From behind gray clouds the sun emerges. Just as the sky brightens, so does my mood. Colors, yesterday muted and shrouded in gray, are now illuminated, seemingly lit from within. Still damp surfaces sparkle, as nature's hues intensify magically, and I reach for my sunglasses. The air warms, mist rises and disappears. Everywhere I look beauty calls out in a silent whisper, pulling my attention first one way then another, "Look at me! Look at me!"
The first day, I'm always surprised and over-dressed; I end up taking off layers of sweaters and jackets and wishing I hadn't worn boots with thermal socks. The second day finds me wearing bright Spring colors and lightweight fabrics under the heavy coat I still need in the early morning. For three or four or even five glorious days, I find myself taking every opportunity to venture outside to bask in the sun. I close my eyes and savor the feel of warm rays on my skin, letting it soak deep into my deprived soul. And I smile... yes, giddily, I smile and practically worship the sun itself.
Unfortunately, having whet my appetite for Spring, the February Thaw departs as suddenly as it arrived, like water slipping through my fingers. Suddenly, there's frost on the windshield in the morning again, and the temperature never leaves the 40s. Worst of all, I'm now under-dressed and cold, bitter cold all day long. It's guaranteed, there's always one more big, cold snow storm before Spring really settles in for the duration.
The February Thaw casts its light and brings my attention to another annual February phenomenon. Moss, green, lush, and awakened from its place in the near-invisible background, seems to be everywhere. It lies dormant during the hot, dry months, I can barely see it and forget to notice it. Cameleon-like, moss blends completely into the background, adopting the drab colors of the surfaces on which it grows. Come the rainy season, it starts to grow and spread, but it isn't until this brief warming trend in February that mosses suddenly seems to jump out at me from all angles.
Anything immobile turns green with a thick moss blanket. The trunks of stately oak trees wear fuzzy moss sweaters that cover their south sides as well as their north sides, and their broad branches, too. Moss crawls up rock walls and wooden fences and carpets stone and brick walkways. These miniature, furry plants even squeeze themselves between concrete sidewalk slabs. Sentinel boulders standing alone in fields and steep rocky cliffsides along my route to school turn from brown and gray to the vivid emerald green.
This moss invasion precedes even the arrival of the first red-breasted robin and the emergence of the area's gazillion yellow daffodils, the traditional icons of Spring's arrival. Having grown up in sunny Southern California, with its seasons only vaguely differentiated from one another, I was quite taken aback by the magnitude of the seasonal shifts that occur here in NorCal, when I moved here twenty years ago. The way Winter is soooooo different from Fall and Spring, I noticed right away, of course. But, it took me a number of years to appreciate the more subtle differences between Early Winter, Mid-Winter, and Late Winter, and the little signs that mark the path of the Earth around the Sun.