Even though February is a winter month, it always reminds me that spring is not far off. When I was growing up, February brought a mailbox overflowing with seed catalogues. We would pore over them, wondering what varieties of vegetables and flowers we should raise during the short New England summer. One winter, my father built a small greenhouse off the southern kitchen window. Long before the winter snows melted, my mother filled it with tiny cups containing potting soil and seedlings. On brilliantly sunny days, I would stick my head inside this little incubator and inhale the moist scent of warm soil and budding leaves. When I closed my eyes, I was submerged in the flavor of green.
In February, there is usually a thaw. As a child, I thrilled to hear my leather shoe soles grind against the sidewalk, rather than the scuff of rubber boots, or the crunch of snow. I loved to watch the water run in little rivulets under the bridge of ice between the curb and the road. My siblings and I broke melting icicles off the roof and sucked them like popsicles. We made snow mush and pretended to feed it to imaginary farm animals. We searched for mittens lost in the back yard during a December snowstorm. And down by the river, we looked for pussy willows.
I’m not sure why I equate pussy willows with February. Perhaps it is the soft gray buds that are the same color of the sky on a February morning. Perhaps it is the starkness of their branches, stretching over the frozen banks of a river whose ice is only strong enough to hold small woodland creatures. Perhaps it is that the blooming of pussy willows signals the coming spring. Whatever the reason, when I think of February, I think of pussy willows.
One year when the pussy willows bloomed, my mother put a vase of them on the kitchen table. A couple of days later, two of my siblings, preschoolers at the time, got the bright idea of pushing the little gray buds up their noses. They sat at the table for an hour, sneezing out slimy little fur balls, a captive audience to my mother‘s admonishments. From that day forward, I could not look at a pussy willow without laughing.
This February more than any other I yearn for pussy willows. Life events have turned my heart sallow like the February sky. I know this is a passing phase, much like a February snow storm. It comes with fury, the white snow relentlessly driving against a darkened sky. It is frigid, and blustery and heartless. But the February storm melts quickly. The pale February sun becomes less shy. Icicles turn tearful, dripping holes into the snowy ground below. February’s weeping washes winter away, leaving a clean bed for Spring to plant her children.
The weatherman is forecasting snow storms this week. People around me are gearing up for another of February’s tantrums. They are pulling out plows and shovels. They are canceling school, scooping bread off the grocery shelves, and renting movies in anticipation of a few snowbound days.
As for me, I’m finished with winter. I’m ready for sun and warmth, and a light heart. If you need me, I’ll be down by the river in search of pussy willows.