"I Stood Waiting For The Thorn To Break In Blossom White . . ."

February by the Sea

Valentine's Day and a Leap Year. Opportunities for those who want to share more of their lives with one special person, to open up about it. But there are always opportunities.  It amazes me how prescriptive people can be about love. February seems a funny month for love really.  It can be spring-like but, as often as not, it's cold and a bit stop-starty. I mean, what self-respecting knight in shining armour wants to get his knee caps rusty in the snow?

You never know what you're getting in February. It is National Bird-Feeding Month in the U.S.A.. And, there again, you can't be sure which birds will share the banquet  you've put out for them. At present we have mostly great tits, blue tits, robins, starlings, sparrows, jackdaws, goldfinches, dunnocks and doves.  But I'm expecting wrens, siskins, greenfinches and chaffinches to join us again.  The rooks which nest on the square sometimes come too.  We've had some exciting visitors at times but the sparrow-hawk, in all its glory, is a killer. It takes my little blues.  The antics of the blue tits really make me laugh.  It won't be long before the nesting season begins - usually in March - and the male birds are checking out territories right now.

Not too far from here, wild cats will be mating this month. Although Caithness is popularly known as the Lowlands Beyond The Highlands, we have a population of wildcats here. There are also many hybrids, living closer to human habitation, which can cause problems for pet owners.  I've seen the pure Scottish wildcats at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig. It seems wrong that they should be behind bars but they are part of a breeding programme designed to maintain a healthy population.  Scottish wildcats really don't like going out in the rain, so not so very different from our late black cat, Millie.

As Winter moves towards Spring, as couples make decisions about their futures, as birds and animals begin to pair up, the clouds in the February skies make for interesting reading.  As a child, I lived in the Isle of Axholme with its vast open spaces and big, stretched skies. Sometimes the skyscapes seemed to go on forever.  Sometimes they made me feel so tiny, like a little bug, amongst the dykes and mainly arable fields of home.  Now home has stone dykes instead of water-filled dykes. It has fields of mostly sheep and cows instead of crops and just a few cows and horses.  The clouds in February still tell their story.  For a long time now, we have had political shenanigans resulting in the sneaky and destructive divorce from Europe, royal break-ups of one kind or another, nasty colds and chills going around just about everyone I know and the strangest weather for winter.  If the bedtime temperature is 5 degrees or below, before I go upstairs I pop a large dish of porridge in the oven to switch on when I go downstairs in the morning.  This winter was well under way before I needed to do that regularly. It doesn't seem right to have a mild winter. Yet I remember the bitter winters of my childhood, when we had no central heating, no hot water, the toilet was down the yard and my bedroom, which was above the barn/wash house, was too cold for me to sleep in. I had to move into my little brother's room.

I remember men cleaning out the dykes, drains and ditches and others layering hedges. Their breath steamed, their faces were raw and they rarely spoke.  If they spoke to each other while they were working, they let the demon frost inside them. Given the opportunity, it grips the upper respiratory tract and commences battle.  I should think the man in the tractor cab today is pleased that hedges are now flayed more often than they are properly  layered. They don't look good though and, more importantly, they do not create an impenetrable boundary as the old hedges did.

Orlando enjoying the February mud!

Before we moved into this house, in December 2009, someone had planted a few snowdrops across the road underneath one of the trees.  They now form small clumps in the wet grass and are a delight when I pull open the curtain each morning in February.  There is a steep bank, with trees, down the hill from us which is first a carpet of snowdrops, then of celandines and daffodils.  I took a picture the first year we were here, then the second year and, by the time we were into our fourth year, I realised that my photographs were all the same. I haven't taken any since then but what a pity it would be to miss seeing them each late Winter/early Spring.  Our little town is full of surprises like that.  You turn a corner and get a view of the sea, or you see an old house, full of character, with laughter lines and tear stains on its friendly face.  Recent surprises include our escapes from Ciara and Dennis respectively.  They both tried to find us but we hid behind Morven. We didn't escape completely of course - we had some strong winds - but, compared to much of Britain, our suffering was limited.

February is full of surprises. In 1979, seven years before we moved to Orkney, the snow started to fall in February, just when we thought Spring was around the corner. It snowed and it snowed and it snowed. It snowed so much that Crowle, in the north of the Isle of Axholme, was cut off from the rest of the world. We had an ex-army Land Rover and so were able to move about within Crowle but the A18 was impassable. At that time we had a toddler and a baby and I remember how nervous I felt when I took them outside. The paths, where people had walked, were like glass. Getting down from the vehicle was an act of faith.  Even fetching the coal in was a gamble.

The view from the house on a snowy day

Years later, living in Orkney, the children went to play outside one mild February. I sent them out with jumpers and jackets.  Off came the jackets, then the jumpers.  There they all were, playing in tee shirts. They even ran inside asking for cold drinks. Oh the fun February can bring!

Saint Bridget of Ireland has her feast day on the first day of February. Saint Valentine of Rome is commemorated on the fourteenth.  Saint Bridget's prayers are said to still the wind and the rain. Saint Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers. I'm thinking, if we put the two together, then Spring really is just around the corner. But you never know what you'll get in February.

Looking to Spring, with hope


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