Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Light Returning

Years ago, I was in a meeting where seasonal marketing was the topic at hand, and a woman there suggested that February marks the beginning of Spring. She was from a more southern realm, one, I imagine, where in February tulips bloom and green leaves unfurl. Here, February is that place about three months into our five – give or take – months of winter.

While spring still seems a long way off, however, there are noticeable changes afoot. To me, the most welcome of these is the gradual return of light.

The abundance of darkness is the only thing about winter I do not like. I love the snow and the glittering of frost-covered trees. I can deal with the cold, thanks to the wonders of fleece and down, central heating (in our house via old steam radiators), a small space heater under my desk, and the comforting glow of a blaze in the fireplace. But the dark can be tough – physically, emotionally, mentally.  

It’s no wonder people have long celebrated the promise of lengthening days during the darkest season of the year – centering holidays around the solstice and engineering such marvels as Stonehenge to mark the sunset of the shortest day. I dread the lingering creep of darkness each November, weeks before we arrive at the first official day of winter. The distraction of Christmas and (in our family) a month of birthdays beyond the winter holidays buoys me during the season’s protracted darkness. But come February, I’m ready for a little bit more light, maybe even a sustained hint of warmth.

Even for this winter lover, at this point, deep into the season, I begin to feel as if I’ll never quite shake the chill of winter. As if the perennials buried under layers of snow and ice in the front garden will never green up and bloom. As if my thickly-stockinged feet will never again walk – unclad – along warm sand or soft grass.

But then, somewhere about half-way through this shortest month, I notice the light returning. I can set off on a late afternoon ski through the woods now and not worry about being caught in darkness. And on school day mornings, when I rouse my daughter from sleep and raise the blinds of her east-facing window, dawn is already breaking over the mountains. Only a few weeks ago, that eastern sky was still pitch black so early in the day, and darkness fell well before supper time each evening.

Now, it is still bright at 5 o’clock and not quite so dark on the other side of the windows as we move around the kitchen preparing dinner. On ski mornings, as we head down the hill toward the mountain, the sun is higher in the sky. Some days, that sun is obscured by falling snow. And that is the joy of February – it offers the best of two worlds: returning light and, often, the best skiing of the season. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's February 25, 2021 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record. 

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