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.

Hitting The Double Nickel

There’s a reason the nuns in The Sound Of Music sang that Maria was “unpredictable as weather.” The only thing predictable about Midwestern winters is that they are gray, wet, and cold — but the precise combination of those qualities varies.

Every once in a while, however, the fates align and a flukey day happens — like today. Sunny, and a high of 55? It’s a day to sit outside and bank some of that warmth and sunshine before tomorrow’s gray chill closes in.

Indoor Day

Today will be a quintessential indoor day. It’s 33 degrees outside, freezing rain has coated the steps and trees and bushes in the backyard, like the one shown above, in a coat of wet, dripping ice, and a hard rain is still pelting down under flat gray skies — and is supposed to continue all day. It’s the kind of day when walking on frozen brick is especially treacherous, when an umbrella will quickly become heavy with ice, and you’re likely to find yourself taking an unwelcome pratfall that leaves you bruised and soaked.

So why risk the elements? Why not accept nature’s wintry verdict, do a few chores inside, and find a good book to read or a TV show to binge watch? Sometimes surviving the bleakness of winter requires acceptance — and savvy avoidance.

Thin-Blooded Again

By the end of last winter, I was a hardened Winter Warrior.  With my hat and coat and scarf and gloves and my flinty exterior, I could walk through sub-zero temperatures and polar breezes without flinching.  In fact, I found the chill bracing.

blood-circulation-signsNow, an all-too-brief spring and summer and autumn later, I find that I’m once again a candy ass who shivers when walking out into temperatures in the teens and feels like all color has been blanched from my face by a brisk wind.  It’s kind of embarrassing.

My grandmother would say that I’ve become thin-blooded.  It’s what she said about people who complained about the cold temperatures and snow and weren’t ready to brave the Midwestern winters.

Of course, blood is blood.  Any scientist would tell you that it doesn’t become thicker during the harsh winter and thinner when the thermometer hits the 70s and 80s.  But I always think of the thin blood concept when the first arctic blast hits the Midwest.  It’s time to get out in the frosty air and thicken that blood up to prepare for the winter to come.

It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.

Thinking Mainely Positive Thoughts

One way to combat the Midwestern mid-winter gray sky blahs is to consciously think about a better, sunnier, place and time.  It’s even more effective if you really try to lock in specifics about where you’ll be and what it’s like.  My happy mental place of refuge these days envisions a bright, cloudless, pleasantly warm summer day in Maine, sitting on a deck overlooking Stonington Harbor and feeling a slight breeze ruffling by.  Russell’s Christmas presents — he made us a smiling, radiant Mr. Sun and a cool Maine key ring holder — help to keep the mind focused on those ultimate summer days.

February is always a tough month, where it’s impossible not to be sick of winter because it seems like it’s been winter forever.  Rather than despairing of ever becoming truly warm and blessedly free of a drippy nose again, why not indulge in some of the power of positive thinking?  Better days lie ahead, and the current crummy weather is just going to make the eventual sultry summer all the sweeter.

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.

In The Rhinorrhea Zone

This winter I’ve been experiencing rhinorrhea pretty much on a daily basis.  In fact, I’m hit by a bout of rhinorrhea whenever I go outside for a walk on a cold day.

img_8058No surprise there — rhinorrhea is the high-falutin’ medical term for a runny nose, from the Greek word for nose.  (That’s why plastic surgery on the nose is called rhinoplasty, incidentally, and it’s got nothing to do with comparing the size of the schnoz being operated on to the horn of rhinoceros.)   My daily dose of rhinorrhea therefore isn’t a cause for alarm, it’s just an annoyance.

I begin my walk in the bracing cold, take some deep breaths of the crisp, clear air, and about halfway into my stroll my nose has turned into a roaring mucus machine and I’m leaking fluid like a sieve, leaving me to either sniffle it back down or remove the glove for a quick wipe-off with a tissue.  But it’s just a temporary fix, because inevitably the sputum production ramps up again for however long I’m outside, making the Kleenex box my first stop after I get home.

Why do our noses run during the winter, even if we don’t have a cold?  The medical websites will tell you that it’s just our noses working overtime at doing their jobs of warming and humidifying the cold, dry air we’re breathing.  The nasal membranes produce more mucus and fluid in the winter to protect our delicate lung tissues from the frigid air onslaught.

So congratulations!  That irksome runny nose means you’re perfectly fine and your body and its defense mechanisms are working as millennia of evolution intended.  Just be sure to keep an endless supply of nasal tissue on hand for the winter, because you’re going to need it.

Deploying The Mad Bomber

The weather app on my iPhone cautions that it’s 2 degrees Fahrenheit outside, on its way down to a low temperature below zero.  There’s a brisk 14 miles per hour wind blowing steadily from the west that, combined with the temperature, has created a wind chill factor of minus 16 degrees.  And the National Weather Service has issued a warning that the extreme cold and wind could produce wind chills as low as 40 below zero, which could cause exposed skin to experience frostbite in as little as 10 minutes.

That kind of scary cold is an assault on all that’s holy and everything warm and pleasant in the world.  But nevertheless, in a few minutes, I’ve got to take an exuberant, cold-loving dog out to do her business.  What to do?

Alert the armed forces!  It’s time to deploy the Mad Bomber!

The Mad Bomber is easily the warmest hat in the house.  In fact, it’s easily the warmest hat in any house.  Made in China, it features a nylon shell, natural rabbit fur trim and interior lining. It even has a little clasp that allows you to lock the hat around your chin, the better to protect those delicate, flabby neck wattles by swathing them securely in fur.  When you don the hat, your encased head immediately begins sweating.

Of course, it’s not a stylish piece of headwear, as a bit of doggerel I composed some years ago acknowledges.  The Mad Bomber belongs on the head of a rustic villager trudging across the windswept Siberian tundra, or perhaps your high school janitor out salting the teacher’s parking lot on the coldest day of the year.  But then, no one turns to the Mad Bomber for style.  It’s deployment is purely a defense mechanism, designed to give humans a chance at surviving the most brutal temperatures and crippling cold.

Brace yourselves, Columbusites — it’s Mad Bomber time!

On The Shores Of Lake Schiller

Thanks to the melting of the snow we got over the weekend, followed by the persistent rains that fell more recently, Schiller Park had become Lake Schiller this morning, with many of the pathways completely flooded.  The whole area had a certain ghostly beauty under the light fixtures, with the watery areas just beginning to freeze as the temperature dropped.

I imagine the Columbus water reservoirs are full to bursting, given the amount of precipitation we’ve received already this winter.  If California wants to bring an end to its long-standing drought, I’m sure the water-logged states of the Midwest would be happy to work out a trade in which our excess water is swapped for the Golden State’s excess sunshine.

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.

 

On To Baseball, And (Eventually) Summer

Today the 2018 Major League Baseball season starts.  On Opening Day, fans of every team can approach the new season with optimism that this might just be the year for their team to win it all.

1cfa76df7b9fae74e7898045efb9d360Fans of the Cleveland Indians, like Russell and UJ and me, are hoping that, on this 70th anniversary of the Tribe’s last World Series title, this might be the year that the team ends a very long drought.  With the winless streak now celebrating its 70th birthday, we think it’s time for its mandatory retirement.  And after last season, where Cleveland won more than 100 games but lost to the Damn Yankees in the playoffs, Tribe fans are hoping that the team has the pieces in place to make another legitimate run for the championship banner.

But Tribe fans are not alone, of course.  The start of baseball season is great, because every baseball fan everywhere feels inward optimism about their squad, even if they won’t admit it publicly.  Lightning can and does strike.  Sometimes teams just gel, and unlikely heroes emerge, and rookie phenoms actually pan out.  Every year, it seems, there is a Cinderella story, and at the start of the season every fan hopes that their team will end up donning the glass slipper.  The sense of hopefulness and possibility is intoxicating — but also can be brief and ruined by reality.

This year, though, at least for those of us in the Midwest and East who’ve been enduring the Winter that Won’t Go Away,  there’s another reason to celebrate the arrival of baseball’s Opening Day.  If the Summer Game is finally here, we can hope that summer itself isn’t far behind.