Monday, February 23, 2009

At the End of Winter

     It is true that February does not enjoy especial popularity among the months; it is too brief for that and gets the short end of the stick, smashed between the broad-shouldered giants of January and March. You might like it to imitate the one or the other, but where on earth would that get you? It delivers us frosts and blizzards, but no longer has that great and grave majesty of winter; its frosts are only nipping, its snow is raggedy, its freezes are light and crisp; the longer the light has to work the more you can see its wrinkled, rimed, spiteful and mottled face. Or it eases up and seems as though spring is in the making, a south or west wind comes up, the ground softens and streamlets and rills gurgle everywhere; the sun shines on all of this and the earth is swathed in an almost cleansing heat; you sniff to see if it is a true thaw, but no! The earth is hard again the next morning until it crackles underfoot, and the living water goes blind in icy opacity; it’s not quite the turn of spring; that divine grace is yet lacking in it.

     As I’ve said, there is not too much granted to the month of February; it is such a halfhearted month, neither winter nor spring; but there are phenomena that distinguish it from all the other months of the year. Most importantly, the dusk is born again in February. There’s no true dusk in winter, no wavering procession between day and night, but the night just pours in and that is that; and you turn your lights on and go about your business. But in February a moment of dusk quietly steals in—perhaps it is because there is more daylight, maybe that everything is soaked in just a little more light and glows from within at just the right time: simply put, there is a secret and sweet moment when it seems that things are quietly and privately…outlined of their own accord, of their own quiet light, and right then you can renounce your own vain toil, put your hands in your lap let yourself be carried along in the lingering passing of the day, turn off the lamp with a sigh and say good night.

     You have to have good eyes to see the second change: February has its own color. The grass is still rust-brown, the earth is still pale with frost, and the earth is still pale and unempurpled1 by moisture and aeration, but something more than a breath of color already flickers and lingers on the branches and twigs of the bare trees. There aren’t any buds yet to give off a yellowish, verdant, blushing haze in the spreading shoots of the trees and underbrush; it is unusually discreet, a scarcely-perceivable colored touch on every bare twig. Simply put, in February the sap has already begun to flow into the branches; the green phloem swells, shrunken bark stretches, smoothing its winter wrinkles and glows with succulent life, and brown, scarlet, and yellowish shades appear on the emaciated brush; gold shows on the willow, a fine violet appears on the birch, the fruit orchard blooms in a secret scarlet. What was black as ink during the winter plays out in the faintest outlines of color, and sooner than we expect a spray of glowing buds,the silky softness of catkins, and the fresh green grass will come along. I know we’re not that far along; but something new is already afoot in the universe which falls to the small month of February: the naked branches have begun to glow in excitement, working towards the onset of spring.



1 [Eight hits on google, so I didn't quite make it up. Czech nezbrunátněla is from the adjective brunátný "dark purple, ruddy," Verbing that with the inchoative prefix z- gives us zbrunátnět "become purple/ruddy," the ne- is a negative prefix and the -la replacement at the end marks past tense and gender (feminine). Pardon the vanity footnote, but I am incredibly happy at un.em.purple.d to translate ne.z.brunátně.l(a) at the level of each transmissible morpheme, and am happy to have a platform to explain that out in excruciating detail.]

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