Geese seemed to be barking at the moon outside my house the other night. I looked up through tree limbs rimmed in silver light, searching for a final glimpse of winter on the wing.
The cold weather birds are headed north and, someday soon, the skies will fill with high-pitched cries of osprey bringing warmth back to Fishing Creek, the Chesapeake Bay inlet at the end of my street.
Annapolis marks the start of spring in its own ways, even if nobody tells the calendar. Tradition says the season arrives with the vernal equinox at 5:24 p.m. Monday, the moment when the sun hangs directly over the equator.
The capital city already has passed the point when days divide equally between light and dark. The sun came up over the Chesapeake Bay at 7:14 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day and set precisely 12 hours later. Saturday, we added 2 minutes and 33 seconds of light, and we did the same Sunday and again today.
The St. Patrick’s Parade held two weeks before the holiday is really the first public celebration of spring in a city that looks for any reason to throw a party. Crowds flecked with familiar faces line up along West Street for what always seems to be the first sunny Sunday in March.
There were pipe bands and floats, equestrian units and dance troupes this year. Monster trucks with bubble machines cruised past, and even the waving politicians found people genuinely glad to see them.
Gov. Wes Moore and his family joined the fun for the first time, dancing through the celebration and mugging for selfies. The Moores’ new dog, Tucker Balti Moore, was there, too.
Annapolis famously marks spring by burning its socks, a tradition started decades ago in Eastport. The story goes that Bob Turner spent the winter working on other people’s boats at the yard he managed.
Spring arrived, and he turned to his own boat — and days of bare feet in deck shoes. Burning his dirty socks while drinking a few beers is an inspiration that lives on in song and poem. On Sunday, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Park repeated the tradition in an annual fundraiser.
We usually light up our backyard fire pit in the spring, and there have been a pair or two of socks thrown in over the years. The ritual, though, has more to do with the casual pace of life in small-town Annapolis than warm feet.
I live out on a peninsula just outside the city, perpetually improving an old split foyer that I share with my wife and our two dogs. It’s a beautiful location, even if our house will never make any magazine covers.
The cottage behind us has been vacant for more than 20 years, and the little summer bungalow next door has seemed haunted since the woman who took it on as a fixer-upper died there. Her car is still in the driveway, and occasionally a raccoon peers at us from the attic window like a neighbor with gossip to tell.
Across the street, the houses on the water are beautiful and more expensive than I’ll ever be able to afford. They come with the danger of climate-driven rising tides, though, and the days with flooding seem to be increasing.
Spring is when people start to put their fishing boats in the water, navigating the ramp at the end of my street with varying degrees of success. It won’t be long before the rockfish are back off Thomas Point.
The ramp is also my own personal Stonehenge, signaling that spring is close in late February when the setting sun aligns perfectly over the horizon.
March brings the wind down along the bay, making you forget at times that spring is here.
White flags of foam flash on waves as the rushing air whips across the creek on bright afternoons. The leafless, leggy branches of our sweetgum trees creak and groan as the wind works out their winter stiffness.
The wind sighs. It shouts. It whispers. There are thousands of words to describe the wind above our house, but all of them fall short. I wish Chesapeake winds had a name, as exotic as the sirocco or as American as the nor’easter.
Maybe they do, and as I lay awake at night to decipher what the wind is saying, I just can’t listen hard enough to hear it.
If the winds roar with unknowable intent, the spring peepers are easy to understand.
Vernal pools flood each March, hidden within the bits of forest still hanging on behind the suburbia that fills this finger of land. They’ll be dry by summer but for now, they are a perfect breeding nest for tiny tree frogs, covered in a carpet of brown, rotting leaves.
These woods are lovely, dark and deep, so I pause on the drive home to lower the windows and listen. A small, sharp song of a lone male peeper emerges first, soon mixing with his rivals to form a staccato chorus at 15, 20 and then 25 chirps each minute.
The faster they peep, the more likely they are to find a mate and pass on their song: love-me, love-me, love-me.
Colors are starting to break out as well, a few weeks ahead of schedule because of warmer Chesapeake winters.
My neighbor’s weeping willow has sprouted in a hue so fresh and raw that it’s more an explosion of yellow than green.
The first crocuses are up and in many places already gone, their ground-level eruptions of purple and lavender passing so quickly I hardly had a chance to notice. Butter-yellow and citrus-orange daffodils are following close behind, their foot-long shoots of green topped by bright, nodding blossoms.
It was color I was thinking of when I trimmed the crepe myrtle in our yard the other day, a massive beast that has stretched right up under the shade of another dratted sweetgum. We want it to get more sun and hopefully produce more blooms when summer comes, so out came the chainsaw.
Always eager with power tools, I cut out lengths of slim wooden rods thinking of a new fence in the backyard. It was only later, as I researched what to do with all that lovely, smooth wood, that I found I’d probably committed crepe murder.
But it’s spring in Annapolis. It’s a time to hope the season ahead will repair the mistakes of the past.
It’s a good time to look back at what we’ve lost, the absent friends and loved ones who won’t hear the osprey arrive this year or marvel as the oak leaves unfurl.
Spring is a better time to look forward, to the joys of long, green onions grilled outdoors or a glass of wine with my wife as a soft afternoon lights the patio.
It is spring in Annapolis, and forward is the only way we are going.