Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Break in Ohio

Entry for 16 March 2008:

Months ago, we promised our kids that we’d spend Spring Break with them this year. This would give us an opportunity to see them between New Years and August, and give Kenneth a place to hang out instead of sitting around Brendan and Mayumi’s apartment playing computer games and getting on their nerves. The timing wasn’t great: I had to back out of the UK-SPR meeting and ended up missing the residential weekend of the Monday Part-time Diploma course. Finally, a major winter storm was forecast to push through Ohio the day of our arrival (again!).

A couple a quick phone calls to Brendan the night before we left resulted in the three of them making a harrowing drive from Cleveland to Toledo on Friday night, ahead the worst of what turned out to be the worst storm of the season. The storm ran pretty much south of Detroit, so just as had happened on our arrival in December, we were able to land in Detroit without difficulty; this time, however, Brendan and Mayumi arrived to pick us up shortly after we came through customs.

Kenneth had shovelled much of the 6 inches of snow from the driveway, providing a path to the front door. After dumping our luggage inside, we went off to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Jing Chuan, arriving about 8:30 on the snowy Saturday evening. There we were welcomed warmly by the owners, who know by now that this is part of our Toledo Re-Entry Ritual. We feasted on spring rolls, Sizzling Rice Soup, Phoenix Chicken (Kenneth’s favorite), Hot Pl ate Beef, and Spicy Shrimp with Vegetables, talking and joking until everyone else had left and we said goodnight to the sleepy staff.

We slept well – minus the hour we lost because of the early daylight-savings time-change (now the first Sunday in March in the US). The next morning we went off for a walk at Wildwood Preserve Metropark, probably Toledo's most beloved municipal park. The storm had passed, so the sun was shining brightly in the clear blue sky, glaring off the new-fallen snow, nearly blinding us on the Prairie Trail. To escape the glare, we followed the boardwalk trail along Ottawa Creek. This was also covered in new snow, which made a particularly satisfying crunching sound as we walked along, the wooden boards reverberating under our feet, almost like the sound corn chips make when you chew them and the sound gets transmitted through your jawbone to your inner ear. The water level of the river was low, but there was ice still clinging to the tree trunks next the path, a foot above the current water level, indicating that the water had been much higher in the not-too-distant past.

Variations of that crunching sound returned over the next few days like music leitmotif: The next day there was a partial thaw, followed by a hard freeze, so that when I went out for a run on Tuesday morning, I heard the sharp crunch of stiff rubber car tires seeking traction on the uneven ice. Then I noticed the more muted crunch of my running shoes breaking through the crust of ice over the snow in the little park near the elementary school my kids used to go. I also bought corn chips and used them to extend my experience of crunchiness. I meditated on the nature of crunchiness and thought about writing a poem about these experiences. (Instead, it came out as a blog.)

The week passed quickly: We discovered that the State of Ohio still thought we owed it income tax on my UK income (as if it wasn’t already taxed at a high enough rate!), threatening us with a financial crunch. We faced an information crunch when we discovered various key documents needed for our US taxes missing. Then we saw our accountant and talked to our lawyer, who reassured us and got us somewhat calmed down. After this, we went back to Cleveland (still piled high with 15 inches of snow) for a day and a half, where we hung out with our kids and explored the Cuyahoga National Park south of Cleveland, lovely in its winter state. In addition, we caught up with some of our friends (but ran out of time and energy for the rest), took stock of where we are with our whole process… and suddenly it was Friday, and almost time for me to fly back to Scotland.

On Saturday before leaving for the airport, Diane and I decided to have a Toledo Saturday Adventure: First, we returned to Wildwood Metropark. The weather had turned beautiful, with highs in the forties or fifities (5 – 12 celsius), and a major thaw was in progress. The Maumee River was at flood stage at Waterville, 20 miles upriver from Toledo. Ottawa Creek had crested the day before at Wildwood, when Diane and Linda had gone there for a walk, but Diane had forgotten her camera and also wanted me to see the inundation.

I had never seen the water as high as it was, spilling out over the floodplain (that’s why they call it a “flood plain”), only a foot below the boardwalk. The water seemed to have gone everywhere, drowning the trees, whose bark was still wet from the previous day’s crest. The brown water swirled and eddied. Mallard ducks and Canada geese plied the swift waters, calling noisily to each other, their cries echoing over the water. As we walked out to the end of the boardwalk (we decided not to experience the muddy path beyond), we took pictures of the water, and each other. The snow was almost all gone; no more crunches! Instead, our feet echoed, woodenly on the boards, like some sort of water-mounted marimba set to play very low notes. An old gentleman, out for a walk, offered to take our photo and we were happy to accept.

Then, we completed our Adventure with a quick trip back to the Toledo Museum of Art. This is a wonderful, underrated museum, and we spent an hour or two revisiting old favorite paintings, discovering new art we hadn’t seen before, and finally visiting the new Glass Pavillion, which had opened since we moved to Scotland. This turned out to be the highlight of the visit: It is a airy,spacious venue, with glass walls and an amazing collection, much of which we had never seen before, from ancient to quite modern and wacky. I had never been that fond of the old glass exhibit in the main part of the museum, but the new space and lovingly-assembled, exhaustive collection totally wowed both of us. It's not Glasgow by a long shot, but Toledo definitely has its charms!

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