‘There is very often a warm interval in February, sometimes a few days earlier and sometimes later, but as a rule it happens that a week or so of mild sunny weather occurs about this time […] These mild hours in February check the hold which winter has been gaining, and as it were, tear his claws out of the earth, their prey. If it has not been so bitter previously, when this Gulf stream or current of warmer air enters the expanse it may bring forth a butterfly and tenderly woo the first violet into flower.’
Richard Jeffries, ‘Out of Doors in February’, in The Open Air (1885).
20/2/2018 When I discovered this essay at the beginning of winter, it struck me that Jeffries was right about February. At least, I remembered such days of warmth and sunshine last year, and in some previous years. Certainly, the first opportunity of the year to sit in the sun on the terrace usually occurs in February. There is nothing more delicious than that first sensation of unambiguous warmth and brightness falling on your face for the first time – properly – in several months. But it might as well have been several years.
This February I have been waiting in hope for these ‘mild hours’. There were a few dotted about early in the month, but the real thing arrived on the 16th. It was as heavenly as I remembered it. The garden inhabitants were quite as happy as me: the snowdrops finally came fully into flower, the birds sang enthusiastically, and when the goats and chickens weren’t busy eating, they were busy sunbathing.
It didn’t last a whole week, but for three days I lived in bliss. I saw my first bee of the year, and a visit from friends coincided perfectly with the sunshine. We spent most of the weekend in the garden enjoying all the activities usually reserved for spring and summer: rowing on the pond and moat, swinging in hammocks, drinking coffee on the terrace. 17th February was the first official terrace lunch of the year.
There was something almost more perfect about these spring-like days in February than such days in March or April. Perhaps it ought to have seemed like an inferior version of the real thing: no green leaves were anywhere to be seen; the daffodils showed only the beginnings of flower buds; the large plum tree by the pond was a long way off blossoming; and we still had to wear wellies and coats outdoors. But, for me, the giddy high of spring is always accompanied by a background anxiety over its passing. On these February days, I was free of the worry that the season would be over too soon.
It was a preview. A gift given unconditionally, and unrelated to the passing of spring.
Because winter isn’t over yet.