Ethereal mildness come

Keywords: news, sports, libertyville, lisle, oak brook, weather, severe weather, winter weather, constable, burt, members get more, lifestyle, lake county forest preserve district
Description: "Come, gentle Spring! Ethereal mildness, come," poet James Thompson of Scotland wrote in 1728. But the kilt-friendly, Scottish winter of 1727-28 was nothing compared to our long-underwear-required suburban winter of discontent in 2013-14.

Small but making a big statement, these blooms on a witch-hazel tree Wednesday are one of the traditional first signs of spring for Doris Taylor, manager of the plant clinic at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

This barren tundra soon will be home to colorful flowers. Arlington Heights Park District employees, from left, Ubaldo Garcia, Rick Avila and Davis Hughes remove the protective covering from tulip beds at North School Park.

So far, we've had 79.3 inches of snow, most of which lingered in our neighborhoods longer than the entire Season 4 of "Downton Abbey" thanks to a spell of below-normal temperatures. Winter gave us a low of 16 below zero on Jan. 6 while doling out nearly a month's worth of days with temperatures dipping to zero or below. We went more than three months without a temperature in the 50s, and when we finally did crack 50 last week, winter retaliated by dropping another shovel-worthy snowfall.

Most years, spring arrives without much fanfare. This year, as we suspiciously eye those gray mounds of snow hunkered down in parking lot corners seemingly waiting for fresh, white reinforcements, we anticipate spring as if it were the cavalry riding to our rescue.

"We have a countdown going in our plant clinic," says Doris Taylor, a horticulturist who manages that department for the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. They won't, however, be erecting any "Welcome, Spring!" signs.

The only way we get great-looking grass today is if it turns green with envy from admiring winter's hold.

The plants currently getting dolled up for spring at the Morton Arboretum sport names that don't raise our spirits.

"Witch-hazel's already got flower clusters," Taylor says. "In sunny areas, snowdrops should be popping up."

"Grackles, robins, red-winged blackbirds," Taylor says, rattling off the names of birds back after winter breaks.

"Sandhill cranes way up in the sky," she says, imitating their rattling "breeeee" honk. "I don't know how you print that, but they know something we don't."

"I think spring's here, and I've thought so for a couple weeks," says Nan Buckardt, director of environmental education and public affairs for the Lake County Forest Preserves. "I think so not because of the snow cover or temperatures, but because of the activity of the animals. Red-winged blackbirds were back at the end of February, starting to set up their territories and looking for mates, and that doesn't happen until spring."

"The animals all think it's spring, and they don't much care if there is snow on the ground," Buckardt says.

"I get more excited, and I write more poems in the spring," says Mardelle Fortier, a poet from Lisle who taught at Loyola University and North Central College in Naperville before a long stint at Benedictine University in Lisle. Author of "White Fire ," a collection of poems about figure skaters, Fortier currently teaches a creative writing course and an online poetry class at the College of DuPage.

When an old tree blooms in the spring, it's inspiring, Fortier says. "It looks dead and gray, but there are still signs of life," she says, adding that the lesson learned is, "There's hope for me, too."

"It was nice in the beginning to have a good winter for a change," says Jeremy Melnick, owner of several local Ace Hardware stores.

Winter's snow, ice and cold resulted in a 37.3 percent increase in sales of winter-related products for local stores in the Oak Brook-based corporation, "but it's run on longer than we expected," Melnick says.

"We're looking forward to people coming in to buy dirt and barbecues. We've been selling grills since the end of February," Melnick says. "People are doing whatever they can to bring spring. I know you can't beat Mother Nature, but I know our customers are trying."

"Two years ago, you were already drinking pina coladas on your patio," Taylor says. "We had 80 degrees."

Leave your summery drinks overnight on the patio this Sunday night, and they might stay frozen well into next week.

Temperatures today and Friday are expected to be higher than most spring arrivals, but if the season really wants to rejuvenate the suburban populace, it will have to do better than the freezing temperatures expected on Sunday.

Even if crocuses emerge from the frozen earth today as miniature trumpets to deliver the first fanfare of spring, snow still may be lurking. We have had many blizzards at the end of March and into April. On May 6, 1989, a half-inch of snow fell on Chicago, and the latest snowfall in our history featured a trace on June 2, 1910.

We still could challenge the record of 89.7 inches of snow that fell between the summer of 1978 and the summer of 1979, or top the 82.3 inches that fell during that season of 1977-78. But, as of today, we will have no more winter storms. The next arctic blizzard we get will officially be a spring storm.

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