Joe Wilkins
By James FitzPatrick Staff Writer

The Weather Channel may blather all they want about late-season snow and blizzards crossing the plains and cold winds blowing in from Canada, but that makes no impression on My Favorite Pilgrim. As far as she is concerned, spring begins when the last Christmas present reaches the hands of whoever’s name is on the tag. After that, the decorations on the Christmas Tree change from garlands and tinsel and twinkling lights and glittering balls to the red hearts and ribbons of St. Valentine’s Day and right after that to little bunny rabbits and plastic Easter eggs.

There is a category of people not formally recognized by the Census Bureau that I think of as “season rushers” These impatient folk are in the habit of jumping into the next season weeks ahead of the calendar. Of these, The Pilgrim is a charter member. For as long as I can remember, she has been the first on the block to induce the bright red cardinal and the big blue jay to gather round our bird-feeder. And they come, peeping and singing and chirping and tweeting in their old fashioned, nonpolitical way.

They’re here now. We came back from one of our sporadic candle-lighting trips to the shrine at Pomona to find a happy gathering of birds taking turns at the cracked corn she keeps the feeder loaded with. Starlings and robins and such.

All this is for right now. I guarantee that, before the first rose blooms, hopeful butterflys and hummingbirds will be hanging around our house, long before Summer officially arrives.

There is a journalistic convention called “full disclosure” whereby those of us who write for public consumption must ‘fess up to our shortcomings, whether they be the shares of stock we bought in companies now discussed in the news we cover, or those vast stretches of stuff we write about even though we don’t quite understand them and haven’t the guts to fake expertise about. So I hereby declare, announce and proclaim that, when it comes to the doings of birds, plants, fish, rabbits and other elements of nature’s realm, I am as dumb as a tree stump. I can tell a cardinal from a robin, but only after The Pilgrim points out which is which. Bird watchers be advised. Angry letters to the editor insisting that cardinals don’t arrive until next week and hummingbirds don’t eat cracked corn will do no good.

The big thing about nature that has gotten through my thick head is that all this has to do with the great cycle of mating, of nesting and of birthing the young. In those activities, we are one with the birds of the air and the creatures of the woodlands.

In keeping with the season, another of the grandsons got engaged this week. Most of the family joined up in celebration. The various mothers, fathers, cousins and buddies got together at the volunteer firehouse, along with the babies, toddlers and grade-schoolers burning off their energy and making us older folk jealous. Everybody brought food, paper plates and plastic cups, napkins and plastic knives and forks by the dozen. We had enough potato salad, meatballs, pulled pork, subs, cole slaw and cold cuts to feed the multitude. Then came the desserts — cookies and cakes with calories enough to give my cardiologist a heart attack. Delicious and tempting, but fattening for the adults and a sugar high for the kids.

The beautiful fiancee, for whom the surprise was complete, having been originally played as birthday party, stayed in happy tears throughout. Her betrothed handled the whole thing with elan. He spent weeks gathering up video clips of friends and family wishing her happy birthday, then made his own video declaring his love and climaxed it, to the delight of the entire crowd, by asking her hand in marriage. As she heard that, he dropped to his knees and handed her the engagement ring. Pretty romantic guys, my grandsons. And true to their word.

Naturally, the entire affair was videorecorded on a hundred cellphones. I myself have a complete pictoral history of the event, albeit a bit jumpy. I delegated taking the pictures to the eldest great-grandaughter, now 9, who has not yet mastered the steady shot. Future viewers will have to get used to intermittent and somewhat jerky shots of cupcakes, running toddlers, tearful fiancee and proud fathers holding sleeping infants in their arms while dipping into their potato salad.

Joe Wilkins, N.J. Press Association award-winning columnist, is a semiretired lawyer and former municipal judge who lives in Smithville, Galloway Township. His most recent book is “Kennedy’s Recruit.” He is also the author of “The Speaker Who Locked up the House,” a historical novel about Congress set in the Washington of 1890, and “The Skin Game,” a richly comic account of the stick-up of an illegal card game as Atlantic City’s casino era began. They are available on Amazon’s Kindle or in print at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. (202-349-1182). Follow him on Twitter @jtwilkins001. To send Joe your comments, email