All the world is glad with May — John Burroughs
May is magical. May is merry. May is magnificent! From poets to fishermen, bird-watchers to wildflower enthusiasts, turkey hunters to campers to backyard gardeners — the month of May is beloved by one and all.
I’m sure not going to disagree, though I’m admittedly prejudiced, seeing how May is my birth month. But personal favoritism aside, how can any outdoor-minded person not adore May?
March announces, April gets things going, and June takes care of the wrap-up details…but May is spring’s beating heart. Spring personified! May is when April’s vernal promise becomes fully manifest. A thirty-one day tenancy which always sets the mark while serving up the season’s definitive reign.
Wordsworth rightly recognized and wrote about the month’s seasonal “sovereignty.” And so it comes as no surprise that countless poets before and since have found their inspiration in May.
“May brings the flowers to bloom, it brings the green leaves to the trees,” observed Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
All you have to do is look around. Local woodlands have suddenly colorized, turning from glaringly open— with only a few emerging leaves serving to relieve the skeletal gray-brown starkness of exposed limbs and trunks — to a cloistered green retreat, lush and shadowy, where a dense canopy now interlaces in a rush to hide the sky. Each tree and bush is busy, hastily decking out in their own leafy cloak.
This verdant magic seems exponential, a high-speed metamorphosing, as if May were, from the get-go, determined to transform the local landscape overnight.
In May, green becomes plural rather than singular. Leaf green in not a monotone! Don’t believe me? Take a walk in any woods. Look around. Green is definitely not a one-size-fits-all shade.
The various greens found on May’s new leaves are more like an entire palette — hues as numerous as the plants themselves. Come May, leaf green encompasses everything from mossy to mint, olive to verdigris, deep emerald to bright chartreuse, plus a thousand shades in-between. Colors without a name, variations that never end.
I suspect this dense, exploding greenness was what long ago prompted an anonymous Scottish bard to characterize May as “lusty” — meaning full of vigor and vitality, robust.
May is indeed vigorous and robust. Dawns come early while dusk doesn’t get around until just before bedtime. According to the almanac, today’s span of daylight is 14 hours and 20 minutes. We haven’t enjoyed a span of similar length since last year—way back in early-August! And it’s this burgeoning wealth of magical sunlight which, when added to the mild temperatures and abundant moisture, explains how it got so green so quickly — and also why your lawn probably needs cutting again.
The sun shines warm in May. The air is sweet. Even a cloudy morning or a rainy afternoon cannot darken the mood or dampen your enjoyment.
May is the merriest of months. Naturalist John Burroughs called it the “joy-month” of the year. The weeks when birds sing their loudest and country brooks burble with high-spirited gaiety.
Cheerful, festive, buoyant — days so lighthearted and pleasurable you sometimes feel like joining the celebration and laughing out loud. And like any good party venue, May’s landscape dresses for the occasion!
The various Algonquin tribes once knew May as the time of the Flower Moon—a poetically lovely appellation for this special time. Accurate, too, as there are myriad wildflowers everywhere, dappling fields and forests in dazzling dress.
See for yourself! The earliest of spring’s delicate ephemerals may be fading fast, and many have already passed. But an even greater number of mid-spring bloomers have appeared to take their place. Goatsbeard, blackberry, sweet Cicely, various trilliums, horse nettle, beardtongue, white-top, both yellow and pink lady’s-slippers, golden Alexanders, hairy puccoon, showy orchis, fire pink … the list is practically endless.
And I mustn’t forget violets. White, yellow, lavender, purple. Their flowers have already been blooming for at least a month. Yet May and violets go together so naturally they’re seasonally synonymous. Besides, my dear, departed mother loved these sweet-scented, humble commoners one and all, and might never forgive me if I overlooked their mention.
Wildflowers aren’t the only flowering plants of May. Trees, too, bloom this month — especially the luscious-scented wild apples. And since we’re talking fragrance, the unforgettable black locust — a showy tree whose richly perfumed hanging clusters of white blooms have, more than once when poking my way along a favorite creek, stopped me in my piscatorial tracks for an interlude of olfactory bliss.
“There’s perfume upon every wind,” wrote poet Nathaniel Parker Willis. May does, indeed, offer delight for all the senses.
Finally, there’s the fishing. Mentioned last only because I feared if I began spouting off early about May’s multitude of prime angling opportunities, I’d never get around to the birds and flowers and all those other wonderful and worthwhile aspects of this fifth month. A man must know and admit his weaknesses, and take whatever measures needed to work around them.
Still, the truth of the matter is that for the fisherman, May is absolutely one continuous smorgasbord. A time of opportunity so rich and varied we angler types are apt to become frantic while attempting to sample it all. Bass—smallmouth, largemouth, and in the hill country, spotted — bluegill, red-ears, channel cats, crappie, walleye, white bass, rock bass…all await our wares, ready and willing to bite. Lakes and streams are picture-perfect; weather couldn’t be better.
“An exquisite quandary,” a friend once said, referring to the necessary decision. May’s fishing is as good as it gets! How’s a poor fisherman supposed to choose?
May is truly a month-long treasure. Merry, magic, magnificent. Too good to miss out through overt moderation. I say go for it! Give in! Do your best to savor it all!
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org