Spring’s Promise

A perfect camellia blossom in every little girl’s favorite color: pink.

Spring is a season of hope, as I learned many years ago as I recovered from illness in Japan. And hope is needed this spring as the world faces a pandemic. This spring in Oregon has come with unusual gifts.

The days of April in Oregon are usually spent under gray skies, and we count the days until the Fourth of July when our rainy season typically releases its grip. The only compensation we get in April, but it’s substantial, is the explosion of spring flowers. You name it, we got it: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hellebores, tulips, daphne, cherries, flowering quince, flowering red currants, rosemary, ceanothus, bleeding hearts—and that’s just what’s in my yard.

But this year, when so many of us are confined at home, the weather in the Willamette Valley has given us a boon: blue skies and warm temperatures. We’ve all gone gardening mad. Neighbors are putting in gardens and planting. There are piles of compost and the smell of fresh-turned earth everywhere.

The Northwest Editors Guild had planned a “Stet Walk” just before we were all sent indoors, and I’m sorry we had to miss that. It’s been great weather to get outside. Everywhere you turn there are walkers, runners, bikers, and the flowering shrubs and trees are putting on flamboyant, welcoming displays. There is no doubt that these are dark days, as the sight of masks and gloves reminds us. Times ahead will remain dark with illness and deaths as the days go by. People have lost jobs. For freelancers, work is hard to come by. For all of us, money is tight. Yet the warmth of the sun, the smell of the spring earth, and the beauty of flowers and leafing trees can give us hope and a few moments of respite from the darkness that we need, this blessed spring.

Batter Up!

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

I’m famously sports inept. So who would have thought I’d have something in common with major league pitchers who hurl hardballs at 95+ miles per hour? Turns out, our Achilles heels may be shoulders. I have managed to wreck each of my shoulders at different times—not, I can assure you, by throwing a ball at any speed. Everyone who has suffered a shoulder injury knows that it is painful, incapacitating, annoying (when it is the result of nothing in particular or your own stupidity–my personal cases), and that the recuperative period can be long. In the case of major league pitchers, they invite disaster on a daily basis simply because of what they do, how often they do it, and the force with which they do it. However, apparently a small change in the height of the pitcher’s mound may lead to longer careers and less risk of injury. Unfortunately, I don’t work on a pitcher’s mound, so this discovery can’t help me. Science Friday on April 3, 2015, featured a program on baseball, as spring is finally here bringing spring training and the opening of the baseball season with it. Among others, host Ira Flatow interviewed William Raasch, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who doubles as the team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers. Raasch explained that research funded by the MLBA discovered that by reducing the height of the surface from which pitchers pitch, they might be able to reduce the risk of injury to—and lengthen the careers of—pitchers. While helping pitchers rehabilitate, it was noticed that they felt fine when practicing their throws on flat ground, but when they moved to the pitcher’s mound, they discovered they were not as healed as they thought. The pitching mound is just 10 inches high. (Of course, on television, it looks much higher, but then wheels on cars also turn backward on TV.) But apparently that is enough to make a world of difference. It is, explained Raasch, a matter of timing. The pitcher’s arm was rotated differently at the time the front foot made contact with the ground. Don’t expect the pitcher’s mound height to decrease any time soon. Baseball players are rated as among the most superstitious of sports figures. Trying to convince them to give up the advantage—even it’s only psychological—over the batter will be impossible. And don’t try to get him to alter his pitching performance, either. If the pitcher has a quirky pitch that puts his shoulder at risk, but gets batters out, says Raasch, it’s unlikely the pitcher will give that up and possibly end his career earlier than a dicey shoulder.


cherry blossoms japan 001 correctedIt’s spring in the Northwest and the flowering plum and cherry trees are luminous against the gray-green of the firs. I never see the return of the cherry blossoms without getting homesick for Kyoto.

I had heard much of Japan’s cherry blossom time before I moved to Japan in the early 1980s, but I had lived in southern California too long to expect much show from spring. So I wasn’t disappointed, my first spring in Kyoto, when the cold wind and rain beat the blossoms to the ground almost as soon as they appeared. Continue reading