Smokey the Bear, Woodsy the Owl ... fetchingly cute creations, designed deliberately to appeal to our sweet, mushy sides as they urge us, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" (Smokey) or "Give a hoot - don't pollute!" (Woodsy).
But there are those among us who come downstairs of a mid-March morning, glance outside, shiver, turn up the heat or throw another log into the woodburner, check the inside-outside thermometer and find both to be well below comfort level.
Our lips set in a grim line. Thoughts, evil thoughts, dance through our heads ... thoughts of shotguns, and vehicles, and a quick trip to Punxsutawney just 30 miles down the line.
By Denny Bonavita
"Oughta SHOOT that damn rodent!"
'Twas nearly six weeks ago when Punxsutawney Phil, the "seer of seers," made his perennially perky prognostication. His choices were six more weeks of winter - or an early spring. This year, he told us to put away the snowshovels and get out the lawn rakes, for spring would be in full bloom by now.
The Good Life
Why, then, is the snowblower still up here in the garage, fully gassed, instead of being stowed in the barn? Why are the mowers still as dormant as tulips, whereas the daffodils and crocuses induced to poke their tips above the soil shiver and bemoan their plant-not-animal status? "If we had motility (see high school biology), we could shrink back down below the ground and wait for warmer weather!" they say.
But they don't.
Humans can move spontaneously, creating energy in the process.
Most often, when we do that, we call it "shivering."
I, for one, am sick of shivering. Here it is the Ides of March or thereabouts, and I feel the impulse to draw a knife, a la Cassius and Brutus, and stab that dastardly whistlepig for having whetted our appetites for robins and dandelions, all in vain.
Meanwhile, the cause of all this frustration rests snugly in his home abutting the Punxsy Public Library, consorting with Phyllis, while we shiver and quiver, scraping ice-covered windshields and skulking beneath slate-gray snow clouds as we move about outside.
That's another product of this extended freeze-and-thaw cycle. For "townies" (I used to be one), the mud isn't much in evidence as we move from asphalted roads or parking lots to concrete sidewalks to indoors, and back again to our autos, encapsulated except for those brief journeys.
But it is 100 yards, straight across the yard, from our house to our barn. It is another mile around the perimeter of our fields to trek the daily walk taken by the dogs and me.
Mud abounds. The soil flexes like biceps pulling up dumbbells, bulging here and sagging there as frost turns to water, then back again, in a cycle. For centuries, farmers have appreciated the clod-busting tendencies of frost, even tilling fields during January or February thaws to allow the process to work.
But out here, away from asphalt and concrete, this can be ankle-twisting time as mounded frozen clumps tilt our feet down into splashy mini-gullies.
At walk's end, it is also mud-scraping time. I hunted among the folded-over browned stalks of last year's flowers and weeds to find the store-bought contraption that allows me to push my booted feet forward and back while bristles pull off most of the mud, though I think that at the barn door, I'll upend a hunk of 2x4 onto a hunk of 2x8 base and make a sturdier scraper, so I don't roll inside toward the chicken house on balls of clumped-up clay.
The persistent winterlike weather reminds us that, for all the fuss and bother about the "Sequester" in Washington and the pension "bubble" in Harrisburg, we humans are still governed as much by Mother Nature as by our elected leaders, perhaps moreso.
Even the city dwellers, or those of us who work in town and are spared the need to be out of doors for hours at a time, succumb to the grayness of a drab March. We get grumpy.
"Awright, awright; I'm COMING!" instead of a cheery "Be right there!"
The only value to this distressing protraction of snow and cold is that those of us who are not enamored of yard-mowing aren't yet forced to clear the grass of pine cones, doggie doo-doo and other detritus in order to begin that task.
As for me, though, I'll take fiftysomething temperatures and bright sunshine, or even warm April showers.
Instead, we get blah-gray skies and shiver-inducing temperatures.
Wonder how whistlepig would taste for supper?
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in Warren and DuBois. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org