Poet James Russell Lowell once mused: “What is so rare as a day in June?” While his sentiments are sensible, for this part of the world at least, he was a month late.
With the possible exception of perfect Indian Summer days sometimes offered by the month of October, there’s nothing more meaningful for those who love the outdoors than a perfect day in May.
The month also often offers such magical days in abundance, so magical, rather than rare, is a more appropriate description. Here are random thoughts on the reasons May is cherished by those who love the outdoor experience and the natural world.
▪ May means balmy days, not yet so humid and oppressive as to make one miserable, casting a line or waiting for a bobber to bounce.
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▪ It’s watching from my kitchen window as bluebirds move into the birdhouse, for the 30th consecutive year, built by my father in his late 70s. He would be pleased to know generations of bluebirds have used the house, with its tin roof and removable bottom so each year’s nest can be cleaned out. It’s durability is a testament to a man from a generation that believed in “doing things right.”
▪ May is the “opening day” of barefoot season, when a youngster no longer faces parental strictures along the lines of “you’ll catch your death of a cold” and is free to touch soles to the soil. Never mind the possibilities of honeybee stings, pricks from thorns, cuts from broken glass or the heat of asphalt in mid-afternoon, to go barefooted is to know simple joy. That joy may comes from walking through a patch of mud after a spring shower, wading a branch or relishing the soil of newly plowed ground between one’s toes.
▪ May means wildflowers completing their splurge of spring splendor.
▪ It’s a turkey hen trailed by a bunch of fluff balls she’s hatched, and now has the demanding job of protecting and educating until they are ready to go it on their own.
▪ It’s a mother deer and her fawn welcoming a new day while browsing on lush green grass at the edge of a field.
▪ May is a final taste of cold, variously known as blackbird winter, whippoorwill winter, or catbird squall, before warm weather settles in for good.
▪ It’s a time to wander through woodlands at dusk, listening to birds bid another day adieu, or perhaps be in those same woods at daylight as barred owls and fussy crows give voice.
▪ May is the allure of bream on the bed, willing to take about anything the angler has to offer.
▪ It’s a mess of fried fish and hushpuppies, with sides of slaw and taters, cooked at a campsite on a lake shore or beside a stream.
▪ May is a month of dreams for fishermen, as the doldrums of winter are gone and everything that swims seems to be hungry.
▪ It’s relaxing beside a back country campfire, far from the light and noise pollution of towns and cities, staring at a sky brimming full of stars while the fragrance of wood smoke drifts on a gentle breeze.
▪ The month of May means paddling a canoe on a stream, pond or lake — maybe with no particular destination in mind and with the pressures of time or deadlines forgotten.
▪ It’s camping in a state park or making a camping and hiking trip into places where there are trails instead of divided four-lanes, solitude instead of hurried humans, and the murmur of a stream rather than the roar of automobiles.
▪ May is gardens at their showy best, with early produce in forms such as lettuce, radishes, asparagus, spinach, new potatoes, and more providing a reconnection to the earth that sustains us, even as summer’s bounty lies not too far distant.
▪ It’s strawberries, maybe even wild ones picked from a field edge or opening and with a taste no cultivated on can match, atop cereal, adorned with cream, or decorating a shortcake or trifle. No wonder the man recognized as the godfather of angling, Izaak Walton, once wrote: “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless he never did.”
Taking that a step further, doubtless God could have conceived a better month, especially for those who love nature and the world of outdoor wonder, doubtless he never did. To be outside in May is to know pure magic.