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Compendium March 2005 (Vol 27, No 3)

The Editor's Desk "March Madness"

by Beth Thompson, VMD

    March is a time of transitions—from winter to spring, from dark to light, from cold to warm. If you are an outdoor person in the northeast part of the country, it's a month that can quickly "change up" your plans: Rain turns to sleet and you sheepishly walk home with your bicycle as your kids chide you: "Mom, what were you thinking? You'll crack your head open!" A snowfall prompts you to whip out your cross-country skis only to find that your perfect snow has turned to slush. You walk home again and this time decide to play it "safe" and take a large, enthusiastic golden retriever for a brisk walk only to find that the ice underneath the snow makes one "pull" from your imperfectly trained companion a potential bone buster. Or perhaps even worse, the two of you charge off to the woods on the first warm day only to find yourself mucking through ankle-deep mud (which the dog inevitably lays down or rolls in) at the very second you recall that you forgot to put towels in the car.

    Chagrined, I sensibly limit myself to yoga, ice skating (indoors, of course, no one can skate on ponds anymore), and neighborhood walks. Still 15 lb from where I want to be (yes, less and not more) and far from my physical fitness goals, I yearn for more decisive weather.

    Like most veterinarians I know, I don't like being defeated by anything: a difficult patient, a complicated surgical technique, or even the weather. This year I'm meeting March head on. The first step, as always, is education. Here's what I found out:

    The name "March" is derived from the Latin "martius," meaning "the month belonging to Mars, the god of war." This is no laid-back lunar cycle. Also, March has three animal analogies—more than any other month. There's "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb," a proverb that is credited, depending on your source, to China or ancient Rome and adopted in England/Wales in the 1600s. There's also the more obscure, "On the first of March, crows begin to search." Traditionally, crows are believed to pair off on the first of March. And, from Lewis Carroll's Alice, we get the decidedly crazy March Hare. Alice says, "The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad—at least not as mad as it was in March." According to the 1913 edition of Webster's Dictionary, this comes from an old English saying, "Mad as a March Hare," which is "derived from the fact that March is the rutting time of hares, when they are excitable and violent." As a 1984 Nature article points out, "madness" is no more a feature of March than other months of the February to September breeding cycle of Lepus capensis. The violent "boxing" behavior so often observed represents female attempts to prevent males from mating.

    It's apparent to me that even though my garden is silent, this is a very active time of year in nature. So I've joined the Audubon Society and now spend lots of time outdoors in inclement weather with people who don't think it's "mad" at all. After all, in March you can catch the first glimpse of returning robins, the mating flights of red-tailed hawks, great-horned owl nestlings (the first hatchlings here in New Jersey), and the usually solitary great blue herons congregating in rookeries as the mating season begins. When you are out at sunrise, you notice the sun's increasing strength. On quiet evenings, you hear the first frogs. March on. The season of new beginnings is here.

    NEXT: Traumatic Diaphragmatic Herniation: Pathophysiology and Management