The First Robin, or the Last?

ANN EGERTON

December 10, 1991|By ANN EGERTON

The leaves haven't completely fallen off the oak and ginkgo trees, but the weeping cherry tree and azaleas are trying to bloom. The grape hyacinths, daffodils, even an Easter lily that I plunged into my garden last spring have all sent new shoots above the soil. People may be enjoying the shirtsleeve weather that has prevailed this fall, but it's throwing trees and flowers out of whack.

Glorioski, it's December, and while the pyracantha, bittersweet and hollies have never been more abundantly decked with berries, the violets and dandelions look pretty silly at their feet. The colors and textures of spring flowers are too delicate for this time of year; they're grotesque against the coarse dried grasses and sturdy berries of late autumn.

They (and we) are in for a rude surprise when winter weather does finally come. The flowers of the trees and shrubs will be zapped by the hard freezes and turn brown overnight, diminishing next spring's show by a little. I'm betting that the dandelions -- the cockroaches of the weed and flower world -- won't be noticeably reduced. And it's going to take some sustained cold weather to check the chickweed and creeping Charlie that is metastasizing from garden to lawn and back.

This year's weather has been mostly peculiar. The winter of 1991 was mild; in fact, the last 15 months have been warmer than normal. From May on it's been far too dry; Maryland's rainfall for the year is more than 15 inches below normal. Yet, while the corn was small and wizened, the cherries, peaches, grapes and apples were not only plentiful but larger and more succulent than average.

Is this global warming? No one seems to know. It was hot and dry in the Midwest during the 1930s (60 days in the summer of 1936 saw temperatures of over 100 degrees in Kansas) and no one talked about global warming then. You can't help but note that while the weather is abnormal for the season that it must be at least some comfort to the poor and the homeless.

Perhaps we're just in an unusually warm and dry but insignificant cycle. The New York Times reports widespread water shortages in Manhattan, and the state parks in Virginia have been closed because of the drought, yet we don't seem to be bothered here; at least no one has talked much about our drought since September. These are matters to think about as I wonder if the robin I saw today was the last of 1991 or the first of 1992.

Ann Egerton writes from Baltimore.

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