Taunting Winter

It is, most definitively, still winter. Although today is not the bright kind of winter day, but the penetrating, dull, colorless kind. The weekend’s cold rain stole away the brightness of the snow but not the hardness of the frozen ground. Naked oaks hunch forlornly over my back yard waiting for life. Today’s landscape presents in shades of gray and brown and beige. Even the pines and rhododendron are trying to fit the palette, the green of their fine needles and curled leaves seeming to fade in hopelessness.

It is eight degrees, going to twenty. Snow is predicted for tomorrow.

It is still winter, but I want to tell those oaks and evergreens surrounding my house that there is hope. I have heard it each day for the last week in the form of a lone bird’s song in the early, post-dawn light. The song is light and simple, its tone clear and direct, with only an occasional trill or lilt. Despite it going unanswered, the birdsong is buoyant; the singer knows that later, when spring finally comes, its voice will be but one in a pre-dawn cacophony that will coax out the sun.

I’ve always reveled in that first morning in late spring when I am awakened by the full chorus of birds, returned from their winter homes. It makes my heart laugh and my lips smile in wonder. But until recently I hadn’t noticed the very early signs – winter hints – that spring is in the wings, waiting its turn. A bird singing early on a February morning. A witch hazel in bloom. Breakfast in daylight, and dinner too!

It is the daylight, especially, that I notice now. For years it seemed to me that February was the darkest month. The joys of Christmas and the novelty of winter in January passed, February seemed to linger with perverse pleasure in lightless days. Of course, for many years my life consisted in arriving at work – to windowless offices and conference rooms – before seven in the morning and, often, leaving after seven in the evening. My days were circumscribed by the dark edges of the day, and so I did not see their steady but slow erosion by light. I did not witness the ever-change that cycles light and dark, hope and despair. Now, thankfully, I am able to experience these small miracles, marvel in them.

I noticed ever so slight a change in my bird’s song this morning. It still floated, but had a kind of edge, as if it were taunting winter with its presence. Perhaps. But outside my library window a mist of light snow fills the air, a day early. Winter is not ready to give in just yet.

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