A WARM WIND blew through February the other day, lifting the temperatures as much as our hopes. But the soft wind came as a guest, not a resident, so it was a temporary rigging among the fixed structures of ice and stony places that have the handhold this hard winter. Those who take notes in the effort to understand Nature know that in past years a few warm days have been enough to deceive some of the plants and flowers. Ready to mainline on spring, forsythias are the among the most unknowing of innocents that have blossomed in a mid-February thaw only to be abandoned by a frigid late February. This year, the forsythias took the warmth but kept cool: a shining sun short of a burning sun was not enough to bring out their yellow.

Some bears in Alaska were not as alert to the deceptions of February. In the Anchorage zoo, a few of the polars that refused to hibernate in early winter are now patiently waiting for the first freeze to go into their caves. In the interior, bears that did bunk down were awakened by early thaw conditions. With a few amiable exceptions, bears apparently are not ones to rub their eyes and go back to sleep, so they are forced to prowl through a territory that is still on winter time but not yet on winter weather. If the bears are being fooled by the warth, while the forsythias are not, other forms of animal and wildlife are being confused by the abnormal cold. The interior Department reports that New England male pheasants are starving because their tail feathers freeze to the ground and make the birds immobile. Salmon in the Pacific Northwest can't get upstream because of low water. Fish in midwestern rivers can't breathe because snow on the ice prevents photosynthesis.

One of the medieval pholosophers believed that "Nature never breaks her own laws." That may be so, but on occasion she does break with the past. We are seeing a little of that now, and are stumbling or stuttering our way to explanations. But February, the purifier, will not be decoded; its truths are its deceptions.