It begins again: As the sun returns from its southern hemisphere sojourn and daylight hours lengthen, the earth begins shaking off its winter doldrums and drab brown and depressing gray give way to an increasingly vibrant palette — bright yellow daffodils, red flowering quince, purple hyacinths, the shimmering white of pear and plum trees.

Buds on maple trees are bursting into feathery red blooms, willows are leafing out, dandelions are popping up in lawns and soon will be wafting clouds of seed all over creation, and henbit, chickweed, wild garlic, and other spring weeds are in profusion everywhere.

At the foot of the hill, a dozen or so large turtles are gathered on falling tree limbs poking up from the edge of the lake, like a group of old men dozing in the sun (it is one of the oddities of our language that, collectively, they're a “bale” of turtles).

A thousand feet or so above the treetops, a couple of buzzards are circling, lazily gliding on air currents, scoping the terrain below for a meal. On any number of occasions, I've watched them hold basically the same position for an hour or more, with only an occasional flap of their long wings to stay in the thermals. While I wouldn't want to dine on road kill, I suppress a twinge of envy that they can soar so effortlessly while I'm ground-bound.

This Sunday, daylight saving time will start again and there'll be time after work in the afternoons to begin puttering about in the yard and doing other chores that have been postponed in the short winter days. Before we know it, the grass will be greening and the sound of lawn mowers and WeedEaters will be heard in the land.

Wal-Mart and the other big box stores already have pallets of mulch, potting soil, fertilizer, fruit trees, and other lawn/garden supplies stacked head-high in their parking lots. It won't be long until there'll be bedding plants galore to be snapped up by eager gardeners with visions of magazine-perfect masses of flowers and abundant veggies (it's easy in the exultations of spring to forget that lurking ahead is the jarring reality of summer's blistering heat, withering humidity, and hordes of insects).

We have not, of course, seen the last of Old Man Winter. One swallow does not a spring make, and it's a given that cold snaps will occur until Easter's past (the biggest snowfall I ever saw in these parts, almost 15 inches, occurred mid-March, in the late 1960s).

But in the fields now, there begins once more the timeless ritual of man tilling the soil, sowing seed, and working with Mother Nature to produce this nation's agricultural bounty.

Farmers are the eternal optimists. Boom or bust, they buy seed and fertilizer and other inputs, and come sunny days in late winter they can't wait to get tractors in the field.

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, economies crashing, politicians yammering incessantly about this or that of the world's ills, but when spring stirs in the land everything takes a back seat to getting crops in the ground.

However ephemeral and fickle spring may be in this part of the world, the sight of tractors rolling through the fields signals renewal, optimism, and dedication to task — all sorely needed in the difficult times confronting this country and most of the world.