February hexagons for 2024 temperature blanket
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Well, that was fast, wasn’t it? February is over and my temperature blanket has grown by one more month, twenty nine hexagons, two blank hexagons, and one and a bit rows.

I ended my January update with an earworm that had really started to bug me (‘January‘, by Pilot), happily thinking that that was it, month over and therefore earworm over. But of course that’s ridiculous. After parking ‘January’, my brain idly wondered if there were songs about February, and … boom … just like that, another earworm entered my brain. I haven’t been able to dislodge it since. This is a verse from Don Mclean’s ‘American Pie‘:

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

There are other verses, and I know all the words to the song, but my brain is singing just this verse, over and over and over on a loop. And it’s not exactly cheerful, is it? February 1959, for Mclean, was imbued with profound sadness over the deaths of Buddy Holly (‘That’ll be the Day‘), Richie Valens (‘La Bamba‘) and ‘The Big Bopper’, J.P Richardson (‘Chantilly Lace‘), in a plane crash on the 3rd February. Mclean was a young boy at the time, and for him, this was “The day the music died”.

Mclean’s sadness aside, February is still an odd month, a peculiar interregnum between winter and spring. In Ireland, the 1st February marks the official start of spring; the UK’s Met Office acknowledges spring beginning on the 1st March.

For those of us who live in a rural community, lambing season starts to gather momentum in February, giving rise to a postcard impression of spring lambs gambolling on green fields. But at the same time we can still experience biting winds and ice and snow.

Ted Hughes’ poem 17 February leverages the occasional brutality of February’s weather in a poem about the trauma of a sheep in difficulty during lambing. He is unflinching in his description of the farming experience in a way that genuinely makes me “shiver”, like Mclean did, at the cruelty of fate and nature. You can hear Hughes reading his poem here (he sets the farm scene first, and starts reading the poem at 4:32 minutes into the audio link). And then, of course, February is different because it is the month that has a mysterious extra day every four years. 2024 is a leap year.

These lines from Ted Kooser’s poem ‘Late February‘ made me smile:

Through the heaviest drifts
rise autumn’s fallen
bicycles, small carnivals
of paint and chrome,
the Octopus
and Tilt-A-Whirl
beginning to turn
in the sun. [...]

In our garden it’s autumn’s discarded nerf gun bullets that rise up. That image of the thaws exposing past treasures reminded me of the heavy snow we experienced in 2010, when the cats would go no further than a couple of feet past their cat flap to toilet, outraged by that awful cold white stuff piling up in their garden. When the snow finally thawed, we were left with lots of frozen (thankfully) poops scattered in a circle on the lawn just outside their cat flap. But even Kooser turns in this poem to pick up on a darker side to February:

[...]. Far off
across the cornfields
staked for streets and sewers,
the body of a farmer
missing since fall
will show up
in his garden tomorrow,
as unexpected
as a tulip.

February is a strange month indeed.

February highlights

1 – 5 February

5 February: A rogue crocus blooms

Last year I planted hundreds of bulbs in the autumn and they’re just starting to come up. I have a strict colour palette for my garden: cool blues, purples and magentas and all the bulbs were selected within that spectrum. The first bulb, a purple crocus, has flowered. Except it’s not purple, it’s yellow. It is not welcome! Don’t misunderstand me; yellow is probably my favourite colour, but not in my garden thank you very much. (Sorry yellow). I hope this is a rogue bulb sent to taunt me. I am now waiting apprehensively to see whether I planted a host of golden crocuses instead of the purple tones I am darn sure I carefully selected.

The dominant yarn colour in my temperature blanket at the start of February is the appropriately named ‘Spring Green’ (especially if you’re in Ireland), representing 9C -10C. So soft and so pretty – prettier than I thought it would be when I looked at the skein. It tells us that the start of February is a little cooler than the end of January which saw ‘Lime Green’ slowly starting to creep in.

'Spring Green' hexagons in early February
‘Spring Green’ making an appearance in early February

6 – 9 February

I woke up on the morning of the 6th with a feeling that there’d been another shift in the weather. Although the sun was bright and clear, the lawn was crisp and glistening with frost all morning, and it felt very very cold. I stopped to take this photo early in the morning, the fields around us shrouded in a steely blue cold. And it was really cold: a low of -6C and an average temperature of -1C. The maximum all day was 3C.

My walk to school on the morning of 8th of February, because the car refused to start, left me with a sense that it was going to get even colder (the biting wind gave me earache!) And it did get colder still, with a low of -7C. There were Met Office weather warnings for snow in parts of the UK, but not for Scotland. We got a light sleety flurry, but nothing that really stuck. It was just cold, very very cold.

15 – 17 February

‘Lime Green’ is creeping back in again. It made a regular appearance towards the end of January, leading to a false impression that it was at last getting warmer. But then February said ‘No’ and dropped us back down to ‘Spring Green’. I’m daring to hope it is warming up now though, mainly because it feels different and because bulbs are starting to really burst from the ground.

I’ve been joining my hexagons in every day and I’m creeping up to the spot where 19 January will soon have a February date attached to it. If you remember, I was very unsure about my chosen method of recording birthdays and planned to revisit it. I spent some time coming up with six alternatives, and asked my Instagram followers to help me settle on a final choice. The consensus is that, going forwards, birthdays will be marked with two rows of running stitch, as illustrated in option 6.

18 February

Oh dear. That rogue yellow crocus is not a rogue. It brought many friends with it and they’re marching through my border.

The proper purple crocuses (pictured here) are starting to come through to try and console me, but I think I’ll be marking the yellow interlopers soon and sending them to new homes as soon as they’ve died down.

Gardening is a bit like crochet, isn’t it? Both require patience to create a vision and, when mistakes are made, time to correct mistakes. It’ll be a year before I see any replacement bulbs coming through.

20 February

My beloved aunt died today. I started this project with my mind focussed on marking birthdays and I hadn’t for one moment contemplated the possibility of the loss of loved ones. But I think I will probably want to mark this day on my blanket too. It’s still too soon to decide how though.

21 – 29 February

Crocheting February into my temperature blanket has been a comfort these last few days of the month. I haven’t been inclined to do anything that requires too much headspace, and the ritual of one hexagon a day has provided me with exactly the anchor I needed.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably realise by now that I wrote this post as if it were a diary, updating it in increments. I didn’t want to lose the details of days or to let smaller daily thoughts slip away.

I had no idea, when I wrote the opening paragraphs that I’d be closing the post so soon after the death of my lovely aunt. I wrote then about the strangeness of February and reflected on lyrics to Don Mclean’s ‘American Pie’. My aunt’s death has not ‘made me shiver’. Her companionship and presence is no longer here, but she lived her life so authentically that I feel I know exactly what she would think and say every time my thoughts turn to her. This means that she is still with all of those who loved and knew her, and that’s rather lovely.