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Friday, April 25, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 3/28/2009

Signs of spring are just outside the door

Finally, my dog, Digby, can stay outdoors most of the day without shivering from the cold or walking through snow. The kitten that survived winter on the front porch is sunbathing on one of the bales of straw that served as a warm igloo.

Spring is such a wonderful season, and who could argue that this is the most welcome one we can remember? Yes, I traveled to Mexico and Hawaii, but the timing was bad. Returning Feb. 9 was right on time for some of the season's heaviest snow and ice storms.

But now it's that glorious time of the year when we look out the window and think about upcoming outdoor fun as well as mowing the grass, planting and weeding the flowerbeds, and fixing things that literally fell under winter's spell, including fences and outdoor furniture.

Once there were two kittens that lived happily together on my porch. The gray and white siblings ate together, curled up together for warmth, and played. I called them Pat and Mike because they resembled the kittens in the picture my mother brought me from the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 that now hangs on the guest bedroom wall. I named them Pat and Mike and, with mother's help, wrote a poem about them, which I can still recite verbatim.

But cruelty befell Mike. He or she disappeared about a month ago, prey, I fear, to a hungry pack of coyotes. Mine is not the only cat or small dog to be missing, and I rarely see a rabbit in these parts anymore.

Pat and Mike were born under the porch and became orphans when their mother was killed. They grew rapidly thanks to food and the protective fortress of straw assembled in November, courtesy of Ruth Ann Walsh of Swanton. Ruth Ann and her husband, Jim, have 11 horses and plenty of bedding straw in their barn. Sharing my concern for the cats in winter, she delivered the straw, and as the cold season wore on other wild cats - and occasional possums - discovered that straw is good insulation and that the lady of the house comes out every morning and evening with food. I believe the newest diner is pregnant.

Digby can vouch for the Walshes' love of animals. He stayed at their home the month I was gone, and besides love and attention, he received a new winter coat made by Ruth Ann from a horse blanket.

But now there is another worry concerning the pets. After purchasing cocoa mulch for the gardens for several years, I learn that it is toxic to animals because of the ingredient of theobromine which can be lethal to dogs and cats. Sure enough, after checking the label on a bag of the sweet-smelling mulch made from cocoa beans, I found the warning "Not for human or animal consumption." A salesman at the garden center said an animal would have to eat a lot of the mulch to kill it, but why take a chance just to have the gardens smell like brownies?

The happy news is, the geraniums and dragon begonias that spent the winter on the sun porch are colorful harbingers of spring. They are in full bloom in glorious shades of pink and red blossoms.

Mother Nature's seasonal underground network is truly amazing. Just when everything still looks drab and dead, and we still need a jacket to be outdoors, green sprouts on daylily bulbs peek through as visible proof that spring is here, promising the end to the worst winter in recent memory.



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