“Is not January the hardest month to get through?
When you have weathered that, you get into the gulf stream of winter,
nearer the shore of spring.”
~ Henry David Thoreau, February 2, 1854
64 thoughts on “Nearer the Shore”
Our January here in New Zealand is actually pretty good so far, except that we really could use a good rain. There are cracks in the dry yard that are more than an inch in diameter.
Some of my posts written in July or August would fit your January nicely; that’s our hot, dry, and occasionally droughtish season, with cracked earth galore. One of the most interesting aspects of blogging for a world-wide audience is the variety that’s always obvious, especially when it comes to the seasons. You’ll not hear much complaining here about the winter, unless it drags on a bit with interminable fog and drizzle, but in August? We may be waiting for summer to end, but we sound like our northern neighbors praying for an end to snow.
From my northern hemisphere friends, I get a sense of the trials of long winters. Downunder its the end of February that brings a sense that the worst of summer has be borne and respite Will be in sight sooner or later….usually Easter heralds a break in seasons, although usual can no longer be relied upon.
Love your starburst, perfectly positioned.
Here on the coast, we’re like you in the sense that our mumbling and complaining reaches its peak in summer, as we long for an end to the heat and humidity. Thus it always has been, from what I can tell. Reading some of the journals of early settlers in the area, it seems as though they could have been written yesterday — or at least last August. The first cold front of fall may not be an official state celebration, but it’s a celebration nonetheless.
I enjoyed finding that cracked trunk and adding that image to my little collection of images that illustrate the truth of Leonard Cohen’s line: “There Is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
Lovely Leonard. Miss him…
By the end of January we are indeed nearer the shore of spring. It is the time of year when birders start to say, “Another month and we’ll be looking out for the first early migrants.” We were musing in this very way yesterday!
I thought it was interesting that Thoreau referenced the Gulf Stream. There’s a hint there of springtime being carried to us by an invisible but unstoppable flow: much like the streams of wind that aid the migrations that soon will be taking place.
Yup, if anyone should know it would be Thoreau. February can be challenging but the temperatures are on the rise and the snow leaves more quickly. We are approaching the shore.
Nice starburst nestling between the branches.
Given your appreciation of snow and ice, I hope your winter endures at least a little longer. The cold weather isn’t particularly fun, but it does have those photographic side benefits you enjoy.
The ‘branches’ are a bit of an illusion. This is the same tree where I found the ceramic fungus. Just above the starburst, there’s nothing but the ends of the rotting-away trunk. I had a lot of fun trying to portray the tree in different ways.
A good photographer uses illusion as a device for good composition.
I do like the idea of a big current sweeping us along through, and past, the winter weather. And good for you for trying something different with that photograph, most of the screen is probably black, but it’s interesting and I like it.
I enjoyed Thoreau’s mention of the Gulf stream. Not everyone knows that crossing the stream can be an iffy proposition, and requires planning. The stream’s approximately 45 miles wide, and tends to flow at south to north at two to four knots. Crossing with a southerly wind is best, since wind opposed to the current can result in rough seas. In that sense, it’s a perfect metaphor for January and February, when conditions can get rough even though we’re headed toward spring.
It tickles me that this is the same tree where I found the ceramic fungus. It’s amazing how the same camera, at the same time of day, can create such different images.
That’s a great metaphor! In the north, you can throw March in there, too, as coming in like a sea lion I guess.
I haven’t learned much about the currents in the Great Lakes yet, but I read Lake Michigan seems to have the most serious problems with them, and more drownings than the other lakes combined.
That’s interesting, about Like Michigan. My suspicion is that the higher number of drownings is related as much to the higher number of people vacationing at the lake as to the nature of the lake itself. There’s a spot down the coast from me called San Luis pass where they finally forbid swimming and fishing because of the number of deaths that take place there every year. Of course, even with the signs posted and the publicity associated with the deaths, people ignore the warnings. Some of it’s inexperience, and I suppose some of it’s that old favorite, “It won’t happen to me.”
I bet you’re right, the numbers probably reflect the popularity of swimming beaches. The Great Lakes can surprise people, with rip currents, etc. I’m not a strong swimmer, and usually just splash around near shore. I hadn’t thought about this before, but I wonder how many of the drownings are people ice fishing or skating. A few years ago, a huge chunk of ice on Lake Erie broke off, and started taking the ice fisher’s to Canada. The local sheriff was pretty steamed, he had all his deputies racking up overtime on snowmobiles, getting them to shore, while one end of the ice pack was still connected. There’s (true) stories in the Finger Lakes about years with unusually cold winters, and kids trying to skate the length of the big lakes, Seneca & Cayuga (30-40 miles) and never being seen again.
I see Thoreau’s words come from a journal entry headed “Up river on ice to Clematis Brook.” The entry from February 9 asks: “Is not January alone pure winter? December belongs to the fall; is a wintry November: February, to the spring; it is a snowy March.”
That added comment suggests seasons with permeable membranes; that’s certainly true for us here in Texas. It was too much to hope that the clematis Thoreau found resembled an old man with a beard, so I went looking, and found he included Clematis virginiana in an appendix to The Maine Woods. (It’s in the fifth paragraph on the linked page.)
Whether that species gave Clematis Brook its name I can’t say, but it was fun to see the various clematis species growing in his area, and even more fun to see that Thoreau put it on his list with a question mark!
Different for Thoreau than for us up here in the Texas Hill Country, isn’t it? At least for me. For me it’s possibly August, with the high temperatures plus the humidity. After that, it can only get cooler.
I mentioned the same thing to someone else. Winter here, such as it is, begins late and ends early, and it’s summer’s heat and humidity that can seem to drag on and on. Of course there are the occasional ice storms, and the even more occasional snow flurries, but those move on pretty quickly. The worst I’ve experienced was the great freeze of 1983, when the waters in the bays dropped to 28 degrees and the below-freezing temperatures lasted for ten days. We were ready for some warmth by the time that one was over.
Long ago, that freeze!
But memorable. That was the freeze that burst all the water pipes at my apartment complex, flooding the concrete courtyard. I got out my skates and went ice skating.
Well, so you made the best of it. But I think you could well have done without the burst pipes.
True enough. We were glad for the swimming pool, though. We broke the skim of ice on that and carried away buckets of water for toilet flushing. How’s that for pioneer spirit?
Proves that humans are adaptable.
January can be tough, although this year I am shocked that today is the 29th and I felt more like it was the 15th! When my retirement allotment showed up in my checking account yesterday, I was actually surprised and rather shocked and wondered what happened! I often find February harder. The winter starts to feel very long by then. And I suppose since our December and January have been rather light in the snow department, it doesn’t quite feel like we’re that far along. I love the idea of the Shore of Spring. Very much!
Our seasonal change has been mostly obscured by so much cloud and fog that when the sun does peek out, it’s surprising to see how much farther north it’s traveled. The days are noticeably longer now, and there’s a bit of sunlight reaching my patio: signs of the changes to come.
As I recall, March was the transitional month when I lived in Iowa. There was the ‘traditional’ boys’ basketball tournament blizzard, but it was the beginning of mud season, too. Down here, it’s February. The traditional time to prune roses is Valentine’s day, give or take a few days either way. But there’s no question that spring’s on the move. Last year, the flowers were rampant by mid-to-late February. This year, some are peeking out already; yesterday, I saw the first big, fat dandelion.
Au contraire…January is merely a tease that spring is on its way. February is the harsh reality that is hardest to survive. The longer days and often mild temps of January are just setting us up for the crushing blow that comes in the form of lowest temperatures and ice, snow and general cold misery that makes winter seem a long time going throughout February. Come talk of the “Gulf stream of winter” in March and I’ll be listening.
Geography may not be destiny, but it certainly accounts for different experiences. Yesterday I came across multiple vacant lots filled with buttercups, and the wild strawberries are abundant. Bluets, oxalis, and anemones are appearing; the doves are starting to coo, and the cardinals to sing. Granted, February can bring freezes, and some of us are hoping for a good one, but there’s no question spring is ready to move into the upper coast. Today, it doesn’t feel like it at all, but the signs are there. At least it’s almost February, and then we can say “next month, it’s March.”
It’s been a mild January. I’m afraid to see what February wants to throw at us. But, that evening light lingering longer and longer—loving that!
We’ve had so many cloudy days, it’s been a surprise to see how far north the sun has moved when it breaks through. I’m getting a little direct light on my patio in the morning, now. I’d wondered how that would change as the year went on. Like you, I’m loving the longer days, and so are my schefflera; they’re starting to put on new growth.
Oh, that’s a lovely shot! Here in Texas, January is not so scary. I’m still hoping for a good, hard freeze; so far, only light nips.
Is that a morning (my guess?), or late afternoon photo?
A lot of us are hoping for that freeze. I did laugh when I looked at the Texas Mesonet site a few minutes ago; our wind chill is lower than yours. I was going to dally a bit before going to work, but there’s no sense in it. As the wind comes up, the temperature goes down, instead of up.
Actually, there’s a third option for that photo. It wasn’t taken at high noon, but pretty close: 1:36 p.m. It was the day before that I photographed the ceramic fungus on that same tree.
January is usually our coldest month, though with the climate changing, you can never know how things will go. I’m always happy to see February and to get back to work in the garden.
By mid to late February, our spring will be in full bloom, and it will be nearly impossible to keep up with what’s happening. We certainly can have cold weather in February, and even the occasional freeze, but we also have plenty of plants that are adapted to the colder temperatures, including strawberries, which will be ready for picking soon.
Ours has, as you know, been very mild
And the photos you and Jackie share prove that, admirably!
My January flew by, Linda. In fact I wish it would have slowed down (although I could have skipped the nasty cold). But then again, I am always for slowing down time. It’s one of the true joys of backpacking. I certainly remember cabin fever from when I lived in Alaska, however. There it wasn’t winter that was so much the problem as it was the nasty springs that kept you inside when you were eager to be out and about! –Curt
And we experience cabin fever in August and September, when we’re longing to get out of the air conditioning and into the air. The very worst time is after the first cool front. It comes, it’s fresh, we can smell a little woodsmoke, and then it heats up again. It’s truly depressing. If it just stays hot until it turns cool, it’s fine. But being teased is terrible.
Was it during one of those nasty springs that you took refuge in the outhouse? I still remember that story. It was almost as good as your close encounter with the bear.
I’ve only visited Walden Pond once. The delightful quote you shared inspired me dig in my digital archives to see exactly when I was there. Would you believe it was on the first day of February!? A friend was visiting from out of town and we thought it might be fun to see the pond in winter. Well, the pond was frozen and we pretty much had it to ourselves. We had fun walking on the ice. Here’s a photo of a replica that was built of Thoreau’s hut. The snow gives you a sense of why he was longing for spring! February 1, 2009:
I just saw a photo of Thoreau’s replica hut on another blog. It wasn’t nearly as attractive as your photo, partly because there was a bench out front, some sort of sign, and a park ranger standing by the door: presumably, to make sure the tourists didn’t take a souvenir or leave their name carved into something. But that hut in winter photo? It’s perfect. I really like it.
It’s so funny that you were there at almost the exact time that Thoreau was writing about his experience of winter there. That’s the kind of coincidence that makes history so interesting; it comes alive in the same way that your photos help to make such different cultures and periods come alive.
Thank you so much, Linda. This year we’ve had several good snowstorms, followed by warm spells, with the result that very little snow is left on the ground. The replica hut would look much less picturesque at the moment than it did on Feb. 1, 2009. Two days ago I went out to walk in the field behind my house, thinking there would be enough crusty snow left to walk on, but it was almost all gone, leaving mud instead. I had to give up and turn around. January is too early for mud. I think even Thoreau would have something to say about it.
When I was in Iowa, March was mud season. It was nearly unbelievable mud, too, given that the rich topsoil there is about six feet deep. Most country roads weren’t paved, which made driving interesting, and even the occasional farmer would get equipment stuck in fields. There was a reason for all of the ‘mud rooms’ in houses: little alcoves where you could leave your boots, outerwear, and sometimes even overalls before going into civilized territory.
I learned to my regret that coastal Texas mud isn’t always so obvious. Pull off on the side of the road in a refuge, and “soft and sinkable” takes on a whole new meaning. Thank goodness for good ol’ boys with F150 trucks and tow straps. Now, I carry my very own tow strap.
I think January is supposed to be our coldest month, but thus far, it hasn’t been too awful (that is, if you discount all the pervasive grayness!). To me, February is worse. Its only good point is how short it is! I think that comes from me being a Southerner at heart and itching to plant some flowers, feel the spring sunshine, and get outside more! Of course, we’ve had ice and snow as late as April (May, for the Chicago area).
Have you realized yet that February’s one day longer this year? Yes, Ma’am — it’s a leap year. Make plans now for all that extra time you’re going to get. With luck, you may be able to get out and plant some flowers!
I smiled at your reference to snow in April. I may even have told you about the Easter in Iowa when the tulips were in full bloom, and up to their little necks in snow. It didn’t hurt them at all. The snow melted away in a couple of days, and the tulips kept blooming, but it was one of the funniest sights in the world: all those colorful little cups lined up in the snow.
Not just hardest weatherwise. In the early cold months, you have the twin milestones of Thanksgiving and Christmas that you’re busy preparing for and focused on, but after Christmas and New Year’s, there’s nothing to give your world impetus and distract you from the weather. Combine that with the post-Christmas let down and the fact that in most northern climates, January is usually when the worst of the winter weather hits, and the weather has worn you down, and you’re so tired of the cold. January is the month with teeth.
Well, there is Valentine’s Day. It took about 24 hours for the stores here to make the transition from Christmas to Valentine’s Day, and in some places, they already have the Cadbury eggs out. I’m certainly not ready to start thinking about Easter — poor Mardi Gras is getting left in the dust.
I think you’re right about January (and sometimes February) being the toothy month here, but I surely do remember what it’s like when winter stretches on and on — into March, and mud, and late blizzards. It’s the same with summer here. While the northerners are celebrating the pretty leaves, we’re still sweating it out, and moaning like crazy about summer’s refusal to leave.
I can relate to Thoreau’s sentiments, Linda. In our family, this month has brought depression, disease, and several deaths, and I am slightly fearful of it. I will not be sad to leave it behind.
That’s a lot of sad experiences to be compressed into one month. I hope this January was a better one — and we are almost to February. When does spring begin to take hold in your area? I know that snow can linger in the higher elevations well into summer, and I assume your winter’s longer than ours, but I’m thinking that by March things ought to be changing, and by April you ought to have “real” spring. I hope so!
Thank you, Linda.
Your weather predictions are spot on, at least for Colorado’s Front Range. Higher in the mountains winter can linger much longer, and some snow survives until late May or June.
It’s also not unusual for us to get a late snowfall in May, but by then the ground is so warm that it won’t last long.
Here’s to plenty of well-timed and well-behaved snow, and a bountiful spring.
January can seem to be a drag but for me, the days have flown by as they did in December. My hope it that winter continues through March so that we don’t have any late freeze that will affect the budding of the trees and native shrubs. A ‘norther” blew in about midnight or so and this morning is rather nippy. I was quite surprised since I had no idea a cold front was headed our way. Tuesday was very rainy and very dreary and cold as well. The new front came in with a bluster and dried the sweating concrete and the sodden ground was rendered a bit dryer which made walking in my yard so much nicer.
And when your front got down here, it did the same thing, drying everything out very nicely, and getting rid of the fog. It does seem that January has sped by this year, and to be honest, I’d be happy for a few days of freezing temperatures — as long as they show up before the buds grow any more than they already have. The last thing we need is for the peach trees to come into bloom and then get nipped, as they sometimes do.
At least the sun is supposed to shine this weekend. I’m growing a bit weary of these gloomy days.
It’s so beautiful and poetic!
Thank you, Maria. I love finding little gems in Thoreau, and I was pleased to find the break in the tree that allowed for a star. I was a little amused at how winter-like the image is, even though it wasn’t a winter-like environment at all.
I think we’ve had about seven inches of rain this January, so yeah, hopefully we’re getting nearer the shore of spring. We did see crocus on a short walk this afternoon, that’s always a good sign of things to come.
Funny — just two days ago I noticed a little clump of what I think were narcissus blooming in a ditch. It’s coming! That much rain would almost guarantee a great wildflower crop around here. I hope you have the same. It’s exciting to think about all that riotous color spread around again, even though last spring seems only yesterday.
I wasn’t sure what narcissus was so I looked it up. We call them daffodils around here, and they are a true harbinger of spring. But we probably will not see them until mid March.
I always get confused with daffodils and narcissus. Most of the time, I make do with two ways of distinguishing them: daffodils are yellow, and narcissus are white, and narcissus make me sneeze!
I had the impression that narcissus was the formal name and daffodil the common one for the same family of flowers, but I’m frequently wrong.
Nope– you’re not wrong. Daffodils are in the Narcisscus genus. I didn’t know that — probably because we always had the paperwhite narcissus at Christmas time in Iowa, and yellow daffodils bloomed in the yards in spring, and I attached different names to them without realizing they’re all Narcisscus. Unfortunately, they’re all uncommon down here, unless people really baby them. I think they’re like tulips and crocus; they need a colder winter to really do their thing. But I’m no gardener, so a lot of those details escape me.
Indeed we do. Lovely photo.xxx
It was fun to create a wintery sort of image in the midst of buttercups and growing greenery, but it was especially nice to find such appropriate words from Thoreau!
This has been a rather feeble winter so far, though it had a bit of a fierce start. Now we are entering the last month of what I think of as deep winter. Of course, sometimes we get a deep freeze in March and blizzards in April!
Winter’s not done with Texas, either. I just discovered the Panhandle and friends in the hill country are in line for freezing rain, sleet, and snow, or some combination of those. How much and how long never is certain until the glop arrives, but it is early February, and even here on the coast it’s not impossible that a freeze will show up. Still, I’m fairly certain we’ll not get snow, and if (when?) you do, I hope it’s well-behaved.