MNx12: monthly essays on life in Minnesota

Store aisles blush with pink, red, scarlet, fuchsia and flamingo, whether you’re buying a greeting card or a cardigan. Lusty heart-shaped boxes of chocolates crowd the shelves. Florists order flotillas of red roses.

While October’s breast cancer campaign can seem excessively pink, it has nothing on February.

This is fine if you’re in love, or even in giddy like. But if Cupid is kaput, this shortest month of the year can drag on forever.

Lovebirds who’ve been making Valentine’s Day plans since Thanksgiving morph into matchmakers, certain that kismet is at hand “if you’ll just meet him/her for coffee.” V-Day is on a Friday this year, which is a boon for restaurants. Couples know that taking your Valentine out to dinner is a power move, but you’d better have made reservations last Thanksgiving. Now, determinedly romantic dining will be acceptable on Saturday night, and may even seep into Sunday brunch.

The goal is being able to confirm, come Monday morning, that someone sprung for a meal.

February is set apart by another curiosity: We’re never sure how long it lasts.

Most years have 28 days, except every fourth one, when a 29th day is added. This Leap Day is meant to bring the calendar into astronomical order with the sun. Of course, this serious intent long ago was usurped by the lovebird lobby, which proclaimed Feb. 29 as a day when women may ask men to marry them. (Or just meet him/her for coffee, pleeease?)

Given leap year’s infrequency, we always need to scan the calendar to see if this is the year we get an extra day. If so, Minnesotans then wonder why this cosmic resolution cannot happen in, say, July?

For the record, February 2014 has 28 days.

Just as well. By now, we are growing quite weary of bundling up, and the freeze-thaw cycle will have us on even more treacherous footing.

Ah, the thaw. If you’re not in love, this month is rehabilitated by the hallowed February thaw.

The February thaw is an article of faith. With more sunlight, temperatures begin to creep up. This also is Minnesota’s driest month, meaning less snow. The resulting average temp of 29 degrees — while still below freezing — feels balmy. This is pathetic in a normal kind of way.

During a February thaw, joggers circle the lakes in shorts. We’ll chop a channel through the ice near the downspout to route snowmelt away from the house.

Inspired, we order seeds for Lemon Boy and Marvel Stripe tomatoes and start wondering where we stored the grow lights.

That is, if it thaws.

Some years, it doesn’t. Before we know it, February is drawing to a close and we still haven’t forgotten our gloves in the grocery cart. We face the prospect of heading into March without a respite, and we are sore afraid.

Today’s ritual of Groundhog Day is supposed to lend closure to the question of winter’s length. If it’s cloudy, and a groundhog emerging from its burrow casts no shadow, then spring will come early. If it’s sunny, and the groundhog sees its silhouette, winter will continue for six more weeks.

Minnesotans, wise to the absurdity of spring arriving within the month, save their wonder for the idea that, after only six more weeks, winter could end. Why, that would mean spring by mid-March!

That’s almost what happened two years ago, when St. Patrick’s Day revelers toasted a record high of 80 degrees. Yet by April, we had descended again into the realm of hard freezes and snowstorms.

In other words, a groundhog’s worst-case scenario is the stuff of our wildest dreams.

So we pull on the red cardigan that was on clearance and settle in with the box of chocolates from the sale bin by the checkout. February will end, soon enough.