Thursday, May 1, 2014

Winter falls to Southern Maryland spring

Daffodils push their way through melting snow

 By John L. Guerra

The stats are in for Winter 2013-2014: National Airport got 32 inches of snow this winter, while many areas, including Southern Maryland, saw more than 50 inches.
It also was industrial-strength cold this winter, with temps remaining in the teens during January, February, and March with a few warmer days giving short respite to the birds and to us.
The cold just didn't seem to want to let go this year. The last snowfall, a mere three weeks ago, landed on fields of bright yellow daffodils blanketing the shores of the Potomac River in Alexandria. That same snow delivered fat, slow snowflakes that fell in beautiful mimicry of the blossoms on ornamental trees along residential streets.
And finally, the chill news of my brother's passing, borne on cold, spring winds under blue skies. The community of Upper Marlboro, the little town on the banks above the slow, meandering Patuxent River, gathered in a memorial hall at the town's Catholic Church to remember Chuck. On that day we assembled as American communities always have assembled when a son of the town has been lost. Family, friends, co-workers, old, young, and respectful all, as powerful as communities on the Great Plains of the 1830s, or as close-knit as a small Massachusetts town in 1940, we practiced what this year was a rite of spring: On the window sill to a hot and yet un-curtained spring, we regarded each other with love and said goodbye to a good man.
Then the earth shifted a little in its equinox and our hemisphere faced a little more directly into the sun and like a kiss, the temperatures moderated, the Southern Maryland soil warmed and the Chesapeake Bay region revealed its gifts.

When you see dogwood trees blooming on the edges of woods, it means shad are running up the Patuxent and its tributaries, including the Western Branch, which runs right behind the courthouse in Upper Marlboro.
Everywhere people are out and about looking for proof of spring: golfers waiting patiently to play atop smooth putting greens; seed packets for spinach, kale, lettuce, and other spring vegetables on market shelves; live bait for sale; and other bait for sale; smoke from roadside barbecue stands; and small fishing parties standing on the docks in Deale and Chesapeake Beach. The parking lot of the Rod 'N Reel is packed with cars as their owners eat lunch inside the restaurant, hopefully with a table by the window so they can watch the charter boats coming and going up the narrow channel of the marina.
Office accountants, car mechanics, retail store clerks--all feel the pride of Southern Marylanders as they watch the mate at the cleaning table scaling the fish they caught.
I love this area; always have, especially the people I grew up with in Upper Marlboro, went to high school with, and now reunited with since Chuck's passing. I realize now how much a part of me each of them is. Like the soil, the smell of the breeze off the springtime Chesapeake Bay, we are all part of this region. Southern Maryland is in our skin, as it was with our parents and their friends. The planting season, the smiling greeting yelled by a farmer on a tractor, tobacco barns--some of these things may be harder to find, but they are still there. One just has to look a little harder.
You'll have to forgive me my soft spot for these springtime signs. It has been a hard winter for all of us, for that season has as its trademark the cold, the slumbering. To the eternal spring, I raise a toast, for it is the beginning of new things.
And now, there's a rite in the fall, called Croomstock. It's been growing each year and brings together many, many friends who spend a weekend celebrating the present and creating new memories. There will be Locks of Love, where people donate their hair to cancer patients, and other activities. It is just another indication of how special this area is. I look forward to my first Croomstock this fall.