A horse peeks out from its stall at Meadowbrook Stables in Chevy Chase, Md., on Thursday. On a springlike recent morning, columnist John Kelly stopped by for a visit. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Spring has a tendency to sneak up on Washington. It feints like a commando. You think you know what it’s doing, then it creates a diversion and invades from another direction.

It’s no less welcome when it finally arrives.

It arrived Thursday — for me at least. By that, I mean I finally had the time and the inclination to notice it.

I had the morning free after a dentist’s appointment. I usually treat myself after a teeth-cleaning, figuring I deserve something nice after holding my jaw open for an hour as my enamel is scraped and polished: a decent lunch, a new pair of socks. Thursday, I went for a drive.

Nature’s paintbrush had daubed the branches of the trees along East-West Highway, creating a scenic tableau, each element of which was eager for my attention. I started by admiring the non-blossoming trees, the workhorses of the suburban forest. No show pony myself, I’ve come to appreciate the annual unfurling of their tiny leaves. I’m reminded how much I missed that springtime shade of green — pale and tentative — during winter.

Flowering trees were putting on their fancier act. White dogwood branches looked like clouds, the pale saucers of their blossoms arranged in white nimbuses. Pink dogwoods looked like flocks of butterflies, frozen midflight. Redbuds, my favorites, looked like someone had rolled sticky pipe cleaners in purple crepe paper.

On one side of the street, azaleas — official shrub of the Mid-Atlantic — were just starting to peep out, each blossom a courtesan’s sly smile. On the other, the familiar blossoms were already out in their full-throated glory.

“They get more light on that side of the street,” I said to myself, briefly an expert botanist.

What would we do without the sun, I wondered. Cease to exist, I answered myself.

I turned off the main road and a block later was struck by the incongruous sight of a herd of horses, like something from a John Ford movie. True, they were in a fenced paddock across the street from a row of tidy brick houses, but, still, my heart lifted. Who doesn’t get excited upon seeing a horse?

This was Meadowbrook, run by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. I felt like an intruder, but the sign said visitors were welcome, and a few mothers had toddlers on their hips as they walked past the stables, pointing out animals more regularly seen in picture books. I parked my car and got out for a walk.

The horses came in nearly as many colors as the flowering trees: reddish-brown and brownish-brown; black and white and gray. Some were horsing around. Others maintained their equine dignity. The sun was higher in the sky now, and its warmth reflected off the big animals, bringing with it an earthy, dusty smell that was not at all unpleasant.

A white-faced horse looked out from the upper Dutch door of its stall. It had a dark-black mane that fell over its pale forehead like a bald man’s ill-fitting toupee. The horse eyed me with mild interest, willing me to ignore the sign posted on the door: “No Treats — Please do not feed treats to any of our horses at this time.”

“Sorry, buddy,” I said.

The forecast was calling for rain the next day, an element as necessary for all this — the flowering plant life, the whinnying animal life — as is the sun.

Water, sun and seed. I thought back to the towering redwoods I’d seen earlier in the month on my trip to California, as different from a redbud as I am from a horse. And yet all of us had come from something incredibly small, our infinitesimal DNA coiled and waiting for us to live up to our potential.

The perfect antidote to a springtime reverie? A trip to the mall. That was my next stop, to replace the anemic battery in my iPhone.

I handed my phone to the Apple technician, who ran a quick diagnostic test, then slipped it into a plastic bag.

“Unless there’s a problem,” he said, “it will be done in an hour.” And then I watched him carry my phone away as if it were a loved one being wheeled into surgery.

An hour without my phone. Without my email. Without Twitter or Facebook. I had no laptop, so I couldn’t have looked at them even if I’d wanted to.

Which I did, of course, having, over the past decade, altered my brain chemistry as irreversibly as a caged pigeon that pecks at a button to get a treat.

Then I decided that, in a way, I was getting a new battery, too: a morning looking at spring and then an hour disconnected from my digital life. And I couldn’t help but feel recharged.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.