The robin scowled. Ice glazed his beak. Frost dusted his feathers. Snow stuck to his feet.In the midst of Cincinnati's never-ending arctic winter, this robin - the first one in my backyard since September - appeared as a sure sign of spring. His presence held out the hope that this winter, which has put the city on ice, just might not last until the Fourth of July.
"The sap is flowing and that shows spring is coming. See for yourself," said Hamilton County Park naturalist Penny Borgman.
She lifted a sap bucket's galvanized lid. The bucket hung waist high from a metal tap stuck into the weathered trunk of a 75-year-old sugar maple. Bearing scars from decades of late-winter tappings, the tree stood by the nearly 175-year-old red barn on the grounds of Colerain Township's Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve.
Inside the bucket, a chunk of ice floated in a sallow pool of sap. The crystal-clear liquid tasted faintly sweet with just a hint of maple. Boiled down, it would acquire the unrivaled natural sweetness and woodsy taste of maple syrup.
"The sap is on its way to the ends of the tree's twigs," Penny noted. Once there, the sugary liquid feeds the buds and the new leaves inside.
"Check out the buds," she said. "They're starting to swell.
"That's a harbinger of spring."
James Pizzo has seen "daffodils poking up their little green heads in Lytle Park."
To the Cincinnati Park Board horticulturist, that sign of spring is also "a sign of hope."
It shows there are forces at work on Earth with powers far greater than any person or nation. Nothing can deter the cycle of life.
Using a pole-mounted Edward Scissorhands contraption, James reached into the far corner of a flower bed inside the Krohn Conservatory. He snipped off some spent blossoms. He was sprucing up the bed in anticipation of the March 8 opening of the Krohn's annual spring flower show, "A Garden of Fragrance."
The show has been a local tradition for 75 years. Greater Cincinnatians get dressed up and line up outside the Krohn to wait in snow, sleet, rain and even sunshine to have their pictures taken in front of the lilies on Easter Sunday.
That show speaks to James. "It says even if spring isn't happening outdoors, you can be darned sure it's happening inside."
Outside the Krohn, along a walkway leading to the parking lot, a shaft of green poked through a snow drift.
The green shaft looked like a periscope of spring breaking the snowy surface to check on the weather.
Ruth Ann Spears, the Krohn's manager, stooped to inspect the blade of green on the field of white.
She scraped away the snow. The ice below wouldn't budge. But she had enough to go on.
"It's so determined," she said.
"It's a yucca."
A cousin to the cactus.
"That's a sign," she added. "We're safe now. Spring's coming."
Summer can't be far behind.
That's what Chip Graeter thought as he assembled a display of foil-wrapped Easter eggs at the Kenwood Graeter's.
"Putting those eggs out always puts a spring in my step," he said.
He marvels at the foil's colors, a study in pastels. Blue for opera cream. Fuchsia for cherry. Pink for peanut butter. Green for coconut cream.
Then he thinks ahead. To summer. And ice cream season.
He pictures hot days and warm nights. People eating ice cream cones. And sodas.
Make mine a nectar. The springtime in that flavor can chase away old man winter.
Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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