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Peterson: Birds, worms and signs of spring

Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 11:54 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:06 a.m. CDT

I saw my first robin of the season Monday, a full three days before the first day of spring and a full day before voting.

It just so happened to be the first day of the year when we had exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of dark, with the sun rising as 7:02 a.m. and setting at 7:02 p.m. Pardon me, but it had been my understanding the 12-hour day was supposed to be on the first day of spring.

That’s apparently not the case. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, days and nights are “approximately” equal in length everywhere on Earth on the vernal equinox. I checked it out with wunderground.com, one of my favorite websites, and day and night are of approximate equal length in Nome, Alaska, our northernmost city, with the sun rising a little after 9 a.m. and setting a little after 9 p.m.

That gave me a jump start on spring. After an extraordinarily long winter of snow and subzero temperatures, my car was coated with a thick layer of road salt. It was so thick that when I touched it to see how much would rub off, my finger came up clean.

The salt had bonded with the body of my car, and for all I knew, it had taken on a new color: brown brine. I can’t remember what they called the color of my car – bronze something or other – but for all intents and purposes, it is a metallic brown.

I’m not one to run my car through the car wash. I figure the rain will eventually wash it clean enough. But this coating of salt had me worried about advancing rust eating away the body of my car. Since my tank was half empty – it could have been half full, come to think of it – and the temperature was 34 degrees, I decided to pay for a car wash at the gas station, choosing the “superior” wash. I heard a man on the news the other day say his car was so encrusted that he thought he needed to run it through the car wash three times, and I took him at his word.

I figured the basic wash wouldn’t clean all the brine from my car. I needed a superior wash.

The fuel pump digital display did not register a price for the various levels of washings, so I figured it was a couple of bucks. Imagine my surprise when I found out I was paying $7.99 for my superior wash. Yikes. This better be good.

With the temperature hovering near freezing, I was taking a chance that I would freeze the lock on my car door, something I have an irrational fear of. But I threw caution to the wind and proceeded with the wash, figuring the temperature would move closer to 40 and the sun beating down on it would dry the lock without freezing it.

I have a clean brown car, and the locks didn’t freeze. Small victories. I appreciate them.

This robin outside the window knew the 12-hour rule, arriving on the exact day when daytime equaled nighttime. The robin was surprisingly fat after making a 1,000-mile flight from the southern climes of the U.S. And its breast was a beautiful rich orange. The bird showed no wear after such a long trip.

But the ground is covered with snow, and according to the papers, it is frozen to a depth of two or three feet.

Birds don’t follow wunderground.com. They just do when the time is right. It’s time to leave Florida or Mexico. They don’t know what they are up against.

And I worry about the robins. Their main sustenance is worms and grubs, and my fear is the worms and grubs are still hunkered down two or three feet for the winter. What are the robins going to eat?

I take great delight is watching robins hop across the lawn in search of worms. They have tremendous vision and can hear the worms making their way to the surface to become meals for the robins and their babies. But I don’t think worms are to be had right now. Check back in a month at the rate things are going. That’s a long time to be wormless.

The wunderground.com forecast for Friday calls for a high of 57, a springlike temperature. My car is clean, and, hopefully, the frost is leaving the ground so the robins can dine.

The early bird catches the worm, but it seems these robins arrived too early to catch any. The worm has to turn after all.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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