Famers tend to mark February as the half-way month – when the weather has always been unpredictable and can often be the coldest month. Mother Nature for now definitely does not want to come out while winter continues to do its worst. The leaf tips of the snow-piercer specially hardened and pointed to penetrate the frozen ground, while the flowers are protected by a sheath-like spathe as they emerge.
Lambs tails and Pussy Willow will appear on the bare twigs of hazel trees and goat willow always heralding spring, creamy yellow male flowers producing clouds of dusty pollen, while the goat willow has wonderful silky silver male catkins, which turn yellow in March. The tactile feeling of goat willow is just wonderful and each year I’ve managed to find some to bring in for my mother. These sprays of sallow, heavy with male and female catkins, will traditionally decorate the Churches on Palm Sunday.
In country lanes the hedgerow plants are stirring, except this year I think they’ve returned to their beds for a while longer – sensible flowers! Mother Nature is holding onto her flowering goodies, holding them back, until the weather warms and we have a wonderful burst and mass of colour to gladden our hearts and lift our souls towards the lengthening sun.
We have had early anemones from Cornwall – those fantastic jewels of colours. I have to say as a child I do not remember anemones in October, which since my mother has been ill, and when her birthday is, I’ve managed to find some for her. Where we ‘bed and breakfasted’ as kids there was a kitchen garden full of flowering anemones at Easter .. I used to love them.
At home we had a copse which was full of snowdrops, daffodils, narcissi, celandines with the bluebells later on; under the large sprawling oak tree the drift of snowdrops spread out, also followed by the daffodils; we must have had crocuses, but the ones I remember were in Hyde Park in my London days – I always sat upstairs on the double-decker bus so that I could see the amazing display of orange, cream , purple and white crocuses as we travelled down Bayswater Road towards Marble Arch and the West End.
Then the hedgerows give us the violet and the primrose. The sweet violet, as one of the first wild flowers to bloom, is essential to insects on the wing providing winter sustenance. This the sweet violet has a heady fragrance eulogized as the flower of Aphrodite, goddess of love. An oil distilled from its petals has been used since the times of ancient Greece in perfume making and also in herbal medicines.
February that month of hope to have our spirits dashed with a bitter spell, or two or three – when the light is ever beckoning us to longer days – over an hour longer now - February renowned for flooding rivers, for winter winds and long icy gusts over the white empty miles of snowy fields – just going straight through you.
Where are the other signs of life – the birds scuttling around and joining the lone January robin: the blackbirds are there with their bright orange beak and wonderful showy song; the chaffinch energetically chirping all around us; shy birds such as dunnock and wren too sing on eagerly awaiting warmer days. Tiny birds the goldcrests singing their shining song from high in a lofty conifer, and the song thrush welcoming sun as it shines through.
The insects start to appear, needing to find the nectar to keep them nourished, the birds, beetles and tiny mammals likewise need to keep themselves fed – so when a cold snap comes, many animals and insects, already under pressure finally succumb.
The rigours of winter stretch their resilience to the limits and diminish their food supplies. Keeping warm takes much of their energy. For some small, warm-bloodied creatures even a single night below freezing is terminal. This year I suspect there will be many.
The red deer in Scotland are particularly hard hit this year as they need fresh grass and heather and the snows have been particularly tough and impenetrable for flora and fauna – and deer have one other disadvantage they naturally do not hold much fat, as they are born to roam the moors: this year they are worried that a whole generation may not survive.
However life adapts with wrens and long-tailed tits roosting snugly together in small crannies, postboxes!, upturned flowerpots, and sensibly into nesting boxes intended for their brood in the spring. Imagine seeing 50 or so little birds safely pop out of a postbox!
So that cold month of February is keeping us guessing – 2005 we had snow in February, 2006 and 2007 I don't think so; February 2008 was cold but we did not have snow, we had snow in February 2009, and now again in 2010.
Now 1649 I can tell you! – the hearse used for Charles I and his funeral on February 19th 1649 was covered in snow, the day having started out serene and clear, as we had here today.
Dear Mr Postman - thank you for visiting - my mother asked about her letter! Nothing escapes her - she was telling me what to do with the flopping tulips today! She's still very unwell - but as you'll see still fighting and hanging on in there. She still can't hear - but she seems happy .. loves the flowers - tulips, daffodils, narcissi and anemones ..
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