Sunday, February 2, 2014


The date will show February 2, but it is still January as I write this. I am sitting with January, whose head is buried in his arms, his shoulders shaking, his last minutes ticking away. There, there. To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn turn turn. He turns. He's laughing like a loon. Classic January. I've been tricked. This is not Janu anymore. This is Febru, the febrile, manic, younger sibling, the troublemaker, the kid you dreaded babysitting for...

Not so, says the calendar. February is a place. We just passed the sign, did you see it? FEBRUARY WELCOMES YOU! With an array of symbols around the perimeter: LIncoln and Washington, of course, their profiles in conversation; Conversation Hearts, and a cartoon groundhog in the lower left, contemplating its shadow, which is animated to appear and disappear as clouds reveal and conceal the sun.

This is a big transition, the first page turn of the calendar (not counting the paging through the year when we bought it). It means the year is 8.3% used up. The new-car smell is kinda gone. And our mensal expectations are...not lowered, but maturing. We went through it with January: the aerial view of day-squares marked with doctors' appointments, dinner dates, life measured out in spoonfuls. While we traversed those same days underneath the light-then-dark sky as we always do, meeting matter-of-fact weather events, cold snaps, snow, rain, getting a haircut, returning library books, dropping a check in the mail, et same old cetera.

So why should February be any different? Because it's got a different name. There's power in a name. F faces east. J looks west.  Back to back, JF are two brothers being measured for height. Of course, we know Febru is shorter by a few days, but tough and wiry as a ferret.

Not so, insists the calendar, February is a game board studded with special days, starting with Groundhog Day, which sits up on top of the month like a guru on a mountaintop. It's the true north of the year, the nod that starts the mechanism. The shadow business is just a symbol of wisdom dispensed, decisions made, a furry little oracle sending us on our way. It could have been some other bellwether—will the barber give McElroy a shave or a haircut? will the crow go for the worm or the grape? But there's something about the rodent sitting up on its haunches, perhaps on a hilltop, contemplating its shadow or the lack thereof, that fills the bill. Meaningful enough to be charming, and meaningless enough to suggest...oh, never mind. No wonder most TV meteorologists cherish it as a folk-weather gimme and no wonder Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin saw it as the perfect metaphor for a movie about drilling through inertia to change.

After Groundhog Day, who knows? The day itself has been shadowed for me by the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death. But we're not trapped in Bill Murray's alarm clock. Tomorrow will be February 3. They're selling Girl Scout cookies at Stop and Shop. And past experience tells me that some time before this month is over, I will hear the first cardinal adding its valentine-colored song to the winter air.

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