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?

Mais Oui, Henri

Our weather app advises that, for now at least, tropical storm Henri is supposed to make landfall somewhere in southern New England, several hundred miles below Deer Isle. We’re forecast to get three days of rain as the remnants of Henri pass through, but are supposed to avoid the high winds and storm surge that would accompany a direct hit.

As we’ve heard about the path of Henri over the last few days, I’ve wondered why they would name a tropical storm “Henri” in the first place. I know that, long ago, we stopped giving exclusively women’s names to hurricanes and tropical storms, but now we seem to have crossed the threshold into foreign name territory, which opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities. To my mind, “Henri” isn’t a particularly threatening name for a potentially devastating storm; instead, it conjures up images of annoying French mimes and suggests that you should welcome the arrival of the storm with some brie, pate, and a good Bordeaux. It also causes those of us who took French in high school–the “language of diplomacy,” as our French teacher constantly reminded us–to dig deep into the lingering remnants of our French vocabulary and work on our pronunciation skills.

In my view, tropical storms should be given names that encourage feelings of fear and concern, in order to incentivize people to take the storm seriously, prepare for the worst, and evacuate if necessary. Hurricane Genghis would do that, or tropical storm Rasputin. I think Hurricane Svetlana would be a good choice, too.

But tropical storm Henri? Non!

Thunderheads On The Horizon

Summer in the Midwest is a time of storms.

I’d forgotten the awesome majesty of a Midwestern summer storm. I’m not talking about a rain cloud or two that brings casual showers. No, I speak of the real golly whoppers, the kind that bring banks of huge, dark, enormous clouds rolling in from the west, piled on top of each of each other until the clouds seem the reach up to the very heavens, turning the sunny skies into an angry canvas streaked with black and charcoal and an ugly yellow. The kind of storms that filter the sunlight into a dim twilight and leave the air feeling heavy and almost electrically charged.

I’ve experienced these storms walking to and from work this week, and it’s brought back some of those Midwestern reflexes. You scan the skies and listen for the low rumble of thunder and try to figure out how far away the real storm and rain really is. You’re especially sensitive to the wind, knowing that an abrupt change in temperature or direction or velocity might be a harbinger of a drenching. You keep an eye out for places where you might seek shelter when the storm really hits, understanding that even the sturdiest umbrella is going to provide no meaningful protection when you are pelted with a blanket of raindrops the size of a baby’s fist, blown sideways by a gale. And above all, you watch for flashes of lightning and count until you hear the crack, knowing that lightning means you’d better seriously pick up the pace.

I’ve been splattered a few times this morning, and yesterday morning I was doused into drowned rat territory when the heavens opened and produced a gullywasher when I was a mere two blocks from the office. Even so, I’ve enjoyed being reintroduced to Midwestern summer storms. They really are quite a spectacle.

Rain In The Forecast

The weather apps in our phones not only have changed the ways we check the weather, they also are a source of amusement—and amazement.

In the olden, pre-app days, you’d check the weather by looking out the window, or maybe watching the local news for tomorrow’s forecast. But the weather apps give you seven days of weather at a glance, with icons and scientific-seeming percentages about the chance of rain. And when you live in Columbus, or Stonington, or anywhere but Arizona, there’s always rain somewhere in the forecast.

The entertainment value comes from wondering how they develop those awesomely precise percentages, and then watching them change repeatedly. What distinguishes a 30 percent chance of rain five days from now from a 40, or 50, or 60 percent chance? What factors do the apps consider in assigning those values? And the frequency of change makes you wonder why you pay attention to the long-term forecasts in the first place. In the few hours since the screen shot above was taken, Thursday has gone from 50 percent chance of rain to the unblocked total sun icon. What titanic movement of massive weather fronts caused that abrupt change?

The weather apps, like some of our politicians, are frequently wrong—but never in doubt.

The Shimmering Sea

We’ve had a lot of rain in Stonington recently, and it seems to have done its work. The showers have rinsed the air clean of the smoky haze we were experiencing only a few days ago—leaving everything crisp and sharp this morning.

On clear mornings like this, where the skies are blue and sun is shining, the reflection of the light on the water’s surface is so bright that you cannot look at it without donning sunglasses. The photo above doesn’t really capture it. But when the air is cool and the sunshine is warm and dazzling, it is a great time for a walk, and the motivation to get out and do something is overwhelming.