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Destination: Springtime in March

At the North Carolina Welcome Center, I spot, planted in the grass between the parking lot and the picnic tables, a single pink magnolia, four feet tall, flowering hard as if to make up for its size. And as I cross the state line, the speed limit increases for the first time to 70.

I start to notice billboards for Florida hotel discounts and I begin to understand where the RVs are headed. One billboard advises "Stay near Mickey for a Minnie price," and I smile because I'm not going that far.


After an 11-hour drive from D.C., the author finds a bit of springtime on South Carolina's Hunting Island. (Sally Shivnan)

Daylily foliage is bursting forth at regular intervals in North Carolina's median strips, the tufts lined up like heads of lettuce and just as round and green, each a foot high, while back home the daylilies' leaves are pushing three inches. And the medians themselves have turned lush -- thick green grass, packed tight, mowed sharp. Gone is any passing resemblance to a goat tea party.

Redbuds are in full bloom 70 miles into North Carolina, a whole line of them down the edge of a patch of woods. Near Fayetteville, Japanese cherries appear among the daylily tufts and are just popping their first flowers. I start getting big trees all down the side of the road, and the farther south I go the more color they give me. It's a wild mix of shades, margarita greens and daiquiri yellows shot through with reds like burnt sienna and rust, lightened with ocher and peach -- the entire spring and fall collections from your Crayola box of 64.

These are new leaves unfurling, so tender they are bleeding red, oozing yellow before they turn to green. They are as delicate and moist in their reds and yellows now as they will be leathery and dry in those same colors come fall. It's a curious effect -- the autumnal look of early spring.

There's a kind of green that's creamy, like an after-dinner mint -- pale green leaves mixed up with white blossoms. By the time I hit South Carolina, 400 miles from home, I've got trees solidly flanking the road in those two colors Crayola calls green-yellow and yellow-green.

But the colors are not the whole story. There's also the look of the leaves, emerging, unfolding in the light shade of the woods. When I look into the trees along the road they are all aflutter, like feathers caught on barbwire. They're so lacy and fine and pretty that I feel as if I've forgotten, through the long winter, what leaves on trees are like.

I see my first dogwood, in flower, white and floating, near Santee, S.C.

Six hundred miles and 10 hours in, I turn off at last on Highway 21 and head for the ocean.

Getting off the highway is tricky. For the purposes of this trip, it's a) when you're sick of driving and b) when you've found, at last, sweet Maytime in March.


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