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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I’ll marry in February, I exclaim, but not before my sisters stake their claim on a May wedding at a resort on Lake Simcoe, or a summer wedding in Southampton on Lake Huron during our annual family vacation. Nope. Not for me. It’s going to be in February. That is, if I marry at all.

My love of February began with a naked run in the snow. A dozen or so friends and roommates newly graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston – young, unmarried and starry eyed – we began the tradition of meeting on a weekend in February at a one-room farmhouse just north of Kingston. Over the years it expanded into a ranch-style home with multiple bedrooms, one for each of us with our partners, and eventually with our spouses and newborns. I always got the couch. Meals were divided up, each person or couple assigned to making omelettes or sandwiches or, if you pulled the short straw, a full dinner for our ravenous group of twentysomethings. We no longer gather for those winter getaways, but the memories of midnight skates on frozen ponds and afternoon skis through forested paths are forever inked in my mind.

Along with, of course, the naked runs. Following the Nordic traditions of our unabashed host, we would take our places cheek-to-cheek on the benches of his multilevel sauna. Some of us wrapped ourselves in towels; others joined our host in going without covering in order to reap the full reward of the sauna’s heat. Once flush with warmth, out into the starry February nights we would venture, running the full circumference of the ever-expanding farmhouse – some stopping to make snow angels – before returning to the glow of the sauna. And the cycle continued. Oh how well we would sleep!

Cold-water swimming helps me make peace with my body

Shovelling snow is my new meditation

Until I experienced those February weekends, I thought of the second month of the year as the cruellest month. In the angst of my youth and young adult life, I felt the February blues. The early part of the new year stretched long, dark and tiring from Christmas vacation through until March break. It was, and still is, winter’s deep freeze here in Canada. Only Valentine’s Day and eventually Family Day brought some light to an otherwise dreary month. So, I was surprised when our host chose it for our annual get together. He must have known back then what I was late to realize: February is the best month of the year.

In the years since those Big Chill weekend escapes, my eyes have been opened to the beauty of February, and especially to its light. On my wintry morning walks now I tilt my face upward to feel the warmth of the sun. I breathe in the crisp, fresh air and forget – for a short while – any troubling thoughts. The sky is a piercing blue and I notice that the light is changing. It’s a brighter sun than in December, one that, if not for the cold, could burst open the buds on my tree-lined street and wake the daffodil bulbs that my neighbours and I planted in the fall. When I first moved to Ottawa, I lived alongside the Rideau Canal and could skate to work. There is nothing more satisfying, and Canadian, than lacing up your skates on a cloudless day in February and skating its full length.

And so, every year when February rolls around I claim the month for a future wedding date.

The question of when and where my nuptials will be has been a long-standing joke among my sisters and me. I’m the only one of the five of us who did not marry. It’s been close a few times; there have been engagement rings and once a fiancé and I went so far as to reserve a location and set a date. Back then it would have been a spring or summer ceremony, maybe fall, even. But a winter wedding never would have crossed my mind. Now it’s not so much a question of when or where, but if. After all, I’m in my 50s, well beyond the childbearing years. My dad is no longer around to walk me down the aisle. And I’m in a common-law relationship, so why bother?

But the dream of a February wedding lives on.

It will be a morning ceremony, followed by a communal meal. Afterward, my new husband and I will change out of our formal wear and don our skates or cross-country skis to go out into the sunshine, where we’ll celebrate our late-in-life nuptials with family and friends under a striking blue sky. And maybe, if we find the perfect location, some of us will share the healing heat of a sauna together before diving into the snow and running back in again. We may no longer be cheek-to-cheek on the benches, but we’ll have shared something so special that maybe my love of February will have rubbed off on some of them, too.

Claire Speed lives in Ottawa.

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