The Smallest of Things
They said it was going to happen, I was expecting it to happen, but I wasn't prepared to see quite so much of it. No more than a week ago my heart would have fluttered in delight at the very sight of it, but not today, not in February.
I half-heartedly raised myself up, I turned and sat on the edge of my bed. That first stretch of the morning, the kind that seems to go on forever took over and I slowly opened my eyes. I knew it was there, over the years I had become accustomed to the way its glare illuminates my room. A bright halo of light shines out from around my bedroom blind where its edges don't meet the walls. I tentatively walked across my bedroom, pulled up the blind and looked out upon it. Snow. It had snowed during the night. The fields and the hills were all covered in a blanket of pure white, glistening in the diligent sun.
But why am I so surprised to see it? February is still winter after all. Spring doesn't actually start until March and even then it isn't unreasonable to expect snow. In fact some of the heaviest snowfall the United Kingdom has seen has happened in the first two weeks of March. In 2016, Scotland experienced some heavy snow showers as late as April. I can remember one particular Easter weekend at my sister's house in Moray when we were practically snowed in and spent most of the time eating chocolate eggs whilst huddled under throws around the fire.
The poet T. S. Eliot once wrote that 'April is the cruellest month' in his modernist work 'The Waste Land' but for me February holds that particular accolade aloft. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things I like about this little month but as the days come and go without anything of real note happeneing, seasonal impatience sets in and I have to rely on the smallest of things to get me through.
It has to be said that by February I am a little fed up. Everywhere I go, I seem to bump into myself, wandering around aimlessly, not sure of how to fill my days. I've become resentful of having to suffer the restrictiveness of wearing a jumper every day, my winter wardrobe has suddenly become tedious and I long to adorn myself in stripy breton tops and canvas shoes. I want to be out in the garden, potting on seedlings and mulching my perennials. I long to hear the calming, soothing tones of Monty Don's voice on a Friday evening. I want to go to bed without my woolly socks and hot water bottle. I've become weary of the familiar prospect of having to warm through the cold, foreboding bed sheets that await me every night. And yet despite all this, there are a handful of things that keep my spirits up until the crocuses have arrived and are basking in the early March sunshine.
By the second week in January, daylight is increasing by 2 minutes each day; a minute earlier at sunrise and a minute later at sunset. I rarely notice this imperceptible change on a day to day basis but then suddenly it occurs to me, it's 5pm and I haven't needed to switch the lamps on in the sitting room yet. It feels like a small victory, as though in noticing it, I have bought it about in someway. The week goes by in a mixing bowl of stirred-up days, sometimes allowing me a glimpse of the spring to come and at other times ripping it away again in a heartbeat. But then the weekend comes and it's time to take stock. I get up and go downstairs to feed Sizzles and let him out. I then stand at the door with my cardigan wrapped tightly around me and listen to the dawn chorus that sweetly echoes close by as the kettle comes to a boil. Then I will make a tray of coffee and carry it back upstairs, pull open the bedroom blind and climb under the rustled bedcovers. Nestling back into my bundle of pillows and facing the window, I sip my coffee and watch the sun as it climbs higher in the sky, reminding myself that I have gained 15 extra minutes of daylight this week and that it is lighter at this time today than it was last week. It's a little thing, but it keeps my spirits up and offers me some much needed reassurance.
Then there are the shafts of light that suddenly seem to appear around the house. You walk into a room and there they are. Beautiful vignettes, each breathing new life into a forgotten patch on the wall or a corner of the furniture. In a brief moment, it holds everything in its path in perfect clarity as the edges around it gradually fall into shade. And if by chance the ray catches a nodding, humble flowerhead in its path, the moment is elevated into something more than mere light and shade.
February is the 'waiting room month'. I sit patiently on its periphery and wait for news. I am hopeful and expectant. I drink endless cups of coffee whilst I sit tight, helplessly lingering for a sign, for it to come out and tell me that winter went well and that I can now move on. But I am told that recovery from winter will be slow and I am not to rush or force it ahead of time. So I twiddle my thumbs, I stare out of windows and wait. I bring in fresh spring flowers and position them around the house. I pull out my French market basket and hang it up in the hallway, picturing those sunny days when I can fill it up with fresh, unlimited seasonal produce from the market. On a bright day, I might open doors and windows to welcome in the early spring air and see the light reflect on the stone floor.
But then there are the days of rain. Those endless days when the light has deserted me and left nothing but shadows and heavy, vacant spaces, devoid of any life around my home. One dark day is manageable, I can cope with that. I tell myself it'll give me a chance to focus on the house and complete the list of chores that has steadily been growing. But two days, three days of rain and I am at sea. Even my imagination can not brighten my mood and boost my spirits. So on those days I surrender. I light the fire and pull out a boxset, not just any boxset though, one of my few feel good ones. A television series that was filmed in the very heart of summer, where nearly every scene is framed with the beauty of Britain in bloom. Cottage gardens in flower, coastal pathways, rolling fields, cotton summer dresses, all served with a side portion of blue skies and singing birds. Doc Martin, The Darling Buds of May, Miss Marple and Father Brown to name just a few. They are my hiding place when I feel that February has forsaken me. And then, when the clouds break apart, I go out and see what progress the month has made during my confinement. Starting with the garden.
One of the hardest things I have found since moving up to Scotland is adapting to the shorter growing season up here. I see my friends and followers in the south post pictures of daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops and lilacs that have burst forth into their gardens and the countryside around their homes. I look out on my garden and see little stumps, nobly trying to push themselves up out of the cold, often sodden ground. But then all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, you see it. Spring has arrived and bought your hopes and dreams with it. The snowdrops are bobbing their delicate heads by the roadside, the buds are thick and plump on the bushes and the air is sweet, having lost the hard, metallic smell of winter. Because that's the thing about February, for a little month it packs quite a punch. It might let me down on some days but it always makes it up to me in the end. Before I know it I'm packing away my boxsets for another year, pulling out my trug and embracing the start of the season. But until those days arrive, it's the smallest of things that will see me through and keep me smiling.