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The Essence of May

29 May 2014 | Posted in

Author Ronnie Reed

Schools Officer


May has been an amazing month.

For the last few weeks, wind and rain and sunshine have worked their wizardry and transformed the countryside into a flowing cloak of green and white. Driving down the Cuckmere Valley to work each morning I have watched the hedgerows that criss-cross the hill sides turn white as the early morning sun picks out the hawthorn growing along them. The blossom follows the contours of the hillside into the distance along the river valley and down towards the sea. The narrow country lane I take, has been iced, like an intricate wedding cake, with tall green stalks of cow parsley bearing white lacy umbels which lift up to kiss the hanging clusters of sweet smelling hawthorn blossom.

I have been waking at first light to the sound of a wood pigeon that coos softly from the roof above my head. As the light grows, a blackbird pours his song into our garden and a green woodpecker yaffles across the lawn.

On my early morning walks with the dog there has been a cuckoo calling across the field, and reed warblers nattering to each other, hidden amongst the undergrowth alongside the ditch that we pass on our way to the river. As we have strolled along our footpath, there have been chaffinches in the hedgerow and for almost a week, a whitethroat has sung from a telegraph line above my head. Around the farm buildings we pass, the summer visitors have arrived; house martins and swallows dip and turn against clear white skies. Everything is busy nesting and already I have seen a young thrush in my garden.

On the chalk grassland, the cowslips have bloomed and faded and already there are clumps of brash, bright yellow kidney vetch and birds foot trefoil nestling in their place amongst the grass on the chalky banks. This week I noticed the tiny blue flowers of milkwort for the first time this season and the purple spikes of hounds tongue have opened.

On the beach, already the sea kale is in flower; the showy white umbels lift above the grey green leathery leaves.

In the evening, as the shadows fill up the corners in the woods, the first bats of the season have taken to the wing. Against the dark sky, there are tiny flickering movements as they flit between the trees hunting for moths.

But the essence of May has been in the smells; the pungent odour of the earth warming up under the hand of the sun, the smell of damp young stinging nettles, the tang of cut grass left by the lawn mower. But most of all it is the smell in my kitchen as I lift the tea towel from the bowl of elder flowers steeping in sugar and lemon waiting to be bottled as cordial. It is the smell of spring, of blossom, of May.

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