Song on May Morning

We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.

We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.

The pale primrose stopped blooming weeks ago.

John Milton – 1608-1674

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 
  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.

Cowslip, not cow’s lip. A European flower of the primula family.

Happy May Day!

In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.

May Pole

May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.

Lilies of the Valley






			

“No-vember” Poem

Thomas Hood, English Poet and Humorist 1799 – 1845

Today is very Novemberish, as describe in Thomas Hood’s poem. It’s wet, drab, and foggy. My aparment building is on a knoll from which I can usually see trees, houses, commercial buildings, hills, and mountains. Today I can’t even see across the small valley.

A foggy view from my balcony.
November

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.
 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —
November!

For me this verse is no more than a bit of hyperbole. I’m lucky enough to live in a state where even in mid-winter it’s never really bleak. The sun makes an appearance, even if a brief one, almost every day. My state’s nickname is the Evergreen State for good reason. Not only do we have conifers, we also have madronas which never lose their leaves. The fog is never so thick that we can’t see anything. But even if things are never as bleak as Hood describes them, it can feel that way when it’s been raining without a break for days on end.

However, for Hood living in London during the Industrial Revolution his poem was most likely an accurate description of how things were. Coal was the chief source of energy. Contemporary writer Hugh Mill writes about “the lurid gloom of the atmosphere that overhangs it” (the city) and its “innumerable chimneys.” The smog used to be so bad that it entered buildings, homes, theaters, concert halls, among others. Add November’s gloomy weather and it must have been more gloomy than we can imagine. Is it any wonder that Hood died so young?

Quote: Albert Camus

(1913 – 1960)

French philosopher, author, and journalist. Author of The Stranger, The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Fall, and The Rebel.

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957

For years the only part of this quote that I knew and loved was the part about invincible summer. Recently, I was delighted to find the entire quote.

I have many snow scene photos, but I chose this image because it better shows how bleak winter can feel.
A perfect way to spend a summer day, reading in the Rose Garden at Point Defiance Park.
Glorious summer roses at Pt. Defiance.
Images to carry in your heart when it’s winter.
Soft and delicate, but resilient.
Brightness emerging from the dark.

Messing About in Boats

There are few words that evoke sweeter memories than, “summer at the lake.” My family had many summers at various lakes when I was growing up. I long for those days. I totally agree with the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows:  “…there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” 

Some people like to tear around in big outboard motorboats. I prefer to putter around in a little rowboat under my own muscle power, with the only sound the soft splash of the oars as I lower them into the water and the drip of sparkling water drops falling  back into the lake. I can admire waterlilies from up close. The sun is warm. The air is fresh. The water stays clean. Such simple pleasures. That wasn’t something I appreciated at much back then.

This photo was probably taken by my dad who was sitting in the stern and taught me to row.

This was probably my first time at the oars. You can see from my big grin that I took to messing about in boats like those other critters who paddle in the water. Quack. Ducks tend to keep their distance, but don’t get scared half to death by my quiet approach.

On Lake McMurray, Washington State.

During my teen years my family and our friends took over a tiny resort on Lake McMurray for several days of crayfishing parties. If I remember correctly, there were only four cabins. One family had to pitch a tent on the lawn next to the lake.

The use of a rowboat was included in the rent. Unlimited access to a rowboat and being deemed a competent enough rower to be allowed out alone was pure heaven for me.

Being out on the lake with my father at the oars was also fun. I’d sit sideways in the stern and dangle my bare feet in the water. A great way to cool off on a hot summer day? Were the days actually hot? I don’t remember. Washington has a temperate climate. In my memory the weather in July seemed ideal, not too hot, never too chilly.

Even when the little red boat was moored, it was a delightful thing. I’d lie on the seat in the stern, with my eyes closed, dangling my feet in the water, being lulled by the rocking of the boat. Few times have been as fine as those.

This is Königssee in Bavaria, my birth place. Does that mean rowing’s in my blood?

Even though this photo doesn’t go with the summer theme of my post I chose it because in this picture the lake looks more pristine, more magical than in the other photos I found on the internet. I copied it from Microsoft Edge.

Königssee is Germany’s third-deepest, and is reputed to be its cleanest, lake. To protect the water’s quality since 1909 only electric, paddle, and rowing craft have been allowed on the lake. 1909! That also makes the lake a quieter place. Can you imagine what our lakes would be like if we did the same?

When my family spent vacations at Lake McMurray there were never any powerboats on the lake. Perhaps because the lake was so small. I could easily row from one end of the lake to the other. I don’t know how long it took? Who looks at watch, or even wears one, while on vacation? Vacations for dawdling, idling, puttering. Completely relaxing and forgetting about time.

It’s been years since I visited Lake MacMurray, but from what I’ve seen in photos online, it hasn’t changed much. There are probably still no power boats on the water. Going there now wouldn’t be the same. It’s the lake of sweet memories and happy dreams. It should stay pristine, like Königssee.

Oberon’s Monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(Act 2, Scene 1)

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in...

This is one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare, from one of my favorite of his plays. It’s not the whole monologue. After these few lines, Oberon allows his jealousy, because his wife has adopted a mortal boy, to turn him mean. He anoints his fairy queen, Tatiana’s eyes with a magic potion that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees, the weaver, Nick Bottom, who has been magically given a donkey’s head.

I had to look up the flowers.

Turns out the oxlips are actually primroses. Theyre also known as cowslips.

Musk rose and eglantine are both species of wild rose.
The name woodbine can apply to a number of different vines, including honeysuckle. I picked this photo because I thought it looks magical.

Weed is a synonym for a garment. So the snake’s enameled skin is a garment that would fit a fairy. If you’ve read novels set during the Nineteenth Century, you might have come across a reference to “widow’s weeds,” in other words, her mourning clothes.

And, of course, the fairy queen is accompanied by her court of, I guess you’d call them fairies-in-waiting. Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.

In Shakespeare’s day summer was considered to begin on May first, thus, the summer solstice was midsummer, the time when the boundaries between the human world and the fairy world were particularly thin. Fairies could cross over then and meddle in human lives. Hopefully, for the better.

Happy May Day!

Dancing around the May Pole was one of many traditions. The May Pole symbolizes male fertility, while wreaths and baskets symbolize female fertility.
Song on May Morning
John Milton - 1608-1674


Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 
  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.  
Pale primrose

May First was once considered the most important day of the year. It signaled the return of light and fertility. It was one of the year’s several fire festivals.

To the Celts of Britain, May first was known as Beltane. The name Beltane means the fires of Bel. Belinos was one of the names of the Sun God.

To ancient Romans, May first was known as Floralia, a five day festival to honor Flora, the goddess of flowers.

During the 19th and 20th centuries May First was May Basket Day when people created baskets with flowers, candy, and other treats and hung on the doorknobs of friends, neighbors and loved ones.

This tradition has been going on since 1929.

Too bad this is a silent film. It looks like fun.

Springtime! Plants!

Bedding plants at a local hardware store. The “pillows” are bags of potting soil.

Do you have bedding plants yet? I didn’t buy any plants from this store, but I bought some at a nearby superstore.

All I have is a small balcony, but I want to fill it with leafy plants and flowers. Online I see photos of Italian house window boxes and apartment building balconies, overflowing with plants and I get envious. The exuberance of these window boxes is bright and cheerful. I suspect my balcony is the only one in the entire complex that’s loaded with flower pots. All the balconies here face the back and there is no car access. I haven’t walked around back to see if other people have balcony gardens. But I’ve driven past other complexes and have seen only one plant decorated balcony. Why don’t more of us do this?

Here are a few of my bedding plants.

I love that geraniums bloom all summer.
I’ve never seen this color petunia before. Petunias are humble little plants, but they’re cheerful and lovely and bloom all summer. I hope this beauty will attract hummingbirds.
These are bacopa. They’re pretty little trailing plants, they grow enthusiastically and also bloom all summer. They share a planter with my petunias.
The color of this petunia matches the edges of the magenta flower. I love the coral pink.
Occupants of another container.

This is a new variety of trailing pansy, called Cold Wave. When I bought them I didn’t know they were trailing pansies. I’d never heard of such a thing. Me see pansies. Me want. Me have money. Me buy. I didn’t even look at the label. As the name implies, Cold Wave pansies grow in cold weather. I’m not sure I’d have bought them if I’d known. I want my flowers to bloom all summer. I hope these dear little things survive in warmer weather. Fortunately, around here summers tend to be pretty cool, so I hope these babies will be happy come July and August. The long-range weather forecast is for a cooler and rainier summer this year.

Flowers From Other Years:

I’m hoping for a plethora of petunias this year, too. This photo was taken in mid-summer.
Don’t these coleus leaves look like velvet?

If you haven’t bought plants yet, it’s not too late. It was late spring when I bought this coleus. It was a leggy plant with only a few leaves on a long stem. No one at the superstore’s garden center had bothered much with the plants that had been left behind–end of season, new stuff to sell. After a few weeks on my balcony, with plenty of sun, water, and a bit of fertilizer, this is what the skinny coleus turned into.

There are four empty pots on my balcony (and eight occupied ones) I’m going to have to go to a garden center and buy a few more flowers. Pots should not be allowed to sit around empty. I need flowers. It makes me happy to see little blossom faces peering over the rim of their container. The blinds in front of the slider are always open, so I can see my “pets” anytime of day or night. I like to sit on my balcony among my plants, have a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy their beauty. There’s a bit of Italian somewhere in me.