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.

Hopeful Signs

After this cold, dank, never-ending winter, a sighting of the first flowers heralding spring is very welcome. These hardy crocuses, which are traditionally among the first flowers to bloom in our region, sprouted between two bricks to greet the sun’s rays on a dazzling day.

It is wonderful to see a splash of bright color and sunshine after months of wintry gloom.

Spring, Ahead?

Daylight Savings Time is here!  That means this morning we “spring ahead,” and reset all of our clocks exactly one hour later, so the daylight will last longer at night.

“Spring ahead!” in the spring, and “fall back!” in the fall.  It’s easy to remember, isn’t it?

Except, what if it isn’t quite spring yet?  Here in Columbus, it’s a bracing 24 degrees out on this crisp, cold, dry morning, and we’re looking at a high of 43 — if we’re lucky.  Temperatures in the 20s and 30s?  That’s not what I call spring-like weather, when the air is supposed to feel moist and there is a faint scent of growing plant life on the sultry breeze.  Here in the Midwest, unfortunately, it feels like we’re trapped in the icy grip of Old Man Winter, and he just won’t go away gracefully.

There needs to be a Daylight Savings Time saying for this unending winter condition, too.  How about:  “Don’t mess with the clock when the cold is a shock”?  Or:  “The time shouldn’t be changed when the weather is deranged”?

Or maybe we need to work with what we’ve already got, and just make a few punctuation changes here and there.  Instead of “spring ahead!” we should go with “spring, ahead?” instead, to acknowledge the concerns of those of us who wonder whether blessed, sultry, promising spring will ever get here.


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.

A Question For The Gardeners Out There

In the past, I’ve dabbled with gardening.  I particularly enjoyed planting flowers at our old suburban home and watching them bloom and grow and flourish.  I liked getting my hands dirty and seeing the product of my manual labor, and I even accepted weeding and watering our small flower beds as a useful weekend activity.

img_0090But all of my experience with flowers is Ohio-centric, from having a sense about the kind of flowers that seem to do well here, like the zinnias I planted at our old house, right down to following Mom’s admonition that you shouldn’t plant flowers until after Mothers’ Day.  I’m guessing that a different rule of thumb would apply in a different climate, like Maine, where the weather might not really warm up until well into June.  Drawing exclusively upon midwestern Ohio experiences and trying to apply them to a rocky northern coastal area that is constantly exposed to salty air and experiences periodic nor’easter storms seems ill-advised.

So, a question for the expert gardeners out there:  if you want to learn about gardening practices in Maine, or any other new location, where should you go?  Is there an authoritative guidebook or website that provides information by region and can get into detail about the basics, like the native plant life, the safe time to plant flowers and which ones are most likely to thrive given the climate and soil conditions, whether planting seeds or seedlings is the best course, and whether particular kinds of grasses or shrubs are more prone to succeed or fail than others?  Can you trust the folks at the local hardware store or gardening shop to only offer plants that have reasonable prospects for success given the local conditions, or is that approach doomed to failure?

I feel like a newbie here, and I’m not sure that doing random internet searches and trusting to the Google Gods is the best way to go about gathering information.

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.