Running therapy 101: Training your brain to spot the open door

The topic for last week’s running therapy sessions – and many more to come, I’m sure – was set on Sept. 11, when my husband lost his job and his car on the exact same day.

Neither event in itself was terribly shocking, as both the car and the newspaper were clunkers far past their prime. His Taurus is headed for the scrapyard, and The News-Sentinel is jettisoning its print edition along with nearly half of its skeleton crew.

Good thing my sister and I recently upped our mileage to include a weekly 10-miler.

The ensuing chaos waves that ripple out from a major life disruption are every bit as predictable as the smaller kind, as it turns out. So I really wasn’t even surprised to discover, driving to Saturday’s running rendezvous spot, that not only had my purse rode off to Fort Wayne in the car  I usually drive, but the gas tank on the vehicle I was appropriating from our son was on empty.

“There was a time when I would’ve just been fuming about how everything always seems to go wrong at once,” I told Traci as we headed out on the first of 15 laps around the 4-H Park.

Instead, I was grateful to have grabbed three bucks for making copies at the library afterward. While I’d have to skip the library now, it seemed incredibly lucky that I just happened to have exactly enough money to buy a gallon of gas.

Given how much air time we had to fill during that 2-hour run, I rambled on about how I’d spent most of the summer trying to train my brain to focus only on the good parts of any given day. I’d been wondering if my “positivity vision” was getting any better as a result of all this training, and one day last month I realized it had.

The evidence came when I literally tried to open a door that was unexpectedly and inconveniently closed – and found myself reacting not with frustration but curiosity, wondering which “door would open” now that my chosen path was unavailable.

It should be noted this was a disappointment of the most minor variety: I really wanted a Diet Mountain Dew to clear my foggy brain before a meeting, but the Dollar General where I’d planned to procure one was unexpectedly closed due to a cash register problem. Diet sodas being as ubiquitous as air, I felt fairly certain I’d be able to find another source even in a downtown as decrepit as Bluffton’s. And I did, and had an extremely pleasant walk I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and still made it to my meeting with a minute or two to spare.

“It’s not like that was a life-changing experience, but it felt like progress to someone who’s always had a tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario in any given situation,” I told my sister – who was no doubt looking on the bright side herself, realizing that while she was cursed with listening to me yak, at least she wasn’t the one using up all her oxygen.

In a way, this feels like being a kid who finally learns how to shoot a layup, only to discover your next game is against the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s one thing when the closed door bars access to a cold drink; it’s a whole lot scarier when the thing that’s taken away is your family’s primary paycheck.

But humans have been yakking about the fortuitous opening of that mysterious “other door” for centuries. I feel fairly confident we’ll find it eventually –  just like Traci and I found some upsides in figuring out how to adapt our running to my ongoing struggle with plantar fasciitis.

I’m taking comfort in this small omen as well: Even though I had to skip my postrun library stop, I discovered on a taxi mom errand a few hours later that the library now stays open til 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

So I got to go after all – and it was a much more productive visit, because this time I actually had my library card with me.

***

P.S. Yeah, I’ve noticed the photo problem on this page. I’ll get around to dealing with it one of these days.

 

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A hike through the Great Black Swamp

Watching hurricane updates over the weekend, thankful to have our evacuated daughter back home and praying for loved ones who were riding out Irma huddled in a closet, it was weird to be simultaneously absorbed in writing about a hike through what was once known as the Great Black Swamp.

greatblackswampLike Florida, this 1,500-square-mile monster that once stretched from northeast Indiana well into Ohio was once nearly impenetrable to would-be settlers. Like Florida, the land was eventually drained and revised into something its human inhabitants found more suitable. And in both cases, few of the current residents give much thought to how dramatically different their surroundings would be if it weren’t for these major makeovers.

I read an interesting piece over the weekend arguing that Florida should never have been settled in the first place. That’s not an argument I’m going to get into, having spent some fun times in Florida as recently as a few weeks ago — in the very house where close friends/cousins Dan and Toni are maybe just now emerging from that closet. Nor would I suggest that residents of the former Great Black Swamp abandon their homes and let nature take over. But reading Ryan Schnurr’s account of hiking along the Maumee River – the former Great Black Swamp’s drainpipe into Lake Erie – was fascinating as well as eye-opening.

xInTheWatershed-1-450x651.jpg.pagespeed.ic.k51UBTMlaTGrowing up here on the edge of Limberlost territory, not too far from Hoosier naturalist and author Gene Stratton-Porter’s home, I figured the Great Black Swamp was just another name for the same place – the term used on the other side of the Indiana-Ohio border. But it turns out they’re in two different watersheds. Flush your toilet in Limberlost territory, and that water’s headed for the Gulf of Mexico, via the Wabash and then the Mississippi rivers.

A watershed isn’t something most of us think about. But in his meditations on the history, geology and biology of the current land he was exploring all over again along the Maumee, he found himself dwelling on all the ways these layers of meaning intersect. I find myself looking at not only the land, but at parts of my own life, in new ways, using lenses I wasn’t previously equipped with.

Talking to Schnurr last week, I kept thinking about how in my family there are two schools of thought when it comes to hiking: Those who like to conquer a trail, and those who like to experience it. I’m probably more philosophically suited to the latter, but since losing weight seven years ago I’m more often in the group that’s zipping on ahead, trying to get to the finish line.

Thank goodness for people like Schnurr, who take their time and try to understand what they’re seeing when they go for a walk – casting light the rest of us can use to better perceive our surroundings as well.  

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Ryan Schnurr on his journey along the Maumee River. (Courtesy pic). 

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Rowan’s ‘mermaid’ smoothie

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This is Colleen. My big sister Rowan got to come home this weekend! She was showing me a picture of this amazing-looking Mermaid protein smoothie she made last week. Isn’t it pretty?

The ingredients, except for the star fruit, dragon fruit and blueberries on top (“to make it pretty for Instagram”), are banana, ice, almond milk and spirulina, which is some kind of seaweed “superfood,” That’s why it’s called a Mermaid smoothie, get it? 

Me being a science nerd, naturally I had to find out more about this mysterious green powder.  (Rowan got hers off Amazon. It’s pretty expensive, though, like around $20.)

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This is the kind Rowan got. It’s grown in California. 

It turns out that it is a kind of blue-green algae that is super-high in protein, iron, calcium and B vitamins. It contains a powerful antioxidant called gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is hard to find in foods. It’s also high in chlorophyll, which is apparently good at flushing heavy metals from your body. 

Rowan said the spirulina “smells bad but it doesn’t taste too bad.” And so now Mom is of course investigating. (She always gripes at me for not eating enough veggies.)

I highly doubt our Mermaid smoothies will look as pretty as Rowan’s, though.

 

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A real-life lesson in why hydrating with caffeine is a dumb idea

On a run last week I was exploring with my sister whether donating plasma is a creepy or reasonable thing to try, given that I’d come across a coupon purporting to pay $300 over five visits.

Even allowing two hours for the first session, where you undergo a physical, that works out to around $50 an hour.

As a journalist I do a lot of research, but I was interested in Traci’s gut feeling as a health care professional. “Think that’s a bad idea?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “it’s actually a good thing to do,” noting that plasma is a much-needed resource.

We weren’t planning to run the next day so I decided to try it then, figuring that would give me plenty of time to rehydrate beforehand and recover before our next run.

Consumed as I was with whether this was a good move for me, it never crossed my mind that I might not be good enough for them. Not finding easy enough access to the prerequisite number of veins, the nice guy in scrubs told me I could try again in a month – but to make sure that next time I drank more water beforehand.

“But I had like 96 ounces of fluids the day before!” I whined to my sister.

Knowing me all too well, she asked: “So how much of that was coffee?”

Well … I probably had at least as much coffee as water. And then there was that 48 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew I guzzled after Tuesday’s run. Stupidly, I thought I might drink more if I was drinking something with, you know, flavor.

 

“Well, there ya go,” she said, rolling her eyes like I was dumber than a box of rocks, which is a look she’s been giving me ever since she was 3 and I was 11. “Caffeine dehydrates you. However much caffeine you take in, you need to drink twice that much water.”

 

Well, that would explain the weird sensation of feeling like my stomach was so full of liquid I thought I might bust, yet feeling like I was still kinda thirsty.  Suddenly I did feel like a world-class idiot. I guess I did know that caffeine had at least a mild diuretic effect, but that factoid was so deeply buried in the clutter of my mind that I hadn’t factored it into the equation of a busy day. Or maybe it’s just part of an ingrained bias delusion; for somebody who considers herself a health writer, I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee. (Some days that’s about all I drink, though I’ve been trying to work on that.)

Could I really have been a bit dehydrated after drinking so much fluid? It’s not like Traci conspired with the folks at Biolife to teach me a lesson. But some of the studies I looked up suggested maybe it wasn’t quite that simple.

“Several studies have challenged the assertion that caffeine could contribute to a severe fluid deficit,” wrote the researchers in a 2015 meta-analysis of 78 studies reported in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport

Interestingly, however, the researchers discovered that females were nearly six times more susceptible to the diuretic effects of caffeine – a finding which they attributed to differences in how caffeine is metabolized.

So yeah, I’m definitely going to be drinking more water and less coffee from here on out. Regardless of how appealing that makes my veins look to a lab tech, I’m hoping that will pay off during our runs – where it just so happens that I’m always the one who’s thirsty first.

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A slice of heaven: tomato pie transitioning into pizza

I’d never heard of tomato pie until I saw it in the deli case at the Charleston Bakery and Deli. I was picking up some pastries at the time, but I couldn’t get that pie out of my mind. The next day I took my son back there for lunch while his sisters and cousins were off working at an autism camp.

He had good things to say about his shrimp roll…

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And we split an amazing dessert:  chocolate bourbon pecan pie, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce.

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But we both agreed that the very best thing – not just of that memorable lunch, but maybe the best thing we’d eaten in our entire lives – was my tomato pie.

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What made it so good? How could we replicate it at home? This was something Ben and I have been discussing ever since.

What we told skeptics back up here in the north – who invariably rolled their eyes  –  was that it was like a savory dessert. “Like the most decadent pizza you’ve ever had, only better,” we said. Which is to say that instead of being crude and blatant and stringy-cheesed, this oozing pastry flowed onto your tongue,  a creamy blend of delicate flavors and textures that felt like a symphony in your mouth.

The crust was the flakiest, richest pastry either of us had ever tasted – and I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve sampled Hoosier 4-H legend Helen Witte’s cherry pie, which has been auctioned off for a thousand dollars at local fund-raising events.

Actually, the Charleston Bakery’s tomato pie had another element reminiscent of Helen’s cherry pie: a distinctive “zing” that in this case came not from tart cherries, but from fresh garden tomatoes.

Clearly, our window for attempting to replicate this dessert would be limited to tomato season.

DSCN3604The ones we’d planted in the communal family garden at my parents’ house weren’t ripe yet when we got back from Charleston at the end of July. But a few were ready the following week, so I found a recipe from a southern cooking blog that purported to use a traditional tomato pie filling tucked inside a Ritz cracker crust.

We knew we could never replicate the Charleston Bakery’s pie crust. Neither Ben nor I have ever been able to make a flaky pie crust. So this crust hack, that called for 100 Ritz crackers and a stick of unsalted butter, seemed like a worthwhile thing to try.  Unfortunately, I didn’t heed the recipe’s instructions to use unsalted butter. That doesn’t explain why our crust was so crumbly – it seemed like it would be nice and firm when I pressed it into the pan before baking – but it was definitely way too salty, given all the sodium in the crackers as well as the butter.

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The filling itself, which used three kinds of cheese, dijon mustard and mayo, was decent. But we were determined to try again

This time we wanted something with a little less mayo on top. In retrospect, that had seemed like overkill. I didn’t want to do another Ritz cracker crust, either.

“Since neither of us can make a decent pie crust, what if we use my pizza crust instead?” I suggested.

Ben agreed it was worth a shot. Bob and the kids love my whole wheat pizza crust; we make it at least once a week. And since that heavenly tomato pie we’d experienced in Charleston had seemed to blow every pizza we’d ever eaten out of the water, it seemed like a reasonable adaptation to try.

The recipe we settled on came from Charleston magazine. I liked that the mayo was mixed with egg and red wine vinegar and layered into the pie rather than loaded on top. Other than the crust, the only change we made was subbing an Italian spice blend for fresh basil, using both sharp cheddar and white cheddar, and skipping the onions (I didn’t want to discourage some of our more finicky family members from trying our “pie”.)

Needless to say, this “tomato pie” was more like a “pie” in the pizza sense. But it was amazing. 

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Earlier the kids and I had been talking about these fried-egg-and-tomato sandwiches my family used to eat during the tomato garden harvest, which would be spread thick with mayo on toast. This tomato pie tasted like it contained the distilled essence of that childhood treat.

And why not? The garden-fresh tomatoes, the egg and mayo were all tucked inside a bread blanket, along with two kinds of cheese (sharp cheddar and white cheddar) and a little cracked pepper and cider vinegar for extra zing.

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We’re calling our version “tomato pizza pie.” And we’re definitely making this again before tomato season is over.

Tomato Pizza Pie

(For the original recipe this is based on, click here.)

For the crust:  Use your favorite pizza crust recipe and press it into the sides of a small baking dish. (I hesitate to recommend mine, because it makes a huge batch and it’s whole wheat, which can be an acquired taste. I suspect that any decent bread dough or pizza crust will taste pretty good with this filling.)

For the filling:

1 cup  mayonnaise
1/1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 large eggs
3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese

3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3-4 fresh garden tomatoes, cored and cut
into 1/4-inch slices
Freshly cracked black pepper
Salt

Italian seasoning (I used a blend that was basically oregano and basil)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel, core and slice the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and set them on paper towels to drain for about half an hour. (When you’re ready to use them, blot the tops with paper towel as well.)

Prepare the pizza crust, pressing it into and up the sides of a small baking dish.

Blend the mayo, vinegar and egg in a small bowl.

Now you’re ready to begin assembling the pizza:

Put a thin layer of both cheeses on the bottom of the crust. Add a layer of sliced tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Then add a layer of the mayo mixture.

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Repeat the layering process until the filling comes close to the top of the baking dish. Sprinkle more cheese over the top.

Bake in the oven for around 20  minutes or until the top is well-browned.

Note: The original recipe said you said should then allow the pie to cool and even refrigerate it for an hour before slicing into wedges and baking for another five to seven minutes to warm it up. But we were too impatient and ate it shortly after it came out of the oven!

 

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Failure-proofing a 225-day streak

In a year when my running plans have been derailed by persistent injury, a ridiculously tiny fitness goal has taken on outsized importance.

In fact, I’m not even going to tell you what it is just yet, it’s so humiliatingly insignificant.

The point is not the project itself so much as the methodology involved in keeping the streak alive. Succeed at the small stuff, study the keys to your success, and maybe you can replicate your “win” on something larger. That’s my take on it, anyway.

Now, here’s where I admit that it doesn’t really matter very much on any given day whether I walk to the mailbox or stop the car at the end of the driveway and grab it on my way to or from some other errand.

On the 225th day of 2017, though, those 200 steps add up to 22.5 miles. More importantly, in a quality of life sense, that’s a lot less junk collecting in my car if I’m on my way somewhere else and don’t immediately bring the mail and newspapers into the house. Most importantly, this tiny task has become my version of Tim Ferriss’ “win the day” routine – goals so small and doable that you actually do them (and then benefit from feeling successful, on however small a scale).

But the key to making even a small goal happen is having an out – a safe way to fail without derailing the project.

In this case, that meant if something prevented me from fetching the mail, it was OK – so long as I didn’t use the car to retrieve it. In other words, it was fine to simply skip a day. (Believe me, there are plenty of times over the years when that’s happened.) I’d just get a double dose of mail and papers the next day instead.

One close call came this spring, when an impending storm jeopardized a paycheck I desperately hoped was waiting inside our leaky mailbox. I was leaving Ossian, on my way to a middle school soccer game due to start in less than five minutes, and my route took me right past our house. Tempting as it was to stop at the mailbox, I forced myself to drive around to the back door like I usually would and ran out to the road. I grabbed the mail and raced back to the car as lightning flashed and the monsoon began. By the time I got to the school approximately two minutes later, the game had been canceled. But my check was (mostly) dry, and my streak was intact.

The most recent would-be streak buster came last week, when Colleen begged me to stop the car so she could check if a package was in the mailbox.

“What about my streak?” I said.

(Insert 14-year-old’s whine here.)

I thought about making her run up to the house and back first, but we were in a hurry. In the end, I gave in. But here’s how I preserved my streak:

I refused to look at either the mail or the newspapers until the next morning, AFTER I went out to fetch the morning paper – at which point, under normal circumstances, I’d have been fetching the previous day’s mail as well.

I’m calling that a win. More importantly, the streak goes on: 140 days to go.

 

 

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A cool thing that happened when I hopped off the yoga treadmill

There’s a Chinese parable I read somewhere once about a farmer whose only horse ran away.

horse running away“What terrible news!” his neighbors said. But the farmer replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad? Only time will tell.”

The next day the horse returned with several wild horses, and the farmer’s neighbors  congratulated him on his good fortune. But his reply was the same.

Even if you’ve never heard this story, you can probably guess where it goes from here: The farmer’s son breaks his leg trying to tame one of the wild horses (“what terrible news!”) but then is spared when the Emperor’s troops come through the village demanding every able-bodied man join up.

When Colleen suddenly refused to go to yoga class last week, suggesting we try a youtube video instead, I feared our latest foray into yoga was over. We’d already missed two classes while on vacation, and needless to say we never got around to doing yoga on the beach.

Without other people in class noticing if we didn’t do the poses, would we bother to try anything difficult?

The answer, in my case, was no. I was grouchy and uncomfortable, unable to get over this shift in our routine.

But Colleen did, probably just to spite me. And once I got over my aggravation at starting in “easy seat” (with my hips, there’s nothing “easy” about sitting cross-legged), it turned out we both really liked the instructor.

Now, a week later, instead of never doing any yoga unless I’m at class, we find ourselves in the midst of a 30-Day Yoga Challenge.

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Adriene is awesome!

We started out with Adriene. We both liked that she’s very real, neither perfect nor pretentious, encouraging you to explore, wriggling around within a pose to find what feels good or interesting to you.

But then one night, craving something short and simple, we found this 15-minute relaxing beginner’s series from Yoga Journal. Even though the narrator has a weird detached omniscient Star Trek voice, it really was both easy and relaxing. (It was also cool to watch the virtuoso on the screen. He wasn’t showing off being a human pretzel. Just the opposite, really – I loved the way he glided easily and efficiently from pose to pose, as if this is how the human body is supposed to work if you’re not all bound up by stress. When the video was over, I found myself watching the next one just to gawk.

But the highlight of the week was the night I was just goofing around while listening to one of Bob’s old classical records. Not surprisingly, I started out doing all the easy stuff I like best. But then, on kind of a mission now several days into this challenge, I decided to really explore this tight-hips problem.

In class, I’d gotten to the point that I just accepted my limitations and sat with my legs straight out in front of me, knowing the YMCA instructors are way too polite to object.  

But here, alone in our living room with my 52-year-old muscles and the timeless tunes of both composer and musicians long since dead, I leaned in to the knots and kinks and unresolved grudges at the intersection of hip and leg.

In doing so, I thought about how I’m always pushing these muscles along in relentless forward motion, rarely giving them an opportunity for a sideways meander.

Even going to yoga class had been something I’d approached like doing time on some taskmaster’s treadmill. It was time to step off and go exploring.

 

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Consistent also-ran persists despite 1-43 record in friendly rivalry

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Doug Bauman, center, and Barry Humble, right, have both run in all 44 Swiss Days Races since 1974. But it wasn’t until last year that Humble beat Bauman for the first time. At left is my dad, one of the original co-founders of the race. 

How does it feel to get beat by the same guy 42 years in a row?

I’ve been to many a Swiss Days Race over the years, but this was a plot line that eluded me until my dad, who helped start the race back in 1974, happened to mention it one day while we were working on a book about tales from his life as a banker in Amish country.

I knew about Doug Bauman’s race streak because he was a frequent age group winner and for years also helped announce the awards afterward. At the 40th running of the race back in 2013, he’d brought all of his trophies as part of a historical display.

But I never knew about Barry Humble, who’s also run all 44 races – and until last year, had never beaten Bauman, though both are former cross country runners and coaches who are roughly the same age.

I interviewed both runners earlier this summer so I’d be prepared to write a newspaper column on their long-running friendly rivalry on deadline after Saturday’s race, which took place less than 24 hours after our return from visiting my daughter in Charleston.

Though Bauman was clearly the more competitive of the two – a real go-getter as a former Marine and high school record holder – back surgery had made running so difficult that he basically doesn’t do it anymore. He was lacing up his shoes just to keep his race streak alive.

That made it seem likely that Humble, a longtime pastor and retired teacher who runs regularly and appears to be in relatively good health, had a good shot at beating Bauman for only the second time in 44 years.

That’s not how it played out. You can get the details from my column here, if you’re curious, but what really struck me afterward was how these guys both seem like sports heroes, albeit of two dramatically different mindsets.

Bauman clearly saw this as a major challenge, and he did wind up doing a bit of training ahead of time, but his performance in this race was more about having a warrior’s mindset, even at age 71.

Humble takes a more philosophical approach to running. As the fifth or sixth guy on his high school cross country team, and around the 10th guy on the squad at Taylor University, he learned to focus on improving his time without being jealous of the runners higher in the pecking order.

He runs because it makes him feel better, allows him to enjoy the occasional elephant ear without putting on weight, and because it’s fun to socialize with other runners – including a couple of guys he used to coach whom he now sees regularly in a 12-race county 5K challenge. He also enjoys using running stories in his sermons. 

Could he have dug deep and matched Bauman’s pace when his rival caught and then passed him with about a mile to go in Saturday’s race? It’s certainly possible. But Humble, who rarely finishes higher than third in his age group in the county challenge races yet leads his division overall due to his consistency, was hoping to beat 27 minutes for the first time this year, and he likely didn’t want to get caught up in a chase that might wear him out.

In the end he achieved his goal – by less than a second – but that was good enough for him.

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Barry Humble finishes the Swiss Days Race in 26:59.3, meeting his goal by less than a second. 

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Charleston tackles climate change

 

 

Wading into the Atlantic over the weekend off Sullivan’s Island, S.C., I was stunned by the warmth of the water. At times the waves crashing over us felt almost … hot.

I wasn’t just imagining things. The water temperature was 86 degrees, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another website I consulted suggested that ocean temperatures near Charleston get up to around 82 degrees in the summer, so that’s not too much above normal. But what’s considered “normal” in any given year has been edging upward in recent decades, according to a report by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Later, walking along the waterfront in Charleston Harbor, taking in all that glorious history and architecture, I couldn’t help wondering how things will look here a few decades from now as the water level rises. They don’t call this the “low country” for nothing; driving around town our GPS had often indicated we were below sea level. Our daughter’s friend A.J., who was giving us a rundown of all the historical sites he’s explored this summer, noted that large sections of Fort Johnson, which fired the shots on Fort Sumter that started the Civil War, were mostly underwater when he visited.

It’s encouraging to discover that while some people continue to deny climate change, this coastal city is aggressively tackling the problem head on. Its residents have no choice: The sea level here has risen a foot over the last century, according to a 2015 document outlining the city’s Sea Level Rise Strategy. Flooding which used to occur twice a year in the 1970s is now averaging 11 times per year. But the sea wall protecting the Battery has been shored up and raised, stormwater drainage enhancements are underway and other projects are planned as the city prepares for a rise of up to 2.5 feet over the next 50 years.

I didn’t expect to find such progressive thinking down here, in the “sleepy old conservative South.” That’s what I get for believing in stereotypes.

 

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These three lovely ladies enjoyed a stroll along the Waterfront in Charleston on Sunday, beginning in the gazebo in Battery Park. My nieces Madison (left) and Monroe (right) are helping my oldest daughter Rowan (center) at a camp for autistic children this week. (Colleen is helping out as well, but must have been wandering around the park reading historical inscriptions while this photo was taken).