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WINTER SLIDES AWAY SIGNS OF SPRING DAPPLE THE LANDSCAPE Story and Photos By Fran Palmeri Contributing Writer From deep within Oscar Scherer State Park, the call comes soft and tentative, as if the vocalist is rehearsing his song. Just one note, but it is in the right key so I wait a moment and then there he is ��� ���Bob White, Bob White��� ��� announcing spring this cool winter day. ��� Like a querulous child, I am always asking, ���Is it spring yet?��� In reply, Mother Nature sends another icy blast down the peninsula. Cold fronts descend but usually retreat in a day or two. Though fewer now, the average in south Florida is eight cold fronts in December, nine in both January and February. ��� Winter/spring; winter/spring: The seasons swing back and forth like a pendulum, sometimes within the space of hours. On cold winter mornings, I hurry to capture tiny diamonds of ice coating the saw palmetto. Minutes later I am catapulted into spring by fetterbush putting forth delicate pink blossoms weeks ahead of schedule. Red maples are in a hurry, too. Like beaSandhill cranes cavort in the Celery Fields. cons in the landscape, they wear different colors ��� one, fine claret; another, burnt orange. The new green of oaks floats like mist in the treetops. On warm afternoons, fog drifts in from the Gulf of Mexico. ��� Grateful for the sun���s advance, like some Midas, I tote up the minutes added to each day. By May, my accounting is put aside. Sunlight is so plentiful it is almost expendable. ��� Winter does have much to commend itself. Mosquitoes are gone. Warblers, swallows and robins have arrived to congregate in parks and gardens. Sandhill cranes dance at the Celery Fields. Flocks of cedar waxwings pass through downtown Sarasota, stripping trees and shrubs of berries, a small price for their company. ��� Sometimes when winter overstays its welcome, a longing as ancient as our species overtakes me. Invoking spring, I dance to the full moon. The great horned owl in a nearby pine looks sternly down at me. %

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