THIS WEEK, I presided over the changing of the household shovels. The snow shovel, a winter workhorse, was escorted into the dark recesses of the basement. The garden spade was moved into the sunshine, ready for action. Simply seeing the garden spade, not the snow shovel, on the back porch lifted my heart. Spring has a reputation as an uncertain season - bright sunshine followed by dark clouds - yet this spring I find myself reveling in its predictable rituals.
Rites like rotating the shovels, digging in the garden, washing winter grit off the car as a ballgame barks on the transistor radio - all seem unusually welcome, surprisingly pleasant. It is no deep mystery why. It was a rough winter, and as the weather turns warmer I can't wait to shed clothing and inhibitions and engage in simple pleasures. Yet there are those "Dan Rather moments," times when the silver-haired CBS anchorman displaces my views of college boys playing basketball with news of other young men and women fighting a nasty war in Iraq.
Initially, this juxtaposition was jarring. But as the war wears on, I have become accustomed to these reminders that reality bites. I fold them into some level of consciousness as I go about my chores. I guess one way I have of coping with the enormity of the world is throwing myself at the small problems of the back yard.
This spring, the weeds are back with a vengeance. The winter's snow and ice might have battered the shrubs and snapped off tree limbs, but they also increased ground moisture and encouraged weeds to grow to record size. Already, my postage stamp-size back yard features dandelions sprouting leafage that rivals heads of Romaine lettuce.
Last weekend when I visited my rented garden plot in Druid Hill Park, one of several community gardens in Baltimore administered by the Parks Department, it was dotted with new growth. As I walked toward the plot, I thought the early-spring vegetation might be one of those surprise crops that brighten gardeners' lives. Maybe, I told myself, that Vietnamese cilantro plant had defied the odds, survived the winter and was sending out new growth. Or perhaps the garden's coat of green marked the return of the long-lost lettuce seeds.Once I got up close, however, I saw that the plants spreading over the garden's soggy soil were neither edible nor exotic. They were plain old weeds
Reaching for a garden shovel, I set to work. I figured that all those hours of shoveling snow this winter had prepared me for the spring rigors of digging the garden. I figured wrong. Not only do you use different shovels to move snow and dig dirt, apparently you use different muscles. Soon I was sucking wind, pausing to stop and admire the wiggling worms. After an hour or so of communing with worms, I headed home on my bike. This was the first spring outing for the bike, and the tires were a little low. I had tried to inflate the tires at home with my new tri-lingual pump. Not only does this device have instructions in five languages, it also can be put into various positions to service three different types of air valves - Schrader, Presta and something called Dunlop.
The multilingual pump, like a Dan Rather moment, was another reminder that we live in a complex, global community. Apparently it is too complex for me. While I thought I had Schrader valves, and put the pump in the Schrader inflating position, my tires failed to fill up. So on the way back from the garden, I stopped the bike at St. Paul and Mount Royal, fed two quarters into a machine and got air the old-fashioned American way, at a gas station. There were still a few hours of sunshine left when I got back home, so I retrieved the hose from its winter quarters, attached it to the back yard faucet, turned on the water and washed the car.
It had been a long time since I had been able to wash the car in the back yard. Water restrictions, brought on by last summer's drought, had made it illegal. Since then, area reservoirs have risen and the restrictions have been lifted.
As I soaped, rinsed the car and wiped it with a chamois, I listened to a college basketball game on the radio. The college basketball season is winding down and the professional baseball season is beginning. Monday is Opening Day for the Orioles. When the voice coming out of my car-washing radio switches from basketball to baseball, spring is here for good.
As parents of teen-agers know, washing your car by hand is a good way to check for any new dents and scratches. It can also make you feel proud of your wheels. And on sunny days this week, I engaged in another rite of spring, tooling around town in my clean car.
I was on Orleans Street in East Baltimore when something caught my eye. It looked like snow. There were mounds of it sitting in a parking lot between Forrest and East streets near Old Town Mall. The dark forms were not pretty. They resembled hills of dirt that sat nearby. But when I stopped the car and walked up close to them, I verified that these slow-melting mounds were vestiges of winter.
Spring is the season of hope. Perhaps by the time these snow mounds melt, the garden will be planted, baseball will be in full swing, and the soldiers will be headed home.