Wednesday, May 1, 2013

O, the merrye greengrass

How magical it would be to come across a Jack-in-the-Green or Morris Dancers in London today, on Beltane!

I'm told those very, very old traditions are celebrated in some towns, but not really in London anymore. (This despite the fact that a whole area of London is named after the Mayfair it hosted each year, until the well-to-do got fed up with the riff raff and sent the May Fair packing.)

All the same, by whatever name he is called, the Greenman strides in his leafy cloak down London's streets and across its squares and parklands, heath, hill and vail, lighting each tree with green fire...coaxing the fat candles of magnolia trees into pale flame, whispering the songs of growing to every tender blade of grass, each leaf, each heart.

Today, I left the city for the Heath, where I heard the sound of nothing but the wind and birds calling as they winged overhead.

Even through the soles of my shoes, I felt the blessed moisture of the grass, the soft give of the turf, so cool and sweetly scented. I walked over tussocks of grass growing in whorls and cowlicks, rippling in the wind, following its own wild order.

Atop Kite Hill, hair swirling in the wind, I may have thought myself Catherine Earnshaw on Wuthering Heights for a moment...the passionate girl who drank in the air of the heights and smells of the heather like nourishment. Heather...heathen...hmm.

Then I descended into rolling hills of woodland, trickles of tiny streams, and snags...the homes of owls, rabbits, foxes, and hedgehogs, ducks and crows and inquisitive Blue Tits.

I relearned what I'd forgotten—that gorse flowers smell deliciously of coconut—and learned what I've not known until now: the delicate vanilla scent of one tiny blue bell.

And at the end of it all, my left knee burned of stinging nettle, my eyes itched from the tree pollen, and I smelled like a cotton sheet hung to dry in the wind and sun. Glorious.

I leave you with the words of the Bard. Blessed May to all.

Under the greenwood tree 
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note 
Unto the sweet bird's throat, 
Come hither, come hither, come hither!
Here shall he see
No enemy 
But winter and rough weather.
—As You Like It

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