Spring Snow At Schiller

Much as I hate the idea of snow on the ground on April 21–and more snow falling, even now–I have to admit that the snow gave a pretty new look to Schiller Park during my walk this morning. You could still see some of the color of the flowering trees beneath the layer of snow, and the heavy, wet snow on the leaves brought many of the limbs of the trees over the sidewalks down low, requiring you to duck and steer between low-hanging branches as you walked. And snow bombs, with clumps of snow being shaken off the trees and falling on we pedestrians below, were a constant hazard.

As I walked, I thought the park looked different in this snowfall than it does during the winter months. It took me a while to figure it out, until the bright green, grassy circles that surrounded every leafed-out tree clued me in. The canopies of leaves were shielding the grass from the snow and holding it above. Unlike their skeletal look after a winter snowfall, the trees looked full and bright, almost as if the snow were flowering buds. That thought almost made the falling snow and the cold tolerable.

Spring Snow

The temperature started to plummet last night, the clouds rolled in, and this morning we woke up to a fresh—and utterly unwelcome—springtime snowfall, as shown in this picture from our screened porch taken a few minutes ago.. The temperature is right at 32 degrees Fahrenheit now and is supposed to rise gradually, but it’s not going to get above the low 40s today.

In short, it’s not exactly an ideal spring day.

That’s Midwestern weather for you. It defines unpredictability. April 20 and 21 is pretty late for snow, but the folk wisdom in these parts tells us that late snows and freezing temperatures at the end of April or even early May aren’t unprecedented. The prevailing view is that you shouldn’t plant flowers until Mother’s Day, in order to avoid a belated hard freeze that kills or cripples your new plantings. That little nugget of local gardening doctrine, which Mom repeated on an annual basis, obviously is based on years of harsh experience.

And this year, the folk wisdom has been affirmed once again. I’m glad I haven’t done anything in the planting arena before now. I’ll also be glad when the snow melts and we get back to a reasonable approximation of spring.

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.

Dawn Of An Indoor Day

We got several inches of snow overnight, and this morning our neighborhood looks quaint and pretty, like being inside one of those snow globes you had as a kid.

Alas, it won’t last. Columbus is right on the dividing line between the serious snowfalls to the north and rain to the south. We got snow — for now — but the temperature is rising outside and the freezing rain and then rain is going to start, leaving us to deal with a wet, slushy, mess that will disappoint hopeful sledders, motorists, and pedestrians alike. Even for a dedicated walker like me, there’s no pleasure in slogging and slipping through mounds of slush while being pelted with rain that leaves your stocking cap wringing wet and your coat covered with an icy crust.

Today will be an indoor day.

The White Stuff

Yesterday we got hit with our first winter storm of the season. It started as rain, but as the termperature dropped it turned into a wet, heavy snow. After the ground cooled, the snow started to stick, and this morning when I looked outside I found that everything was coated in this cold, slippery, white stuff.

Snow is weird. You can live your entire life in the Midwest, and experience the inevitable snowy periods every winter, but the first snowfall of the winter is always kind of a shock. It’s as if the brain uses the warm months to try to wipe out the memory of snow, and erase all of the snow-related reflexes that people acquire during the snowy months — like the kind of duck-footed walk you develop to try to minimize the risk of slipping on snow-covered sidewalks, or the downcast tilt of your head as you walk into the teeth of a snowstorm, or the best personal layering and bundling techniques to shield yourself against the chill.

And don’t even mention the notion of driving in the snow for the first time after months of a snow-free existence. The fact that people have forgetten everything they learned last winter and drive like idiots when the first flakes fall is a perennial — and accurate — complaint here in the Midwest. The only good thing to say about the coronavirus is that, with more people working from home and therefore commuting less, the number of fender-benders is likely to be dramatically reduced this year.

Of course, the fundamental reality of the first snowfall is that the warm weather days are gone for now, and Old Man Winter is here in earnest. With the calendar page turning to December today, we should have realized that, but the snowfall gives us a tangible, physical reminder that we’re in for three months of cold, frozen slop, and we’d better brace ourselves and get used to the idea.

Looking Colder Than It Feels

St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village installed a new “Peace Garden” area along Third Street when it underwent renovation work recently.  Among the items in the Peace Garden is a statue of a seated lady waiting patiently on a bench.  According to the plaque at her feet, it’s a representation of Mrs. Plank, who I suspect was a faithful member of the congregation.

I pass St. Mary every morning on my walk, and I really like the Peace Garden and the statue — except on winter days when it snows.  Because when it snows, as it has for the past few days, the placid Mrs. Plank becomes utterly snow-covered, and seeing her in that condition always makes the snowy day feel a few degrees colder.  Brrrr!  I want to help Mrs. Plank up so she could shed that blanket of snow, brush off her snowbound pillbox hat, and go someplace warm.  Heck, I’d even spring for a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s next door.

Snow, No!

Well, the dreaded cold front has hit Columbus, dumping snow and knocking temperatures down to the low 20s. The snow left a weird pattern on our back patio, like it was trying to inscribe satanic symbols or ancient runes on the flagstone.

I’m not ready for this. November 12 is just way too early for snow-covered ground and the mercury hovering around 20. A few drifting snowflakes to remind us that winter is on its way would have been okay — but not a hard freeze, enough accumulation to wreak havoc with the morning rush hour, and the need to haul out the winter overcoat already.

Exercise Is Where You Find It

The snow fell on Saturday, and when it looked like the snowfall had ended, I went out and shoveled the snow off our front steps, our brick entrance way, the walkway to the back yard, and the sidewalk in front of our house.

Alas!  The storm was only taking a breather and toying with me, and another four or five inches of snow fell later on Saturday and Sunday morning.  So yesterday I grabbed the back saver shovel and did it all over again.

Shoveling snow is pretty good exercise.  You do a lot of bending, lifting, and twisting, as well as some precision work in scraping off the packed down areas that somebody has walked on.  If the snow is moist, good packing snow, as this snowfall was, you end up with a decent amount of weight on the end of your shovel, ready to be hefted and hurled onto the snowbank you create. It doesn’t take much shoveling to get the heartbeat up and the sweat glands flowing, even though the weather is cold.  Combine that with being outside, taking gulps of crisp fresh air, and you’ve got a nice little workout going.

In my case, I’d say the whole process took between a half hour and 45 minutes.  When I was done I had clean steps, a clean sidewalk, and a feeling of accomplishment.  If I’d been in a gym, it would be akin to one of those exercise routines where you pick up a heavy ball, twist to one side and then another, and then throw it to the side and do the whole process again.

Studies consistently show that most Americans don’t get as much exercise as they should.  One response might be to move to the Midwest and buy a snow shovel.

 

Wrath Of The Weather Gods

We put out our patio furniture cushions and umbrella in hopes that it would encourage the temperamental weather gods to finally send us some true, warm, spring-like weather, so we can actually enjoy the patio again after months of wintry inactivity.

Instead, the weather gods wrathfully decided to punish our hopeful gesture. Last night we got a snow storm, and right now it’s 28 degrees out.

One of these days we’ll learn not to mess with the weather gods.

In Today’s Nor’easter

I was in Pittsburgh for meetings today, and the grim, icy grip old Old Man Winter was everywhere in evidence. Pittsburgh was one of the cities in the path of the last (we hope) nor’easter in this endless winter, and it was getting pounded with blizzard-like conditions and what appeared to be about a foot of snow.

I set off to drive home with some trepidation, hoping I wouldn’t get stranded on the road back to Columbus. Fortunately, by the time I hit I-70 the snow really wasn’t bad, and when I crossed the Ohio state line there was no snow at all.

Pittsburgh, however, was another matter.

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.

Bigfoot In Winter

Yesterday I took a bit of a tumble on my way to work.  We had gotten about four inches of snow right at rush hour, the Columbus snow plow crews hadn’t gotten the streets cleared, and as I was crossing an unplowed side street my foot skidded.  Fortunately, I caught myself on one hand and one knee, so I didn’t go completely horizontal.  It’s the first slip and fall I’ve experienced in years of walking to work during the winter.

122613122I flatter myself that this good fortune is attributed to careful walking techniques, like using the small-step penguin mode on especially icy days and looking ahead for the best place to plant your foot as you stride, and having finely honed, catlike reflexes that react immediately to any sign of a skid.  But in reality, it’s probably because I’m gifted with unusually large, almost perfectly flat feet.  Shoe size typically correlates with height, and the average shoe size for a six-foot male in America is reported to be 10.5.  I typically have to buy size 12 or 12.5, depending on the make of the shoe, and my feet have no discernible arch.

Being at the upper range of shoe sizes can make finding shoes difficult — at a recent visit to one of those huge shoe emporiums, I had a tough time finding footwear my size and saw lots of 8s, 9s, and 10s, and not many 12s — but it’s useful during the winter months.  The larger feet have a lot more surface contact with the snowy ground than the average foot and act like quasi-snowshoes, so I might experience a small skid but can catch myself before it turns into a full-blown slip and fall.

When you think about it, the advantages of large foot size in snowy conditions should be obvious.  There’s a reason the elusive Yeti has evolved to haunt snow-covered climes and is reportedly seen from time in time in the Himalaya or the mountains of the American West.  It’s why, in America, we call him Bigfoot.

That Good Samaritan Feeling

It snowed quite a bit Monday, going well into the night.  Tuesday morning I got up and instead of taking my early morning walk, I went out to shovel my front steps and sidewalk.

I was out shoveling at about 6 a.m., in the quiet darkness, when a young woman approached.  It probably took some nerve on her part to approach a total stranger on a dark, bitterly cold morning, but she obviously was desperate.  “Excuse me, sir!” she said.  “My car is stuck.  Would you mind coming down and shoveling me out?”

good-samaritanI looked down the street and saw that her car, which was one of those ultra-light compact cars that are about the worst snow vehicles in the world, was turned sideways and was well and truly stuck in the snow piles.  “No problem,” I said.  “When the weather is like this, we’ve all got to stick together.”  So I went down with my shovel, let loose my inner Dad, put her behind the wheel, and shoveled and pushed and rocked the car back and forth and instructed her on cutting the wheels this way and that — not too sharp! — until we finally got her too-light car out of the snow banks and onto the ruts of the street so she could head on her way.

“Thank you soooo much!” she said several times before she puttered away in her little car, and I think she really meant it.  I then went back to my shoveling.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, I learned that you help people out when they get stuck in the snow.  One time when UJ and I were little kids we went to an Akron Zips basketball game with Grandma and Grandpa Neal, a blizzard hit during the game, and we came out to an Oldsmobile that was covered in snow and buried in a drift.  A bunch of men who also had come to the game came over to help us, and eventually they pushed and pulled and rocked us out to the point where we could get to the street.  Their selfless act of kindness and decency made a big impression on a little kid.

Ever since that happened, I’ll gladly lend a hand to help anybody trapped by the snow.  I know that the Good Samaritan acted for wholly altruistic reasons, and when it comes to the winter weather I do too — but I always like the “Good Samaritan” feeling I get when I do it, too.  That young woman’s heartfelt thanks made my Tuesday a little bit better.