Gathering thoughts in May

Robert Browning may have craved his homeland in April (and who would not?), but is there any month more urgently, lasciviously, resplendently English than May? The very word drips with subtext; with sappy, fleshy undercurrents of light, warmth and fecundity.

The cuckoo (cuckolding bird) has been shouting at dawn for more than a month, often from the tall alders by the Bourne. Swallows and house martins skim, twittering, through the air. On 6th May they were joined by the tardier swifts; the triumvirate completed for another year. Chiffchaffs chime the afternoons away with metronomic insistence.

wild garlic
Wild garlic flowers

Under the tall sweet chestnuts of the Hurst and in woodland corners up and down the parish there has been an indigo effusion of bluebells. The pungency of ramsons, wild garlic (Allium ursinum) fills the air at night. And now our landscape is transformed to one of green and white, with the massed blossom of apple, hawthorn and cow parsley seemingly hung upon the backdrop of hedgerows, trees and hills in nature’s fulfilment of the ‘maying’ of the past, when hawthorn boughs were hung by householders to ward off evil spirits. There is not yet the deep green anonymity of summer, when all trees appear at first alike – a ruse they will maintain until the autumn – and the plants on the lane-banks collapse in upon themselves, heavy-headed. Everything is still vigorous, upstanding.

Backlit hazel leaves

The moon, new on 6th May, enters its third quarter on the 29th, which is also Oak Apple Day, marking the return of King Charles II to London in 1660. It is tempting to wonder how news of the Restoration was received in Plaxtol, where our Early Modern forebears had lived under the Republican influence of moderate Sir Henry Vane and his ardent son Sir Harry Vane, lords of Fairlawne, for so many years. Was there an atmosphere of regret, or of rejoicing?  The Restoration occurred precisely thirty years after Charles’s birth. Could the ‘Merry Monarch’ possibly have been born, or come to reign, in any month but May?

Wasps and rust-red hornets are on the wing. In a few days we will enter perfumed, bee-drowsied June, and May’s bawdy vitality (symbolized by a gaudy pole) will become a memory for another year.

© New Moons For Old, 2016

Photo credit: all images © New Moons For Old

Author’s Note: This post was written in May 2016. The phases of the moon will of course be different in other years. 

New Moons For Old