February’s a struggle but spring draws near

John Pepin

“It’s such a pretty world today, knowing that you’re mine. And happiness is being close to you.” — Dale Noe

Of all the months of the year, February has got to be my least favorite. Even though it is the month with the fewest number of days, it’s still seems way too long — longer than those other winter months with 31 days.

February is the month when the hibernating groundhog supposedly crawls out of its dirt hole to “predict” whether there will be six more weeks of winter. I remember being a little kid thinking this was a real thing.

The rodent had spoken, saying there would be six more weeks of winter — it felt like an eternity, one so heavy and debilitating, I just couldn’t believe it.

In February, winter is king, with its icy jaws clamped down hard on everything. The frozen stiff, dead or dying all over the place numbs my mind. This is the place where the temperatures are the coldest, influenza hovers far and wide across the landscape and kids hope winter storms will help them rack up at least two or three more snow days.

Walking through February – day by day, step by step — is like passing through some sort of wintry gateway that all but cripples my memories of warm summer afternoons. During this time of year, my mind is wiped clean of the spring birdsongs, leaving me to have to refresh my memory come May.

I stumbled onto a summer photo the other day, the green color of the tall grasses in the picture immediately captured my full attention. Could a day really have ever been this bright, this green? Sure. Quite a few of them, in fact. Then why does it seem so hard to recall them? Winter’s witchcraft.

While paying a few bills the other day, I had a reaction like the one I experienced seeing the green, summery photograph. I reached into my desk drawer for a stamp to put on one of the letters and saw a beautiful spray of blooming flowers.

These stamps were first issued in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in August, but I sensed whoever had the idea to circulate these stunning Forever stamps during the darkest days of winter was one special person.

The U.S. Postal Service website had more information on the stamps.

“Plants have long been subjects of artistic fascination — from cave drawings to medieval religious paintings. Not until the Baroque period in Europe, however, did flowers take center stage,” the website said. “Among the most sought-after paintings were those of Dutch and Flemish artists. Their intricate, canvas designs complimented the exuberant, massed floral arrangements exuding wild abandon. The paintings featured on the new Forever® stamps were inspired by the tradition of these Baroque floral artists and depict flowers common to American gardens.”

The pleasing form of these stamps likely outstrips their function. It seems wrong somehow to take one of these delightful stamps and place it on the likes of a utility bill. I spent a few moments looking over the artwork and the beauty contained within the tiny confines of these stamps.

It’s always surprising to me how even the smallest offerings of light and color can brighten up gloomy, gray, winter days.

A week or so ago, I heard a cardinal singing on a frigid morning. It was there again the next day. On the third day, it was gone. I haven’t heard it since, but those two mornings were made special hearing that frosty bird sing.

I think I must have always struggled through February. I remember being miserable and nauseated as a kid, sitting in the back seat of the car on a “ride around the horn” in the “old bomb” in the middle of winter.

It was almost as though my parents wanted me to bear witness to what winter had done. The back seat of the car was cold, even though the heater was on. The windows frosted, I would use my fingernail to scratch out designs.

Unlike the summer woods rides, that always ended too soon, these winter trips to the icebox seemed like they lasted for months. Please take me home to watch skiing or bowling on television, I’ll even clean my room, anything, just get me out of this car.

Stopped on the river bridge, the sound of water was completely silenced. The seemingly haphazard trails of rabbits were fresh on the snow piled over the river. With the window cracked open, just a bit, the squawking of an old crow sounded from across the watercourse. His voice croaking as though he was unhappy.

It was on this trip that I first recall hearing the Wynn Stewart song “It’s such a pretty world today” on the radio. I remember thinking how strange this was. Even though it was a sunny day, the winds and the outside temperature were cold enough to cut you in half. Pretty world?

Stewart’s song hit No. 1 in the late spring of 1967. It was his biggest country hit.

It’s such a pretty world today, look at the sunshine

And every day’s the same since I met you…

And though the rain may fall my skies will all be blue.

If I look close enough, the sun will come shining through

It’s such a pretty world today, look at the sunshine

Today and every day since I met you

That song is an old classic now. I liked it the first time I heard it and I still like it a lot.

If I didn’t understand what it was doing on the radio in my dad’s old car back in 1967, I do now.

It was one of those little things like a photograph of green summer grass, a colorful spray of flowers from the garden postage stamps, or a cardinal singing cheerfully from the dead limb of a maple tree, frozen to its heartwood.

It was a memo from beyond — beyond the four frozen Fridays of February — a sign that the spring and the warmth and the birds and the sun will all come back again. You’ve just got to hold on a little bit longer.

Back at home, the house felt warm. I sat in front of the air register which was blasting heat from the furnace into this small corner of the living room beside the couch. My dad picked up the newspaper and turned on bowling on TV. My mom had that look in her eye, the one she had when she was thinking up chores for me to do.

I slumped down, crumpled into the corner. February is just way too long.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.