Joseph Wood Krutch once said the most serious charge that can be brought against New England is February. The same also can be said of Kansas, notwithstanding all the complaints we hear about our state being flat.
In the old Roman calendar, February came in the “dead” of winter, during a period in which no time was even counted. Later they named it after the god Februlia to whom atonement was made annually for the misdemeanors of the previous year. The latin word februa means “the method of purification.” It seems February always has been a time for exacting some kind of punishment.
Soon after the month was named, attempts were made to shorten it. By 46 B.C. the calendar was getting hopelessly out of step with the seasons, so Julius Caesar set about to reform it. One result is the months ended up with either 30 or 31 days, except for February, which had 29, or, in a leap year, 30. Caesar then chose to honor himself by renaming the fifth month of the Roman year Julius, or July.
This worked well until Julius Caesar’s nephew, Augustus Caesar, came along. Thinking he was entitled to equal honors with his uncle, he renamed the sixth month of the year August after himself. But August had only had 30 days, one less than July, and that simply wouldn’t do. So he took another day from February and added it to August, bringing February down to its present 28 days.
This year, February will have 29 days, since we are in a leap year. That gives us one more day to get purified, but I should think 28 days would already be more than enough. Too bad Caesar didn’t add that extra day to the end of June where it would do more good.
February is short on days but long on suffering. It is the time when we are getting just plain tired of winter, and, to make matters worse, because of that lag in the seasons the weather keeps getting colder even as the days grow longer. Winter is not keeping pace with the calendar, but this time it is not the calendar’s fault. It is physics, and no one can reform that.
The stretch between Groundhog Day and the vernal equinox seems like eternity. We are either battling the flu, suffering from spring fever, or fighting a bad case of the winter blues. Having lost faith in the calendar, we trust the groundhog to give us some clue to winter’s end.
February has some of the season’s worst weather, and even the good days are often not so great. One day a blizzard blows in, then it suddenly warms up, melting the snow and turning country roads into a quagmire.
The muddy roads usually will freeze overnight, making driving a lot easier; but beware, muddy tires also can freeze to the fender. This happened to me one morning a few years ago, giving a whole new meaning to the expression “stuck in the mud.”
February is the price we pay for living in a land of four season, but it is easy to forget that the price is only part of the bargain. What we get in return is a chance to witness the birth of spring, to hear the dawn song of a robin, to smell the May lilacs, to feast on the beauty of autumn leaves and to feel the thrill of that first winter snow.
It’s something to think about as we purge and pine and suffer and slog our way through the month.
Richard Weber is a nature enthusiast
living in Ellis County.