It was the phrase on every weather guy’s lips this week: “In like a lion, right?” An arctic blast that was supposed to last a day had enjoyed its visit to Boston so much that stayed through the whole week, bringing with it the lowest temperatures of 2021. The weather guys are promising a warmup on Tuesday. We’ll see.
At the moment, most of the warmth is radiating from my cabin fever. “How is it out there?” I asked Sonny on sunshiney Thursday. He’d been walking for an hour.
He shrugged off his winter coat and hoodie. “It’s not too bad,” he said.
I grabbed my coat, headphones, and mask and headed to our back door. The doorknob sent a chill through my fingers. I opened the door halfway and stuck my head outside. Nope. Not too bad, indeed. I should have considered the source. Sonny had been wearing both his coats (he usually just walks around in his hoodie). His cold tolerance is much better than his parents’. Dave and I spend fall and winter bundled up in sweaters, thermal socks, and slippers. Sonny lives in short-sleeved T-shirts.
Yesterday I felt restless, annoyed with myself for being such a weather weenie. I added layers and headed outside. Four or five minutes of shivering and then I’d feel okay; that’s what usually happens. The sidewalks were about 75% free of snow and ice, the remaining bits melted into ridges that were relatively easy to dodge around. I stomped on a few of the bigger snow piles, hoping they’d melt faster. After twenty minutes my fingers, feet, and cheeks were still feeling frozen. Back inside for me.
Comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb. I thought the line might come from a poem—it had that feel. Some poems have indeed been made from the idea, but the saying seems originally to be an old English weather-adage. Something along the same lines as “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” or “Ring around the moon, rain real soon.” “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb” is the way the proverb is phrased in Thomas Fuller’s 1732 classic Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. (Which you can buy in hardcover on Amazon, if you have a spare $30.95 handy). What surprised me was that in some versions, the proverb is phrased conditionally: “If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb.”
Well, well, well.
Modern interpretations state that the saying aims to reinforce a sense of order and balance in the universe. Rough weather will be followed by mild. Spring will come. We all know that the timing’s questionable, but I’m happy for some reassurance. My tolerance for snowstorms and sub-freezing temperatures is at its nadir in March.
The day I love most happens sometime in April, when suddenly I notice that the winter-bare branches are now covered with buds. I’m not in synch with that T.S. Eliot quote, “April is the cruelest month.” The little green buds, they are on their way.
Every month has some aphorism or quote associated with it, so I assembled this commonplace calendar.*
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“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” —Anton Chekhov
“January, month of empty pockets!” —Colette
“February is a suitable month for dying.” —Anna Quindlen
“March is the month of expectation.” —Emily Dickinson
“The first of April, some do say,/Is set aside for All Fools’ Day./Bt why the people call it so,/Nor I, nor they themselves do know.” —Poor Robin’s Almanac, 1790
“All things seem possible in May.” —Edwin Way Teale
“This is June, the month of grass and leaves.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Never trust a July sky.” —Folklore
“August rushes by like desert rainfall.” —Elizabeth Maua Taylor
“By all these lovely tokens/September days are here,/With summer’s best of weather/And autumn’s best of cheer.” —Helen Hunt Jackson
“I have been younger in October/than in all the months of spring.” —W.S. Merwin
“November comes/And November goes,/With the last red berries/And the first white snows.” —Elizabeth Coatsworth.
“I speak cold silent words a stone might speak/If it had words or consciousness,/Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak…” —Robert Pack
At least in March the birds are back. They start singing before sunup. They peck at the the cherries in the tree next to the kitchen, flash between branches. Yesterday Dave and I watched a flock of starlings, moving as if with one mind in a Nike swoosh from the garage roof, to the grass, to the oaks, to the sky.