In my novel The Governor’s Lady, Mickey Spainhour is suffering from congestive heart failure and figures she’s not long for this world. Her son-in-law Pickett is running for President. In January Mickey says, “I hope I make it to March. I would hate to die in February. It’s a miserable month. If Pickett gets to be President, I want him to outlaw February.” Mickey’s daughter Cooper, who has just taken office as Governor of the state, says, “I doubt Pickett will waste a minute on February.”
Well, he should. Let me hasten to associate myself with Mickey’s opinion of February. It can be, often is, a miserable – nay, a wretched – month. Just ask Boston. If I get to be President, I will outlaw February by Executive Order.
But…fair-minded fellow that I am, I admit that February does have one redeeming characteristic: Valentine’s Day, when my heart is full to bursting with thoughts of my own true love. So I would move Valentine’s Day to March. February also has the Chinese New Year, but the Chinese can deal with February as they please.
One thing about winter in the Carolinas, where I live, is that it may grab you by the throat, but not for long. Even in abominable February, we always have a mild and pleasant day when winter loosens its grip and gives us some hope that cold and gloom are not a permanent state of affairs. Most of our winters here are mild, and maybe we don’t appreciate them enough. Even February.
What is winter for, anyway? It makes us hunker down, gives us grim looks and sniffles and a bad outlook on life. On the surface, winter seems to have little redeeming social value. But perhaps Mother Nature knows what she is doing when she gives us winter. Maybe she intends it as a time to just be quiet and wait and listen to the secrets locked deep in our hearts, to discover anew who we are and where we’re bound.
We modern humans are unaccustomed to silence. We surround ourselves with recorded noise and idle chatter. Much of our daily existence is filled, as the Bard said, “with sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
But Nature is smart enough to spend the winter in quiet contemplation. Deep in the icy ground, or under the awesome silence of snow, animal and seed are locked in winter’s thrall, listening to the secret ticking of the great clock of the universe. The hands move slowly, as nature’s creations regenerate and replenish, gathering strength for the noisy explosion of spring. Nature knows when to dash about madly and when to bide her time, waiting and listening.
As I write this, the wind is howling outside, rattling the shutters and shaking the bare limbs of the trees. The temperature will dip to 20 degrees tonight, even colder tomorrow. But I am hunkered down inside – some peaceful hours at my desk working on a new book. Soft music on the stereo, a cup of hot tea, my imagination. A time of discovery, possibility, serendipity. And Valentine’s Day is just ahead, hearts and flowers, my own true love.
Okay, maybe February is okay. But just. Still, like Mickey Spainhour, I hope I make it to March. I’ll leave it to you to figure out if she does.