Joyce Bupp, farm wife

With mixed feelings, we bid January goodbye and welcome February.

How can a month of the new year possibly be gone already? And, while January leaves us with memories of cold, gray, snowy, dismal, overcast days of short hours, February promises cheery red hearts, chocolate and cherry pies. Maybe, just maybe, it will bring the first tiny yellow crocus bloom poking up from the leaf litter.

And, we can only hope all the famous groundhogs don’t see their shadows tomorrow morning.

Despite not wanting to wish our lives away, yearnings for longer, more lingering daylight hours and softer breezes seem to be widespread as winter passes its halfway mark. Still, the season has actually been fairly friendly — so far — with short stretches of nighttime temperature drops into the teens, which have transformed into sunny, but often very windy, afternoons. Welcome, too, were the many nights that didn’t dip below the freezing mark on our thermometers.

Still, weary of gray skies and brownish landscapes, we seek out optimistic bits of brightness.

So, the two dandelion blooms I spotted recently, hunkered down against the chilly ground, stood out like big, bright smiles. They brought an appreciative grin to my face, half-concealed from the morning chill by a scarf and fuzzy hat. Why some folks so dislike dandelions has always mystified me. They’re colorful, they’re cheery, their young, tender leaves are nutritious salad additions and, frankly, their annual, fuzzy invasion of our lawns only lasts a very short time. Give me a dandelion rather than a thistle in the grass any day.

A flock of house finches showed up at one of our bird feeders last week, the reddish-orange of the males already looking brighter than usual for this time of year. Their color adds to the flashes of brilliant red of the resident cardinals, the handsome black-and-white stripes under the red-patched heads of the red-bellied woodpecker and the lovely hues of the blue jay, busy bullying the smaller birds away from the seed.

But even the finches bright additions to our backyard landscape disappeared with the arrival of the hawk that landed on the opposite side of our ancient Norway spruce from the bird feeder location. It then flew to a post of the split-rail fence and perched, like it owns the place. As much as we love to see the beautiful, protected hawks, they have made a significant impact on the reduced number of songbirds that visit the yard and the meadow.

Digging through the dry leaf-filled container where my amaryllis bulbs are stored through the winter, I found a nice, fat bulb with a pale bloom stem already beginning to poke through the papery, brown covering. Tucked into a pot partially filled with my potting soil blend, it’s currently residing on a basement window awaiting the bloom stem’s rapid growth and the emergence of bright red, or maybe pink, trumpet blooms.

An unexpected bright spot turned up recently in the pasture, albeit being coal black and moving rapidly up through the pasture. It was the first calf to be dropped by one of grandson Caleb’s latest Angus acquisitions, a sturdy little guy who turned up on, predictably, one of the coldest mornings of the season. Trotting up through the grass beside his mom or peeking around the silo behind the dairy barn, this curious little fellow seems oblivious to the wintry weather swings.

A coating of “brightness” that showed up recently, though, was of the most unwelcome sort: ice. Snow is beautiful, even if it needs to be moved around and slogged through, but at least you can generally get a little traction in it. Ice? Forget getting traction after an ice storm coats our sloping farmstead.

Traveling from the house to the barns — where I keep handy stashes of both salt and wood-furnace ashes — first entails crossing our sloping, paved driveway. I took a detour to where the drive flattens out below the barn in order to even cross the 15 feet or so covered with solid, glassy-slick ice. Throwing ashes down ahead of each step, once I finally reached the stash at the milkhouse, was the only way to get around between buildings.

Unfortunately, by evening feeding, just enough of the glaze had melted to coat parts of the ash path, as I discovered when I crashed in the evening darkness, bottom-side-down, onto the ice. Only by wiggling up the slope backwards on my thick, insulated jeans was I able to regain my footing and finish chores.

We all yearn for more brightness as we roll into February.

But we can do without it in the form of ice storms.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.