It was a cool, crisp morning in late February when I heard it. February is the shortest month, but somehow also the longest. It is the month when time moves slowly, presumably because it is wearing so many layers. It is the month when the temperature dips the lowest, first below freezing and then below zero, as if someone is daring it to go deeper. And then it holds its breath to see how long it can stay there before bobbing back up for a quick gasp of air.
But I heard it that morning. The sound of hope, in the form of a shrill little call. The catbird had returned. I don’t know much about catbirds, except perhaps for one thing. They say they sound like a cat, but only if you’re not really listening. It’s more like the sound of a paper cut or a sharp whistle between your teeth. It isn’t terribly pretty, but we can’t all sing like songbirds. Then again, it isn’t terribly pretty – unless it’s February. And then it’s glorious.
I don’t know much about catbirds, except perhaps for two things. They are soft and gray, the color of my favorite sweater. They change sometimes throughout the season, shifting from a thin taupe-y gray to a plump ashen lavender. Late in the year I sometimes mistake them for a phoebe. But not in February.
I don’t blame them though; I change too sometimes. Usually to a different gray sweater. February is depressing enough without having to contend with brightly colored clothes, nevermind the thin to plump. I prefer my colors in natural form, and if nature can’t provide them, then I stand in solidarity. Or sit, curled up in a warm gray blanket.
I don’t mean to wear only gray in the winter, at least I never did until one day I realized I do. I washed a whole load of laundry and folded nothing but gray sweaters at the end. Since then I’ve come to embrace it. I have a whole collection of them now – some lighter and some darker, some longer and some thicker, but all a value study of wistfulness. Until the spring arrives, and then I let the catbird wear the gray as I move on to brighter days.
I don’t know much about catbirds, except perhaps for three things. They love the raspberry patch in the corner along the porch. They usually arrive right when the raspberries do, and not a moment sooner. They know the second each berry ripens, and take a bite out of the center of each one. It frustrates Alan as he goes to harvest them, finding a plump ripe berry and picking it only to discover the bite as he turns it over in his hand. The raspberry juice drips like blood from a gaping wound and the berry gets tossed aside for some other creature to enjoy.
I don’t much blame the catbird. I don’t quite care for raspberries myself, though each season I try them anew at Alan’s insistence. Their deep rosy color belies their tart seediness – I take one bite and leave the rest for someone else to enjoy. I prefer my colors in natural form, but sometimes I prefer not to eat them.
It was a cool, crisp morning of the longest shortest month when I heard it. The sound of hope in the form of a shrill little whistle. It wasn’t a terribly sweet sound, but in February, it was glorious. It was the sound that meant that the temperature has finally grown tired of its childish games of breath-holding and dragging its feet. And that the time might soon come when the gray sweaters were replaced by brighter days.
I don’t know much about February, except for one thing – when the catbird calls, it’s nearly time to enjoy the tart little sweet taste of spring.