Happy Valentine’s Day
If winter comes, can spring be far behind
It’s hard to get excited about Groundhog Day.
February 2 is a huge turning in our calendar of hope. As winter’s midpoint, it is the mark in time when poet Percy Shelley’s line — if winter comes, can spring be far behind — sparks a bit of optimism. But hope dressed up in a groundhog suit? Surely we could do better.
We do, on Valentine’s Day.
The holiday we name for a second-century marriage celebrant is far more heart-warming. By Groundhog Day-plus-12, nature is putting her force behind the promise of renewal. Look around, and you’ll see better prognosticators than the visible or invisible — I can never remember which — shadow of Punxsutawney Phil.
Squirrels, for one. They’re chasing one another from tree to tree in acrobatic pursuit, suddenly as interested in frolic as in nuts.
Not to be outdone, birds are beginning their spring song in prelude to courtship.
This was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate, wrote another poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.
Did Chaucer hurry the season a bit? The climate and species of 14th century are not those of Chesapeake Country, but it’s hard to say what is seasonal nowadays. The birds, however, seem to know. At the top of Chesapeake Country pecking order, bald eagles have already mated to give their slower-growing chicks time to mature before next winter. Another favorite species, blue herons, traditionally return to their rookeries on Valentine’s Day to begin their new generation. Osprey will return in another month to get busy on their seasonal business.
At my feeder, songbirds are going about life with new interest, as if winter might really be gone and not only hiding.
It’s getting to be pretty lively out there.
By Valentine’s Day, the vegetable kingdom is also pushing into a new season. This moderate year, daffodil and hyacinth leaves are well risen. Looking down, I’ve seen some five inches high. Looking up, I read the seasonal clock of the maple tree that always bursts into hairy bloom just about now.
We humans have insulated ourselves from the seasons. We need not be cold in winter or hot in summer. More than any other generation on earth, we have detached our survival from nature. Far more of us work in offices than on the land, and we depend on sources of power produced far from where we use them. But our seasonal clocks keep ticking, and we feel something stirring.
Is it warmth? Is it longing?
Could it be the force capitalized on by the Valentine’s Day industry, with cards and chocolates, flowers, fancy dinners and diamonds?
Could it be why so many people have birthdays around October 22, nine months and one week after Valentine’s Day?
The human creative force has, of course, more outlets of expression. You could write a love letter, as Samuel Barr did 200 years ago, chronicled in this week’s edition. Or a book, as romance novelist Laura Kaye is doing. You could start a new restaurant, as Bobby and Julia Jones are doing. You could envision a new career, maybe in marine trades. Reading those stories in this week’s paper may urge you to your own creations.
Or you could simply salute the rising season with a Valentine’s card.
Our Valentine to you here and on this week’s cover comes from Bay Weekly’s Miss Cora Smith collection of early 20th century Valentines.