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first person

Mary Kirkpatrick

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I trudge through the days of February as if wearing the dirty overcoat of a large, sweaty old man. It is heavy, yet it doesn’t keep me warm and I can never take it off. I feel like a beggar; for inspiration, for sunny days, for sparks of insight. My mind is blank and my body is sluggish. None of my self-gratifying tricks and occupations work to improve my mood. How apt that this wretched month is referred to as “the blahs.”

To correlate the actual month of February with the blues is not totally accurate because I experience several “Februarys” throughout the year, when hope eludes me. However, it does seem to be the nadir of the months descending into dulling light, dampening cold and a general greying of everything. As a countermeasure to the unrelenting dreariness, we have contrived Valentine’s Day celebrations of romantic love to mitigate this pall over all. But I am not moved by attempts at artificial emotion. The romantic love that is hyped has, for me, turned from flaming red to deep maroon and sits as a weight in my belly. Love is heavy.

I love February (and it’s got nothing to do with Valentine’s day)

Even the brilliant amaryllis blooming in my window makes me melancholy, for I know of its imminent demise. This splendid plant stands like royalty – tall, straight and proud. It has forced a thick green stem up between its tongue-like leaves. It is stiff enough to support the huge burgundy bud that has just begun to burst. But it is a cruel deception, this promise of spring. Far too quickly the spectacular bloom will lose opacity as it begins its rapid decline. The flower dries up and its petals, similar to onion skin, will peel away leaving nothing but a naked little nub at its tip. The impressive fan of leaves at its base will become limp, then wrinkly, then dead. Then finally, for pity’s sake, I must sever the bare stem. It yields easily to the shears, oozing drops of slime like tears.

Some people escape to warmer climates, but even if I sprouted snowbird wings I would not leave. I would feel like a cheater if I avoided the bleakness by such a cheap trick. And then, returning from places that nurture breathtaking tropical flowers all year round, would it not demean our paltry early pansies? How then could I rejoice in the emergence of cheerful grape hyacinths? What joy would our shy little forget-me-nots bring? How would I revel in those chartreuse halos, the promise of leaves, that April bestows on the trees? How would I be able to celebrate the blossoming of cherry trees and appreciate the lavish colours of tulips in May? What would it feel like then, to shed the overcoat of February and raise my face toward the warming sun? Would it feel as warm? No, the gift of February is to mark the contrast between blah and bling.

It is inevitable that spring will come, but in February I cannot summon the joy of it while the wind howls and sends ice pellets clattering against my window. Even the glorious amaryllis cannot ward off February’s gloom. The shortest month seems the longest as it limps along, tired and bedraggled, toward the end of a marathon of winter months. Daylight is miserly short and has a murky quality because the sun is shrouded by a smoggy veil. February daylight is forever twilight. But, imperceptibly, the veil lifts slightly day by day, as the sun begins to assert itself once again. I glimpsed it briefly yesterday. I know it was not an aberration because I saw it again today, higher above me, the angle of its rays straighter and shorter. They highlight the slush and detritus that has accumulated under dirty drifts of snow and reminds me that there is still a long way to go. I noticed what that ray of sunshine has pointed out – the windows need washing. It arouses an instinct to action. Although the lethargy I feel is still in my brain, my body wants to move. Soon my brain will shift to follow suit. Already it has begun to organize all the things that will need doing. Soon the garden will need tending. Soon will come the sowing and soon the plants will begin growing, demonstrating the perpetual cycle of life.

Outside my window, I hear the cacophony of a flock of hungry finches raiding the deck, searching for the long-discarded feeder, hoping it will still be there filled with seed. Their hope to find sustenance and their noisy chirping awaken something akin to cheer in me. To reward them, my brain adds to the list of to-dos; I must replace that feeder. Inside at my window the amaryllis is resplendent in its second blooming. I am astounded by the stamina required to create such enormous flowers a second time! Once again these ostentatious blooms dare to proclaim their resilience. It is inspiring.

Its huge red flowers call out to me: Look at me! I’m here now and I’m beautiful to behold!

Susan Hoffman lives in Toronto.