All over facebook, people are posting bits of folk songs and generally hailing the first of May. Beltain is here! Summer is a coming in. And here’s me, feeling awkward. Again. Part of it is not having a group at the moment. These festivals in the calendar are all about group coming togethers, and without the focus of a circle, the first of May is not so very different from the 30th of April, or the second of May. Just another part of the slow transition through the seasons. I can’t find it in me to celebrate any of these days on my own. I bow to my ancestors, to the ones who celebrated, and the ones who protested, because this is also Labour Day. (we’ll have a May Day my oh my…). I bow to the Queens of the May, and the morris dancers who danced up the sun. Memories of previous Beltains, good and less so, also come to mind.
It’s not just the issue of not having a celebration lined up. It’s also about what’s happening around me. The willow trees on the canal are just coming into leaf. Not all of the hedges have greened yet, and hawthorn normally gets going in March. The big beech tree on the school run hasn’t even started to open its buds, most of the visible woodland is still in the twiggy stage, and brown, not green. How can it be Beltain when the trees are not yet fully in leaf?
I’ve seen one clutch of ducklings, and plenty of evidence of nests, some of the usual spring activity is well under way. I’ve heard a cuckoo a few times, that folk icon of May, calling out the coming summer. There are swallows hunting over the canal and along the lanes, bugs now abound and the fish have started jumping in the evenings. It’s coming. But it isn’t here yet. Not all of the cows are back in their fields. There’s a big change in the character of a landscape when the animals go back out. We’ve had lambs, and the sheep are always out earlier than the cows. My nearest neighbours were let out a few days ago, but some of their cousins up the road are still in their sheds. The boggy ground won’t have helped, although we’re drying out finally. Traditionally Beltain is the time of taking the livestock off the low pasture and up into the hills, and the fires purify and protect them. It’s not the time for getting the cows out of the barn. That should have happened already.
I can remember one bad winter in my early twenties where we didn’t have trees in leaf until Beltain. Even that year wasn’t as late as this. I have missed the leaves. There’s no sign of the new reeds coming up yet either. No reed smells and rustlings. I miss the dappling of light through leaves and the greening of the landscape, I miss the way the air is different under a leafy canopy. It’s been a long winter.
If you are celebrating today, or over the weekend, I wish you much joy. May the sun smile down upon you, and the leaves unfurl around you. May there be life and all the delights of summer’s promises. I hope we get a proper summer this year, a good balance of sun and rain so that crops ripen rather than rotting in the fields, unharvestable. Again.
Once upon a time, apparently people related the health of the land to the virtue of their ruler. If we did that now, the UK government would be in a lot of trouble, and we’d have had a very big wicker man last Samhain. There are things a modern person cannot blame the government for, but at the same time, we are seeing climate change, and those in power do not care that Beltain has come without the greening.