Enjoy nature's springtime glory

ON THE BAY

Season: A record winter snowfall makes for extra appreciation of what follows.

April 11, 2003|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

IKNEW THIS spring would be extra sweet, knew it when winter lay deepest on the land -- as in the 28.2-inch snow that fell during mid-February.

I knew because I remembered vividly how special spring felt 20 years ago, after digging out from the 22.8-inch blizzard of February 1983.

The ice and snow laid siege to our shaded rowhouse alleys and side streets well into March.

The Sun ran many pages on the '83 storm, which was demoted from Baltimore's second-biggest snow in 132 years to third place by this winter's new champion.

But what I remember most is walking home to Ednor Gardens some four miles up the center of Charles Street after putting the blizzard story to bed.

The city, its arteries snow-clogged, lay in full traffic arrest, wrapped in a rich, white hush, a reverential landscape, strangely beautiful even to those who walked it daily.

Two decades later, the second great snow closes brackets on a healthy chunk of one's life: the 5-year-old and 2-year-old -- then agog at their first snow drifts -- now grouse about the slow traffic on their way to work.

Their mother has been dead six springs now, and my new love shares another unforgettable walk in the snow through our woods near Butler, a thousand miles from Ednor Gardens.

The snow's so deep that the two Labradors porpoise through it until, exhausted, they fall in obediently behind us for the first time in their lives.

It's those simple acts of going outside that we'll remember, long after all the newsprint devoted to the great snows has faded.

And this spring, as I knew it would be, is most appreciated.

Any sad memories it brings are carried along on a flood crest of renewal and creation.

My own spring touchstones and rituals are surely not everyone's, though I commend them:

The forests' early blushes as the red maples bud, followed by willows' lemony greening and the creamy spangles of shadbush.

The return of great blue herons to mate and nest in their great, raucous colonies at Nanjemoy in southern Maryland, and Bloodsworth Island in Tangier Sound.

Fiddler crabs swarming to the marsh surface as the sun warms their muddy burrows, and ospreys building nests along every tidal river.

There is a place I paddle each April, along the wooded banks of Dorchester County's lonely Blackwater River, upstream of the Route 335 bridge, where ospreys and eagles, herons and terns dive on fish all day.

It's a grand display, and also a playground for the light that colors and textures the marsh and the river throughout the day.

There's the swirl of spawning herring, returned from the oceans to the little freshwater streams that feed the bay's rivers -- the spillway of Galestown Pond between Reliance and Sharptown on the Eastern Shore is one place to look.

There's pollen blowing from cedars like golden smoke in the spring breeze, and the pollen of loblolly pines drifting in verdigris whorls on the smooth, dark waters of quiet coves.

These are just a few personal joys in the Chesapeake spring. For the larger picture, I turn to Paul Spitzer, one of Maryland's classic naturalists, who's been compiling a sort of Nature's Ten Commandments (up to six so far), which include:

"Celebration. ... Find local connection points with nature: a stream, swamp, forest grove, meadow or garden, ideally within walking distance of home or workplace. With practice and understanding these places, even small and humble backyard ones, can give us access to the sacred. Properly done, a good swim, walk, or cross-country ski can be a perfect act of worship, celebration and gratitude."

"Gratitude (for nature's gifts). ... From this flow ethics and stewardship. What are our responsibilities to the Creation? There is a profound ethical, and potentially religious dimension to our involvement in the Creation process. ..."

"Pilgrimage. Trips to seashore, forest, mountain, marsh or desert can be high points of every year. Among classic naturalists, the travel writings of William Bartram, Audubon, John Muir and Aldo Leopold all recount pilgrimages.

In the Christian tradition, the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales speaks of the graces of April, when "folk longen to go on pilgrimage" to seek the "holy blissful martyr" amidst the blessings of spring.

"Sanctuary. This is about protection and stability ... holding onto our sense of place, and protecting our beloved places of pilgrimage.

National parks and private preserves are triumphs of this process. They are sanctuaries for me, along with all the diverse life-forms they support.

Always there must be loving pilgrims, celebrants and stewards of these places, large and small."

Hope springs eternal is not just a catchy phrase -- spring is hope eternal --the two words' roots are closely related. But our own springs are measured.

Last week I watched squirrels feed outside the bedroom window of a friend who may not see another spring, and the thought made even this mundane sight of nature seem dear.

My advice is just to get outside -- in the snow and the rain, the cold and heat.

Mark each day the light as it grows from the dark of December 21 to the equinox of March 21, signaling spring, and as it swells toward June 21, summer's start, the year's longest day.

Longer than the finest-wrought passage of any book on nature, you will remember the simple glories of nature itself.

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