The star magnolias on the lawn of the governor's mansion here popped into bloom last week, beckoning a belated spring. And, as the new season arrived, the part-time lawmakers departed, the timing of their leave-taking left from an era when they returned to farms instead of law offices and insurance firms.

Gerry Devlin has gone back to Bowie, taking his constituents money for an access road to the hometown race track. Richie Palumbo and Joe Vallario, who on the final legislative day threw themselves almost bodily in the way of a bill making it more difficult to suppress evidence in criminal cases, are returning to their criminal law practices in Upper Marlboro.

Jack Cade, a substantial figure of a man from nearby Severna Park, stormed home early this week after his Senate colleagues -- particularly fellow-Republican Ed Mason -- fillbustered away $4 million that would have gone to build a school in Crofton.

With them, the rest of the legislative army and its sundry helpers and hangers-on have decamped, leaving behind a small outpost of clerks to make sense of the mess of paper that now represents a new mass of law.

They are leaving this bayside port and its neon suburbs in the hands of those people it really belongs to.

But who does Annapolis really belong to?

In view of its sheer bulk, the Naval Academy might have some claim to a proprietary interest in the town -- nearly 7,000 people work and study on the 329-acre campus, which is dominated by an octopus of a building called Bancroft Hall, the largest dormitory in the United States.

But this world of gray buildings, blue uniforms, gray brick roads and blue boats is largely self-contained. At lunchtime in market square, two blocks from the main gate of the academy, there is seldom a uniform to be seen. Unless you count the uniforms of the casual sailors: yellow slickers, Levis, topsiders or deck shoes on sockless feet, an air of rumpled self-confidence.

On and off throughout the day, a few of these sailors slide their boats into the downtown dock, nosing through the flocks of ducks and beer cans. As the raw bar customers nearby gaze out curiously over their oysters, the sailors wander over to Mills Wine & Spirits for provisions. With their stock stowed away, they nose their boats out again, past the cluster of working boats where watermen earn a living.

Down at the city harbor master's office, people laugh at the idea of counting the sailboats moored in town, so numerous are the pleasure craft lining the Severn and South rivers and the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. In deference to the owners of these boats, restaurants like the Middleton Inn and others by the docks tailor themselves to attract the nautical crowd with open fires and fish-filled menus.

Still other, more specialized societies have found a home amid the colonial brick buildings and the scroll-like street signs here. There is, for instance, the cloistered world of St. John's College, with its devotion to undergraduates and classical literature.

And, frozen in the 200-year-old buildings and the larger than life monuments that dot the State House grounds, there is world of the 18th century. These relics of the time of slave ships and freedom fighters are guarded and preserved by the denizens of Historic Annapolis Inc., who take weekend tourists on trips through the past.

One can't forget the tourists, of course. This time of year, there seem to be more tourists in downtown Annapolis than anything else. The stores that sell pottery and fine china, or 15 varieties of tabacco, or "Maryland is for crabs" T-shirts, are thriving. However, Jack's Reliable Store, whose inventory was made up of jeans and sensible shoes, has apparently shut down.

"This place has nothing to do with reality," commented a friend of mine with a Puritan turn of mind. "The legislative world isn't real -- they come for three months then they go away. St. John's isn't real. The Naval Academy, that's not a real place.

"There's nobody in Annapolis who worries about the price of milk."

Wrong. Up West Street, where colonial brick walkways give way to the neon and asphalt of suburbia, up by Delma's Beauty Salon and the Goodwill Industries building, there are plenty of people who worry about the price of milk and everything else.

"But that's not what you think about when somebody talks about Annapolis," my friend objected. "What this place really has to do with is illusions. It's not the real world."

In the end, though, it is those very illusions that become appealing -- the sailboats moving through the bay; the daily migration of scholars, Greek plays in hand, walking in and out of the building of St. John's; legislators in committee rooms listening intently to testimony.

Illusions, maybe. But Annapolis.