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Commentary & Opinion

David Nightingale: The Month Of May

Children's group maypole dancing in Queensland, Australia, 1900-1910.
Children's group maypole dancing in Queensland, Australia, 1900-1910.

Chipmunks are scampering back and forth across the lawn, and the cold weeks are over. Finally the sun has some strength, allowing one to stand outside, stretch and soak in the warmth. Ah, what a feeling!

Birds are also hopping across the lawn, looking for worms, and a curious young chipmunk gets quite close as a bird, instead of taking off, merely hops away a few feet. As for the chipmunks’ high speed chases with each other, I don’t know whether it’s play, fighting or romance.

I’ve let the airtight wood stove die down from what I hope is the last 30 degree night. As we remember, there was snow earlier in May, in my case sliding off the roof and breaking the stems of hyacinths and daffodils.

New leaves are coming now, partially obstructing the old winter scene, replacing it with a fine-spun mosaic of delicate and assorted light greens. In less than a month former views will be blotted out completely.

Some of the birds are swooping near the house, perhaps noting that the bird feeder is empty, as it has been for years. No matter, there’s plenty to investigate and peck at on the lawn. As for the bird feeder, well – bears used to visit. I have a photo of one lumbering away from my front door, having achieved a selfie when it triggered the house camera.

It’s on mornings like this that the world shows it can be benign, and I welcome more like this. However, in the background lurk the deadly spreading Covid, tornadoes, Lyme disease ticks, poison ivy, carpenter bees that drill and chew; and later in the year hurricanes, floods – and feared tsunami, as in Alaska in 1964 and 1958. As of mid-May Covid has taken over 80,000 American lives… Is this a friendly planet, or what?

I walk into the woods behind my house. An unrecognized snake rustles into some thick leaves and I know I must watch for copperheads. I tuck pants into socks, knowing that deer are in these woods, and how their population is high in the Hudson Valley. I’ve found a tiny tick on my body even back in February. And this is not surprising as three deer now stare at me for a while, before running deeper into the woods.

This particular morning, I decide, should be relished. There are patches of bluetts in the woods, and emerging to a clearing I come across a couple of dogwoods, their glorious white petals, or bracts, just out.

Back home the brilliant yellow forsythia – out since April – has faded, as has now the flowering cherry tree. A neighbor’s magnolia has faded too, petals in the roadway. Walking around near the barn I find a healthy bleeding heart, white and full, and nearby, despite the daffodils’ too early fading quite a few hardy narcissus still proudly displaying their stronger shape and beauty.

Throughout the winter I religiously watered a hanging geranium as well as an Impatiens, and they did me proud; now, however, I’ve injured them by putting them out under the overhang too early.

A few days ago I stacked some freshly split firewood. The darting chipmunks already love my pile and are hopping in and out of gaps, intent, I think, on nesting and proliferating.

Finally, a black racer, a good five feet long, has emerged from a pile of stones and is slithering across the lawn. I’ve seen it before, or one of its relatives, and I pause and speak encouragingly to it. He/she sheds its skin every May – but I’m not afraid, for I read long ago that those venomous copperheads don’t like them. One can even view a short internet video of a black snake eating a copperhead, and watch one long thing being slowly sucked into another long thing.

Ah, the merry month of May. I do love it.

David Nightingale has published in both the Astrophysical Journal and The American Journal of Physics, and is the author of the science-fiction novel The Centauri Settlement published by TheBookPatch.com .

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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