I sat watching birds visit the bird feeder in front of the large living room window. Cheerfully, they darted about between the feeder and nearby pine branches, apparently impervious to the arctic cold that had enveloped Central Wisconsin for the last few days. A brisk wind carrying a load of powdery snow whistled around the corner of my house. The snow settled like dust on two nuthatches and a chick-a-dee who were busy scratching and pecking at the frozen seeds. The surprise shower of ice particles didn’t seem to bother them.
I shivered, partly in sympathy for them and partly because cool air was blowing from the register next to me. Counting to ten, I thought, “Wait for the warm air that will eventually come; one, two, three…” I missed everything about my wood pellet furnace, except its messiness, the hard work of keeping it clean, and having to handle two tons of pellets multiple times each winter.
My daughter Tammie walked into the living room carrying two cups of steaming tea. Handing one to me she commented, “The wind is really blowing the snow around. I’m glad I don’t have to drive back to the cities today.”
After attempting to take a small sip of the scalding black tea, I ruefully pointed out, “It’s hard to believe that the tide turned on December 21st. For over a month now, we’ve been in slack tide.”
Sinking into a nearby rocking chair, Tammie smiled and asked, “What’s this about slack tide? We don’t live near an ocean.”
Warming my hands on the cup, I explained, “The moon causes the ocean to ebb and flow. Many shores have two high tides and two low tides each day because of the gravitational pull of the moon. The short time when the water slows down before changing direction, is called the slack tide. It appears as if nothing is happening, but that’s deceptive. Before long, the tide is going the opposite direction.”
Nodding, Tammie confirmed, “You’re comparing the changing of the seasons to ocean tides. The days stopped getting shorter on December 21st and the sun began its slow return to the southern hemisphere, but instead of slack tide, I’d say January feels more like full-on ebb tide!”
“That is weird.” I agreed. “The most wintery part of winter takes place after the days are starting to get longer as the sun is heading south! The same thing happens in the summer when the sun begins its trek to the north On June 21st the days start to get shorter again, but the hottest part of the summer is often in July and August!”
Turning to look out the big window again, at the stark white snow drifts, pine boughs that looked more black than green, and the gray, leafless deciduous tree branches, I admitted, “It doesn’t look nice out, but the tide has turned. Now that it’s the beginning of February, we’re going to start noticing small changes.”
Laughing, Tammie said, “You’re such an optimist! Every February you point out that on sunny days snow will melt off a blacktop road without the help of salt. To you that’s a big sign of spring. I need to see more than that to feel like spring is on the way!”
Defensively, I pointed out, “Snow melting off a blacktop road without the help of salt is a big thing. That certainly doesn’t happen during December or January. Keep watching for more signs. Certain birds will begin singing mating songs this month. Then pussy willow catkins will pop out on brush growing along the road. In a little over a month, the robins will return to Wisconsin. By the end of March, snow often melts away between snow storms.”
Tammie said, “When I’m looking for signs of spring, I’m thinking of warmer weather, not birds singing and pussy willows.”
Dusk began to fall over the yard. Cardinals like this time of day to feed on the ground around the feeders. I watched them until it became too dark to see. Pulling the curtains shut, I mused, “The warmer weather will come soon enough. For now, we’ll have to be content with winter’s slack tide.”