In the northern U.S., March is often miserable. Muddy, mucky, mildewy. It is the Monday morning of months.
Even the mud-caked mutts I meet, mooching along the murky, meandering Milwaukee River, look a little morose.
People are tired of wearing boots, gloves, all these layers of clothing. Not much spring in our step, as we march along – fleeced, booted, scarved – outfitted in the Full Milwookie.
And scratchy hats. As I’m sure you know, the expressions “shock of hair” and “Mad as March hair” are based on the deranged, staticky mops we get in northern climates, after wearing knitted wool hats, nonstop, for five months.
It’s a month named for Mars, who was kind of an idiot, even by the low standards of Roman gods. The god of war, and his quagmire month, when they kicked off the Vietnam and Iraq wars. I noticed the Mars Bar is being sold in the U.S. again – why don’t we name the month after that, instead – it’s gooey, brown, and full of nuts – perfect for the season.
Winter seems to be eating up more than its share of the year, and keeps dropping in, uninvited, for another bite.
During the brief thaws, soggy gloves and decaying mittens emerge from the gritty snowbanks, looking like pathetic squirrel carcasses. Sometimes they actually are squirrel carcasses. Shivering and pale, we curse as we wade through icy puddles of semi-congealed brine. Dehydrated from freezer burn, feeling a bit testy, even unbalanced some days. Everything we see and hear, heck the whole darn planet, feels tilted.
I’m inclined to believe, everyone could use a holiday in March.
How about we hatch a new one – – Spring Equinox Day.
We’d focus on balance in our lives, personal and public.
On a day when light and dark are held in balance.
A day to spend with friends and family, and not at work.
Spring Equinox Day wouldn’t improve the weather, but it could take our minds off it, restore our equilibrium a bit.
A celebration of normalcy, stability, and reasonableness.
Crack open a thesaurus, and just look at all those rare and wonderful qualities:
Fair. Equitable. Even-handed. Rational.
Lucid. Clearheaded. Sensible.
Equinox Day would have no sporting events, no car races, no sales, no politicians. No windbags are allowed to go politicking – – gassy blimps would be allowed, but only for parades, and not making speeches.
The pundits, professional mouthpieces, and talk show hosts should take the day off, too, and give their mouths a rest. And citizens would be invited to speak instead, in a reasonable way, about “Reasonableness.”
Schoolkids would earn medals for the best essays and speeches on these qualities. The adults can join them, feeling well-rested after sleeping in, and from our naps during the speeches, and we’ll all turn out for a day of service to our communities.
We have, in theory, a Women’s Equality Day (August 26) marking adoption of the 19th Amendment, and Equal Pay Day, which changes each year, based on the wage gap between men and women. (Germany also has that observance, since 1988, but fixes it on March 18th.) International Women’s Day also came and went, on the 8th, without too much press. A couple of states have transformed Columbus Day into Native Americans Day. Juneteenth/Freedom Day seems to be fading away.
I haven’t thought all this out yet, so Equinox Day is still pretty vague and Pollyanna-ish, but it actually seems like a decent idea. It seems politically neutral, even in the seven states which don’t believe the Earth revolves around the sun.
And it seems fair and reasonable to ask people for suggestions – – post as many as you like, you can stuff the ballot box like a Chicago alderman. They’ll be reviewed in a dispassionate, reasonable, even-handed manner… and then I’ll just chuck out the ones I don’t like. No! just kidding, I’ll be glad to hear what you think.
I broke my last eggcup, and had to hire these guys. They’re in the union, but luckily, work for scale.
I always enjoy listening to the “Hidden Brain” program on NPR.
My own brain often seems to play hide-and-go-seek, sometimes for hours,
and you do see so many folks in the news,
who might qualify for their own challenging treasure hunt “The Really Well-Hidden Brain.”
The last program I heard, was about “Envy, and it’s nasty cousin schadenfreude” (= taking pleasure in the troubles of others).
And the host, Shankar Vedantum, mentioned that while we have terms like envy, jealousy, etc.
we really don’t have a word for “taking pleasure in others’ success.”
Say no more! I’ve got just the thing.
I cannot take credit, the coinage comes from my mom.
Upon hearing about this Hidden Brain topic, she created some new words, in two seconds flat:
Empathy + Celebrate = Empacelebrate
Empathy + Enthusiasm = Empathusiasm.
(They sound better than they look, just say them out loud.)
ex. “Let’s empacelebrate our friends’ success!”
If you cannot bring yourself to do this, totally lacking in empathy, then you’re an empanada.
OK, I thought that last one sounded familiar, I just remembered, it was one of my favorite things to eat in Chile.
So we’ll keep working on that one, but I really like the other two.
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late…Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
I like Longfellow’s poems a lot, but this line just strikes me as funny, I don’t know why.
(In his original draft, he’d written: It is too soon! Ah, nothing is too soon…if you can stay in bed ’til afternoon.)
There’s a wonderful photography blog here on WP (JaneLuriePhotography.com), which recently published a cool nighttime shot of a building with just one apartment lit up.
It reminded me, that I’d once taken a cellphone shot of an office building with the same situation, really late on a Sunday night. It just looked pretty lonely, almost kinda creepy.
And it’s hard not to wonder.
A copywriter, needing a brilliant pitch for a client by Monday morning? An accountant missing 17 cents on the International Grit & Abrasives Inc. account? A junior attorney, who realized a perfectly comprehensible paragraph somehow slipped into a rental lease agreement?
A crooked developer, scheming with Russian gangsters to fix an election?
An intern from the mailroom, running off some cryptocurrency on the company’s mainframe?
Or perhaps it was a photoblogger, who turned on the lights, and then looked down, took a picture of me, down on the street, looking up & snapping a picture of the only lighted office?
OK, I guess these are all pretty far-fetched.
Well, whatever, and whoever you are up there – – pack it in, go home, before we have to fetch a doctor.
CNN: “People who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”
As anyone who reads this column knows, I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
There’s eleven of these “fingers,” not ten, which is perfect, because it’s a region know for oddities.
Abolitionists, Suffragettes, Spiritualists, Actors, Chicken Nuggets, Traffic Lights, The Curve Ball, Lacrosse, possibly Rickshaws, all sorts of odd things have flowed out of here. But it’s the waterways that largely define the area. Growing up there, I enjoyed exploring this lake district, and learning bits & bobs of history about every little town, creek, and lake. Obscure historic sites and house museums are common, and every other boulder seems to have a brass plaque stuck on it. The Erie Canal also comes through our area, with its own history, and was a big deal in school, and even had songs written about it.
The five Great Lakes, on the other hand, were mostly terra incognita to me. (I put that in just to bug Steve S., I guess it should be mare incognitum, or “unknown seas.”)
Basically, until very recently, I knew almost nothing about them. But now I’m living in Wisconsin, close to the western shore of Lake Michigan, and quickly realized there’s a ton of interesting stuff to learn.
My vast experience of sailing on the Great Lakes…is limited to a single ferryboat ride from Toronto to Rochester when I was a kid. That experience, on the fast, massive “Spirit of Ontario” (a 284’ catamaran that could hit 45 knots) was exhilarating, and as a kid, I enjoyed visiting lighthouses, and skipping stones on the shore, but until I moved to Milwaukee, I otherwise thought little about the Great Lakes.
Well, the Lakes are amazing. Collectively, they represent the single biggest body of freshwater on the planet. And nobody seems to pay much attention to them. Few people realize they’re one key to America’s global economic power. The lakes are under-appreciated and overlooked. Millions of people live on their shores, from Rochester and Buffalo to Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, and all the smaller towns and villages in between. On the Canadian side sit Toronto, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, plus the many towns and cities like Montreal and Quebec, along the St Lawrence River, that flows out of the lakes.
The Great Lakes flow and churn, serving millions of people, carrying millions of tons of cargo, and billions in trade dollars. Despite the “rust belt” image, a fifth of U.S. manufacturing, and half of Canada’s, is still done around the lakes. So why don’t we ever hear or learn more about them?
As a kid, when I thought of Great Lakes, I thought of the color gray. Gray, often frigid water, and I thought “boring”.
But how could lakes that hosted pirates, smugglers, Fenian raiders, fur traders, bloody naval battles, and countless shipwrecks possibly seem boring? As an Upstate New Yorker, living an hour’s drive from Ontario, and less than two from Erie, I’m surprised by how little we were taught about them growing up. Those of us who live near them, take them for granted, even while those in arid places, look on enviously, hoping to share in that liquid gold. As the world gets hotter, and huge swathes of it, drier and drier, interest in all that water will continue to grow.
Six quadrillion gallons. One out of every five glasses of fresh water on the planet. And yet, during the entire year I worked in a Milwaukee public school, I recall Lake Michigan being mentioned…once.
But now, after my travels abroad and at home, they suddenly seem… appealing, and fascinating.
They’re all connected, and navigable. You can sail from Duluth, Minnesota, over a thousand miles to Kingston, Ontario – – and then into the St. Lawrence, and on to the ocean.
Not one week goes by without me wishing to walk out of my office, continue to the shores of the lake, to hop aboard a coal barge or iron ore freighter and sail away. Stop by Chicago for the weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, right on the water in Cleveland, hop off in Buffalo to see Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, then Toronto for a ballgame. The Rideau Canal will take you inland to Ottawa, but the ship in my fantasy is too big to fit through the locks. .
If I timed it right, I could board one of the European-flagged ships, cruise through the lakes, then up the St Lawrence Seaway, hang a right at Gaspé, and before you know it, I’d be cruising the Atlantic, bound for Hamburg, Rotterdam, or even the Baltic. Today, as a lot of American grain is going to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, perhaps I could stay onboard ‘til I arrived at Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or Lagos. The only limitation on this fantasy, is that, as I discovered on my way to the Galápagos, I’m very inclined to seasickness.
Ok, so while I’m no sailor, I sure love looking at ships and boats, and thinking about them. One of my odder fascinations is with “container ports.” I guess it’s a bit like train-spotting – it doesn’t really get you anything or anywhere. Nor can I win money during trivia night at a pub; nobody asks questions about those sort of things. But it doesn’t matter. I find that I am transfixed by them. From the giants of global trade like Singapore or Hong Kong, to the lesser ones like Albany, Wilmington, DE, and the Port of Milwaukee, I find that I can stand there watching ships churn past the grey waters for an unusually long time. I have pored over many articles online about them.
Recently, in an effort to make Milwaukee my true home, I’ve started joining various groups to meet people. On one occasion, I met a guy who works part-time in the US and part-time in Sweden. He described himself as a “waterways scientist” and didn’t elaborate, but shared a stream of anecdotes and facts about human impact on the lakes. The lakes have always drained into the Atlantic. But the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to allow ocean-going ships to sail into the interior of the U.S., allowed salt water to flow into the Great Lakes. Even distant Lake Michigan was impacted, and the local salmon population was harmed. A decade or so later, with the lake system polluted and full of chemicals, a hare-brained scheme was devised to introduce a type of mussel into the lakes, to clean them. The mussels would also serve as a source of food for the salmon. It was very interesting, but a lot to absorb, and as the scientist continued on, with his tales of unintended consequences, I lost track of what happened to the mussels, but began to appreciate the complexity of the lakes’ ecosystem. We stave off, or invite in, invasive species. The lakes give life (drinking water), and also have spread disease and pollution. After centuries of reliance on fish as a valuable food, we then hold the sturgeon to be so valueless, they were hauled up en masse, dried, and used for steamboat fuel, and almost made extinct. The lakes and their tributaries produce electricity to power industries and cities, then flood and destroy entire neighborhoods.
Much as people-watching at an airport allows us to guess at the stories of those rushing by, ship-watching allows us to wonder about what cog of the global trading machinery we’re witnessing. Did that ship sail from some port in Russia? Where did it go, between here and there, and why is it here? What’s its cargo? Where are the sailors from? I read that 1/3 of all sailors are Filipino, so what do they think when they visit the U.S. or Canada? They leave the steaming tropics, for months or years, facing shipwrecks, geo-political logjams, Somali/Nigerian/Malaccan pirates, and typhoons, hurricanes, and potentially ice bergs. Sea-sickness, sketchy port cities, dangerous cargo, tedium, daily bowls of borscht, on the Russian ships, you name it, they have to face all that.
I don’t know why these lakes are unknown to most people, even those of us who live on them. I’m ready to dive into a new project. Well, once things melt a bit. This is a fascinating region, the lakes and their stories are fascinating, and now I’m hooked, and want to learn more. These waterways will never seem gray to me again.
Recently I’ve been reading about the Great Lakes, and will be putting up a couple posts about them.
And today, my folks sent these pictures, from the shore of Lake Ontario.
A windstorm in February had gusts of 69 mph, stacking the ice fifteen feet high on the beach, and coating the trees along the shore with ice.
After the beautiful, delicate formations on the streams in the Finger Lakes, this ice has a strange cast to it, and looks decidedly less friendly!
They’re predicting -6° F. by next weekend.
But winter is definitely showing signs of cracking.
The change has begun!
Sure, there’s an icy draft when you open the door, but we’re on the threshold of the next season.
Which is “Mud.”
But also, Puddles.
As we get a few thaws, I’ve been thinking about all these puddles. And dictionaries.
It occurred to me, that “puddle” was one of those words I’d never actually looked up. You just seemed to know what it was, at a very early age, and know instinctually that it was something to jump into, no matter what the grown-ups said, or whether or not you were wearing boots, or were on your way to visit someone, whose house had white wool carpets.
My parents always encouraged us to look up words, and when we were in grade school, plunked a Webster’s down in the middle of the kitchen table. And looking up this word, reminded me of grade school, homework, and how I dreaded “Oral Presentation Day.”
My teachers were all great – – encouraging, prompting, and doing their best to make it all fun and rewarding. But some days, despite their best efforts, the oral presentations were awful, seemingly endless, and it was like having cheerleaders during root canal surgery. When a kid started off with a dictionary definition, it generally meant you were in for torture.
A kid named Pete usually slogged through an endless recitation about Randy Johnson’s Power Pitching:
. “Webster’s defines “hero” as one who shows great courage, and my hero is Randy The Big Unit Johnson…”
Well kid, you’re pretty brave yourself, reading this out loud for the third year in a row, and Webster’s defines “agony” as listening to a book report, for the third time, on Randy Johnson’s Power Pitching, with a detailed play-by-play of every no-hitter he ever pitched.
noun “A very small pool of usually dirty or muddy water.”
Transitive verb “to make muddy or turbid: MUDDLE.”
Doesn’t those definitions just sound exactly like something your great-aunt would say? The prissy disapproving tone just seeps through, loud & clear.
And then you have to go look up “turbid” since I thought that was a kind of fish, from Iceland, that my grandmother used to make, when she was on one of those “eating healthy” kicks we all dreaded. (Turns out, it was turbot, “Webster’s: a kind of bug-eyed flatfish, best left on the ocean bottom, and not something to bake into fishy jerky, and make kids eat, when they did do their book report, and weren’t the one who left muddy footprints on the kitchen floor.”)
“Muddle” was already familiar, since “muddled” was one of the top ten criticisms I always got on my essays. Come to think of it, in college, I also got “turbid” a few times.
Wikipedia has “a small accumulation of liquid…pooling in a depression…”
OK, you see what I mean? Doesn’t “pooling in a depression” sound like sad grade-schoolers, slogging slowly toward their doom, assembling in a damp pool of misery for oral presentation day?? Puddles are such fun, sure they’re pools of a sort, but there’s nothing depressing about them, while this whole dictionary thing was a very unpleasant experience, lots of horrible memories, bad fish, red ink, talking in public.
Better to reflect upon puddles, and, however muddy, how much undiluted fun they are. And I think I can assert, after in-depth experimentation, without fear of contradiction, that lightly iced puddles are the best for stepping on. Like shattering glass windows without losing your allowance. The whole puddle experience is kind of great.
There, The End. I’m grading this one “Clear As Mud, See Me After Class.”