The hounds of spring are on winter's traces and so, of course, are the dogs of war. Who will win the race?

The signs of spring are everywhere. Snowdrops bloom where snow was banked just yesterday. City workers have turned in their shovels for flats of pansies to plant around our trees.

The sounds of war grow louder every day.

The winter made the natives a little leery of Mother Nature. She was a harridan and a shrew this year, throwing snowstorms like tantrums, one after another. She divided a city already divided between war and peace even more. We split into two subdivisions, the plowed and the unplowed.

Finally, last week, after making sure the mornings were piercingly cold, Mother Nature had a change of heart. The sun came out, a faint dusting of tender green was seen on bare branches. And George W. Bush and Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld warned us every day that time was running out.

Just when life was becoming more livable, we saw on our home screens the war's progress. We saw troops practicing desert warfare and fighting sandstorms. Administration officials tried to maintain the fiction that war or peace was still an open question. "If the president decides to use force" was the genteel phrase used before the official launched into new details about the "shock and awe" that await the Iraqi people.

Spring has a little shock and awe up her sleeve, too. Always does. The slopes off Rock Creek Parkway will soon be carpeted with daffodils. The crocuses and hyacinths will perfume the air. Wait until the stand of azaleas starts blazing along Klingle Road. Spring really is inevitable.

Mother Nature has her calendar. Rainy season, dry, it's all the same to her. She has everything lined up, ready to go in sequence. Forsythias first, showering gold on every street corner, dandelions fiercely pushing up through cracks in the sidewalk, violets shyly venturing forward.

Mother Nature is like the Pentagon in one respect. She likes everything in profusion. We have about 210,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait, for the invasion offensive; she's got an abundance of beauty in reserve.

When the floral show starts to ease off in late May, she opens another front. Unlike Generalissimo Tommy Franks, she does not have to rely on Turkey. She unfurls the red bud, a spectacular burst of lavender that transforms the landscape.

Although you can depend on her to produce her lovely weapons, Mother Nature cannot be programmed. Already, the authorities are conceding that the cherry blossoms will not be in their prime for the festival, an annual event that draws thousands of visitors. That is, if they're not afraid of retaliatory acts of terrorism once the laser-guided bombs start dropping on Baghdad -- with specific instructions, as we understand it, not to kill those children who are on so many minds.

The prime minister of Canada made a sensible suggestion to George Stephanopoulos: The United States should declare victory over Iraq. The strategy of a huge force on the border, inspection teams at work and world pressure bearing down has worked -- war is not necessary.

He was brushed aside as the troops fought sandstorms and correspondents were "embedded" and the United Nations went into overdrive and panic and British Prime Minister Tony Blair contemplated the ruins of his political career.

At this bleak moment, the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, stepped into the picture. He came to the Oval Office bearing shamrocks for the president -- and bad news: The United States could not use any Irish air bases unless there was a second Security Council resolution. Talk about shock and awe -- and from doting, dependable Ireland.

The Irish people had demonstrated 80,000 strong in the recent worldwide protest. And the taoiseach was giving the president a timely reminder about friendship in all seasons. Ireland loves America, but Ireland is grateful for Blair's crucial intervention in the Northern Ireland problem and his perseverance. Ahern paid him back by offering what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called "the sheltering tree of friendship."

The next morning, the president, who a week ago had declared, "It's time for people to show their cards," came out into the Rose Garden to say he was shuffling the deck. He was talking about Middle East peace.

For the hounds of spring, it was a great leap forward. We can celebrate St. Patrick's Day toasting the taoiseach -- with French wine, of course. We can rejoice in the coming of spring.