In New York, February is by far the hardest month to endure. Frequent snow and ice lingers mercilessly in cycles of unfreeze and freeze, accumulating soot and garbage, creating potholes. Even ski resort operators worry because the quality and quantity of necessary white stuff is uncertain, and many folks simply head elsewhere for higher mountains and more perfect conditions. A few early bulbs may be tricked into blossoming, only to be blasted by an unexpected “polar vortex.” And yet, for all that, I might still cast a vote for January as my least favorite month, to which I am always happy to bid farewell.
One of the problems is simple letdown: Holiday Hangover. After the bacchanalia of New Year’s and Christmas, the feasts of Thanksgiving, and increasingly fabulous Halloween, January offers very little in the way of excitement. People go back to their normal, often dull, sometimes glum lives. All hope resides in the future _ winter or spring breaks, upcoming summer vacation. It’s as if all the good times have packed up and gone away for an interminable stretch of weeks.
In a “good” January, temperatures hover around forty degrees during the day, and precipitation falls as rain. A “bad” January, on the other hand, is filled with afternoons rarely getting above thirty, and several heavy snowfalls that never melt. The rays of the sun are too oblique to do much; ice remains forever. Adding insult to injury, daylight grows longer, but the average temperature continues to plunge. Grey skies, in any case, are usual.
And then, there are those resolutions. Almost everyone plans to improve their lives, engage in better things, erase bad habits. By the middle of the month all that remains is residual guilt at all that is not going very well. Thankfully, with the arrival of February, even vague unease has departed and vows are gratefully stowed away until the next winter solstice.
Welcome sunshine is surprisingly too bright. Glare from low rays blinds us morning and night, giving way to the glare of headlights in mid-afternoon twilight. If there is snow cover, sunglasses are required. Yet this brilliance is a tease, which looks welcoming warm from inside, but quickly disabuses anyone who steps out. Those lovely beams seem to put all their energy into the visible spectrum and leave the warmth in outer space.
For a lot of us, there is too much time to think. Janus was famously the god of past and future, looking both ways at the same time. Curled up on our couches during spare time, our own minds wander equally, regretting what has happened and worried about what will come. The lethargy of the season assures that we marinate in such useless apathy for a long time rather than jump up and engage in the always fruitful present.
Goodbye and good riddance, January. Happily, I have survived you yet again. Admittedly, this has been one of the “good” winters so far. Enduring the upcoming shortest month of the year may not be so bad after all.