The Merry, Merry Month of May

daffodils

How did the month of May get its name?

I’ve always been fascinated by etymology, so I couldn’t resist checking the dictionary on this one.  It turns out that May is named for Maia, an ancient Roman fertility goddess.

This makes sense, as May is the heart of springtime in the Northern Hemisphere, the season when the increasingly direct rays of the sun finally overcome winter’s icy grip and the tulips and daffodils in a riot of colors once again add cheer to our lives.

Here in the desert, we have more cacti than tulips or daffodils, but it’s the thought that counts.

When I was a kid, May was the time of year I could start collecting insects and rocks.  It was almost the end of the school year, with the tantalizing languor of the lengthy summer vacation just over the horizon.

Although the start of the month is a time for recognizing labor in some nations, I hold romantic visions of children dancing around the may pole with colorful streamers.

In the United States, the three-day Memorial Day weekend comes at the end of May, a holiday on which we remember the soldiers who have died, in wars extending back decades and centuries, to assure the security of our nation for future generations.  I’ve discovered that Memorial Day was not officially named by the U.S. federal government in 1967, which explains why my parents always referred to the holiday as Decoration Day during my childhood (a reference to the decoration of graves with flowers).

As we begin the summer season, we also celebrate our families, with Mothers’ Day this month and Fathers’ Day next.

I’ve always thought of May as a celebration of possibilities.  With the limitations of the winter behind us, we look forward to outdoor activities, family gatherings, road trips.  If New Year’s is a time for resolutions to make difficult self-improvements, May is the time to plan for whatever your idea of fun may be.  Whether you look forward to vacations, sports, gardening, weekends at the lake or beach, or just shucking off the coat and going for a walk, May is the time for making plans for what we really want to do, not what we ought to do.

In a sense, May is the month to celebrate our personal freedom.  It is the time of year when we give ourselves permission to engage in the activities that we really enjoy, when we finally give in and tell ourselves “yes.”

Perhaps that’s the real reason this month is named May.

 

Desert Spring

blueberriesplum

 

I don’t need to look at the calendar to know that winter has given way to spring.  Out here in the desert, three indicators clearly announce that March has arrived:  The fair, the heat and the first fruits.

The fair is in town this week in all its schlocky, throwback, family fun glory.  Kids from the high school perform, stuffed animals line the midway, the rides whirl and everyone eats cotton candy and funnel cakes.  The 4-H Club and the FFA strut their stuff; for weeks, I’ve heard nothing but tales of whose son has the finest pig and what prices the livestock auction will fetch.

As for the heat, well, March is the start of the long desert summer.  While New England suffers under yet another foot of snow, we have already had two days on which the mercury has reached 95 degrees.  We will likely hit the 100° mark before the end of the month, where the midday temperature will stay put for the next six or seven months.

Although I’m not a big fan of the fair and the relentless heat gets old quickly, I always look forward to the return of some of the best fresh fruit anywhere, just in time for Easter and Passover.  My treats today were an incredibly sweet, juicy red plum and some explosively tasty blueberries (photos above).

And let us not forget the flocks of birds that nest in our tree, sing us shrilly awake each morning and poop all over our cars.

Apparently, however, not all of our avian friends are keen about celebrating springtime in California.  I hear the Argentine cliff swallows have not returned to Capistrano this year.