Maybe this is just a function of getting older, or perhaps insufficient quantities of vitamin D, but this past December and the first weeks of January seemed to take an unusually steep toll on my psyche: Rising in darkness, driving to and from work in darkness, fighting off the urge upon returning home to just immediately go to bed, there to await with dread the following day's darkness.
So I rejoiced this past week to be able to turn the calendar to February.
I didn't always feel this way about February: I can testify that the month back in my native Montana always was a grind. March wasn't much better, and part of the problem was that, on some level, you always convinced yourself that it would be better, if you were only able to get through February. On March 1, you told yourself, you would arise to sunshine and blue skies and bunnies and deer frolicking on your green grass. It never worked out that way. Instead, you might arise on that day to the sight of dirty snowdrifts from a season's accumulation of snow, black ice on every road, and the carcasses of frozen deer, being gnawed upon by hungry-looking cougars. Is that another storm brewing?
February doesn't play out like that in the mid-valley. Out here, February is the month brazenly announcing that, regardless of what the calendar may say, winter is on the way out and the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth is once again tilting toward the sun.
You can see it: The days are getting longer, the nights shorter. The camellia bush in the front yard already has sent forth its first flowers. Elsewhere, brave little shoots are poking out of the soil and getting ready to bloom — daffodils, crocuses, witch hazel, snowdrops, the Mahonia "Charity," a relative of native Oregon grape. (Kim Pokorny of the Oregon State University Extension Service, my annual guide to the wonders of the state's Februaries, notes that many of these early bloomers come in shades of vibrant yellow — the official color, perhaps, of the early springs.)
You can smell it in what Pokorny called the "vanilla perfume" of sweetbox. You can hear it in the choruses of the Pacific tree frog, which will be breaking out any day now.
You can practically feel it underneath your feet: The world is coming back to life.
Now, these mild winters come with a price, as Pokorny notes: For starters, even though it may be a little too early for gardeners to get serious about working outside, it's not too early for weeds to get a head start. (Don't be tempted, by the way, to prune your rose bushes before Presidents Day; the pruning tells the bushes that it's time for new growth, and a late freeze could kill that growth.)
Pokorny also said she's already seen honeybees out and about, and that's always a welcome sight. But the mild winter suggests that other, less-welcome, insects could be a problem during this year's warmer months.
As for February itself, the National Weather Service says its forecast for the month suggests it could be a little colder and drier than usual. But with average mid-valley highs around 50 and lows in the mid-30s, the prospect of slightly cooler temperatures does not in the slightest chill my enthusiasm for February.
(I am worried by the relative lack of moisture, however, and would gratefully accept a few days of extra precipitation, perhaps even in the form of the snow that might fall in the mid-valley as early as tonight. Remember, mid-valley drivers: If the snow sticks to the road at all, the best way to drive on it is never to brake at all.)
Sometimes I tell people that the mid-valley doesn't has interesting weather. That's not entirely true, but it's important to understand that I mean it as a good thing. Interesting weather is what those poor souls in the Midwest endured last week as the polar vortex shattered records for low temperatures. Interesting weather is when boulders slide down rain-soaked hillsides onto interstate highways. Tornadoes are interesting weather events. I don't need that level of interesting in my life. The mild annoyance I feel when I am forced to scrape some ice off my windshield in the mornings is sufficient.
As I was writing this, news broke that Punxsutawney Phil could not find his shadow during Saturday's annual Groundhog Day ceremony: Legend tells us that means we're in for an early spring. That's barely news out here. (mm)