Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne Perez Tobias: Without winter there would be no spring, no snow days

Aaron Herrington and his son Tanner 5 head down the sledding hill at Sedgwick County Park Tuesday afternoon, taking a big tumble after hitting a small jump. (February 4, 2014)
Aaron Herrington and his son Tanner 5 head down the sledding hill at Sedgwick County Park Tuesday afternoon, taking a big tumble after hitting a small jump. (February 4, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Every year it’s the same.

Flip the calendar to February, and the grumbling begins.

“Enough of this,” my husband, Randy, says. “I’m ready for spring.”

He starts in much earlier, of course. Before the Christmas decorations are even packed away, while white lights still twinkle on the mantle and Mary smiles serenely from the Nativity scene, he announces he is finished with winter. This year – before the recent snowfall, anyway – my children joined the chorus:

February is awful, they complain. All of the cold and none of the joy. A long, windy, gray, bitter, bone-chilling ordeal.

“February is a suitable month for dying,” Anna Quindlen wrote. “Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long.”

Friends and colleagues are similarly weary. One says he’d rather bake at 110 degrees than deal with this nonsense. Come August, when we are sweltering, I’ll remind him of that.

In the meantime, I relish February.

I like the cold, if not the power bills. I like wrapping my hands around a hot mug of coffee. I like flannel sheets and fleece blankets, the feeling of inhaling crisp winter air, hours spent snuggled with a book on the couch, big pots of chili burbling on the stove.

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes – all the stuff Julie Andrews gleefully celebrated even as the Nazis closed in.

Silver white winters that melt into springs 

The fact is, I tell my children, there can’t be spring without winter. Each healthy crop requires a fallow season, a time of rest before the rebirth.

It’s easy to appreciate a sunny spring day. It takes perspective and maturity to appreciate February.

And then there are snow days. Say what you want about a generation gone soft, about how you and your ancestors walked barefoot through blizzards. Just admit it (like I had to this week when Wichita-area school districts called off classes): You’re jealous.

The excitement on kids’ faces when school is canceled, the hoots and hollers that follow the phone call, the end-zone celebration across the living room floor – that’s the definition of the phrase “unadulterated joy.”

At no other time are we granted such a spontaneous holiday, a day without demands or schedules. Sleep late and hunker down or bundle up and head outside. Build a snowman. Hear the soft crunch. Fall back and stretch your angel wings. Live for the moment.

Call it the Zen of February. It makes me think of Robert Frost:

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

I heard a high school student recite that poem recently as part of a Poetry Out Loud competition. My first thought was, “Isn’t that a little predictable? Traditional? Cliche?” We know Robert Frost from preschool picture books, watercolor paintings of easy wind and downy flake. Then I listened again.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

That is the push-and-pull of winter, I realized, and of life. The soft, still silence of the woods and the long list of obligations outside them. You’re tempted to stay longer but instead you journey on through the snow, through the wind, through February, toward spring.

Why not linger a while and enjoy the scenery?

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