Thu, 02/27/2020 - 5:15pm

It's one of those years again, one of those divisible by four years wherein February has an extra day, and still remains the shortest month. Except, of course, for those years which are also evenly divisible by 100 unless — wait for it — they they are evenly divisible by 400.

And while George Washington was not the only person impacted by the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, he was born in February and when I was growing up had a holiday dedicated to his birthday. It added to calendar confusion that seemed most apparent in that second month of the year.

I wonder sometimes if it is all one big learning process, these orbits of the sun and earth and moon that do not exactly align, so we cannot have the same number of days in every year, or a constant number of lunar cycles neatly fit into each annual trip around the sun.

And in a few hundred more years will people be looking back with the same questions,  either “how did they get it so wrong?” or “how did they come so close?” given the technology available.

It is only in February I think of such things, why the ninth through twelfth months are named for the seventh through tenth — it was much easier to find answers when I relied upon a few volumes of print text, not the multitude of possibilities offered by the internet. Today, one sounded quite promising until it concluded with a notation that the shift to the Julian calendar was the last — and lasting —innovation. In retrospect, the cartoonish appearance of the graphics on that particular site should have been a clue... Still, I knew I had read before of two months either being added, or some vague winter space being divided and named, some reason for this shift, that left this oddity that seemed to go unnoticed, or at least unquestioned at the length I think it deserves.

Autumn is sitting in the yard, on her patrol duty. She has taken to barking at deer, and at geese, and at any vehicle that comes down the Mansion Road and does not turn up this way, but only a few of those that do. I went out for a bit to play with her but she just wanted to run around with a stick, not play retriever, just toss and catch on her own. When she was a puppy I bought a bag of tennis balls, dog toy tennis balls. The net bag hanging in the kitchen is still more than half full, I am reminded when she drops her precious stick next to one of the yellow orbs in the yard and, after only momentary deliberation, picks up the. . . stick. She had quite a collection out there, sticks, toys, ignored tennis balls, pieces of the long braid that was a discarded rug when she first discovered it, that I never imagined would still be around these years later.

No piece of her collection is frozen to the ground, and has hardly been all winter. We're at the end of February and it feels as it has for much of the month, like March. Today it is especially so, dreary, with some bad weather forecast, rain and wind, that has people already speculating about whether or not the boat will run, as if a definitive answer is to be found on social media. Winter storm Odell I see when I go looking for something else, all the way to “O,” blasting the mid-west, and Great Lakes and northern New England, confirming more local forecasts of no real snow in the long range outlook.

It has been a bit of a lost month, my own unending winter cold aside. There have been bright, sunny days but overall, the impression left is one of March, brown and wet. While there hasn't been any snow to speak of since the late fall, and that scant in this neighborhood, it has seemed there has been rain after rain, some mornings the road a silver river, standing water in the swale of the front lot, puddles wide and deep on the Neck Road where they always are.

It was worse last year, I am reminded when I wander out in the north pasture and down to the dip in the land. The grass is dark, a sort of rotten color on a gray day that looks at a distance even worse, rotten and sodden when it is not that at all. Last year it was filled with water, wider than I had ever seen, and frozen so solid it held the one Icelandic horse that ventured onto it when there was human witness. It did not break or even crack, but it was only several inches deep and likely frozen all the way down.

I find photographs of early March last year, showing high, high water in the pond out back, and remember with dread how it rained all spring, leaving us with a green summer as lastingly green as any in memory.

There are hints of new green out in the fields, poking though the tan, and plenty of geese, big sassy geese, beautiful birds in sunshine but just more dreary brown in the March-like February afternoon.

It has been gray and dreary but there are sprouts of green by the shed, stalwart daffodils on the march. The little snowdrops under the mangle of forsythia on the south side of the house opened in mid-February as they always do, sunshine or shadow, ice or rain or fog.

Perhaps March seems so endless because it begins in February and runs into April, something no calendar revisions can mitigate.

Perhaps there is a way of realigning these dreary months of sameness, making them as long as they feel, squeezing out two names altogether, and giving September, October, November and December back the places their alpha-numeric names suggest.