February’s sense of place and anticipation:
With the advent of February, we have the first winter month when both sunrise and sunset are working to extend the day at both ends. As we start the month, sunrise is once again before 7 a.m.; and, as February closes, sunset at 5:35 p.m. is a full hour later than early January. We are leaving the season of rest and awakening to days of more light and a sense of anticipation for a new year.
All the celebrations and seasons of February anticipate a rekindling of life seasons. The New Quahog Moon of February 1 will usher in the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. Chinese New Year falls on the first new moon after January 21, and is thus the first new moon of the new year. In its earliest understanding, Chinese New Year is the spring celebration of a new year. This year, the Chinese New Year is just
a day before the traditional barometer of spring’s nearness in the U.S. – well, at least on Block Island – Groundhog Day on February 2. Whether Chinese New Year or Groundhog Day, or the Christian holiday of Candlemas (Feb.2), they all celebrate and welcome a time of increased light and anticipation of the growing seasons.
To have a sense of place is to embrace the special – if not unique – features of that place. On Block Island our unique Groundhog Day celebration is to take a count of all human souls sleeping on the island that night. This of course appeals to our sense of humor; but like all of the February celebrations it is a nod towards marking the end of a dark winter and getting ready for a new year of growth and harvest (these days, some call it commerce).
To celebrate the seasons of February, and to embrace the elongating days, consider planning – and taking – a weekly walk that considers the lengthening and differing qualities of light that suddenly seem so different than just a few weeks ago. (See some suggestions in the microseason descriptions below and remember, always wear safety orange at this time of year even though the suggestions are in non-deer hunting areas.)
This is the last of a year-long series of monthly articles where I have taken to heart the truth that each season is not a three-month period but rather a continuum of microseasons (each about five days long) that more specifically express the nuanced and varied nature of any season. Like the seasons of one’s life, it is the rich assortment and accumulation of discrete flourishing that make the whole being – or the whole season.
Gliding Geese: January 30 – February 3
The first days of February are the true marker for a new year. The New Quahog Moon will occur on February 1 at 12:46 a.m. As indicated above, the Chinese New Year of the Tiger starts on Feb. 1, followed the next day with the island’s favorite holiday – Groundhog Day.
The Lowest Clam Tides will occur from February 1 to 3 at approximately 1 to 3 p.m. Quahogs are never sweeter than they are in February. Sunrise on Feb. 1 at 6:57 a.m. is finally before 7 a.m.
And, geese of all types are honking their morning greetings before first light, and can be seen gliding on wind, water, and ice all around the island. Some species, such as the flock of snow geese that have been around the island for the past three weeks, are getting ready to migrate back to the subarctic for their summer breeding season. In the meantime, islanders have been treated to wonderful views of this beautiful species.
Budding Witch Hazel: February 4 - 8
Now is the time to start forcing sprigs of cheery witch hazel. Frilly, beautiful and fragrant, this blossom will brighten any February day.
Blackbirds Sing: February 9 – 13
Listen for red-wing blackbird trills on February 10. Although some redwings stay around all winter, the real mark of their spring migration arrival is their trilling call. When you hear them is when you can reliably count on spring being at the doorstep.
Crusty Snow: February 14 – 18
There is still time for another snowfall. In fact, the old-timers say that there will be one more snow after the red-wing blackbirds start calling – the “Blackbird Blizzard.” February snows are often wet and heavy, made crusty by falling nighttime temperatures. The Full Blackbird Moon will occur at 11:56 a.m. on February 16.
The annual – and global - Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will start on Feb. 18 and continue through Feb. 21.
A Flight of Seaweed: February 19 – 23
Late winter storms often come with a rolling sea from the east. When the thunderous swell abates is the time to look for a “flight of seaweed” banked up on the beach. This is the best garden fertilizer around. There is nothing more satisfying than collecting a bucket of the stuff when the storm retires, and the air is cool and fragrant with sea water and Irish moss.
Time for Tobies, Tongues & Cheeks: February 24 – 28
The ocean water is generally still too cold for inshore fishing (my local fishing guru says he looks for water temperatures to reach a minimum of 38F before looking for winter flounder). In times of yore, islanders needed to go out of the harbors in search of cod in late winter. Not a morsel was wasted: in addition to filets, cod fish tobies (roe) and the tongues and cheeks were a regular late-February staple.
Time to clip and force forsythia inside:
On February 28 the sun will rise at 6:21 a.m. and set at 5:35 p.m. – a gain of more than an hour in one short month.
As this particular series ends, it starts – as it should – a new year with a sense of anticipation for rejuvenation and recalibration for the next cycle of seasons.
To share with others your sense of anticipation for the next rotation around the sun, join one of The Nature Conservancy’s many February programs: Go to www.Natureblockisland.org for the schedule.