Sizzling: Yesterday brought summer warmth to Baltimore, with car washes and sunbathing, blooming trees and swimming dogs. This city knows how to adjust to heat.

A PLACE IN THE SUN

March 28, 1998|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

Yesterday was our first hot day, and not without consequences.

And results, too.

There was Sheen Roos, the horticultural genius at the Baltimore Museum of Art, who has brought forth tulips of many colors -- yellow, peach, orange and red -- and daffodils even before their time. It's about 85 degrees and she's fingering the soft tendril of a flowering crabapple tree on Museum Drive. She worries.

This tree is in a breakneck rush to get all its flags flying. It is young and reckless, not ready to believe it might be sacrificed to nature's New World Order, or the jealous god, El Nino.

"In this kind of weather," she says, "things are pushed into active growth. It's called 'breaking dormancy.' "

Active growth, indeed. For trees, maybe.

A half a block away on the greensward that falls away from the Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins' Homewood Campus, much the opposite is occurring.

"The beach" as this place is called, is littered with bodies of young students, most of them prone or supine. Not much "breaking dormancy" there.

It is worth worrying about the crabapple. "We've had blizzards in April," recalls Roos.

It was just a couple of weeks ago when we were all worried about freezing our buds off. Pat Voss, the administrative assistant to the new museum director, Doreen Bolger, remembers what happened to her daffodils.

"They were like little popsicles," she says sadly.

Voss is astonished by the weather, and is out on the museum steps enjoying it all. She's not really that amazed. She's lived nearly her entire life in Baltimore. She knows what to expect. She recently moved up near the Pennsylvania line to a place called Pylesville. It's cooler up there, and she likes it -- except for the daffodil popsicles.

Some people worry when the weather gets too hot too quickly. They fear it may only be evidence that worse is to come. This brings quizzical looks, whimpers of alarm. Is the sky falling? The sea rising?

It's hard to reassure such people. But Baltimore is always hot. It is known for its summer heat. People from Death Valley have come here and keeled over. It is a wonder that people ever settled here. The Indians avoided the place.

There is one compensation. Washington's hotter, and stickier. Is it good to take pleasure from the discomfort of other people in other cities?

Sometimes.

The smell of things long dead was heavy in the air yesterday. The husks of insects that never woke up. The dry and ticklish scent of thirsty grass. An anarchy of purposeless growth is preparing itself, mostly out of sight, beneath the bark, buried in the loam.

There have been a herald or two: those tough little daffodils, spring's outriders, along with the magnolias. The daffodils (except for those in Pylesville) saw it through; the magnolias were annihilated just about everywhere. And the forsythia, which always has to be first, was sprung by yesterday's sudden heat into its full screaming glory.

What yesterday could not offer us is any sense of gratitude. The winter was a toothless pussycat, a false season without bite. Sliding into this gives no sense of relief because there is no pleasure in recalling its counterpoint. Without that, the contrast, why not just move to Florida and embrace the tepid sameness?

Of course, there are some people who like that. Like Josh Abel. He was encountered at a picnic table near Wyman Park. A young fellow from Long Beach, Calif.

"Nice change," he said. "Maybe a little too much, too soon.

"I'm not a big fan of the humidity you have out here," says Abel. "But it's a lot better than your winters." One might have reminded him that they aren't entirely "our" winters; they're his now as well, and he would be advised to stop trying to disown them.

Eighty degrees going on 90 is a big change. There are occasions when nature forgets herself, touches the wrong switch. But 80 degrees going on 90 is something of a climatic divide, and as such calls for some kind of ceremonial.

Jeffrey O'Rourke understands that. So does his pal Kevin Kennedy. So does Jeffrey's dog, Kudda. Weather like this calls for certain prescribed responses. They were in Robert E. Lee Park yesterday fulfilling these ancient rites.

"I love it," says O'Rourke. "You put the top down. You get the car washed early in the morning. First thing."

Kudda, a black Labrador retriever, doesn't know from washing cars. All she knows is sticks and balls. That's what 80 degrees going on 90 is all about for her. She doesn't get sticks and balls, and water, until it gets that hot.

Kennedy lobs the tennis ball off the pier. It lands about 20 yards away in Lake Roland with a little plash. Kudda wasn't watching, though she's eager enough.

"Not the smartest animal," mumbles Kennedy. Kudda tilts her head. This time she's watching as Kennedy lobs a stick that lands near the ball.

Kudda's off like Johnny Weissmuller. Or like Johnny Weissmuller's dog, if Johnny Weissmuller had a dog instead of a chimp, which couldn't swim anyway. She reaches the stick. She reaches the ball. Which one? Decisions!

She decides on the ball, paddles easily to shore with it, then trots over to stand right next to the nearest human being before shaking half the lake off her back.

"Aaaghh!"

Good doggie!

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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