February was named for an obscure Roman purification ritual, and was also the last month of their calendar. That doesn’t matter at all, but a traditional way for any student to begin an essay is with either a definition or an etymological detail. Any word is a nonsense sound until language assigns an agreed meaning _ although each of us assigns implicit personal connotations which vary from explicit dictionary entries. My “February” is not necessarily yours.
I guess most people dislike such a blah month _ not really to hate so much as to endure. Mostly it is true entry to the new year, a firm footstep into all that is to come. Its predecessor is much too slippery and burdened with fresh memories to provide that springboard. February firmly faces forward.
Trees are jagged and bare, grass brown and muddy even if visible through dirty snow, cold settles in, birdcalls are muffled. An act of will is required to bundle up and walk around. The rewards of doing so are a little harder to find than in other seasons. We are told to indulge in an hour of sunlight a day to reset our circadian rhythm _ good luck in finding any patch of open sky.
Even at the beginning of the month, there may be hopeful signs. Some waterfowl begin mating rituals, swans for example flapping lustily off the water in brief showy flights. White snowdrops have opened at the end of our driveway, and other bulb shoots are beginning to show. A nearby witch hazel tree is in full golden bloom. On milder days, birdsong tentatively echoes over the silence. Blue Jays and squirrels are becoming frisky. Close examination will show a bud or two on bushes swelling noticeably as days creep by.
Symbols for hearts and cupids are everywhere, displayed as money-making guilt-markers by restaurants, romantic venues, gift shoppes, and just about anyone who can invent a hook. Exotic cut flowers become ubiquitous, flown up from summertime growth in the southern hemisphere _ prices doubling as Valentine’s day nears.
In my youth, we sometimes had Washington’s birthday off, but now it is common for schools to go into “winter break,” a custom which has caught on with parents and random employees. A great migration to warmer places for a week or so fills the coffers of the airlines, and empties our town (already a bit thinned from the exodus of snowbirds after Christmas.) The remaining population dreams of spring travel or summer excursions.
On dark mornings, I often wake up in a meditative mood. Well, why not? No rush to get outdoors _ yard chores are out of the question, woods are almost uninviting, weather is often wet and raw. I’ve visited most local indoor refuges, and had my fill of eating out. I remember our lives, and try not to evaluate the past too severely. I plan and try not to worry/hope too excessively about the future. I relax and enjoy the mere fact that I can relax in such security and luxury.
February is a quiet time, a great time to just snuggle in for those of us who can do so. As one of those fortunate folks, my task is simply to recognize that this short interlude is a genuine gift as the rest of life rushes by.