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What colour is your May?

May 3, 2011

What a happy bank holiday weekend it has been in Britain. Glorious sunny weather, two days off and a royal wedding to boot. I am still, like many others, basking in the afterglow.

Normally I would make a point of writing something for May Day, as it marks one of the turning points of the year in my mental calendar. In the pre-Christian calendar – which I always think is based on an instinctive response to the natural world – May Day marks the beginning of Beltane, season of procreation and growth. More generally, it feels like the beginning of summer, with lambs and calves in the fields, baby rabbits scooting across the grass and long, light evenings. Most of all, I associate May with colour: specifically, green and white. Early in the month we usually see the first green leaves on the trees and the yellow daffodils giving way to white narcissus. Then the white blossom of the apple and pear trees comes, followed later in the month by the frothy white of meadowsweet and wild garlic in the hedgerows. This year, everything has got ahead of itself. We had green leaves in early April and the orchard blossom was flowering before the end of the month. But May is still the month of green and white, even if the fresh spring green and the delicate blossoms look a little dazzled under the intense blue skies that we have enjoyed over much of the past three weeks.

Well, I missed my May Day post, but I promise it was for an excellent reason. We spent our May Day celebrating the Christening of a baby cousin. It was a really lovely day. The service of baptism took place in an ancient family chapel up in the hills. You turn off the road just past a highland castle which belonged to this family for, ooh, about half a millenium or so, until the then incumbents had reluctantly to sell. (Yes, dear readers, we live in the family’s second-best castle. Shades of Mrs. Shakespeare.*) Then you head up a farm track, past the cow byres and manoeuvring round the tractor, until you reach a low, rough stone shed on the hillside. Once in the shed, you discover that it is, in fact, a tiny chapel with one high window and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The ceiling was elaborately painted in the early seventeenth century, in the naive style of the time. Here, for example, a man lies on his (rather sumptuous) death-bed as a skeletal Death stabs him with a giant arrow: trumpeting angels above herald better times to come, fortunately.

As I sat during the service cuddling my small son on my lap, I was also very taken by this cameo of another mother and child doing the same. I can’t decipher the symbolism of this picture. The mother is crowned like the Madonna, but the child has the long golden hair of a girl; the mother’s veil looks like a judge’s wig and, with her right hand, she is fondling a…sack of wool? a faded flock of sheep? But I immediately recognise her expression. It is the deep, quiet joy of a mother with her child’s arms stretching up around her neck. A good image to watch over a baptism.

After the service, my husband did a quick transformation from organist to piper, piping outside the chapel in the breezy sunshine while adults chatted and admired the view and the numerous small children (inevitably) danced.

Three generations of our large extended family then spent a happy afternoon enjoying lunch in the garden of our cousins’ house. It was summer-hot, hot enough to burn pasty Scottish skins and to make us grateful for the shade of a cherry tree overlooking the terrace. My younger son, who had looked so smart in church in his kilt and waistcoat, gradually peeled off most of his clothes until he was left dibbling in the burn (stream) in disheveled kilt and almost nothing else. He looked like a wee savage with slimy mud up to his knees – but he was a very happy wee savage!

When, finally, we three returned to our own home in the late afternoon, it was still too glorious a day to contemplate going inside, so we merely transferred to our own garden for another hour or two of sunshine, birdsong and greenery. Oh, and blossom. Did I mention that the pear and apple trees are blossoming?

Yes, all right, I know I did. But really, isn’t it just delicious?

This espaliered apple tree has a palest pink blush to its buds and a crisp, sweet fragrance to the flowers. Its blossom is at its height of loveliness right now, nearly three weeks earlier than last year. The pear blossom is already just past its best, with the petals falling like confetti onto the grass beneath. (Can you spot the ladybird crawling along the stalk of the flower on the far left?)

The lacy pear blossom is charming,

but I think the honey bees and I agree that the apple blossom just has the edge. (Look at the great fat pollen sacks on this bee’s legs!)

And best of all, we still have the crab apple to look forward to. It is just beginning to bloom, its deep pink buds fading to sugar pink as they open.

Are you beginning to feel that this post has become just an excuse to show pictures of blossom? Well, you are absolutely right. We had a very happy day with our extended family and I can think of no better end to a sunny May Day than a stroll in the garden, enjoying the green, white and pink of apple blossom in early bloom. A. E. Houseman preferred cherry blossom but, that apart, I echo the sentiments of these well-loved verses:

A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  from A Shropshire Lad.  1896.

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,         
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,         
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

(* William Shakespeare’s wife was famously left his ‘second best bed’ in his will.)

Last year I wrote a little about the apple blossom and its symbolism on the eighteenth of May, in Seeing this, who could blame Eve?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2011 2:10 am

    Our May Day was a glorious day. I began my spring cleaning – inside the house, and played in the garden for a while.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 3, 2011 10:31 am

      Good for you – I achieved nothing so useful! Glad you had a good day too.

  2. May 3, 2011 10:55 am

    Oh, what a lovely post with such gorgeous photos! I love fruit blossom and these are beautiful. What a very happy family day you describe and I am just green with envy at the thought of having a family chapel with C16th paintings and such well-preserved ones too.

    My May Day was much quieter, but made memorable by my first Church of Scotland communion service in a plain little church overlooking the sea, which I think may be the most northerly still-used church building on the UK mainland.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 3, 2011 5:42 pm

      Your little kirk sounds very special too, in its own way. But yes, we are extraordinarily lucky to have such architectural treasures still in the family. (This chapel is also open to the general public, I should point out.)

      I could easily have posted a dozen photos of fruit blossom and nothing else! It’s very hard to be disciplined in the face of such heavenly beauty. 🙂


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