AFTER what seemed like five straight months of winter, the dead of night was cold and silent.
Spring had sprung, the Weather Channel assured us, but there was little sign of it.
And then it happened.
Sunrise was hours away. The alarm clock had not gone off.
But for the first time this year, birdsong ended sleep. An early bird singing - a Carolina wren, one of the best singers there is.
The songbirds have started. The territorial stakeout has begun.
We are saved.
Birds are more dependable than the Weather Channel. When they start singing, Spring is at last just around the corner.
Some years you get lucky, and the bird that stakes out the backyard and starts singing in the predawn hours is a finch - or better yet, that wren. Sweet songs, magical.
Some years it's a mockingbird, rattling off everything he knows, really showing off - the only sound in the surroundings.
Sometimes it's a cacophony of crows, letting the world know there's a hawk in the area.
Falling back asleep is out of the question. There's an emergency in the neighborhood.
And after the birds come the plants.
A shoot, a leaf, a bud.
This year they seemed paralyzed for a couple of weeks - still too cold to make a move.
And then one 70-degree day - boom - everything exploded.
Snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses. White, yellow, purple.
Then the flowering quinces. Sometime it seems as if women must have gone mad, decades ago, falling in love with a neighbor's flowering quince and planting one of their own. Today, whole neighborhoods can have a unifying characteristic.