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The Madness of March

Bill Meredith

The trumpet of a prophesy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? ÖPercy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

"Madness" was used to describe March long before basketball was invented. "Mad" is an ancient word; it probably originated from Germanic roots, passing to Old English as "gemaedd" and on to "madd" in Middle English before reaching its present form. In all these various stages it generally meant "insane," And thatís an appropriate description of the schizophrenic state of whoever designed this yearís weather. And naturally, the craziness of the weather was even more bewildering to animals than to us humans, for they had to stay out in it.

March, 2007, came in like a lamb and went out like a lamb, but there were lions in between. The average high and low temperatures for the first day of the month in our area are 50 and 30 degrees, and the actual temperatures this year were 52 and 27, a very good match. As I walked to the Post Office that day, a flock of ringbilled gulls was circling over the school, with the sunlight reflecting brightly from the white of their wings. Killdeer were darting among them, their melancholy peeps taking on a cheerful tone in anticipation of the mating season. The sidewalk was littered with earthworms, and I counted 35 robins feasting on them in the playground lawn. It looked like all was right with the world.

A week later the mercury dropped to one degree above zero, and the next day reached only 39 for a high. Thermometers continued to impersonate seesaws as time went on. By the 15th of the month we saw 80 degrees; the last of the heavy, wet snow from February finally melted on the north side of my house, and the robins on the schoolyard were too numerous to count. Then the next day we got eight inches of new snow. For some of the robins, that was just too much to endure.

You can actually hear robins talking if you get close enough to them and if you concentrate hard enough and you are in the right state of mind. I donít know why, but most people arenít aware of this; maybe they donít get close enough. Anyhow, I was walking back from the Post Office the next day and snow was everywhere except in the ditch by the road where running water had melted it. All of the robins that had been in the playground the day before were down in the ditch, looking for morsels along the edge of the water, so as I walked along I got a lot closer to them than usual. There was one pair in particular that seemed to be having a bad day; they would fly a few feet ahead of me and come down by the ditch again, and they were so caught up in their bickering that they practically ignored me. My mind was in its usual state of half consciousness, so Iím not sure I got all of the conversation, but as best I can recall, it went something like this:

"I hate having to stand in water while I eat! And every time I take a bite I get water up my nose and you have no idea where this water came from or whatís in it! I told you it was too early to come north, but no, you had to be the early bird and get the first wormsÖ" "But tweetie, you know the how much better the first ones tasteÖ itís just like that human said last summer when he dug up his new potatoesÖ and you seemed to be enjoying them well enough yesterday." "Well, that was yesterday, and I wasnít up to my ankles in cold water with slime all over my beak. And now thereís nothing to eat but dragonfly larvae, and I canít stand them. We should have waited another month. The worms were good enough in Georgia." "But dearest, you know how that red Georgia clay makes worms taste, and besides, we had to get here to mark our territory before the Robinsons try to move into it again. You know we promised Rob Jr. he could nest in one corner of it this yearÖ" "If Rob Jr. takes his sense of direction after you, itíll be July before he gets here, and if heís still messing around with that Robinson hussy I donít want him nesting anywhere near me. I donít intend to babysit on her eggs while theyíre out carousing around all hours of the day." "But precious, theyíll be our first grandchildren, and you canít justÖ" They flew off at that point and I missed the rest of the conversation, but I had heard enough to guess that it probably would go on for a while. There didnít seem to be much doubt who would win the argument.

I spent a good deal of time that afternoon trying to decide whether to tell my wife about the robins; I have to be careful about such things, because she often thinks Iím mad enough even without the effect of March weather. It was almost bedtime and when she went to turn out the kitchen lights she noticed something moving outside under the birdfeeder. It was a skunk, a beautiful male, almost all white, and it was not in a good mood. That in itself was not unusual; male skunks wake up from hibernation in a bad mood, and they tend to stay that way most of the time. This one was especially upset by the unexpected snow. It had come just at the time when female skunks should be rousing from their beds and stretching themselves luxuriantly; but now, instead of coming out of their burrows and radiating amorous pheromones into the night air; they will probably go back to bed for another two weeks. As the frustrated male waddled off around the corner of the house, we both could hear him muttering, "The #^@*# global warming has the season so messed up Iíll never...."

I decided to let it go at that. Things were crazy enough without starting an argument over which robin was right.

Read other articles by Bill Meredith