Last week a surprise present arrived in the mail from my wonderful sister-in-law: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden. The book, reads the dust-jacket, is a "facsimile reproduction of a naturalist's diary for the year 1906. Edith Holden recorded in words and paintings the flora and fauna of the British countryside through the changing seasons of the year".
What a beautiful present, and what a beautiful book! The watercolors are magical, clearly made by someone in the pre-snapshot era who was used to observing nature, noticing all its details, and reproducing them exquisitely by hand. They perfectly complement the narrative, which, in diary format, chronicles the seasonal changes of weather, vegetation, fields, animals and soil, as the author notices them.
This month derives it's name from the word februare, to purify, or from Februa, the Roman festival of expiation, which was celebrated through the latter part of this month
Each month is introduced by a description of the etymology and the significance of its name. "February" comes from "to purify", and reading Edith Holden's month notes, and looking at her watercolors, I could see in the verb "purify" a main theme of our month on so many levels. In the garden this month, we're busy pruning, chopping, sawing, hoeing, burning ... getting rid of last year's vegetation to prepare for this year's, and removing the remnants of a derelict vineyard, to reclaim an abandoned terrace and expand our garden in the spring. The promise of spring in the not-too-distant in the pure, fresh air is invigorating, and it feels good to be out even on brisk days - cleaning out the cobwebs from winter hibernation, and from the vestige of seasons past. Yes, February really is a month to "purify."