Spring is a Miracle that We Never Outgrow

First Crocus

Every year, about this time in March, there finally comes one of the most special days of the year.  Personally, I rank it right up there with Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July.  Of course, I’m talking about that splendid day that dawns warm and bright in northwest Ohio, making it clear that spring really is going to come again.  This year it came on Sunday, March 10, the morning after the time change.

Not only does winter in Ohio keep us trapped in our homes, it deadens our senses.  The quietest time of the year is during a winter storm as the snow muffles most sounds.  Winter also robs us of our vision due to the lack of daylight.  Near the winter solstice, many of us go both to and from work in darkness, only seeing daylight on the weekends.  Winter is even so cruel as to hide all outdoor smells from us.  Every year, I almost forget that the great outdoors has an aroma until the skunks begin to move about again in late winter.

In contrast, I’m amazed by the multisensory explosion of that first unofficial day of spring.  This year, as I snuck out to grab my newspaper from the porch, I knew it had arrived.  Just in that brief second outside, I smelled the earthy perfume of growing plants, I heard birds twittering, and I soaked in the glorious sunshine that finally felt warm on my skin courtesy of a south wind.  The miracle of spring had returned!

As a child in North Baltimore, this would have been the day when we limped our bikes to Swartz’ SOHIO station to fill up the flattened tires with air.  We would have pumped up the neighborhood basketball as well.  If we were especially lucky, one of the neighborhood kids might have had a kite on hand and we would have used the playground at Powell School as our airfield.  Usually, kite flying involved far more planning than flying.  It was pretty obvious by age 10 that none of the Beecher Street gang was destined for a career as an aeronautical engineer.

Other games would have included waffle ball in Peterson’s back yard, shooting baskets at Bean’s and a rousing game of Ghosts in the Graveyard before dark.  At the end of the day, we would have returned home filthy, tired, and happier than we had felt in months.  Our dirty clothes would have been full of the long absent smell of fresh air.

I still remember playing a game that involved the participants taking a small tablet and a pencil and independently walking around the block to carefully record each sign of spring that we witnessed on our journey.  When we returned home, we compared notes to see who had seen the most signs of spring on the walk.  We assigned points to each indicator of spring and declared a winner and a loser.   In hindsight, it seems as if growing up on Beecher Street required a lot of scorekeeping, but in actuality we were all winners by getting to grow up together.

This year I took a long walk on the first unofficial day of spring.  The parks and paths were crowded with families, bicycles, and happy dogs on leashes.   My heart felt that same overwhelming joy I remember feeling as a child.  My senses were reawakened to the sounds, sights, and smells not experienced in months.  In my mind, I was still playing that childhood game of tallying the markers of spring:  crocuses popping, hawks soaring, geese pairing, and fishermen fishing.  At the end of the day, I found myself happier than I had felt in months, tired, and smelling of fresh air.   As I drifted off to sleep, I reflected on the timelessness of the miracle of spring.

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The Millennials Will Save Us

millennials

The generation called the Millennials consists of those born between 1980 and 2000.  The mainstream media loves to bash this group by attributing quotes to their baby boomer supervisors such as informal, bold, entitled, hard to manage, too tied to technology, and light on interpersonal skills.

My kids and their friends are Millennials.  I’m always surprised by the negativity in the media surrounding this group.  My personal experiences have been far different with the Millennials.  What’s not to love about their acceptance of diversity?  What’s not to love about their commitment to new experiences? What’s not to love about their willingness to serve?  What’s not to love about their ability to fix the VCR or the computer?

This is the group that has taught me how to use Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and an iPhone.  They’ve taught me that people don’t need adjectives to describe them.  They’ve allowed me to live vicariously through their journeys to all corners of the globe.  They’ve clarified that undergraduate college is a chance to explore new passion areas rather than focus on a course of study that will provide the most lucrative jobs.  I’ve learned so much more from them than they have from me.

Today I had a chance to hear Van Jones speak at a conference.  Mr. Jones is an American environmental advocate, civil rights activist, and attorney.  He has served Special Advisor for Green Jobs for President Obama and holds an appointment at Princeton University.  He is also the bestselling author of the Green Collar Economy.  As I sat down for the lecture, I expected to hear a discussion about sustainability and livable communities, but quickly Mr. Jones took the conversation to a different place.

Only blocks from the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, Mr. Jones began to talk to an “exploited class of citizens.”  At that point, I thought this might have been a civil rights lecture, but then he went on to explain that this “exploited class of citizens are called interns and they are geniuses.”   As a parent of Millennials, I know only too well that many of them find themselves in long-term internships after graduation from college.  The largest economic decline since the Great Depression has been hard on this generation.  Jobs are limited.  Many of them toil for little or no pay to gain precious experience for their resumes.

Mr. Jones went on to explain that the Millennials will be the paradigm shift that can save us.  He is confident that they are the problem solvers of the world and through their access to technology they solve problems collectively.  He said, “They have no wealth, but they are building an economy based on sharing.”  This is the generation that created crowdsourcing, couchsurfing, smartcars, and Kiva.

The best news of the day came when Van Jones said they will be the dominant political force in this country by 2020 when they will represent one third of registered voters.  At that point, this baby boomer heaved a sigh of relief.  I know in my heart that my generation’s wealth hoarding, environment damaging, and hate mongering is an unsustainable model.  I am ready for a paradigm shift.   And I’m very glad to know that the Millennials will be leading that charge.

Our NB Odyssey: Walking to School

1965 style

1965 style

An odyssey is defined as a long series of wanderings or adventures filled with notable experiences.  Our North Baltimore odyssey of walking to and from school lasted for nearly a decade, surely qualifying it as a long series of wanderings.  Similarly, our odyssey was filled with many notable experiences.  Of course, they weren’t the cyclopses, witches, sirens and gods encountered in Homer’s Odyssey, but they seemed quite exciting to us.

The Beecher Street kids began by walking to Powell School for grades 1-4.  Initially, our assignment was to walk along Broadway and turn right on Main Street leading us straight to school.  Fairly quickly, we began to explore other routes leading to Powell School.  I can remember exploring overgrown areas along Cherry Street in the early fall and picking milkweed pods and counting wooly worms.  Soon our adventures became so bold as to walk along the railroad tracks.  One time we actually found a dollar bill along the tracks.  It seemed as if we had won the lottery.

By fourth grade, we had achieved such a high level of responsibility that we served as the safety patrol for the kindergarten students walking to Powell School.  We each had a reflective belt that signified our rank.  Ron Bean, another member of the Beecher Street gang, was selected as the Safety Patrol Captain and he received a trophy at a countywide banquet; we were all impressed by Ron’s trophy.  As another example of our fourth grade maturity, we were allowed to ride our bikes to school during the last two weeks of the academic year at Powell School.   I can still remember the freedom of pedaling to school on our bikes; Easy Rider didn’t have anything on us!

More exciting than our morning walks to school were our leisurely strolls home.  Some days, we walked along Main Street to Aikens’ IGA.  We each had a nickel left as change from our lunch money.  We would march into the grocery store straight to the old-fashioned Coke machine.  After inserting our nickel, we would open a door and grasp the neck of a glass Coke bottle.  We pulled the bottle out and popped the lid in a built-in bottle opener.  The bottles were quite small; we were able to chug the entire bottle, burp loudly, and then replace the empty bottle in a wooden crate.  After the pop was finished, we always headed to the meat department to say hi to the butcher, Ron McGarvey, who always had a friendly word for us.

By sixth grade, we were walking to another school:  the Main School on Second Street.  This provided new escapades for us.  My favorite memory was stopping at Weith’s store in the morning before school.  Our most important purchase was the spiral-bound North Baltimore Tiger notebooks for 69 cents.  I was so proud to have a notebook emblazoned with a Tiger and my school’s name.  Best of all, the notebooks came in many colors; my personal favorite was orange representing NBHS school colors.  While we were at Weith’s, we usually ordered a quarter pound of our favorite candy to tide us through the school day.  During an especially warm spring day, a squirt gun might also be added to the purchase; sometimes they came in handy during study hall or school lunches.  Unfortunately, any morning that started with the purchase of a squirt gun was likely to end in after-school detention.

From my perspective, one of the very best things about growing up in NB was walking to and from school.  We were never in a hurry; we always had time to explore or meet new people along our journey.  We created our own odyssey, and practiced our storytelling skills, as we fabricated ghost tales or urban legends about people in our town.  In my memory, our fictitious stories seem every bit as scary as Homer’s witches, sirens, and gods.   And just Homer as described many centuries ago, our adventures met the ultimate benchmark of all great odysseys:   “A decent boldness ever meets with friends.”

Old Friends

Kathy, Meloday, Sue, Julie, Laurie, and Rhonda

Kathy, Meloday, Sue, Julie, Laurie, and Rhonda

Recently, a few of my high school classmates invited me to a weeknight dinner in Findlay.  For me, I was in the midst of one of the busiest portions of my annual work calendar.  My professional life was hectic.  Even at home, I found myself strategizing opportunities to slip back into the office to meet looming deadlines.   It hardly seemed like the season to spend a weeknight at a restaurant for a non-work related dinner.

Oddly, my emotional response to the dinner invitation was exactly the opposite.  When Melody (Blake) Drewes sent out the email notification, I added it to my crowded Outlook calendar and began to look forward to a night with some of my NBHS friends.  The awaited day finally arrived.  After work, I rushed home, threw my suit and dress shoes on the floor, and slipped into my most comfortable sweatshirt, jeans, and moccasins and headed to our appointed meeting place.

On the drive to the restaurant, an idea crossed my mind:  if I were meeting most any other friend for dinner, I would have rifled through my closet to find the clothes best suited  for the evening, but with no conscious thought, I had chosen my most hassle-free attire to spend time with childhood friends.  My clothes were an analogy that represented our friendship:  relaxed, unpretentious, well-worn.  Sportswriter Peter Bodo summarized my feelings when he said, “There is no security quite as comfortable and undemanding as the kind you feel among old friends.”

Once the entire group was convened, the conversation immediately fell into an easy rhythm.  There was no need for self-aggrandizement or posturing as often happens in other less intimate social settings.  There was no need to clarify background information before starting a story; we all have shared common knowledge about the story’s cast of characters.  There was no need to be less than completely transparent in our banter; we all know each other’s secrets.

Mostly, there were just lots and lots of laughs.  At one point, it seemed as if other restaurant patrons might have chosen tables not adjacent to ours in order to avoid the giggling.  In his journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”   We definitely proved Mr. Emerson’s hypothesis that evening.

John Leonard, an American literary and film critic, wisely noted that “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”  I would encourage each of you to invest a little effort in reconnecting with your old friends.  You have spent a long time nurturing this relationship; make time to reap the rewards.  Instantly, you will recapture that easy, relaxed, trusting feeling.   And don’t forget to wear your most comfy jeans, sweatshirt, and moccasins.  Just snuggle in and enjoy the warmth.

Man Must Rise Above the Earth

3D exhibit

By Julie Brown

Socrates said,Man must rise above the Earth, to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”  I’m not sure how Socrates would have accomplished that in the fourth century B.C., but it is quite easy for those of us in Ohio to complete in 2013.

Luckily, we live within a two-hour drive of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  The museum is located six miles northeast of Dayton, Ohio on I-675. Admission is free and the Museum is open every day from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  The Museum includes an interesting and well-stocked gift shop and a great restaurant called the Valkyrie Café.  Over a million guests visit the Museum each year.

The Museum is quite large, over 17 acres under roof, and unlike more traditional museums, it is displayed in a three-dimensional format.  The visitor might look up and find himself directly under the bombing bay of a bomber or looking down at the nose of a rocket; every cubic foot is used to create an illusion of flight.   The Museum is full of aircraft, weapons, and engines.  There are many exhibits including uniforms, jackets, and flying accessories.

A visitor first enters the Early Years Gallery.  This highlights the pioneers of flight, from the Wright Brothers to WWI aircraft.  Surprisingly, it seems as if most of my knowledge about WWI aircraft was learned from the “Peanuts” comic strip.  I remember Snoopy’s alter ego, the World War I Flying Ace, sitting on top of his dog house, pretending it was a Sopwith Camel, fighting imaginary battles with the Red Baron.  At the Museum, I saw a Sopwith Camel and learned that it was a British World War I single-seat biplane fighter that was introduced in 1917.  I also learned that the Red Baron’s real name was Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, a fighter pilot in the Imperial German Army Air Service, who was shot down by a Canadian pilot flying a Sopwith Camel in 1918.

The next gallery is focused on World War II.  Thanks to many war movies, I knew a bit more about the crucial role that aircraft warfare played in World War II.  This gallery is packed with planes and exhibits that capture the pivotal moments, campaigns and heroes of U.S. Army Air Forces’ air power in both the Pacific and European Theaters.  One of the most interesting planes is Bockscar, the B-29 bomber that dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  A video display explains that the initial target was Kokura but due to cloud cover, the Bockscar proceeded to its secondary target:  Nagasaki.  Because of the mid-flight change of targets, the plane did not have enough fuel to land at its intended landing site of Iwo Jima.  Instead, it landed at Okinawa still critically low on fuel.

My favorite part of the entire Museum was the nose art on the WW II planes.  Nose art is a form of folk art, or aircraft graffiti, which was begun to identify friendly units.  During the war, nose art was a welcome opportunity to express individuality within the uniformity of the military, to spark memories of peacetime life, and serve as a superstitious protection against the anxieties of the war.  Planes in this exhibit included nose art depicting pin-up girls, voodoo symbols, liquor bottles, playing cards, and maps of the pilot’s home state.

The third gallery focuses on aircraft of the Korean War and Southeast Asia war.  In the Korean exhibit, the fighting planes from each side are prominently displayed:  the F-86A Sabre and the MiG-15.  In the Southeast Asia War section, there is an emphasis on the heavy bombers (B-52D) that carried out Operations Linebacker I and II.  There are several opportunities in this gallery for visitors to climb into the cockpits of actual planes.  As a peacenik, I was surprised to find a collection of anti-war memorabilia sported by US Air Force pilots in this section of the museum.

The fourth gallery displays the sleek aircraft of the Cold War including the only permanent display of the B2 Stealth Bomber.  Much of this exhibit is focused on the rapid technological advances that occurred in air flight during this era.

The final gallery is housed in a silo that is 140 feet high.  In this section, the visitor will find many missiles including the Titan I and II and Jupiter missiles.  Also, there is a space collection here including the Apollo 15 Command Module, Mercury and Gemini capsules.

Whether you are a military history buff, aviation aficionado, or even a pacifist like me, I think you will find a day spent at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force quite fascinating.  We are lucky to have a national treasure so near.   “Off we go into the Wild Blue Yonder…”