Saturday 20 February 2010

February – the half-way month ..

Spring is coming so they tell us, the copses of woods, the meadow verges, the hedge banks are all sprouting little green shoots - first come the snowdrops, the winter-flowering lily, sometimes called snow-piercer – most definitely that’s what it will be called this year: Wales and the Midlands have just had another snowstorm .. and down here we might have one this weekend.

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 ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - How lucky you are - spring is in the distant future in February in Minnesota. Ours starts to roll in about April 15 when the ice goes out on most of the lakes. Your photos are beautiful!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I'm glad I read your blog, I feel spring coming now. And -and I saw Robins today. And I heard the birds in general singing. They were happy in our 50 degree weather.

What a wonderful post, Hilary.

Evelyn Lim said...

Oh wow...your pictures here are awesome! The changing of seasons sure produces a myraid of colors. Well, hope the cold blows over soon!

All the best,

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. thank you - by the sound of it we are lucky - Spring in England is usually beautiful - with the longer days, spread of life springing through - wonderful to see and watch.

Mid April seems ages away! and ice still on the Lakes .. chilly! I hope by then we'll be warmer at least.

Glad to know what's happening elsewhere - thanks for coming over Betsy .. and glad you enjoyed the photos .. chilly again today!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa - I haven't seen a robin, but it's probably too enclosed here in the town centre - but lots of blackbirds singing (wonderful sound), wood pigeons - cooing, and little pied wagtails darting about wagging their tails .. life is bursting forth very slowly! Our weather is definitely not 40 deg F yet ..

So pleased you enjoyed it .. thank you

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Evelyn .. good to see you and you enjoyed the photos .. and as you say the seasons produce a myriad of colours .. with the hues of greens to come. The photos gladdened my heart too ..

Looks like we've another week of cold .. ugh! Go well and have a good week ..

Grampa Ken for social change said...

As I roam the blogosphere all year long I have noted that the most comfortable and inspiring places to visit on the topics of family and nature are hosted by the ladies. Nice words thoughts Hilary.

On the weather, we are having the warmest winter on record here on the Canadian west coast - in Olympic land.


Liara Covert said...

Funny how it used to seem like spring would arrive late March or early April. Increasingly, we are reminded every season is will us every moment. You may get snow one day and a spring thaw the next. To appreciate every experience enables you to be grateful where you are. We each decide everything we experience. It is all free will. You can let go o fear, worry and doubt and allow whatever Mother Nature shares to flow in. To accept the external events reflects you increasingly experience and accept inner self.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Grandpa Ken .. good to meet you and see you here - thanks for commenting and dropping by. I'm pleased you enjoy the blog and hope you will continue to do so ..

Weather .. it's been miserable today - the local rivers are in full spate & it's cold! But we should enjoy each day as we find it .. important to remember the now .. but some warm sun will be nice!!

Keep well - and cheers to you too - with a nice cup of tea!! Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara ..thanks for calling in. I know - you are right Spring used to be much later - I remember learning to drive in the snow at this time of year .. so it was cold then! But we should enjoy life while it's here - cold or not .. just depressing to leave the nice log fire at my brother's house - just now .. could have curled up and dozed!!

It's lovely watching Spring appear .. but for now I'll enjoy today .. I'll be at peace with that .. thank you - Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

You have me aching for spring, sun, and flowers! Of course, that ache is in a good way... You've rev'd up my spirit, and encouraged my impatient self that it's not long now.

What beautiful pictures, too. Amazing how even the sight of flowers in a picture can raise my spirits. Thank you, Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. thanks so much .. after going out in "torrential" rain this morning, and yesterday, I too ache for better weather. It is warmer .. but gosh grey with loads of raindrops are still a bit much!

The flowers I have up at Mum's always inspire me - but to see them for real basked in sunshine would be great! The drifts of snowdrops at my brother's were wonderful to look at. Glad the pictures have given you some lightness!

Good to see you here -

Mark said...

Tis a season full of promise!

Patricia said...

In the Pacific Northwest of the US we have experienced one of the warmest winter's of record, and are nearly 2" a head in rain already this year! I loved your pictures and I tired to take some of the crocus in my yard which are quite profuse.
We went 2 hours south and Spring is quite dramatically a head of schedule there and we were walking in our shirt sleeves already.
It was 27F' on my sunny walk this morning. I love knowing the solar panels are working even in the Winter sun.
My mum loved watching the finches flirt though our apple trees Gold finches have not arrived yet this year. But I think of helping her to the chair so her sharp mind could watch them dance and twitter about. She knew all the names.

Thanks for such a fine post and good news about your mum.

Jannie Funster said...

"And lift our souls to the lengthening sun." a most beautiful line.

Sounds like you have so many more spring flowers than we, or perhaps in our vast nation i just haven't heard of most.

I feel sad for the poor little red deer. Very sad indeed. I hope things will thaw and quickly for them.

Lovely, Dear Hilary


Davina said...

Hi Hilary.
Spring is my most favourite season because winter is at it's farthest away and I can linger in the sweet smelling aroma of the blossoms. Our cherry blossoms are just starting to come out here in Vancouver. Reading this post reminded me of the Pussy Willows we had on the farm where I lived as a little girl. Very fond memories. Thank you!

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary
Spring is the most beautiful season I know.
Everything is so delicate and yet so tough.
Oh look at those flowers in the snow.
For me spring is always a sign of promise and beauty and strength.
That is can be warm here in spring is an added bonus.
Enjoy this season and what it might bring for you.
Isn't it interesting how your mom is still alert, however flopping tulips are not done, I have to agree with her as I have to protect my national flowers reputation. We Dutch stand tall, we do NOT flop.
Love to your Ma for rescuing them, love Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark – it sure is a season of good things to come .. lots more snow to come! Spring has not sprung here yet ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. good to see you – interesting how you’re having the warmest weather for 100 years I think .. and now you’ve had lots of rain. My pictures are not by me! Don’t tell anyone else please!

I’ve always found it interesting how much seasons change – if we go west to Cornwall .. Spring comes earlier – hence the flower trade, which especially blossomed with the introduction of the railways from the West to London.

Your walk sounds lovely and so wonderful you could get some sun .. 27F is quite low! Your mother sounds lovely that she loved her birds and cherished them so much .. she sounds like my Ma with her sharp mind .. good that you remember her with love.

Glad you enjoyed it .. and yes Mum is improving slowly .. thank you so much

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. thank you! Probably our more temperate climate helps .. I’m surprised you didn’t have them in New Brunswick? We do have a profusion of flowers though and Spring is wonderful to see the meadows, banks, hedgerows and wild areas full of different blooms.

The deer do seem to be suffering and the weather is not being very kind – it is still very cold, with more snow this week .. but nature always recovers .. it’s a cruel world even without us humans!

Delighted that the phrase “And lift our souls to the lengthening sun” gives you good thoughts – lovely to hear from you .. thanks for being here -

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. I think it’s mine too – but when it’s warmer .. late spring!! However the flowers pop up and delight us so quickly apparently, before the next bulbs poke through.

The scents and fluffy blossom are so sensuous – and the cherry blossoms always look so wonderful in whichever part of the world one is in – brightening the soul.

Excellent that you had Pussy Willows on your farm and that this brought back memories of that time .. I love them too and we had them at home ..

Thanks for being here Davina – always good to see you ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. Good to see you – I love Spring and as you say so delicate, yet there it is pushing through or bursting forth. Ours is warm sometimes! Just not this year. But nature is so tough, full of beauty and strength as you so rightly say.

Thank you – Spring is always a good time. My Mum is my Mum – telling me what to do! The tulips were lovely when I arranged them, but they do their thing ..and then need some tender loving care, which I give them! Everyday I check the flowers!

I agree I don’t like the flopping Dutch! .. I do ensure you stand tall .. it’s just I don’t control them for 24 hours at a time .. I put a pin in the head of the bulb, which I gather keeps them straight and upright!

Yes – she keeps me in check .. and is still alert .. thank you – love to you too ... Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- Doesn't it amaze you that we are gifted with spring after winter?

My first visit to England was in the late spring. I remember the colors were unbelievable as were the flowers...they were everywhere that year. For some, I also remember that the green of the grass was so bold and bright, compared to what I see in spring time where I live.

It will not be long now:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. yes it does - but actually winter is beautiful .. if it wasn't so cold, gloomy, wet and grey as it is now! But Spring .. too lovely.

You picked the best time to come over for a first visit - especially as you remember all the wonderful colours .. and the greens .. dark, yellow, bluey, light, lemon, white backed, green green grass of home! So many hues .. with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds and a breezy warmth in the air, rustling the leaves, branches, grasses, blossoms, petals .. lovely time ..

It won't be long now - this week is just too much and I'm in the warmer bit!! Thanks for the visit and lovely comment ..

Robin Easton said...

Oh my dear Hillary, This post just brought tears to my eyes. I know you've done a more recent one, but the photos here and then your magical writing just drew me like a maganet. I couldn't resist it.

You know how much I LOVE Nature, so I found this both thrilling and poignant. In parts of it you sounded a lot like how my mother was when the first corcus poked up through the snow. Or when the first pussy willows burst into buds of soft silky gray. It just made me miss my Mom deeply. But also in a good way.

Not everyone sees the world arond them in such detail as you do or my mom did...or as I do. I got that from my mother. And the older I've become the more I realize what precious and life-saving gift it was. So many live without the awareness or connections you speak of here. I find it especially sad when children don't have this.

You really touched me heart today. And I just adore you, ...and the little tiny notes at the botton of the page to the postman. Just precious.

Hugs to you dear Hillary,

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Robin .. how excellent and honoured to have you here. I can’t thank you enough for such a generous comment.

I do know how YOU LOVE nature .. and I’m sorry, but I’m so pleased that I’ve been able to bring you some happy memories of your Mom. It’s such a sad time when they go .. mine – who knows .. I have my moments now .. before she leaves on her final journey.

My mother is really the great naturalist .. perhaps it’s something I’ll become much more aware of as I get older and be able to take more interest. Mum was a brilliant gardener, as was her mother, - not having a garden now .. I’m a bit woolly on my knowledge, also having lived in another country .. with some of the same flowers, but also so much diversity in the African landscape.

I’d love to have more knowledge and to be able to pass that knowledge on – one day I will ..

I’m just so pleased to hear that it’s touched your heart .. because I know how much the outdoors means to you .. and my notes have always been there as the blog is for Mum and friends have always been interested in how she is ..

Thank you so much – and hugs to you too Robin .. good to have you here enjoying the memories ..