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You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Patrick O'Conner. Contributor for aroundKent Magazine. Kent, Ohio. Photograph by Matt Keffer

‍The following story is the first in a series that chronicle events that have all happened to me. I have witnesses. I would often share these experiences with people and add “you know you just can’t make this stuff up.”

This series continues the writing I have done over the years including the American Cities series, the Road Less Traveled features, Meet Me at Rays and the Blog “Turn What You Love into What You Do’. I hope readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed experiencing and writing them.

These experiences are more than just random events or amazing coincidences. Or even, the ‘wow … small world isn’t it” moments many of us have had. It’s almost as though these events had their own agenda and energy far beyond my influence. Some of them warm me while others kind of scare me. It’s sort of like I’ve been in this long, stage play as a member of the back-up chorus, in the third line of dancers, a face in the crowd or maybe even part of an angry mob.  

And the play has many themes. At times it’s a musical, sometimes a comedy, other times inspirational or joyful, other times dramatic and occasionally tragic. The scenes always keep changing and I’m in all of them.  Mostly I feel like I’m just following along with a script of events that were orchestrated elsewhere…in some ways …. long, long ago.

I will select a story that relates to different times of the year. The following one is a good example as it relates to spring which is right around the corner here in Northeast Ohio.

Dr. Patrick O'Connor - Life Long Learning Connection

Spring Around the Corner - 2020

GroundHog Day has been a big celebration in this part of the US since 1887. Each Feb 2 people turn their attention to this big rodent to see if they can get a sense for what the weather will be like in the next six weeks. It’s part of our “prediction culture” which is so prevalent in this country. We seem obsessed with trying to predict outcomes of everything from sporting events to the stock market to elections to the weather.

Punxsutawney, PA is the center of everything groundhog and home to Punxsutawney Phil who is the weather prognosticator. When he exits his hole at sunup, hundreds watch to see if he will see his shadow. This is an indication of what the next six weeks of weather will be like in the Northeast and Mid-west. No shadow means six more weeks of winter. A shadow means an early spring. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I have a hard time remembering which is which. This is pretty much a regional thing. For example, in you live in San Diego, CA the notion of an early spring or extended winter would seem to make little sense.

Groundhog Day 2020 was unlike any other. The winter of 2020 in this part of the country was almost nonexistent. In Northeast Ohio we gauge the severity of the winter by the number of times we use our snow shovels and snow throwers. This particular winter I used each one only once and that was a bit of a stretch. That’s unheard of in our area. The winter was so mild I thought I might put my snow shovel out on the street with a “free to good home” sign on it. I wonder what the groundhog was thinking when he came from his burrow. Since there had been no winter could he really predict six more weeks of winter. Or, could he predict an early spring since most of the winter was basically like spring. Groundhog Day 2020 must have been a puzzler for the groundhog as much as it was for us.

About six weeks after the groundhog timeline expired, we decided to head south to Edisto, SC. We left early one late March morning with the temperature around 40 degrees and the sky grey and overcast. About two hours into the trip, we started to notice some Forsythia bushes starting to show their  small yellow buds. A bit farther down the road the buds got bigger, and we saw full blown yellow bushes. This was a welcome scene from the barren trees we had been watching for the previous 5 months. Shortly after that we started to notice small green leaves peaking on trees followed by beautiful white flowering trees….dozens of them along the highway. I think they were Crabapple trees which are mostly white, pink or red. Crabapples trees by the way are referred to as the “jewels of the landscape”. Works for me.

All the trees became more full and greener as we wound our way south til there were no longer any barren trees. We were enjoying the great signs of spring for about 7 hours when we started to see Redbud trees showing tiny red flowers. We watched for miles as the tiny red flowers turned into dozens of Redbud trees in full bloom magenta.

It was about this time I started wondering what we would be seeing next. Before long, we were driving alongside rows of light purple Wisteria. We watched these for miles until white and pink Dogwood trees were showing their blossoms. We ended our trip with beautiful red and white Azaleas in full bloom. We had gone from no foliage to a full flowering Spring scene. We watched the transition from winter to spring. The colors went from grey to yellow to green to white to magenta to purple to pink to white again and red. The trip resembled Dorothy going from black and white to color when she entered Munchkin land in the movie The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I doubted I would ever see such an amazing transition of nature again.

After some 10 days south, we decided to return north to Ohio. Azaleas had lost their flowers by now and spring looked pretty normal. As we left, I kept thinking about our ride south and how wonderful it was to see all the foliage. The thought occurred to me that we would now be heading north where much of the spring might be happening again. Part of “prediction culture” at work.

I was right as about 4 hours into the trip we started to see Redbud trees again in North Carolina. Lots of Redbuds! Many more than on the ride down. Shortly after that we were once again looking at rows of pink and white Dogwoods. Then waves of purple Wisteria. At one point, the garden spot perhaps, we saw all the trees together with a beautiful Goldenrod field in the background. What a scene. It was like our previous ride but even more abundant and brilliant. I thought the amazing scene would change again as we headed farther north.

As we traveled up the mountains into Virginia the scene turned grey again as the trees were barren due to cooler temperatures and higher elevation. As we rode along the mountain top, it occurred to me that Spring would probably be springing on the downside of the mountain. We might be seeing a third Spring! Sure, enough as we descended the mountains, we started to see Redbud trees again. Redbud trees for miles and miles. Many more than we had already seen. Both sides of the winding highway lined with them and some of the mountain sides completely covered in Redbud red. Stereo Redbuds for a few hundred miles and about 3 hours. Amazing. A bit later we started seeing white Crabapple trees again and dozens of full bloom yellow Forsythia bushes. This continued into southern Ohio where the foliage started fading and we were seeing barren trees again.

We arrived in Ohio to freshly bloomed tulips and daffodils along with buds on lilac bushes. Some of the trees were also just starting to bud. It was still a bit barren but less than when we left. Hardly as colorful as our ride down and back. Now I was thinking about what would be coming next. There’s a good chance we will be in for a fourth Spring. I doubt even Punxsutawney Phil could have predicted that!

It was truly an amazing ride in both directions. Maybe a bit like riding through a big wide rainbow for 11 hours each way. Or maybe spinning around in a color wheel. I doubt there will ever be another ride quite like that one.

Epilogue

Spring did arrive in Northeast Ohio as I predicted. A week or so after we returned, beautiful flowering trees of all varieties were in bloom along with abundant bushes and flowers which all made for a brilliant scene. However, as often happens in this area, mid-April also brought a small snowstorm. Very strange, though still beautiful, to see so many flowers and flowering trees covered with two inches of snow. The snow melted away in about 24 hours and once again it was Spring. And lilacs, Dogwoods and Redbuds were still about two weeks away. I think we may be in for a fifth Spring! The Spring of 2020 just kept coming around the corner.

Ray's Place, Kent, OH. Photograph by Matt Keffer
Meet Me AT Ray's. Written by Patrick O'Connor.
Meet Me At Ray's, written by Patrick O'Connor.

aroundkent is a local, regional website containing relevant information about Kent, Ohio and the surrounding area, including all of Northeast Ohio. Our focus is on art, music, food, family and everything in-between. Our content is sent to us by local professionals so it's both accurate and updated regularly. Our goal is simple: to showcase the amazing people, places and things in and around Kent, Ohio.