The skies are grey. The streets are streaked with mud, and so are the sidewalks, and so are the cars. I lean on my car to toss something in the backseat and when I move away, my jeans and boots are smudged white with road salt. The excitement of early winter -- the first snowfalls, the holiday parties, the twinkling Chanukah candles -- are long gone. And we all know that no matter what the groundhog saw, even if the full moon of Shvat is now behind us, winter won't unclench for quite a while.
It's February. And around these parts, our eyes get starved for color. At least mine do. Where I grew up, it's greening already by now. I grow weary of this palette. There's a muted beauty to this season -- the hills all brown and grey and white, bare trees and distant conifers and patches of ice and snow -- but it's pale, and sometimes its subtlety eludes me. Afternoon sunlight, when the clouds part, is thin. And the sun still sets early -- not as early as it did six weeks ago, but early still. Spring feels so far away.
This is the season when I find myself standing idly in the hair products aisle of the drugstore, distracted by the glossy pictures on the covers of the boxes of hair color. I turn the names over on my tongue like butterscotch candies. Light auburn. Reddish blonde. Burgundy plum. Would I wake up feeling more vibrant, would the world be more vivid and bright, if I colored my hair for the season? In the end I purchase a bottle of nail polish instead: a little color, a little sparkle, but when it chips it's easy to remove.
I've lived in New England for twenty years now. I recognize the symptoms of The Februaries when they come on, and I know techniques for combating this particular brand of malaise. I feast my eyes on my red boots and my purple peacoat, treat myself to hot baths and to luxurious fires in the fireplace, purchase potted amaryllis or daffodil bulbs for my home office and my synagogue office so that I can drink in that hint of green, that promise of new life. I seek out strong flavors. I change things around: remove my home office rug and ponder what I might want there in its place.
The people who make catalogues are attuned to these rhythms, too. I glance through one which has come to our mailbox, and marvel at the canniness of showing photos of graduated cooking bowls in shades of lemon and lime, throw pillows in shades of effervescent spring chartreuse and bright summer sun. I come up with a zillion house projects, ideas for organizing and clearing the clutter. If I gardened, I'd be hip-deep in fantasies about seeds; as it is, I make stacks and piles, to-do lists, dreams of how I could brighten and organize.
What is it I'm really thirsty for during this slow short month of deepest midwinter? Color and spice. Experiences to saturate my senses. New growth and new potential. Windows clear and sparkling instead of fogged with condensation or streaked with salt. Some days, when I'm out at mid-day, I drive with my hat and gloves on so I can feel the fresh air on my face. This season requires patience. And the willingness to cobble together a patchwork of cures: dark green kale dressed with bright tangy lemon, the last of the sweet clementines, the fuzz of my son's red moose blanket sleeper as we cuddle before sleep.