A month ago, my husband and I were sitting by the woodstove, feeding the glowing embers, and waiting for daylight to go outside and finish morning chores. For days temperatures didn’t rise above zero, and we found ourselves drawn to the fire. The light cast by the flames was at least as enticing as the warmth. Goodness knows we needed all the light we could get in early January.
After congratulating ourselves for making it through the dark season to the solstice in December, those early days of January might just have been harder. We were still waiting for any discernible difference in the returning daylight.
At last, Alaska’s valentine arrives in February when the sunshine finally packs a little more heat and ventures noticeably higher in the sky. It is one of my favorite times of the year. Most of us who have lived in Alaska any length of time, love winter, and February offers the season at its best. March can be great too, but our springs are arriving earlier every year. In February, there’s finally a decent base layer of snow, temperatures are rising, and the sun has crested the bluff that blocks direct sunlight to the ranch.
Once again, sunbeams stream through storm-dusted windows.
The dogs stretch out on sunny spots on the floor, getting up to move when the angle of the sun changes. The horses doze at the edge of the pasture in the triangle of light that first appears yearly when the sun breaches the bluff. They stand in perfect symmetry, broadside to the sun to get maximum UV exposure. And while temperatures trend upward in February, the mosquitos, flies, and no-see-ums have not yet hatched, making for luxurious equine sunbaths. From this, the horses’ bodies signal the arrival of spring. It won’t be long before they start shedding their thick winter coats, at which time we will put our fleece and lip balm away for a time.
As for the human inhabitants on the farm, we can feel a resurgence of energy each day. We start making plans for spring planting. We dream of our summer adventures. And we plan to make improvements around here – new fences, remodel the greenhouse, paint the sheds. It is still too early in the season to actually do any of it, so we can afford to be extravagant in our ambition.
We seem to have hours to spare, and we fully anticipate that our energy will keep up with the expanding daylight. (By July, of course, we will be utterly exhausted, but we refuse to think of that just now.)
Meanwhile, cross-country skis have become fixtures in my car. A huge thanks to the trail stewards that groom the cross-country trails, often in the middle of the night throughout the winter. Mark and Ed Strabel often post their trail reports at midnight or 1 a.m. after grooming the Government Peak Recreation Area, Archangel Road, and Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass.
February is a time of year to dust off the cobwebs, not just physically but mentally as well.
There’s creative energy in the air, and it feels like a good time to try something new, even if it’s just that certain recipe from the cooking website I browsed as we sat by the fire in January.
My husband says that in February, life returns, and he’s right. As the sun makes its appearance and the days grow longer, there’s a glimmer of something we haven’t felt for some time. Yes, it may still be cold. But the days are brighter. The nights are still awash in stars. And it seems like that glow from January’s woodstove has ignited something within. My dad used to say that flames from a woodfire are the release of all the sunlight absorbed over the lifetime of a tree. No wonder we are drawn to it in the darker months of winter. Now, with the sun back in the sky, we are drawn to the sun itself, thankful that winter isn’t over quite just yet.