There’s been plenty of warm sunshine the past few days, with afternoon temperatures in the 40s, 50s and even 60s.
More dog walkers have been on the street than usual for this time of year—some are already wearing shorts (the humans, not the dogs). A few motorcycles are even out of storage and roaring along country roads. Everyone suddenly has the urge to get their cars washed, and put the Christmas decorations away—now that they’re not frozen to the bushes. Local golf courses are even open. Yep, it’s a February thaw, all right.
The snow that’s still left is more greyish black than white, and it’s melting fast. I’ve heard conversations about robins surely arriving any day now. And on a Sunday afternoon drive, we had to make a stop to take our coats off, because it was just too warm to wear them in the car. Folks are starting to wonder if these could be signs of an early spring.
As glorious as this warming trend has been, we need to be realistic. We live in Wisconsin, after all—and it is still February. No matter what that groundhog in Pennsylvania did, or what’s printed on our calendars, the season of spring in these parts is at the very least another month away—and two months is even more likely. In all the years we’ve lived in Wisconsin, I can only remember two seasons when spring came early—and actually stuck around. But there have been plenty of that other kind of spring season—the typical Wisconsin variety.
You remember them too, I’ll wager. The Easter Sundays—even in April—when we needed winter coats and boots to wear to church over lightweight pastel dresses. There was the year in the 1980s it snowed in May—not once, but twice. Memorial Day weekends that were too blustery to picnic, garden or sit on the deck for more than a few minutes. The infamous Father’s Day hard frost—in mid-June of 1991, I think—that blackened our thriving tomato plants overnight.
We all know it’s just too early for spring to be here, but we surely wish it could happen. “Hope” really does “spring eternal,” as Alexander Pope observed in 1732. Every natural sign, like the bright yellow color of weeping willow branches, could mean that spring is right around the corner, right?
Retailers don’t make it any easier for us, either. They’re helping spread the illusion that spring has already sprung. Garden seeds are suddenly on sale everywhere, as well as beach towels, lawn furniture, boats and camping trailers. Summer clothes, swimsuits and sandals are all on store shelves—never mind that sweatshirts, socks and boots will be standard gear for many weeks to come.
Strawberries have arrived in the grocery stores, as well as blueberries and blackberries. I even saw sweet corn displayed in the produce section last week. I’ll admit to being rather suspicious of certain summertime fruits and vegetables sold way too early in the season. I know that they’re grown in California and other warm places, but I can’t bring myself to buy strawberries or sweet corn in February. It just doesn’t seem right; besides, no matter how good they might look, the flavor can be disappointing.
Winter is the time to cook with potatoes, squash, carrots, onions, and cabbage and eat oranges, pineapples and apples—or else choose the canned or frozen versions of summer varieties. In a couple months, fresh asparagus and rhubarb will be ready—and the rest of the garden crops will follow, at the right time. Until then I’ll be shopping our freezer and basement shelves.
Even though a thaw in February isn’t really a true spring, it is a lovely and unexpected treat. Everyone (except maybe Frosty the Snowman) enjoys a few days of unseasonably warm weather in winter. I’ve even stopped wearing tights under slacks in recent days. But while we’re strolling in the sunshine and letting warm breezes blow the cabin fever out of our hair, there is the unspoken understanding that the other shoe is probably going to drop. Snow showers are in the forecast for the weekend ahead. Don’t forget that March is expected to “come in like a lion.” In Wisconsin, it often goes out the same way—lambs just have to wait until May, I guess. The foggy spell we had a few weeks back means a big snowstorm 80 days later, according to old-timers I’ve consulted. That means we could be knee-deep in snow in late March.
If that happens, we’ll find ourselves saying, “Well the snow can’t last this late in the season.” Besides, by late March, the season of spring really is right around the corner.
Copyright © 2017 Ruth Wasmer
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