And Patience 

Grandma Neal often said:  “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can; it’s seldom found in woman, but never found in man.”

Winter in the Midwest has a way of teaching patience.

Consider freezing rain.  When it hits, as it did this morning, there’s not much you can do.  With your car windows and windshield covered in a thick coat of wet ice, you’ve got to wait until the defroster melts part of the ice before you can even start scraping.  And you’d better take you time walking, too.

Here’s To Cleveland

I didn’t watch a minute of Republican National Convention coverage, but I have been following news reports about what’s been happening outside the convention hall.  I’ve also talked to friends who live and work in Cleveland area about how things were going.

I had read all the dire forecasts about chaos, and warring protests, and a replication of the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968.  The pundits painted a pretty bleak picture of what they thought would happen on the shores of Lake Erie, and my concern was that poor old Cleveland was going to get a black eye on the national scene, having been unluckily saddled with the most contentious political convention in decades.

IMG_5545By all accounts, though, that didn’t happen.  Sure, there were a few incidents here and there, and there was a heavy police presence that sought to fend off trouble before it began, but the drama (if you can call it that) was confined to the convention hall itself.  One of my colleagues whose office looks out over Public Square happily reported that the protests that were staged were peaceful and respectful.  The predictions about clashes and riots and police beating heads turned out to be nothing but hot air and, perhaps, wishful thinking by pundits hoping for the worst.  I’m confident that, this morning, the Cleveland local government leaders and city fathers are breathing a sweet sigh of relief.

A report in the Washington Post captured the spirit of the city and the convention-goers and the people who came to protest — and for the most part the prevailing mood was to simply get along.  That’s a pretty good way of describing what we’re like in the Midwest, generally.  We’ve got people representing all points on the political spectrum, but somehow we manage to get along, drink a beer now and then, and come together to cheer for the local sports teams or stand up for our home towns.  As the Post report indicates, maybe that generous, accepting, prevailing spirit had something to do with a riot-free convention.

So, here’s to Cleveland, for surviving the doom and gloom predictions and coming through without a scratch.  With the Cavs championship and a successful hosting of the RNC, it’s a city on a winning streak.

The Uncomfortable Verticality Principle

It’s kind of pathetic, really.  It’s gotten to the point that, if I want to do some reading after dinner on a week night, I have to sit in the most uncomfortable, upright, hard-on-the-behind chair in the house.

IMG_1003My search for the optimal week night reading seat is based on the principle of uncomfortable verticality.  Expressed it in the form of a mathematical equation, the amount of uncomfortable verticality in my reading posture is inversely proportionate to the likelihood that I will nod off after a few pages.  The converse also is true.  We’ve got lots of inviting chairs and plumply pillowed sofas in the house, just begging for seating, but if I plop down into one of them with a book, forget it.  After a few minutes I’ll put my feet up — hey, it is the end of a long work day, after all — and then a few moments later I’ll make a small adjustment to assume a more horizontal attitude, and the next thing I know it’s 11 p.m. and I’ve got a sore neck and Kish is gently shaking my shoulder and telling me its time to stumble upstairs.

Fortunately, we’ve inherited some furniture that is well suited to the uncomfortable verticality principle.  Our stern Midwestern forebears knew how to design fundamentally incommodious seating, let me tell you.  And don’t be deceived by the modest needlepoint padding on the seat either.  Wooden, narrow, and creaky, this chair inevitably forces you into a stiff-backed, non-fidgeting, feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground posture that would get an approving nod from Emily Post or any other paragon of deportment.  Indeed, even a slight attempt to shift into a more natural position, or for that matter the first slumbering nod, would produce a cascade of creaks and send you tumbling to the ground.  In short, this is a chair designed to create a perpetual state of maximum reading alertness.

So, it’s my new reading chair of choice.  I’ll finish the night’s reading with a numb behind, to be sure, but at least I’ll get a few chapters done before it’s time to really hit the hay.