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.

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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.