In a Season of Renewal

April 03, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

Havre de Grace. -- On the last morning in March I found on the north side of the barn a piece of ice about the size of a tabloid newspaper, all that was left of the little glacier that had been there a week before.

Easter comes, and the end of Lent, and April. With them, a little more cautiously than usual this weatherbeaten year, comes spring. Each day brings another change, but the changes are tentative and the signals mixed. A sunny morning gives way to cold rain and a touch of wet snow.

Yet in the fields, rain or shine, the grass is slurping up the water like a great solar-powered machine, turning mud to soil and assorted chemicals to pasture. Some of the pasture will eventually be further converted to manure, and some will become living tissue -- and eventually hamburger and more living tissue before, inevitably, ending up somewhere or other as chemicals again.

The first new greenery to sprout in the early spring pastures usually isn't grass at all, but the tops of wild onions. Winter-weary animals may prefer bluegrass and clover, but until these are available they take what they can find. The past few days the horses' breath has smelled like a delicatessen.

Except for three heifers that are taking their own sweet time, our calving is finished. But even as we begin to relax about that, the cows in the main herd are getting anxious. This has to do with their increasingly independent calves, the greening pastures into which they'd like to be released, and their hormonal concerns about future generations.

There are pheromones in the cool air, and lust is smoldering everywhere. Downwind from the cows our two bulls are spending a lot of their time sniffing the breeze and roaring. They won't have to wait much longer to join the ladies. Conjugal visitation will begin about the time Bill Clinton's taxes have to be paid -- not to imply that there's any connection between sex and taxes, or between the president and cattle futures.

Early in the morning these past few days there has been much more birdsong. Bluebirds are warbling along the fencelines. Usually over the winter I build a few new nesting boxes for them, but this winter I didn't, and thus had to order some ready-made ones. They looked so fancy I wondered if the birds would use them, but the first one I put up had a pair of bluebirds in it within 24 hours.

In the woods by the house, flickers screech at each other raucously. There's something very good-natured, as well as loud, about flickers. Thoreau, that accurate observer, noted that ''the flicker dashes through the aisles of the grove, throws up a window here and cackles out of it.''

The great northbound flights of geese and swan seem to be over now, although we still have a good variety of ducks stopping on the pond. One day there were robins everywhere, and then they were gone. I read someplace that migrating robins follow the 37-degree isobar as they move north with the spring, but temperatures vary so much at this time of year, I'd think that would be pretty hard to do.

Usually by now we've heard the clamorous mating song of the spring peepers, those little tree frogs called hyla crucifer because they have the sign of the cross on their backs, but this year they're late. It's said that frogs worldwide are in trouble, and that worries me. A spring without the peepers would be a season diminished.

Robert Penn Warren, remarking on the cyclical nature of the natural year, said that ''each year is like a snake that swallows its tail.'' But what's astounding to me, especially in the spring, is the way each annual renewal is different from those that have gone before. The seasons may resemble one another from one year to the next as they hurry by, just as calves and bluebirds do, but closer inspection reveals their differences. They're never the same, which is why each seems so fresh and new.

That's one reason I hate to go away, especially in the spring; there's so much happening, and I don't want to miss it. What if the barn swallows came back while I was gone, or the eggs the Carolina wren is about to lay in an old wicker basket on the front porch were to hatch? I'd feel I'd lost something I wouldn't be able to replace.


Corrections and clarifications: A recent column discussed the need for stop-and-frisk laws to check handgun violence. Pat Smith, who is running for attorney general, called to point out that Maryland already has such a law on the books. Whether it's used effectively is, of course, another question.

Another column implied that none of Maryland's four Republican members of the House of Representatives had served in the state legislature. Bill Ratchford of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services was the first to point out that Rep. Connie Morella served two terms in the House of Delegates. Your correspondent is abashed, and apologizes.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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