The dye washes out of reality in an Iowa February.
According to weather experts, the worst part of winter is the last week of December, and the first weeks of January. That certainly accounts for frigid weather and hip-deep snow, but not much else. February takes January’s misery into itself, and compounds it. The product is a bleach, flushing the blues and the greens into pastel grays.
It’s the emotional doldrums of the year. The wind is harsh as winter prepares to change its shirt. Buffeting cold gales push us through doors and across parking lots. Evenings last longer, but not long enough as the dark still overtakes us only a handful of hours after work. We push into the unpleasant, faces dry and stained red with frigid wind. There are so many words for low temperatures, and we use them all like curses now.
Worse, we see reprieves. We see days where it is not so cold, sunlight-hemmed for a morning. Warmer days bring rain, misting our windshields eternally with a water that smears and freezes. Thick London fog hardens to frost as the window to spring slams down again. We scrape our windows today; we will probably scrape them tomorrow. Leave an extra ten minutes early for work until May.
February is not the light at the end, but the tunnel. We see better days creeping towards us, but here we are in the chilly dark with weeks and weeks yet to walk. By the end of it, we are hardened; veterans ready for March’s angry rush.
What can we do? These dark days seem interminable; our bodies and spirits are restless and hungry.
It’s in these days that I lean hard on a game, outlined in a novel The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, that Julie Andrews):
“But first of all, look at the trees again. They’re not just brown, are they? That one there is almost black. And the trunk of that one is copper and smooth, and that one is grey and rough. Those dead leaves are a russet color, aren’t they? Now look under the hedge there. Do you see anything?”
The children looked. They saw nothing.
“Can’t you see the cluster of red berries hanging up under the leaves?” The children looked closer. Suddenly, as if the focus were being changed on a camera, the red berries came into their view.
“Why didn’t I see them?” Tom was bewildered.
“Because you weren’t looking,” replied the professor. “There aren’t many people in this world who really know how to look. Usually one glance is enough to register that grass is green and the sky is blue and so on. They can tell you if the sun is shining or if it looks like rain, but that’s about all. It’s such a pity, for there is texture to everything we see, and everything we do and hear. That’s what I want today’s lesson to be about. I want you to start noticing things. Once you get used to doing it you’ll never be able to stop. It’s the best game in the world.”
Color exists. February light isn’t kind to color, but it’s present and vital nevertheless. In a red sunset; in a glowing neon sign at night. Yellow tabby cats and taxis, purple on the altar, robin’s egg blue in a stranger’s scarf. Every tree trunk is a different hue; every fir tree clutches fresh green skirts close against the snatching wind. Even on a snowy day, there are bright red cardinals, yellow shovels, and orange gloves.
Look for color in your own neighborhood; on your own way home. The last breaths of winter may just become infinitely more survivable.