March ushers in sounds and signs of spring

March 06, 2004|By ROB KASPER

AROUND HERE, March is a "tweener," a month that falls between real winter and authentic spring.

In March, you are not sure whether you should haul the garden hose and trowel into the back yard, or stay holed up inside the house, planning and pining.

Over the span of a few days, you often end up doing both. Last week's unusually warm weather had winter-weary masses streaming into the sunshine, peeling off clothes, pretending it was May. Next week, reports warn, there is a chance of snow showers.

Recently, I was one of those great pretenders. As I pulled the hose out of storage, washed the cars and set up the outdoor furniture, I started making a mental list of the signs of spring.

One sign of spring in Maryland is the sound of wheels rumbling. Last Sunday, for instance, I heard rolling thunder coming from the street. I hurried to the window expecting to see motorcyclists on fine-looking Harleys, or a dude driving a throaty convertible.

Instead, I saw a mom pulling a couple of kids down the sidewalk in a wagon with plastic wheels. Later, I heard a few tricycle riders out for afternoon excursions. When the tricycle riders squeal and the wagon riders roll, winter is on the run.

Down near the schoolyard, I saw another seasonal indicator, a beginning bicyclist getting instructions from her mother. The cyclist, who was trying to pull the bike away from her mother, couldn't wait to hit the streets. The mom, with a firm grip on the handlebars, was issuing directives on the rules of the road. This parent-child tussle over freedom and responsibility was likely to continue, in different forms, for many springs to come.

Another sign of spring is when you hear the birds singing and the police helicopter buzzing. Both of these occurrences might happen during winter, but we don't seem to notice them. Or maybe helicopter pilots, like some birds, go south for the winter.

You also know spring is coming when the great mounds of mulch begin to appear. Usually the tallest mounds show up in the yards of the most ambitious gardeners, the ones who can't wait for long stretches of good weather to get down and dirty in their flower beds.

It is a sure sign of spring when the fruit trees blossom and when a fresh crop of brightly colored decals appears on cars lining the streets of neighborhoods that require parking permits. Right now it seems unlikely that either burst of seasonal color will be seen until April.

Other signs of spring are when fishermen start parking their cars near Eastern Shore streams and urban skateboarders start sliding on marble steps. Yesterday, a traveler from the Eastern Shore told me he has spotted perch fishermen gathering at the bridges and last week I saw some skaters working a spot near the Lyric Theater. Funny thing about those skaters, they look so devil-may-care. But they can grow up and turn into voters who cast ballots on bond issues for The Lyric. Mine did.

Chipped paint is also a sign of spring. You discover the chipped paint while making the annual spring inspection of your home. This is the annual inspection that tomes on home maintenance recommend. It is the one in which you walk around the grounds looking for things that have gone wrong over the winter, for gutters that have gone awry, for cracks in the foundation , for loose paint. My life was much happier before I learned about these spring tours. Last week while on tour, I found chipped paint both on the front of my house and the side view mirror of my car. Now I feel duty-bound to sand, fill and repaint these spots. So much for this spring weekend.

Officially spring does not begin until March 20, a few days after St. Patrick's Day, March 17. But there is no law against starting the celebration early. Tomorrow afternoon, for instance, there is a Green Food and Bands Irish festival set for Loyola College. And once the shamrocks appear, spring is just around the corner.

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