Warms spring rain. The flooding fractured a poorly built bridge, rising waters overflowed moss covered banks – roads disappeared under the deluge, and I was out transplanting the last of my perennials! Working in the rain is a sensual experience – the scent of sweet earth grounds me, the sound of rushing waters not only stills inner chatter but reminds me that this is the time of year that every tribal culture used to celebrate the coming of the rains, the rising of the waters, and the blessing of wildflowers. Today, I know of no one that celebrates May Day but me, although some still honor this day as a Turning of the Wheel of the Year. And how can the latter not be?
After transplanting, moving stones, and feeding the tadpoles in my frog pond, I check on the progress of all the wild bee loving violets around the house. No flowers yet. I visit the brook to peer down at budded trillium and marsh marigolds. One golden blossom greets me in the rain; Mary incarnates! The first delicate trumpets of trailing arbutus glow like pearls. Too late for frog breeding, vernal pools are now overflowing.
Walking into the field, wild rose thorns grab my leg, spiny leafed lupine cup crystal raindrops. Old fashioned lemon lilies, another bee favorite is breaking ground so I carefully step around each plant except for the violets that I cannot avoid; I apologize profusely. By the end of May this huge carpet of wild violets, trout lilies, ajuga, anemones, woodland phlox and narcissus will disappear under towering lupines, wild iris, buttercups, and queen anne’s lace as the field becomes a meadow edged by fragrant roses and lemon lilies followed by masses of sweet milkweed, ending with goldenrod and bright purple asters that bring in late summer and fall. A bee and butterfly paradise. It won’t be long before I will only be gazing into Nature’s bouquet from my chair in the pines. The crabapple trees are leafing out, the maples paint the sky with crimson buds. All plants, trees, and flowers celebrate the rain. I sing too. And then I remember…
As a child on May Day my brother and I gathered wildflowers for my mother and my grandmother. At school we still danced around a maypole twining colorful ribbons round and round, The girls wore handmade wildflower crowns, the boys a flower tucked into white shirts. Of course, I had no idea then that I was participating in an ancient ceremony, one that stretched across time. But the child senseda resonance that has stayed with me throughout my life. On May Day (and throughout this month) I still feel the need to honor the sacredness the sanctity of all spring flowers, the coming of the rains and the Greening. This feeling/sense has grown stronger with time. Our planet is heating up. Rain is scarce or comes in deluges (as it is now). Droughts are more common and yet most people still hate rainy days.
I am so grateful NOT to be a part of all this – to be participating in a genuine communal celebration that probably originated with hunting and gathering tribes millennia ago, even if I must jump the prevailing culture to do so. Thankfully, I have a relationship with every wildflower that grows on this land, and with rain. We cannot know, but my guess is that early foraging folk gathered wildflowers not for beauty, although no doubt they were deeply appreciated, but because so many are excellent sources of nutrition; Indigenous tribes wherever they were located across the globe also understood the power of their medicines. And unlike the greed -driven generations of today, these people never took more than they needed.
Some of the flowers I mention are not strictly wild but old fashioned flowers that retained their original scent which attracts wild bees as well as an ability to reproduce for generations to come. True wildflowers are unique in their ability to appear in unexpected places almost always in the early spring beginning shortly after the snow recedes. Before their appearance I have deep purple crocus with flaming orange pistils and stamens that attract all manner of bees. Crocus are wildflowers native to the Mediterranean and other places that feed our wild bees because they are the very first flower to bloom besides catkins. Snow crocus provide early nectar and pollen for bees emerging from hibernation. Before they find a nest site some bumblebee queens will sleep in crocus flowers at night.
Most wildflowers require a person to drop to their knees to peer at diminutive blossoms. Here, the second wildflower to bloom is bloodroot that also is loved by bees. Some have already blossomed, and their stars are falling; pods are seeding up. But I have many more shaded clumps to look forward to because my bloodroot keep spreading. Calendula, sadly considered a nuisance by many, is also loved by bees and is sprouting delicately scalloped leaves of deep-sea green wherever it pleases (easy to uproot). Buttercup yellow flowers will bloom on all summer long before and after buttercups and bluegrass have gone by. Old fashioned ajuga are budded creeping over the mosses that surround most of the earth around the house and when these bloom bumblebees are wed to deep purple spiked flowers. Twin flower, goldthread, and pyrola rosettes are visible. Wild lilys of the valley are spiked in lime. Frilled anemones blush pale pink. Mayapple umbrellas shoot up in one night. Solomon’s seal too. More spotted trout lily leaves uncurl, lacy wild columbine surfaces everywhere; always speading. Star of Bethlehem clusters will be followed by bee loving white stars. More violets are taking over the ground beneath and around my feet. Miner bees love them, but so do all the others. It occurs to me that I cannot separate wildflowers from bees! The two are always communing. What else can I say? Wildflowers love the rain!
Most finish flowering before the summer solstice, which is another reason that I am out in this fragrant wet world. I can’t bear to miss a day. Fragile ephemerals cannot take the fierce heat of the summer sun; few can manage during the spring without some sort of protection, except those living in unpolluted/pesticide free/ unmowed fields and highlands.
Many wildflowers that bloom in protected forests come later, and I take advantage of this knowledge, enjoying my wildflowers here and then taking to large tracts of protected woodlands to see them again! First trillium and lady slippers. Well shaded partridgeberry stars, snowberry bells, bluebead lilies, goldthread, pipsissewa and pyrolas lasted into early July last year. Some painted and white trillium will linger on. Pogonias fade quickly but other wild orchids can be found in protected damp places beginning in late spring and lasting through mid – summer. Jack in the pulpit’s dramatic purple and green striped flowers don scarlet berry coats in July.
I think what I love most about wildflowers is that they refuse to be tamed. Allergic to human control they appear like magic in protected places when an evolving undisturbed pesticide free habitat will support them, and only they know when the time is right. When I first moved here 40 years ago, I had few wildflowers; now I have thousands. I did little except to keep the land as s/he was allowing for re-wilding.
Any attempt to transplant ephemerals will usually result in death, if not immediately, then within a few years. Woodland wildflowers need intact forests with moisture and most important, a sufficiently diverse understory to support most species. All have complex relationships with the trees/plants around them, and the underground mycelial network beneath their feet. We know almost nothing about these relationships beyond the fact that they exist. I am startled by a sudden revelation as I write these words. We have destroyed so much forest that we will surely lose the last of the woodland wildflowers in most places within the next ten years. Wildflowers may resist human attempts to cultivate them, but they don’t have a chance after the logging machine has opened the forest to heat and drought and a destroyed mycelial network.
A majority of our wildflowers are pollinated by wild bees, a few by animals, water, and wind. Too bad that we are losing our insects before discovering they once existed. “The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinctions, threatening a collapse of nature’s ecosystems… they could vanish within a century” according to the first global scientific review. (The Guardian).
After transplanting, moving some stones and taking a long leisurely walk the sky began to clear… beaded crystals hung from every branch – from crimson to lime tightly wrapped leaves are ready to burst. Fat buds keep swelling as they sip more moisture waiting for the first warm day to unfurl – oh, the Greening is underway. In less than two weeks an emerald canopy will create the illusion of healthy forests as saplings cover dull skidder scarred brown mountains.
I could feel the earth wrapping her cloak around me on this quiet May Day stretching this moment across time to the end of the month. This is the season to pay attention to delicate flowers appearing at one’s feet, to watch hungry bees, but most of all to feel grateful that wildflowers still exist at all – at least for now.
6 thoughts on “May Day Celebration by Sara Wright”
Beautiful! Your essay makes me feel as if I am walking through the wildflowers with you. When I was a child, my mother, my sister, and I would make May Baskets – small, sometimes homemade, sometimes bought baskets, filled with flowers — and leave them at neighbors’ doors on May Day morning. I think my mother may have done the same when she was a child. It never caught on with other families in our neighborhood, but maybe next year I’ll try it in the neighborhood where I’m now living and see if other people do the same in the coming years. Over the past few years I’ve been “rewilding” my garden — just letting any wild plant that shows up grow and I’m always amazed at the beautiful wildflowers that have come. In the past I’ve only tried to make sure that especially exuberant species leave room for other plants, but this year I won’t be doing even that so I’m anxious to see what happens when the garden is left to truly “rewild.”
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Thanks Carolyn – your re-wilding will bring delightful surprises – and you will know that you have helped your patch of land do what s/he needs to do to thrive – to me this is exhilarating – as for may baskets we made them too out of grasses – we were celebrating the goddess long before we knew her!
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I agree with Carolyn that reading your piece was indeed like a beautiful flower-strewn path, a grand Mayday celebration, and a feast for the senses Sara. I too celebrated May Day (though a day early) as Beltane on the turning of the year’s wheel with a small group of like-minded people, outside in a field. We sang songs, recited poems, told stories, and shared a little food, surrounded by birdsong, blossoms in the hedgerows, and an abundance of wildflowers everywhere. This morning I went out walking, with my phone to take pictures of the scented rainbow of color pouring over garden fences and stone walls. Thank you for sharing your memories and garden images. I love the idea of your re-wilding of the garden and would certainly be interested in what happens when it is left to truly re-wild. I hope that you will share that story too.
It’s so delightful in prose and poetry to recognize all our green Sisters and call them by name. Here in Appalachia, April is the time of the spring Ephemerals, those small, ancient beauties. Like you I love the bloodroot, Solomon’s Seal, Lady’s Slippers. May, May, May they live on forever!
I love trillium, which is the provincial flower of Ontario. Some years ago, a patch of them showed up in the corner of my (urban) garden. I don’t know how they got there but I looked forward to them every spring and tried to protect them when they weren’t in bloom. Sadly, the new owners of the house next door put up a fence one day when I was not home and they haven’t come back. I had thought of replacing them, but you’re right, if the time is right perhaps they will reappear.
Oh Sara, you have painted such a beautiful picture of the wildflowers that grow here in May and your May Day. I do celebrate May Day. I give my mom a basket of pansies to celebrate the day and she plants them in a big pot. I too love the wildflowers that grow in Maine and I also have left almost all of my 5+ acres to do its own thing and I never use pesticides. The results have been marvelous and the bees are happy with the wildflowers, and so am I. I also set up a fairy village in the woods and I make sure that I have it set up by May Day so the fairies can come out of their winter homes and move into their summer homes. :)