The Microseasons of May: a Phantasmagoria of Life
When I uncurled from sleep this morning and looked out my southwest facing window I saw the day’s sunrise reflected in the sky. For brief moments the baby blue backdrop was streaked with one wide band of peach and salmon, and several more thinner repeating bands drifting towards the horizon. In the time that it took to stretch, contemplate the upcoming day, and rest a few more moments before wresting myself from the comfort and warmth of my nightly haven, the bands of salmon melded together to form a fading, thin comforter of a low peach-gray layer of clouds, which hung below a sky that was taking on the intense hue of robin’s-egg blue. While I dressed, the stunning and intense colors produced by the rising sun reflecting at low angles off of everything from clouds above, to my neighbor’s billowing Sakura, faded and muted as I wondered where did the color go? By the time I sat down to write this, the sun had arched high enough to get above the low cloud layer, and once again the landscape was glowing with the intense colors: new green grass, bright blue sky seen through a thin cloud veil, the pond edged with deep red highbush blueberry buds, the hillside dotted with my neighbor’s peach tree blossoming pink, and again the giant cloud of cherry blossoms.
In April we listen for spring. In May we can see spring in all its glory. Like Sakura – the cherry blossoms – May and spring are fleeting and marked by festivals of color. In Japan the season of Sakura is honored; a sign of spring renewal, and the short-lived blossoms are a reminder that the nature of all life is cyclical and ephemeral.
Cultures around the earth have long embraced celebrations and traditions to welcome and acknowledge the return of spring and renewal. The season of spring is celebrated by some at Easter; but, the most ancient spring traditions acknowledge the Cross-quarter days, those days that fall midway between equinoxes and solstices. The Cross-quarter day that is upon us is May Day – May 1. The Celts (a culture that has existed since at least 1,000 years B.C.) believed that May Day was the most important day of the year; a time of rebirth dividing the year between light and dark. Traditionally this holiday is celebrated with rituals of fire and adornments of flowers. Sometimes the celebrations included ribbon dances around a May Pole, and the making of May Baskets. To celebrate May Day is to commit a simple act of faith, acknowledging that earth’s seasons have, and will, proceed.
In this year-long series of monthly articles I have taken to heart the truth that each season is not a three-month period but rather a continuum of micro-seasons (each about five days long) that more specifically express the varied nature of any season. Like the season of one’s life, it is the rich assortment and accumulation of discrete flourishings that make the whole being, or whole season.
The micro-seasons of May are marked by color, it is a month to be sensed through sight. Each of May’s micro-seasons provide kaleidoscope views of the shifting, combining, and reconstituting of the blossoming and reemerging of life’s many patterns.
Highbush blueberry: April 30 – May 4
Highbush blueberry blossoms – miniature bell-like flowers – are early pollen sources for emerging bees. Although these blueberries are more aptly referred to as shrubs, they are a perfect choice for a native planting to honor Arbor Day on April 30. To celebrate May Day (May 1)take a walk in search of flowering trees and shrubs in your neighbor’s door-yard. You will be amazed to note how broad the rosy pallet is, from the lightest pink blush of a flowering cherry to the wild magenta of a hawthorn.
Gray catbirds return: May 5 – May 9
One day during this time period you will walk out the door of you house and hear it: the wild chattering of a gray catbird. It is then that you’ll realize that you’ve missed them, and their return will make you smile.
May 9 will be Mothers’ Day – don’t forget to honor Mother Earth.
Shadbush blooming: May 10 – May 14
In Japan it is the cherry blossoms that are honored, on Block Island it is the shad blow that graces the landscape in masses of tethered clouds of white, that marks that spring has truly arrived. On May 11 the next lunar cycle will start with the New Shad Moon.
Songbird migration: May 15 – May 19
Tens of thousands of birds will pass over or pause on the island to rest and feed during their spring migration to points north. The colors are vibrant and rich and beyond description. Only your eyes can register the sparkle and luster of red on a scarlet tanager or a rose-breasted grosbeak, or the orange of a Baltimore oriole or American redstart, or the blue of an indigo bunting, or the yellow of a white-throated sparrow’s eye brow or yellow-breasted chat, or the iridescent green of a ruby-throated hummingbird.
Fluke moving inshore: May 20 – May 24
Many fish species have spring migrations that pass the island or enter the New Harbor for food and shelter and spawning. Fluke can be caught from the shore starting in mid-May.
Horseshoe crab spawning: May 25 – May 29
The Full Flower Moon will occur on May 26. Around the full (and new) moon the flood tides are unusually high. This is the time for Horseshoe Crabs to come to shallow water and sandy shores to spawn and lay their eggs. As many as 100,000 tiny gray-green eggs can be laid by one female in a spawning season (generally May and June). Also, on May 26 there will be a total lunar eclipse. Unfortunately for Block Island dwellers only part of the eclipse will be seen: starting at about 4:46 a.m. the moon will enter the earth’s shadow, but alas, the moon will set at 6:34 a.m. before the total eclipse can be seen on the east coast.
Dunes covered in Beach Roses: May 30 – June 3
During this time, we are on the cusp of the parade of June roses, kicked off by the sight of great matts of white, pink, and magenta beach roses (Rosa rugosa) overlaying the dunes, as well as any hillock of sand that one can find.
Get ready – May will be adorned in a riot of color, from a silvery moon and white-bellied Fluke, to pink-tinged apple blossoms, to Blackburnian warblers the color of a blazing sunset. Each shift of micro-seasons will incorporate the colors of the previous days into a May medley that must be seen to be believed.
To share the amazement of May’s colors, watch for notices of The Nature Conservancy’s walks and programs, including bird walks and horseshoe crab surveys.