I know it's spring when the roof of the barn blows off. In the foothills of the Blue Ridge in Fauquier County, Virginia, the winds mark the seasons.

The first hint of fall comes in September -- sometimes even in August -- when the wind comes straight out of the north, scrubbing away the heat and humidity, reminding you of New England's best days: the sharp clear air of hurricane season when there are no hurricanes.

The first hint of spring comes in March -- if you're lucky, February. That's when you wake up stifling because the wood stove still is chugging hard, but the air outside has begun to smell like the Gulf of Mexico -- like New Orleans -- and it's warm.

As a native New Englander, fall had always been my season. But now that I live in the South, my season is spring, with those twenty or sixty variations on the color green of which my newfound portion of the April planet is capable.

In late April, the easy, steady breezes will start to dry up the spring mud on the walks, in the driveway, in the paddocks, in the kitchen, and then it will be summer.

But no wind is like that Gulf of Mexico wind ripping over the Ridge and right up under the corrugated metal roof on the back barn. I've nailed that sucker down every spring. I've used aluminum nails and steel nails and case-hardened nails. I've used metal washers and rubber washers. I've used prayers and I've used curses.

I love that spring wind. It smells good and it feels good. But I really know spring is here to stay when I wake up to the reassuring rite of seasonal passage: the roof of the barn going bang, bang, bang.--