Approach spring on quiet cat paws, so gods of winter keep cold to themselves

SATURDAY'S HERO

March 16, 1996|By ROB KASPER

I WAS POKING around a basement closet this week when I found a snow shovel. The question was how could I handle this shovel in a prudent, caring style. A style that would not rouse the furies.

Not that I am superstitious. I do, however, believe that if you rush this changeover from winter tools to spring tools, you can create an imbalance in the universe. If you overplay the arrival of warm weather, winter can get honked off, make a vicious comeback, and put a real hurtin' on you and the homestead.

Take, for example what happened to me two weeks ago. I was opening an upstairs window. The sky was blue. The outside air was warm and inviting. I felt an urge to put the screen in the window. Putting a screen in is, of course, a universal sign among homeowners that good weather has arrived. I put the screen in the window. Two days later we had four inches of snow and temperatures dropped to near zero.

Maybe it was pure coincidence that as soon as the screen was in the window, the weather went down the tubes. But I am not taking the chance again.

I am proceeding very slowly on this "hello, spring" routine. I think other homeowners would be wise to move cautiously as well.

Let us look, for example, at the compelling urge some of us now feel to hook up the garden hose, turn on the outside water faucet and wash the car. This is understandable, even commendable behavior. It has been a long, salty winter. We want to wipe away any lingering sign of its corrosive power.

But don't overplay the hose happiness bit. After you have finished washing the car, consider taking the hose back in the house. It could get cold again. At the very least you should, as a sign of respect to winter, turn off the water supply feeding the outside faucet. My experience has been that if you tempt winter by leaving the outside faucet turned on, a cold snap will descend upon you. The pipe will freeze. Water will gush. Words will flow from your mouth as you mop up the mess. These will not be words found in sonnets celebrating spring.

Next there is the question of how much of the outdoor furniture you should haul out of storage. Again I urge moderation. If one sunny day causes you to pull out all the chairs, the umbrella and the chaise lounge, you can virtually count on two more weeks of winter.

A more prudent view would be to behave as if you were arriving at the home of a distant relative in a foreign country. Smile sweetly and carry very little. You want to give the impression that you are there for a short visit. If all goes well on the initial encounter, you can gradually move in more stuff.

The warm-weather drive to get down and dirty also needs to be controlled. Be temperate in the garden. Raking is permitted and, depending on the temperature of the soil, you might be able to get away with a little bit of planting. But avoid massive garden projects. Save those for May. If you stir up the soil too early, the gods of frost will get even.

This week I didn't want to risk putting that snow shovel away for the winter. So I carried it to the back yard and used the shovel as a dust pan to help sweep up winter debris.

The sun was bright and the warm air filled me with ambition. I thought of peeling the cold-weather wraps off the fig trees, but stopped short. A plastic bag sat at the base of one fig tree, covering its roots. The minute I opened the bag, the smell of pine needles washed over me. The bag was filled with Christmas tree mulch. It was a remnant of a trip my son, his friend and I had made to Memorial Stadium one Saturday in January. In a parking lot across the street from the stadium we, along with other families, watched in amazement as our once-regal Christmas trees were reduced by a powerful machine to bits of wood. When the machine paused, the city work crew signaled that it was OK for onlookers to scoop the freshly made mulch into bags.

My younger son and his friend filled up the bag with mulch. When we got home, I dropped the bag at the foot of the fig tree. The next day, the bag and most of Maryland was covered with two feet of snow. The bag has been covered with snow, off and on, ever since.

The other day when I opened the bag I caught a whiff of Christmas. So I stopped behaving like a spring gardener. When I got back in the basement, I did not put the snow shovel in storage. I will keep it handy for the next few weeks, and use it as a dust pan. You can't rush things.

Pub Date: 3/16/96

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