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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

Warm or Cold, Spring Is Welcome

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
—William Cullen Bryant: “The Death of the Flowers,” 1832

Ordinarily, by the calendar, these should not be melancholy days hereabouts. In Bryant’s (and my) New England, the meadows and lawns remain brown and dry, but here in North County on the shores of Stoney Creek, the lawns and meadows are lush green. Yet the trees are naked save for tiny buds beginning to emerge — if you look close enough.

However, the winds do wail as they did in much of March; the mercury sags low in the thermometer, and already we have had our share of April showers. Yes, the days are melancholy — unless one happens to be a fisher of rockfish. This spring, like the last, bodes well for Maryland’s trophy rockfish season, which commences April 17.

Some Like It Hot; Fishers Like It Cool
When spring weather comes late, temperatures of the Chesapeake remain chilled, and wind and rain roil and stain the waters, the environmentally-sensitive striped bass of the Bay are in no hurry to complete their spawning mission. To a point, they will wait for optimum conditions before the eggs are dropped by the cows and fertilized by the smaller bucks.

The longer the conditions remain as they have been in recent weeks, the more prolonged the spawning process. Bottom line, most of the big females will leave the Bay later, which means they will still be available to fishermen well into the trophy season. Too often the early spring weather that gardeners, golfers and so many others relish sends the rockfish out of the Chesapeake early, leaving those with hooks and lines only a week or 10 days of optimum catches.

Me, I’m in the middle. Sure I’d enjoy weeks of big-fish catching as I did last year. But I am also eager to welcome the first catbirds as well as the mockingbirds that stop, but unlike the catbirds for some curious reason, don’t stay long hereabouts. Being a gardener, I am eager to get on with planting. I’d like to have it over and done with by the time the big fish are biting rather than have to choose between working in the yard or angling in the Bay when both coincide in early spring.

Either Way, We Make Do
As in the Chesapeake, things are late on the dry land overlooking Stoney Creek. The finches of brilliant yellow are just beginning to show at the thistle feeders, and some snowbirds remain to feast on sunflower seeds. I have yet to see or hear a catbird, but then rains have pretty much washed away the grape jelly set out in their feeder before a feeding pattern can be ascertained.

Just the other day, I saw the first cottontail of spring romping on the south lawn. The grass is lush, so there’s much for bunnies to eat — though I’m troubled by the chances for their newborn in chilly and wet weather. The daffodils are beginning to bloom, though behind schedule. The magnolia tree tries to blossom, but the fierce winds blow the opening petals from the pink buds. The first few dandelions are such a rich dark yellow, they’re almost welcome. Almost!

Friends and neighbors with boats gripe loudly about all the wet stuff. The winds they don’t mind; they dry hulls quickly. But too often rains come before the paint can go on. I no longer have a boat of any kind, but at my house the wind and rain have put behind the schedule of cleaning and repainting birdhouses and feeders, and I am reluctant to lose that opportunity two years in a row.

No accommodations are asked by the three mallards that spend most of their days on my east lawn. I like to think they are the same three as last year and survived the duck season of fall and winter, though there’s no way can I be sure. For years, there have been three, two drakes and a hen; one of the drakes is dominant. He spends much of his time head low to the grass aggressively chasing the other as far as possible from both the kernels of corn I scatter on the grass and from the hen, who appears bemused by the early stages of contested courtship.

Much of the day the lawn is loaded with squirrels, a white one among them. In winter, our schedules seldom coincide, so once again it’s time to train the less wary of them to take peanuts from my hand, as they obviously forget over the winter months. It takes patience and several weeks, but soon that chore will be accomplished.

Next comes training granddaughter Grumpy, going on two and a half, to calm down long enough to offer a bushytail a peanut. That’s even more of a task. Not only is she impatient, she is inclined to try and pick up a squirrel as she does our cat 2-E. Much as our visitors like peanuts, they insist they be offered passively. Which will be less difficult: training the squirrels or training Grumpy?

A New Face at the Table
More secretive in its pursuit of peanuts is a mouse that has taken refuge on the screened-in porch. I haven’t spied it yet; surely 2-E hasn’t or its carcass would have been left at the back door as her gift to me. I know of the mouse’s presence via the partially opened peanut shells — just enough has been chewed away for removal of the meats.

I store the peanuts in a capped, clear-plastic, gallon container that’s rounded so mice can’t get a sufficient bite to chew into the cache. But beside the big container is a large cup in which I keep a few dozen loose peanuts that can be grabbed quickly should a bluejay appear. I enjoy testing the jays to see how close they will come for peanuts. Jays love a peanut as much as squirrels do, but they are more reluctant to come close for their rewards.

Every morning, the few peanuts left in the cup from the previous day have been eaten. The shells and the paper-thin, dark-reddish coatings on the meats remain in the cup, but the meats of the nuts are gone. A few times I have been tempted to set a trap, but I rather enjoy the game of cat ’n’ mouse, especially as I trust that this late I need not fear that the tiny rodent is interested in invading the house. If it did, I’m confident 2-E could handle the intrusion.

Signs Everywhere
The moles of the yard are quite active this year; my feet feel the softness above their tunnels. But moles don’t bother me; I know that soon they will have eaten all the garden-harmful larva and moved on to lunch elsewhere.

From Stoney Creek, the migrant Canada geese have departed, but left behind are the many non-migrants, the year-round birds that become more numerous each year and in so many places in Maryland and along the coast eat aquatic vegetation and make nuisances of themselves. I only hope they set up shop and leave their droppings at the new golf course several miles down Fort Smallwood Road, if only as payback for the developers who bulldozed trees not far from Rock Creek to create the links.

Ah yes, spring is here, and so much is changing. All the new life isn’t on the lawn or the bushes and trees. It’s everywhere, and pity those who don’t find time to look around, witness the change, welcome the newcomers and bid farewell to all who leave only to return eight months hence.

Taking time to smell the roses is not only a figure of speech. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 8, 2004 @ 12:59am.