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CELEBRATING SPRING: SUNSHINE GUSHES, NATURE BLUSHES AND OUR LOVE FOR LIFE IS IN FULL FLOWER

SHARE CELEBRATING SPRING: SUNSHINE GUSHES, NATURE BLUSHES AND OUR LOVE FOR LIFE IS IN FULL FLOWER

You've noticed, of course: Spring has sprung. And in Utah, where every season demands - and gets - a chunk of the calendar, a portion of the glory, we can't help but pay attention. So, rather than a scoop, this is more in the way of sharing the celebration.

And a celebration it is, for this is the season of le sacre du printemps, the rites of spring. The outdoors beckon. We emerge from winter-tight cocoons . . . but tentatively, for in spring Mother Nature is capricious - she'll tempt with summery warmth, then chill us with a misty rain or shock us with a late soggy snowstorm. Spring can be "the mysterious, menacing time of the cycle," E.L. Doctorow has written.But how do we react when we espy the first blooming crocus? Or note the first shimmer of green in the fields and trees? Or watch with wonder as the flowering trees magically blossom with pastels and whites?

We celebrate. Maybe with quiet joy rather than feverish Nijinsky abandon. But we do celebrate - and share. "Will you look at that," we say.

"I love the fragrances of spring, not only the flowers, but the green leaves, lawns and soil," says Richard Hildreth, director of the Red Butte Gardens and Arboretum at the University of Utah.

"You can hear the birds and insects - and people are lively too," he says. "I think you can see it in children, especially."

The distinctiveness of Utah's springs - and of Utah's summers, autumns and winters - is a definite advantage, says Joe Rutherford of the Utah Travel Council.

"That's part of our ad campaign: We have four distinct seasons in Utah - and spring is one of the best times to visit the state. There's really a myriad of activities for the people who live here in Utah and for the people who visit."

Besides sightseeing just about anywhere, this is an especially fine time to drop by the national parks, he says. "It's cooler in the spring, it's less crowded, and it often costs less. And you can certainly go bicycling in the summer, but I think bicycling is at its best in the spring and fall."

Utah has a long, delectable spring. The season begins early in the southern deserts, where flowers burst into color in the most picturesque of settings, and gradually inches northward to the cities, towns and farmlands.

One of the best ways to gauge spring's progress through the state is via the Utah Wildflower Hotline (581-5322, which gets a recording, then push telephone button 4), sponsored by Red Butte Gardens and the Utah Native Plants Society.

As early as February, people down south start calling in with reports about blooms in such bastions of spring as Zion National Park. The hotline actually begins operation April 1 and runs to about October. "People can call in from all over the country, not just Utah," Hildreth says.

A veteran springwatcher, Hildreth keeps an eye on the trees and flowers. This is what he sees:

After the crocuses, the showy reticulated irises bloom. Then come the daffodils, squills and grape hyacinths, the tulips and the hyacinths. The pansies planted last fall grow through the winter and begin to fill in nicely in April. And then, quickly - in a matter of a few weeks - the urban gardens erupt, and wildflowers soon begin to echo the color on the hillsides.

"I think it's always a joy just to watch the first stirrings of the buds unfolding," Hildreth says. "Some of our least favorite trees - the Siberian elm and silver maple, for instance - are the first to flower and leaf out, and they are a sort of harbinger of spring. And of course in our own yards, the Norway maple, red maple, aspen, of course, and willow - on all of these the buds will swell and flower."

Not to mention the fruit-bearing trees, already blooming in the city: the soft-pink apricots, the pure white plums, the cherries, crab apples, peaches and pears.

Spring in Utah is a sight to behold, from the first flowerings in the desert south, to the earliest high-mountain blossomings on the very edges of the retreating snowfields.