Just like any other time of year, spring is a pain if you don't have money.
No money for gas to take a nice trip and stay at a fancy hotel; no money for elegant tennis lessons or guided fishing trips or camping gear or an airplane trip or a sailboat ride.
I woke up from a sound sleep the other morning, sat bolt upright in my lumpy bed and declared for the 565th time. "I don't care if I'm not rich. You can't buy good times. I'm going to have fun, fun, fun."
Then I wrote down 15 cheap, happy places to go this spring even if I have to walk.
The first one is ROCK CREEK STABLES, where for $5 on weekdays and $6 weekends you can rent an old horse and ride through the woods with a guide dressedup like cowboy. The horses are great. They never break out of a walk until the last 200 yards when they see the barn, at which time they take off like thoroughbreds.
The trail rides are at 1:30, 3, 4:15 and 5:30 every weekday but Monday and 11:30, 1:30, 3, 4:15, and 5:30 on weekends. Call 362-0117.
Next is THOMPSON BOAT CENTER in front of the Watergate Hotel, where for $3 an hour or $9 a day you can rent a canoe or rowboat and explore Washington by water. I might bring along my fishing rod and catch a six-pound bass over on the banks of Teddy Roosevelt Island. Fishing's still free, isn't it? Thompson's is open 10 to 5 every day. Call 333-9711.
Summer birds are streaming back and the AUDUBON SOCIETY knows where to look. Just about every weekend Auduboners put together a bird-watching expedition which the public is welcome to join. This weekend a group will gather near Upperville, Virginia, for a woodcock watch on Saturday and another will convene Sunday at Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake on look for ducks and waterbirds and early migrating hawks. Nice company.
The trips are free unless there's a transportation cost. Call Audubon headquarters at 652-9188 and ask for a copy of the current newsletter.
In April the azeleas bloom, and when they do there's a great place to get overwhelmed by them. The NATIONAL ARBORTEUM at 24th and R Streets NE (just off New York Avenue) has a huge hillside covered with blooming bushes. You can get lost in the azaleas. There are other good things to look at there and it's all free. Call 472-9279.
The best spring bargain in town is at the TENNIS COURTS at 16th and Kennedy Streets NW, where no one show up to charge for court time until around mid-April.Till then the hard courts are free for the taking. The clay courts will open when the money window does.
After that the fees are $1.90 an hour for hard courts in "off-time" (7 to 4 weekdays) and $3.20 an hour in prime-time (4 to 8 weekdays, and all day on weekends). Calay courts are $3.30 an hour off-time, $5.50 an hour prime-time, which is still decent. They're good courts in a great location, and if you've ever tried to play tennis in New York you know what rip-off really menas.
I love to fish and there are plenty of good places to do that cheaply. How about crappies in Northern Virginia's Occoquan Reservoir? They're small but number in the zillions, assuming that the recent oil spill really didn't affect the reservoir, which is what the experts maintain. You can rent a boat at FOUNTAINHEAD MARINA, which is due to open this weekend, for $4.50 a day. Call 250-9124.
Some big northern pike turn on in spring at Triadelphia/rocky gorge Reservoirs in Montgomery and Howard counties. A license to fish there costs $15 a year or $2 a day. Yo have to have your own boat or fish from shore. Call 774-9124.
And the white perch ought to be running by this weekend in the Potomac. Anybody can catch these multitudinousminions of the bass family. Fletcher's BOATHOUSE near Chain Bridge rents boats for $5.50 a day and can supply tackle. Call 244-0461.
If the river's high you can rent a Fletcher's bicycle, which means you don't even need your own to go pedaling on the C&o canal TOWPATH. A fine thing to do. Bike rates are $3 for two hours or $5 all day.
Or how about just plain olnd walking? The BILLGOAT TRAIL is a several-mile, demanding hike along the Mather Gorge -- a spectacular rock cliff below Great Falls, Maryland, on the river. To get there park at Old Angler's Inn, walk down the path and across the canal on a little bridge, then go upstream about a quarter-mile to the entrance to the trail. Wear hiking shoes. It's rough in there, and I've never failed to get lost, which is a trip.
Across on the Virginia side a great hiking trail runs for a mile from route 193 along Difficult Run to the river, then upstream on the river to Great Falls Park (though I've never done that second stretch). There's parking at the 193 bridge at Difficult Run and it's a beautiful walk. Later you can sneak in there and look for skinnydippers in the creek. Or even join them.
Free, baby, free.
Now here's some high sport. Spring turkey season opens April 12 in Virginia and there are good public grounds close to home. Quantico Marine Base has a public hunting program. The wildlife man at the base said about 50 wild turkeys were killed there last year.
To hunt Quantico you must go through a 20-minute safety lesson and briefing, the first one of which starts at 4 a.m. on opening day. That ought to separate the Marines from the boys. A $2 base license is required, in addition to state hunting license and big-game stamp. Call 703/640-5240.
Trout fishing season starts April 5 in Virginia and there is reputedly good water in PRINCE WILLIAM FORET PARK. Workers are stocking the North and South branches sof Quantico Creek there now. The park is off I-95, 35 miles south of Washington. Call 703/221-7181.
In Maryland trout season is already open. NORTHWEST BRANCH is stocked from Wheaton to Adelphi and there are trout to be stocked late this month in Lake Frank, Lake Needwood and Pine Lake at the headwaters of Rock Creek. You need a $3.50 state trout stamp in addition to a state fishing license.
I think that 's 13. No. 14, if Audubon trips are too formalized, is to drive down I-95 to POIECK BAY PARK on the Potomac at Lorton and look for eagles. They nest at neighboring Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge and can often be seen fishing in the bay proper. Call 33.-6100.
Or to get really close to a good marsh, try, JUGBAY Nature Area of the Patuxent River State Park near Upper Marlboro, Maryland, where you can rent a canoe for $8 a day (by reservation only) and see all kinds of wildlife. Call 301/627-6074.
That's 15, okay? Now can I go back to sleep?