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Weather Warrior


As I write, the guy on the Weather Channel is warning us to stay indoors. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” the earnest man says apocalyptically. The graphic at the bottom of the screen informs me that the actual temperature is 11 degrees F, the wind chill is 0 degrees. It is 2:52 p.m. Things will only get worse.

Bring. It. On.

Oh, yeah. I don’t want to battle against just any weather. I want it the coldest, the hottest, the wettest, the driest. I want it to rain frogs and goats and shag carpeting. And I want to be out there in it. Running for the bus sucking in lung-crystalizing cold air. Desperately planting the last of my seven thousand daffodils in a fifty-six-year monsoon. Playing softball in a Dust Bowl storm in the twilight in Chicago. And I want to win that game, dammit.

What’s the point of surviving weather indoors? Anybody can do that.

“It was the coldest day in three centuries, so we played Wii for hours.”

Are you kidding me? Now, slowly, put the electronic game down and back away from the television.

Put on that long underwear, three pairs of socks, the T-shirt, the turtleneck, the sweater over the turtleneck, the scarf, the overcoat, the ear warmers, the wool hat over the ear warmers, and now wrap yourself in an insulated tarp and go play some touch football in the snow. And don’t come back until you pinch your cheeks and they shatter in your hands.

How can you brag about surviving Xtreme Weather if you don’t actually do something in it?
Like the time I needed to get winter displays installed in large planters outside a Chicago business before Thanksgiving. Suddenly it was the day before Thanksgiving. Oops. Okay, no problem. I’ll pick up a few evergreen branches and berry branches and red twig branches (you know the drill) and slam them into the containers before the…uh…end of…the, uh…oh my, it’s beginning to…uh, business…um, it’s beginning to rain…uh, day. Wait. Even better. It’s mixed with sleet. Ooh, now it’s coming down in buckets. Whatever. I’ll just finish slamming these babies in. Wow. I can’t feel my fingers. Gee, I’m soaked to the skin. Look, my pants are made of mud. Hmm. I wonder why I’m shivering uncontrollably. I look up to tapping at the window. The business president, terrified that I will catch double pandemonium and sue him, is mouthing the words, “Go home!” I smile and wave back, thinking, “No way! You said ‘before Thanksgiving’ and, by God, this will be done before Thanksgiving.”

Ahhhh, that’s living, baby.

By the way, have you ever had to spread ten cubic yards of mulch when the temperature was 95 degrees and the humidity was about 114%? Now that’s what I call punishing…er, pushing the envelope. Especially when you’ve enlisted your two best friends and your neighbor to help, none of whom, as it turns out, will ever speak to you again.

Yes, but they, too, will have stories to tell for the rest of their lives, should they survive the mulching expedition. Heck, they should be thanking you! If it hadn’t been for you, how would they know what it’s like to have legs made of silly putty? Or to have the feeling that dumping one more load of mulch will make them throw up in the hosta patch? Or to drink five gallons of Gatorade in an hour and never need to go to the bathroom because all of that liquid has been sweated into every bit of clothing they’re wearing, including their shoes?

’m telling you, kids, you can’t buy that kind of experience.

So as we lurch into spring and, in turn, stumble into summer and then dive headlong into fall, my advice is this. Do not avoid the dramatic and the traumatic in nature. Embrace it. Defy it. Drag your friends into it, though they mumble curses and threats of lawsuits and dark, unnerving comments about your enthusiasm for self destruction.

In fact, I’m waiting for the first good, rip-snortin’ thunderstorm this spring and heading out to the golf course. There I will hold my one iron over my head because, as Lee Trevino has stated, “Not even God can hit a one iron.”

Yes, that’s a golf joke. I’m counting on God not getting it, either.

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questions

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

I thought that purple coneflowers were insect proof, but now I see some aphids at the bud and tiny flies. What is wrong?

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