The Joys of Spring in Columbus
Once upon a time, the forsythia was the first flowering bush to bloom in Ohio, followed by the star magnolias, the weeping cherries, and the true magnolias. Usually the magnolias would get frosted off by the freeze 3-4 weeks after the first forsythia bloom. The white crabapples and Bartlett pears would follow, then the pink crabapples, the purple leaf sand cherries, the regular apples, and, finally, the dogwoods and lilacs. All the while the yellowish, crisp lettuce, fresh spring green leaves on the trees would slowly mature into the darker summer shades. At least 3 freezes would occur, usually knocking off the early tulips, and one or the other of the later flowering bushes.
No more. I watched last week as the first lilacs opened while the last forsythias faded. We finally had one very mild freeze and snow last weekend (a record snow for Central Ohio this late in April), the dogwoods are just beginning to drop their petals, and the spring green is already slightly, but significantly, darkening.
I first began to really notice this four or five years ago when, one year, every flowering tree and bush in Columbus bloomed within the space of three days to either side of my birthday, and were completely gone by May. The results were incredible, of course, like the finale of your local Fourth of July fireworks display; boom following boom amid the multiple whistles of the skyrockets, the deafening and eye searing explosions in short bursts like a machine gun, and the trails of colored gunpowder flowering red, blue, green, and gold before dropping in a shower of falling stars.
You might even compare it to the Arizona fireworks display which I remember reading about almost thirty years ago, immediately after the Bicentenial Fourth of 1976. A tiny town had planned the biggest fireworks display Cochise County had ever seen. They got it. The first rocket fired, reversed course, fell back immediately, exploded in the fireworks pit, and detonated everything else in it. The show was short and a little close to the hair-dos of the audience. But it was unquestionably entertaining and commanded everyone’s undivided attention.
So do the flowering trees in Central Ohio. But there was something to be said for the long, slow, majestic roll of spring in my youth. As there was for the first serious dusting of snow and the final termination of blooms on Thanksgiving Day, which also occurs no longer. The roses now routinely keep blooming until early to mid-December.
The anticipation, and the excruciating worry (Would the magnolias make it? Would the tulips?) provided hours of entertaining conversation. The spring lettuce comes earlier now, the fall tomatoes linger later and mostly all ripen, on the windowsill, if not on the vine, and there is seldom need any longer to batter and fry them green.
The fauna are responding, too. I remember the seagulls arriving thirty years ago in Central Ohio. I thought I was hallucinating when I first heard the sound of their cry overhead, which I knew from the beaches of the Atlantic. These days they are extremely big on McDonalds French Fries, dropped in the parking lot near the drive thru. You see them in such places constantly, digging in the open dumpsters, and, as we all know, we’ve all gotten extremely big on McDonalds French Fries, ourselves: Supersize Fries, Supersize People, Supersize Gulls.
The Canada Geese now winter over, and nest here in the suburbs, on the green belts with ponds, surrounding the large indoor shopping mall parking lots, and the silvered, light industrial, or technological, multi-story office buildings. Since King George was enthroned, more and more of these malls and buildings here have For Lease signs inside them or in front of them, so maybe the geese will move in.
I constantly contend with hopscotch between putrid green geese droppings in the parking lot and entryway of my mental health agency. Mrs. Claus uses a rolling walker, so it is even harder for her to wend her way forward there.
One very enterprising goose even built a nest in the ground cover on one side of the entryway, and sat, while the gander prowled and surveyed the territory on the small grassy rampart which surrounds the parking lot. The local transportation department has had to put up special Geese Crossing signs all over town, in the International Style, with a black goose and a line of imprinted goslings on a yellow diamond.
Mrs. Claus and I live in a large-yard-and-lawn-mower section of Columbus proper, now over 60 years old. We rent our 50 year old ranch house now. We were forced to sell it to a good friend and ex-landlord to meet our bills last year. With the city’s growth pattern, we are almost in the dead center of the heavily populated part of the Metro Area. Where once, when my deceased parents owned our house, the sighting of a hawk dive bombing the bird feeders was a rare and precious thing, now it occurs perhaps 3 times weekly. Possums live in the storm sewers, and I recently had to alert a neighbor that one of the local raccoons was wintering over in the back of the detached screened in porch in his backyard.
The Red-wing Blackbirds first moved from the wetlands, as they diminished, and took up residence in the corn and soybean fields, and this year, for the first time, a pair is nesting in the towering Colorado Blue Spruce, behind the Bamboo grove in my back yard.
Just last week we went to the grove of trees between our local hospital and the huge processing center of a large, locally prominent, but nationally owned, bank, to put binoculars on the two chicks of a pair of Great Horned Owls nesting there. It was quite a tableau: little knots of birders behind the yellow police caution tape rubbernecking the owls from the processing center parking lot.
In the exurbs you can now hear coyotes howl at dusk, and on the grounds by the town recreation center of one of them, I was treated to the sight of two grounded Great Blue Herons, from a distance of no more than 50 feet, while they looked me over thoroughly before they flew on.
The local Large Midwestern University—you know it for football and we know it for it’s constant publicity puffs about how it is “pursuing Excellence”—has built an artificial wetland in the middle of the city, with all the trimmings from mosquitos on up, which the locals here call LMU’s Swamp of Excellence.
Or, rather, The Large Midwestern University’s Swamp of Excellence, since the administrators of that august institution always insist on the preceeding definite article. There is, after all, no other large midwestern univeristy of any consequence.
All of this means that it is a far pleasanter climate here, generally, since the officially non-existent Global Warming started. The nights, particularly, have gotten warmer, and nothing remotely resembling the Great Blizzard of 1977, where temperatures stayed far below freezing for nearly the entire winter, or the broiling Little Dust Bowl of 1987, where room air conditioners simply ceased to even dent the heat gain, and I was driven out of my apartment and back to my parents' whole house cooling system in mid-July, appears to be ready to return. Rains and weather move through even in the months that used to be dry as a bone.
The dog day weeks of brutal heat have turned into work weeks instead of calendar weeks and, in some seasons, to work weeks with long holiday weekends. The Alberta Clippers clip through faster, with fewer freight cars attached, leaving us with fewer deep azure winter skies, and, now, ozone inversion alerts occur even in January.
We are not plagued, like Florida, with pool table swamps likely to be rimmed with prime ocean front property as the century progresses. We drained our Great Black Swamp long ago, before swamps became “wetlands”, and it nurses our truck garden farms, which are picked by migrants, and whose growing seasons are lengthening. Nor need we fear any increase in coastal hurricanes as the climatic warming proceeds.
Our Outer Banks are insured by the FDIC, and are not at risk, like those of North Carolina. And we still will be here, unlike the funny little countries in Micronesia who will someday have a population without a land area.
Nor will Akron, Canton, or Massilon face the prospect that Manhattan might just become two islands instead of one. And we have already begun to protect the Great Lakes, here in the Midwest, against the rapacious thirst of the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountain West for ever more fresh water, as the world’s supplies dry up.
So in Columbus, we are sitting rather pretty as we face the new century and the new millennium, at least as far as the climate is concerned.
Best of all, we know Crawford, Texas isn’t.
Even well before last century, an old Ohio boy, General Phillip Sheridan, while on patrol in Texas, was heard to remark that if he owned both Texas and Hell, he’d rent out Texas and move to Hell. If it struck him so then, just imagine what it will be like in the future!