All the signs are indisputable: After the long, cold winter campaign, spring has won the upper hand.

I hoped it was so, when the first warm, bright days dawned like a blessing. But I knew it was definite when the dog’s forays into the woods became longer and the outer reaches of her territory more distant. I dismissed the longer expeditions at first, figuring them to be a predictable part of her transition from dependent, adoring puppyhood into the occasional defiance and contempt of a golden retriever moving swiftly toward the feared developmental goal of the Terrible Twos.

At 10 months, the dog has become what the vet hopes will be a manageable, trim 50 poundsm — small for a golden retriever in my experience but well within acceptable weight parameters for the breed. But at this age and during this time of year, her youth and high spirits translate into behavior that, quite simply, stinks.

When she is outdoors and I am forced to whistle her home, she comes … eventually, when she’s ready. She usually returns with her fur full of what in the human salon world would be called “product” — a mousse or gel for a spiky effect, or hair spray with shine to minimize the harsh conditions of wind and sun.

But the dog’s preferred product has yet to be determined or even adequately described. For days, I actually imagined she was getting into some sort of industrial solvent — the odor had a chemical-like cloy. But there was no oily residue, so I kept searching for hints as to her delinquent whereabouts.

Daily, now, when she ambles home, she sits in the driveway, the fur on her shoulders and withers erect with funk, her lip curled with something akin to a smirk.

I can smell her foul perfume from yards away.

Naturally, the number of dog scrub baths has skyrocketed in my house since the beginning of May. I have gone so far as to shampoo her with VO5 Tea Therapy shampoo and conditioner, and once even broke out some Sebastian Laminates samples, to keep her fragrant enough to share the house with me.

The dog hates it.

But this sudden surge in spa treatments is just one sign that the season has spun out of winter and into spring. The retriever can skulk around and get into trouble, over and over, leaving no paw prints for me to track to discover where she’s running amok. She returns regularly with evidence of her misadventures — but no clues.

So we turn to other signs of spring, signals that reawaken charm in the landscape. “FIDDLEHEADS — 3 lbs. for $10” read a hand-scrawled sign on old plywood at the side of Route 202 just outside of Gray last weekend. I had wondered what the going rate would be just a few days earlier, when the fronds of the ferns, like scrolls atop violins, began unfurling at the edge of the yard.

“Camping wood — $5” read another homemade sign advertising small stacks of wood-stove logs, neatly arranged in a display along Elmwood Road leading to Freeport. I wondered if those were leftovers from the winter’s stash; I’d been thinking of tying bundles of unused firewood and setting them under a handwritten poster board at the end of my driveway, too.

Simultaneously, the firewood suppliers in the area are already piling up inventory from the downed trees delivered by the harsh winter. The rural landscape is full of cut and quartered cords, drying already, though May isn’t even visible in the rear view mirror yet.

But the severity of last January and February and the way that winter kept the landscape locked down in snow well into April provide reason enough to get ready for next year, even before the snow peas can be harvested from the backyard beds.

For now, I am satisfying myself with the present moment. I spent an hour last weekend gathering lengths of birch limbs at the town dump, lashed to the roof of the car and brought home to fashion into bentwood trellises. I don’t know how far my horticultural skills will carry me this summer, but someone will have clematis or pole beans and will find use for whatever I make.

I’ve packed away the snow shovels, filled the bicycle tires with air. I’ve purchased a 20-inch window fan and already have used it. The bed is still piled with layers of quilts and a down comforter, but those are just the remnants of cold fear.

I’m fired up now. Spring is everywhere — in the air, uncoiling from the earth, in clouds of the first insects to emerge, in cyclists spinning down back roads and hikers haunting the trails of a nearby state forest. Have faith, my own frost-locked heart admonishes, slowly thawing. We’re home free.

Staff Writer North Cairn can be reached at 274-0792 or at: [email protected]