Volume XI, Issue 12 ~ March 20-26, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Everything Seems in Order for Yet Another Spring

And I shall see the snow all go downhill
In water of a slender April rill.
— Robert Frost: “The Onset”

Rill: It’s quite a word, so appropriate for a New Englander, which Robert Frost was, as is so evident in his writing. Rill. It brings to mind spring in my native New England, a setting where the terrain is mountains and hills, unlike hereabouts where rills are rarely seen, and the word seldom spoken.

One must see a rill to appreciate its meaning, and that is what I saw last week as we bid farewell to the last remnants of the Blizzard of ’03. As Frost wrote in “The Onset,” one of my favorite poems, it was a slender rill (though of March, not April). But aren’t all rills slender?

Webster’s Dictionary describes a rill as “a very small brook,” which is what I observed following warmer temperatures and rain as the last of the snow turned to the wet stuff and, like a very small brook, bubbled down the steep slopes from the back yard toward Stoney Creek up here at Riviera Beach in North County.

Like a small brook tumbling down a Vermont mountain, the last of the Big Snow made its way through the woods below the cliff, and I bid it goodbye and good riddance. As I walked back to the house, before me were 27 robins on the front lawn. Farewell to winter. Good riddance — though we must concede all the snow and rain have nearly filled our reservoirs, improved our groundwater levels and made way for a traditional spring.

By the calendar, spring comes on the 20th, but up here in North County, everywhere there is evidence of spring. Almost overnight the daffodil garden completely hidden under snow a few weeks ago is now green. The stalks shot up overnight. The sap is running in the four maples on the front lawn — though once again I have procrastinated in my plans to tap those trees to determine the quality of syrup from red and silver maples as compared with that of the true sugar maples.

Less than two weeks ago, friend Alan Doelp and I journeyed to Vermont in hopes of witnessing the sugaring operation, but we (and the sap flow) came too late. The only rig setup we saw was in New York 20 miles east of the Vermont line, and it was just getting underway. The countryside was still in the grip of winter, and at Big Bromley in midday we couldn’t see the skiers, as the mountaintop was shrouded in heavy, fine-falling snow.

Even now, in Vermont, the usual mud season — with its sticky walking and driving where cement and asphalt aren’t evident — is delayed by frigid weather. But here at home, all that is past, though we undoubtedly will have more reminders of winter. The elements don’t go strictly by the calendar.

Fish Are Swimming Our Way
Overall, those of us who fish have been blessed. The same runoff that spawned the rill next to the Burton homestead wasn’t too bad for the reeling in of rockfish last Saturday on the Susquehanna Flats, where the catch-and-release season got underway. Somehow, Mother Nature granted us the right conditions for an even and uncomplicated runoff, and waters were fairly clear. This should also make things easier for the spawn as the big cow rock await the right temperatures to drop their eggs.

And within the past week, the stripers arrived at Calvert Cliffs, where fishing is allowed in the outflow outside the security zone — though all fish must go back. My friend Skip Zinck of Severn caught and released more than 30 fish one day; several days later it was 71 — some going more than 30 inches.

However, yellow-perch fishermen have found the catching slow. Waters didn’t warm quickly enough for them. Some anglers tried the traditional spawning streams over the past weekend, but few neds were taken. Possibly, maybe probably, the fish tired of waiting for warmer headwaters and are dropping their eggs in open waters.

Meanwhile, this is the time that shad from the ocean are coming into freshwaters for their spawning ritual. Not infrequently the first few are caught by St. Patrick’s Day. They, too, are probably a bit behind schedule but will quickly make up for it. One wonders about white perch that closely follow the yellow-perch run. Thankfully, they are more forgiving in their tolerance for chilly habitat.

The Order of Things …
Other than fishes, the migration most awaited in the Burton household is that of the catbirds. The hoped-for first sighting is a couple of days past due. But watching a robin pick seeds from the suet in a feeder just today was a sight worth seeing. Was the soil still too cold for surfacing worms and bugs? Thankfully, robins are opportunistic when need be; they are truly survivors.

Only a month ago, Lois and granddaughter Jennie donned cross-country skis to reach the market for milk and other necessities. Now, everything seems in order. Spring is about to spring. Things are coming to life.

Includes Loss: Farewell, Friends
Yet some things go the other way, and as we get older we note with sorrow there are some no longer with us as life goes on in the refreshing spring of the year. I think of two acquaintances of note who passed away earlier this year: Joe Foss and Bill Mauldin.

Many of the younger generation perhaps never heard of them, but to those of us around in World War II, they were living legends. They gave us not only hope but, in their separate and individual ways, inspiration.

Who among us then can forget Foss, who, over Guadalcanal in his first six weeks flying combat for the ‘Cactus’ Air Force, shot down 23 Japanese aircraft, five in a single day? With 26 in all in that war, he also got the Congressional Medal of Honor and later was governor of South Dakota and still later founded the Joe Foss Institute, which enlisted veterans to teach young people the contributions veterans have made to freedom. A sportsman, Foss was commissioner of the old American Football League and hosted the American Sportsman on TV.

Joe was a regular guy. Period. When we last crossed paths three decades ago, he was running in place in his Washington hotel room to keep in shape (it was pouring rain outside) in the event the Air Force ever needed him again. When we hunted waterfowl together at Chestertown earlier, he said he was practicing keeping his eyes on target, also for the same reason.

And who of that long-ago era can forget the dogface Willie and Joe cartoons of Bill Mauldin, who portrayed foxhole humor at a time when the world was a quagmire of grim? In the Pacific, the first thing we turned to in Stars and Stripes was Mauldin’s single panel for an uplift. He later became a famed editorial page cartoonist, but old-timers remember him best for cartoons like the master sergeant, left hand over his eyes, as he reaches behind him, pistol in hand, to put his ruined jeep to rest.

Mauldin was 81; Foss, 87. In these trying times, we need more like them today. Like spring, they could change a person’s attitude for the better, difficult as things might seem. Enough said …



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Last updated March 20, 2003 @ 1:57am