Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A May Garland

May blossom: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

May heralds the beginning of summer; warmer, longer days are stretching out ahead of us. Fresh, lush leaves add a dewy coolness to the world and seem to generate their own light even on a cloudy day. May-time is when I want to put household and garden chores aside, stand back and admire the most productive (the most reproductive) time of the year while it lasts, because May waits for no beast. Shakespeare encapsulated May perfectly with his enunciation that summer's lease hath all too short a date. Heinrich Heine also captured the ephemeral beauty of the season in his Book of Songs:

Sweet May hath come to love us, 

Flowers, trees, their blossoms don; 

And through the blue heavens above us 

The very clouds move on.

(Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856)

May is a time of overwhelming beauty and yet a time of competition and conflict. The Song Thrush, Blackbird and Robin begin uttering their melodic battle-cries each morning even before daylight breaks; the botanic world spreads its fingers wide in competition for sunlight; predator and prey contend for the ultimate prize. Human beings are not exempt from Maytime revelry and rebellion: riotous May Day - May 1st - is International Workers' Day, the day upon which the class struggle is most boldly asserted, the day of dissent. F. Scott Fitzgerald's impressive novella May Day is set against a backdrop of the 1919 Cleveland May Day Riots. In Virginia Woolf's Night and Day the main character, Katharine, slowly thaws as winter's grip relaxes into spring, but it is not until May that she finally blossoms and loves. May is the month above all others to live, love and cherish life, but the clock is ticking...

We are all spinning headlong into summer; hay must be made whilst the sun shines. Everything is so green and so lush and so pregnant with adventure. The first brood of sparrows and starlings has already fledged, adding another layer to the cacophony. It is equally the most difficult and the easiest time of year to leave the mower in the shed and leave the daisies and clovers for another day to the bees and the butterflies. I am conflicted myself: the lure of the outdoors is strong and the ephemeral season needs to be taken notice of and indulged in during its zenith and enjoyed before it passes into the poppy-blush of high summer.

A walk during the final hour of daylight at this time of the year is a joyous, well-spent hour. Tonight, as I pass the last of the houses, there are abandoned chairs in front gardens which betray an idle afternoon in the sun, their owners now having retreated indoors. I have the Downs to myself and, as I make my way along paths quietening in the stilling air, Green and Common Carpet moths feint and feign their way across and through the wayside vegetation and blink back into obscurity. A Cuckoo calls somewhere down in the valley below and a pair of Kestrels share a staccato chorus somewhere in the middle distance. Lights in the cottages at nearby Norton become distinct in the gloom; the moon is waning and will not rise until an hour or two after sunset, but Mars blinks open its weary eye in the southern sky. As the light fades, so too does the white noise of the traffic and other sounds now become audible: lowing cattle in a nearby pasture, partridges sneezing their hoarse trilogy, ka-che-che ka-che-che ka-che-che. A Blackbird sings a pitch-perfect coda to the day. Then I hear several of its neighbours singing the same song in rounds as I move through the twilight. The day is slowly becoming becalmed and the milky cow parsley barely trembles in the near-calm air - air which carries the heavy scent of May-blossom.

Yet not everything is bedded down: the Rookery at Bishopstone is still riotous. For once the dogs are silent as we approach the escarpment overlooking the roost and we sit and watch as riotous, raucous Rooks revel in May-time drunkenness amongst the Ash trees. The Rooks collect in numbers on the Norton Hill pasture before returning to the trees. They stagger like revellers hanging around in  the street after kicking-out time. We observe quietly as they fly in a clamouring, intermittent stream, chessboard straight above the trees and falling at the last moment vertically and emphatically down onto their bough. I cannot tell if the whooping and yelling is the scolding of kin-folk decrying the late hour of their return or whether they are enjoined in a drunken moon-shine melody in celebration of the season. As the minutes pass even the Rooks settle down and only an occasional graa emits from the darkness of the trees.

The song of the Blackbird is now all that remains audible. It provides a satisfying cohesion which stitches together not only the beginning and end of each day but also each day to the next. We leave the rookery to its slumber and wander home to this favourite lullaby. Most of the trees and hedgerows and waysides have faded into darkness and silhouette, yet the cow parsley and May-blossom are phosphorescent in the gloaming, as though singing out: "This is our time and our time is short; not even the darkness shall dim our light!" Every path is enveloped in this white May Garland. It lights our way home along the familiar paths.

Esperia sulphurella (Sulphur Tubic)

Sunlight through Sycamore leaves
Grasshopper nymph
Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena trifolii) larva
Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus)
Nomada bee, female
Small Blue (Cupido minimus)
Epiblema cirsiana (Knapweed Bell)
Cocksfoot Moths (Glyphipterix simpliciella) on a buttercup - sometimes a dozen to each flowerhead!
Anthophila fabriciana (Common Nettle-tap)
Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata)

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

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