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May Day! May Day!

Under certain conditions, the term “mayday” can strike fear into the hearts of the most fearless. It’s long been recognized as a call for help over radio communications, primarily used by the aviation industry and mariners, a distress call which no one ever wants to hear, much less have to broadcast.

May Day — today — has a much more kind and gentle meaning to most of us. It’s the ushering in of one of our loveliest months (well, usually), when the weather calms, temperatures warm, evenings become somewhat balmy, and we begin to welcome new life in the natural world around us. The roots of May Day celebrations go back centuries, to pagan spring festivals, and often traditionally included dancing, singing ... and cake.

A lovely May Day tradition of a generation or two ago, probably not practiced by anyone very much anymore, was to sneak mini-baskets or bouquets of flowers onto the porch or doorknob to surprise and delight an unexpecting recipient. With the swings in temperatures we’ve experienced lately — snow last week! — having fresh flowers blooming with which to surprise a friend or neighbor might entail a trip to the florist or the fresh-section of the local market.

We do have lilacs in the backyard, which would probably do as a surprise porch bouquet, but most early bloomers have moved on to the seed-setting and bulb-fattening stage.

For us farmers, of course, May Day is a significant signpost on our annual journey of shifting into fieldwork high gear. So many things beg to be done at the same time, with planting, forage harvest, spraying and related chores centered on the crunch to get crops in, crops off and second crops tucked into the waiting, warming ground.

From this beginning of the fifth month until mid-July or so, most farmers will have precious little “down time.” Still, despite the time-crunch that May Day puts on our professional farmers, I don’t know of a single one who hasn’t been busily preparing equipment and “chomping at the bit” through the days leading up to this sort-of seasonal holiday.

For many of us, weather permitting of course, this first day of May will be a continuance of topping off fertilizer tanks, filling seed boxes and enjoying the annual feeling of satisfaction that comes with having seed in the ground. Stopping to do a festive dance around the maypole probably won’t happen on any farms.

For the Birds

It does appear that our flock of welcome, annual, feathered “squatters” will be settling in about the same time we flip to the May calendar page. They’ll flock around a couple of poles in the meadow, none of them festively decorated in ribbons and bows.

The first purple martin scouts arrived about two weeks ago, a few swooping, chirping investigators of the local housing situation. A couple of our martin “apartments” were already up and in place, which seemed to appease these shoppers of summertime digs for the flock, beginning to arrive from their distance wintering sites.

The Farmer had kept two houses laid over on the ground, until a few days ago, aiming to discourage the relentlessly persistent house and English sparrows from claiming nesting dibs ahead of our flock of mid-summer mosquito catchers. We so enjoy the congenial purple martins, not just for their insect-devouring appetites, but as much for their joyous, swooping, chirping enjoyment of life, and their seeming pleasure — or at least toleration — of human company.

Surely May Day, warmer weather and an increase in insects is also welcomed by a host of our other feathered residents: the dairy barn wren which daily serenades us from the tip-top of the electric service center pole, the strikingly beautiful bluebirds which claim the washline for a perch, the barn swallows which have returned for at least the third consecutive year to nest right over The Farmer’s head as he works in his woodshop (good thing he always wears a hat) and the friendly, sometimes-comical robins as they persistently stalk backyard worms.

So we heartily embrace May Day, ushering in the time of corn planting and early lettuce harvest, lopping off asparagus stalks, covering strawberry blossoms against potential frosty nights and feeding the baby chicks hatched by the ebony bantam hen.

And, while the surprise May Day bouquets of flowers might be a bit sparse, we can always celebrate with another ancient observance.

Bring on the cake.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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