After the lovely warm weather at Easter, the May Day weekend turned out to be a bit cold here in Yorkshire, but in spite of this Spring has finally sprung. In the gardens, the lilac trees and the tulips are in bloom, while many of the woods are carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic.
All the trees, except the ash, are coming into full leaf in what seems like a hundred shades of green.
Mum said this reminded her of an old rhyme her Welsh grandmother taught her, relating the leaves on the trees to the weather. The rhyme is “Oak before ash, we’re in for a splash, Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak,” which means that if leaves appear on oak trees before they appear on ash trees, then it’ll be a dry summer, but, if they appear on ash trees first, then the summer will wet.
Mum used to think that this was just an old wife’s tale, but scientists have now discovered that oak leaves need warmth to burst from their buds, whereas ash leaves need the long hours of daylight we get from the middle of May. So, if the ash leaves appear before the oak leaves, it means that spring has been cold and miserable and summer is likely to be the same.
In the hedgerows, the hawthorns are also coming into full leaf and the first of the May blossom is starting to bloom. From a distance it looks white, but if you look at it closely you can see there are tiny pink or red dots on the petals. It’s a very pretty flower, but as this BBC documentary shows, superstitions say that it’s unlucky to bring it into the house as it can cause all sorts of misfortunes, ranging from a wet summer, through to illness and even death. Though I think you wouldn’t want to bring it into the house anyway as it doesn’t smell very nice.
May blossom is also associated with the May Queen, who was said to be the personification of Spring and rebirth. Her origins possibly go back to the Celtic festival of Beltane, which fell on May 1st and celebrated everything coming back to life and food becoming plentiful again after the winter. In order for this to happen, however, the poor May Queen had to be crowned with May blossom before being ritually killed, which I don’t think is very nice at all, even though it’s probably just a story.
Another symbol of rebirth and springtime from pre-Christian times is Green Man who is always depicted as a face surrounded by leaves, or even a face made of leaves with tendrils of plants sprouting from his nose and mouth. Although he pre-dates Christianity, carvings of his image can still be seen in many old churches, including Holy Trinity in Skipton and St Michael and All Angels in Linton-in-Craven.
As well as the May Queen, another possible female equivalent of Green Man is the Sheela-na-gig, but I think she’s very rude and I don’t want her picture on my blog, so, if you want to know more about her, you’ll have to find it yourself – but please don’t look if you’re easily offended!
Away from the folklore and superstitions, the beginning of May is also the time when English asparagus starts to appear in the shops and Mum’s promised to buy some this weekend. She says she will cook it along with some new potatoes, new carrots, salmon and Hollandaise sauce (which she cheats on by buying it ready-made in a packet so that all she has to do is heat it up in a non-stick pan).
I’d hoped this was going to be a meal to celebrate the fact that she’d finally finished writing When Daffodils Bloom, but she’s still not managed it. In fact, she’s done so little at it this week that my pointy stick has gone blunt from where I’ve had to keep poking her with it. She’s promised to do better next week, but I’ll let you know in my next post if she does!
If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave a comment. If it’s kind, it’ll make Wilf’s day!
Follow my next blog: 34. LITTLE ADVENTURES, GREEN FIELDS AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT