February is one of the best times of the year for those who live on the Westside. It’s the month of hope and awakening.

I didn’t always like February. When I lived in the Midwest, it was a cruel month. After the cold and the snow of December and January, here comes another month of brutal winter. Some of the worst snowstorms in my midwestern memory came with a vengeance in February.

But since I came to live on the Westside of the Central Valley 50 years ago, February became one of my favorite times of the year. It’s the month here when trees begin to bud and flowers begin to bloom, including those that pop up from bulbs planted months before. It’s a time when grass becomes greener each day.

Over the years, I have encouraged family members and friends who live back east to visit the Central Valley’s Westside in February. They can leave the cold, snow, bare trees and brown grass and come to a place where the temperatures head to the 70’s, trees have buds turning to leaves, and green is everywhere.

This is especially true in 2023 when we’ve had so much rain in January. The rain has caused problems in many places in California, including Merced and those traveling there. (As I realized when I tried to drive to Merced the other day on Highway 59, only to be stopped at Sandy Mush Rd. and then had to figure out what my plan B would be.)

But the rain has made vegetation green, from the wetlands to the foothills. And a drive over Pacheco Pass is like a drive through the hills of Ireland. For anyone who likes water, this February is good for that, too, from the rise in the San Luis Reservoir to the vernal pools and expanded wetlands along local highways.

In February, each day has more sunlight than the previous day. It’s easier to wake up when the sun is shining through the windows. And there are more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors after 5 p.m.

Warmer temperatures mean heating bills go down. On some days in late February the home heater might never have to be turned on. The PG&E bill coming at the end of the month will be lower, thank goodness, than December’s or January’s, when opening the gas and electric bill might have given the mind and body a shock.

February is a good month for reasons other than weather and landscapes. For those who get paid once a month, for example, which has been true for me over the years, February is appreciated because in just 28 days another paycheck will come. For the many months when I lived from paycheck to paycheck, two or three fewer days until the next check meant a lot.

February is also the month of Valentines, good for those in love and for florists, jewelers and candy makers. Love and romance and lots of red cheers the heart.

For baseball fans, February is the month of spring training. As a kid who avidly collected baseball cards from packs of bubble gum, spring training was like a light shining in darkness. In the depths of winter, I could picture my favorite players running onto a verdant diamond, hitting, throwing and catching baseballs.

Spring training is also filled with hope. For all the years the Chicago Cubs had losing seasons and finished in seventh or eighth place (out of eight teams), in spring training my team always had possibilities for success.

I could look for hope in box scores of games even when they lost (it wasn’t really a loss; spring training games don’t count in the final season standings). Even if the Giants beat them 10 to 1, I could find the one batter who hit a home run or the one pitcher who threw a scoreless inning.

In this month of February, I would encourage all Westsiders—in Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Santa Nella—to savor its 28 days. Take longer walks, check the trees for buds, watch front yards for the first signs of daffodils and tulips, feel the warmth of the sun on your face. And for those so inclined, as the Garden Guru might say, get out in your garden and feel the soil.

Before long, the weather will be hot, and the sun won’t be as friendly. Probably by May we will be thinking of how nice February was. But for now, savor this short and hopeful month!

On a related note: This year February is also the month of the annual Empty Bowls meal to benefit those who often go to bed hungry.  The event will be on Thursday, Feb. 23, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Los Banos Arts Center.

You still have time to get tickets–by contacting any of the 30 Los Banos Rotarians or calling Rotarian Gene Lieb at 209.710.3834 (he’ll make sure to get you the tickets you need).