Monday, February 24, 2014

The Promise of February

There's no denying it - spring is on the way. I saw it this week when the first crocus peeked out at me in front of an old rock wall, and I felt it last week warming my shoulders as I shoveled a foot of snow off my driveway. In the mountains, February is the month when it can be 15 degrees one week, and 65 the next. But no matter the temp outside, there's an unmistakable shift in the air. It portends weekends just around the corner spent outdoors, tidying up garden beds that have been asleep all winter, turning over fresh earth, the scent of rosemary and lemon balm plants on my fingers.

The light in February is different. I am more keenly aware of sunlight - the length of it, pattern of it, the contrast of light vs. dark - this month than in any other month of the year. The return of longer days happens this time every year, but somehow still manages to feel surprising, miraculous.

No longer am I racing nightfall on my afternoon walks. Instead, I find myself double checking the time on my phone. Not until sometime in March do I seem able to accept that daylight is possible after 6 pm. Last week, the first thunderstorms rolled through the mountains. The heavy clouds threatened us as we walked around Lake Tomahawk, but didn't hit until later that night. Lady woke me at 2 am to let me know.

The birds sing of February's promise every morning outside my window. They chatter away at the lake, and hop a little more brightly around the feeders in the yard. I find myself scrutinizing the goldfinches. Are they just a bit more yellow this week than last? Yes, I think they are! And I am convinced that this heron we passed on our walk this evening was smiling.

February gives us all a reason to smile with its promise of spring. The only one who isn't paying attention is Lucy, who has continued to busy herself this week wedging herself into places where she doesn't fit and isn't welcome.

If you can slink into the narrow place between body and laptop, it is then possible to gradually
expand your body to normal size, gradually moving the pesky laptop away and toward the knees.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Art of Persistence

Lucy wants on my lap. I've told her no, but the word is fairly irrelevant. "No!" applies to other creatures and circumstances. Dogs, for instance. However, I am reading, and clearly there is no room for both a cat and a book on my lap. I explain this. She pretends not to hear me, but she hears, and understands the message. The change in facial expression gives her away, an ever so slight narrowing of the eyes. Mild displeasure at being thwarted.

Why is it that a lap containing a book or newspaper is such a cat magnet? It's amusing to watch her move in. Lucy seems to believe that if a cat body part moves slowly enough, humans cannot see it. Generally speaking, this is true. I can't tell you how many times I've shooed the cat away, become absorbed in what I'm reading, only to look down a few minutes later and notice that she's sleeping on my lap. How did she get there? I have no recollection. It probably helps that she's always been a petite little cat, and in her old age tips the scale at just over 6 1/2 pounds. Even when she jumps up onto my lap from the floor, it's hardly noticeable.

But today she is employing major stealth tactics. After standing completely immobile for some minutes, slowly, ever so slowly a paw moves forward. Weight shift to that paw. Then, the other paw creeps forward, followed by the head...slow motion progress toward the desired destination.

"The trick is to be persistent, and to shrink your body into the space under the book ever so slowly, so the human doesn't notice. Eventually, because you are so cute, and so persistent, the human will give up and put the book away, devoting all attention to you. And then things will be as they should be."
Works every time!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Midwinter Musings

Well, here we are at the halfway point of winter (dare I say the 50 yard line?), and in Western North Carolina, Nibbles the Groundhog has declared six more weeks of winter. Groundhog Day...what a quirky tradition! I'm thinking the German settlers of Pennsylvania must have been really bored that February day in 1887 when they came up with this one - "Hey, lets hoist a large rodent aloft and look for his shadow!"

Quirky traditions notwithstanding, I'm rather fond of February. The days are getting longer, the sun seems brighter, and by the end of the month we'll be seeing the first crocus, perhaps a daffodil or two.  My favorite midwinter verse doesn't fit very well here in the Southeast, but it's a good excuse to share a few more of the photos I took recently in Duluth, Minnesota.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

This familiar carol began as a poem way back in 1872, a few years before those German settlers in Pennsylvania opted for the groundhog forecasting method. Written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), it was eventually set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906. I've always thought the words capture so beautifully that part of winter up north that seems unrelenting, the weeks when it seems as if the world has frozen beyond its ability to thaw. 

I wonder what the 42-year-old Christina was feeling and thinking as she penned these words. I imagine her sitting at an old wooden desk with an oil lamp while the wind howled outside her window. Did she feel as bleak inside as the world looked outside? I don't think so. I like to believe that she was a peaceful and content observer of the season.

Although I am happy for the lengthening days and the prospect of crocus, midwinter in the colder climes brings treasure in abundance for those who pay attention. One gift of winter is its ability to make the color red so very beautiful. 

Don't you think?