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A different kind of March Madness

By Jefferson Weaver

I was heading home, having made an uncustomary Sunday afternoon trip to the office, when I saw the young man in his side yard.

I think it was the yellow line that first caught my eye, bending back on itself in a S curve as he whipped the fly rod forward and back, expertly stripping line with a smooth hand I wish I could master. I slowed a little, worried more that he might practice-cast into my car and break his line than I was about hurting the car.

I needn’t have worried. The young angler threw the rod like a professional far beyond his years. I have no doubt as he tossed his head to my greeting that he knew precisely how far his line would go.

It seemed the streets and indeed the entire world was at a standstill that afternoon; the few folks I saw here and there were not worried about the unpredictable weather as much as I think most were glued to the televisions. After all, it’s March; North Carolina, at least most of the time, shuts down for the last couple weeks of March, due to basketball.

I will freely confess, I am not a big athletics fan. Outside of baseball, and high school football, I couldn’t really care less who won or lost, except that on the mornings after UNC loses, the mood in the office tends to be testy. Of course, when State loses, my Brother Mike, one of the gentlest men I’ve ever known and the best big brother ever – well, Mike turns into a growling monster when State loses.

But me? Nah.

This is not to say I do not love the third month, the Month of Promise. I become a happier person as Spring beats down the last vestiges of February’s malevolence (which stayed hidden this year, except for a few brief appearances).

Yes, many mornings and some evenings are downright chilly, but I’m once again able to visit with my dogs on the back porch as the sun says so long for another day, and the owls greet a moon yawning and stretching its way into a position of authority.

I do not yet know how many of our catfish survived when our pond was overwashed during the hurricane, but there are a few more suspicious pops and gurgles, leading me to believe that some of the big whisker-fish not only survived, but have created more little kitten-fish.

Canadan and Canadanna the geese are back, along with several dozen of their kinfolk, and a few nests have already been renovated and prepared for egglaying time. Our gray geese are still ruminating, but the other domestic birds have a wing up on the competition, so to speak, with one of the semi-feral ducks panicking over her downy brood last week, days behind the seemingly endless biddies produced by the Darwinian champion chickens who avoid the possums, coons, foxes, and other predators awaiting a free meal.

Our rabbits – both domestic and wild – are dancing in the pastures and front yard at night now. Miss Rhonda is patiently feeding two such kits whose mother came to an untimely end, but the others are celebrating the return of spring with a frolic that will bear fruit by April.

Old Red and Old June aren’t as cranky as they were in the winter, since cold weather hurts old bones in horses, humans and hounds, but the mud that comes with spring rains has made grooming a mandatory chore for all our ponies. There has never yet been a horse or donkey that can refuse a good roll, especially when the grass is steadily, sneakily growing green and grand again, shaking off the brown depression that came with the first frost. Cleo, Walter the Wonder Dog and Susie have once again claimed sunspots on the back porch, enjoying a quiet revelry of comfort that we humans should envy.

Mr. Cracker was dancing for a prospective mate the other day; I’ve put off removing one of our storm-felled trees because I love watching the pileated woodpeckers wooing their females. Mr. Cracker’s tall plumage is often the first thing I see out the window beside the coffee pot in the morning, as he assiduously  mills and drills his way through what I call “his” log. The tired and bent oak was killed by Hurricane Matthew just in time for the frantic egglaying of a dozen breeds of bugs, who lay dormant through the winter and awakened just in time to meet their fate in the staccato beak of Mr. Cracker and his friends.

I haven’t found a woodpecker nest in any of our pines yet, but I intend to go a’yondering through that section very soon. I’ll resist the urge to play peeping tom on the coon tree, a hollowed-out gum with a greasy highway down its trunk from generations of ringtails who called it home. I might stand off and whack the trunk, just to hear the babies screech and the mother growl, but usually I leave coons alone – they’re mean varmints, even when no one’s knocking on their house unannounced.

There was a tom turkey lurking along the ridge last week, and while it could have been wishful thinking, I could have sworn I heard an early gobble a few days later. I did see a new flock the other day, but not at our farm. Two toms, one old and one young, were beginning a strut, but none of the ladies were impressed. It’s just not quite time for curtain to rise on the soap opera of the Thunderbirds.

Yes, I suffer from a different kind of March Madness; not the kind that is triggered by a last-minute half-court basket, or a particularly aggressive foul, or triple overtime, but the happy madness of grass greening again, old dogs snoring, baby chickens running, young rabbit yawning, happy horses running, and kids who focus more on flyrods than free throws on a Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy your basketball games. You can have’em.

Like any happy lunatic, I’ll cheerfully embrace the assurance and madness of the Month of Promise.

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