I’ve been delving into my seasonal reading again this month. Steve Roud’s chapter on May in his book The English Year, is a riot of flower strewn celebrations. Roud says that traditionally May would have rivalled Christmas in the scale of the partying. He points out how hard it is for us, with all our modern conveniences, to grasp just how delighted our forebears would have been at the light and warmth of the changing season after the cold dark days of winter. From hobby horses through to cheese-rolling and maypoles, May is full of joyful exuberance. I particularly like the tradition of ‘Ducking’ on May Day, where you’re entitled to douse anyone not wearing a flower or bit of greenery with a bucket of water. That’ll teach any scrooges a good lesson!
In contrast, Stephen Moss’ chapter on May in Wild Hares and Hummingbirds has a sombre note to it. While he acknowledges the growth and fertility of May he also laments the decline or disappearance of some significant players, namely the cuckoo, the nightingale and the elm tree. Nightingales sing for only a few weeks each year, which is why they sing though the night, to make the most of the short time they have to attract a mate and reproduce. I had no idea nightingales live “south and east of a line from the Severn to the Humber” so I am unlikely to hear one here in Devon.
One thing Moss does rejoice in is the hedgerow and it’s something I’m very glad to have back in my life with our move south. There’s nothing like wandering down a deep Devon lane thick with wild flowers and dense with the smell of growth to make you feel spring is here. The lanes around us are full of cow parsley, ragged robin, buttercups, stitchwort, and jack-by-the-hedge. A regular visitor to our garden at the moment is a friendly blackbird. He sits high in the branches of an ash tree and proclaims to all the world the delight of being alive.