There's a fresh layer of frosting on the fence rails out back this morning, and the white piles next to the driveway are newly rebuilt. So unless you have the imagination of a child or an artist, the light at the end of winter's tunnel -- warm and bright and impossibly green -- remains invisible.
But it's there now. Calendar done said so.
With the usual lack of flourish it flipped over to March yesterday, and suddenly you could sense the end of all this arctic fastness. You noticed things: How the daylight comes earlier and dawdles into the evening these days, the very angle of the sun evocative of summer's happy glare. Twenty degrees doesn't feel like 20 degrees felt two months ago, under that sun. The ground is still snowbound, the trees still skeletal fingers clawing at the sky, but the other morning I heard birdsong. Spring is out there somewhere.
Mostly I know this because of what I see on TV now.
I turn it on and here are a bunch of loons in blaring stock cars busting around a circle of asphalt on a gloom-thick day in Atlanta. Wisconsin is hanging on to beat Michigan State on the basketball floor, and a graphic flashes on the screen displaying Michigan State's remaining regular-season schedule. There are only two games left on it.
On Saturday, in the Gates Center, it was Senior Day already. Out at Saint Francis, meanwhile, the men were playing in their conference tournament. And down in Lexington, Ky., the Wildcats were destroying Arkansas to go to 29-0 on the season.
The very number -- 29 -- signified that the Madness is virtually on our doorstep now.
Two weeks from this Thursday, we'll be sitting in a sports bar somewhere celebrating the de facto national holiday that is the first day of the NCAA tournament. I'm remembering now that there have been years when it's been not just sweatshirt weather on that day but shirtsleeve weather. Suddenly 65 degrees no longer seems like something out of myth, but something that might literally be mere days away.
That as much as the tournament itself makes March the best month of the year, if you've lived your life following the sporting seasons. One my friends and former colleagues used to say February was the worst month of the year, but it had the virtue of being followed by the best. He was absolutely right.
So bring it on, March. It's sheer propaganda that you come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, because at least half the time you go out snarling. And at some point you will crush our hearts in your fists the way only March can, dropping six more inches of snow on us two days after the mercury hits, yes, 65.
But by that time, we'll be filling out our brackets. Picking Gonzaga into the Final Four against our better judgment. Deciding Duke will go down to Bilgewater U. just because we hate Duke, and also because we like Bilgewater U.'s nickname (the Fightin' Bilges). Figuring Kentucky's gonna win but not picking them because, well, only individuals of weak character pick the prohibitive favorite.
So we pick Arkansas instead. And the sun shines, and the birds sing, and the air feels different, somehow ... until Bilgewater wrecks Arkansas in the second round.
Ah, well. It's still March. And April's coming.