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In the spring


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I am writing this with profuse apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose "Locksley Hall," from which this phrase is butchered, goes on and on, and is not one bit cheerful. I promise not to go on and on that much. Until today I had not read this poem since high school, but, inspired by Tennyson, I give you the following florid prose. Now that our drifted snow has melted, my tulips bravely lift their fluted arms toward the sun, nubbins of rhubarb emerge like a phoenix rising from the ashy heap of last year's leaves, the golden light of morning, the slight swell of buds on the naked branches, the V's of geese honking their way north, all remind me of the simple change in seasons, a warming of the earth and of our hearts. (I warned you.) This morning, as I stood at my window watching the play of puffy cloud shadows, I noticed a flutter of activity. The robins have returned. Yes, there they were, fat and full of color, flitting from ground to tree to roof to fence to flower pot and back again, hitting the ground in a touch-and-go maneuver, hastily beaking a bug or a worm and up, up into the air once more. If only the eager robins would keep their activities limited to greedily filling their bellies that would be one thing. But, no, they demonstrate a shocking display of public affection. They throw modesty to the winds, impulsively out of control, billing and cooing, meeting in mid-air, ruffling feathers and teasing, outrageously flirtatious. They remind me of teens trolling the mall, the same raging hormones on public display, the same fluffing of feathers. I opened the door and listened; I could hear the robins singing, "Let's make babies. Let's make babies." They dart to the ground, grab a twig or a sprig of dried grass and fly away to weave a tight little nest where fragile blue eggs soon will lie snugged in a puff of down. I admire their ability to combine industry with play. It seems to me like the perfect work ethic. Of course, we know what comes next. Baby birds with gaping beaks as large as their bodies raucously demand a nonstop supply of grub. Parent birds crisscross the sky, foraging and providing, and at the same time, protecting their young from marauding enemies. Fortunately for robin parents, their babies mature quickly. In a few weeks, the robins will strip my strawberries in their search for delicacies in a palate-pleasing buffet. This is an annual event I have become resigned to, a rite of spring. By the time the coming prophesied grasshopper plague arrives, entire avian families will be feasting, filling their bellies so full of the little jumpers that for a while they will become unwilling pedestrians. However much I enjoy watching like a peeping tom as the robins set up housekeeping in my yard, however reluctantly I forego the pleasures of my own strawberries, I draw the line at the currants. Last year those clever little plunderers stripped my newly planted currant bushes overnight. Oh, those robins are wily. They pointedly pretended to ignore my currants until the little berries reached their peak of ripeness. Then they pounced, mouths like Hoovers, inhaled the fruits of my labor and left me with not even enough fruit for one fresh currant pie. This year I shall be prepared, with scarecrows, whirlygigs, nets and scattershot. If I cannot have my currant pie, I shall feast on four and twenty robins, fattened to perfection, baked into a flaky crust. (Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem, was gone most of 25 years and recently came home to find she no longer really fits in after learning to look at things from many different angles. Join Sondra in a discussion on her blog http://montanatumbleweed. Blogspot.com.)


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