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May Day 2017

Yes, that wet stuff falling from the sky is snow on May 1st.

Happy May Day!  We’ve been having snow flurries, which makes it a little difficult to get into the spirit of the season.  I suppose I could go on about the history of labor unions and all the benefits we take for granted because of the work that they did back in 1886 and beyond.  But you all have Wikipedia for that.

In Wicca this is also Beltane and a celebration to bless the animals and the fields with fertility.   Wicca tends to work with a male/female balance honoring the fact that union is how we all came about.  In this day and age that makes much of our ritual look particularly heterosexist and decidedly gender binary.

The thing is that many of the Gods in the Pagan pantheons are rather gender queer.  There is room in Paganism to express and celebrate fertility in many other ways.  But working in a tradition, and a Wiccan tradition in particular means honoring and holding to rites and ritual formats that, when they were written, probably do have an intentional hetero-cis bias.

Like snow on May Day, the reality is often a lot more complicated than the theory.  In Minnesota a May snow, or at least a frost is not at all unusual.  Our “late frost” date is May 15th.   But in Wicca, and through much of Paganism this is a festival about flowers and early fruits.

Food and Flowers. We tend to snack while we make our May wreaths.

Traditionally, this festival is not a calendar based festival, but one that honors the actual season in the area.  It is a time when the fields are ready for planting – not the same date every year at all.  It is marked by the white blossomed trees (usually rowan) coming into bloom (also not a calendar dependent event.)  In Minnesota this year we are having a remarkably early spring.  The ground has been thawed for some time.  In microclimate areas some of the fruit trees have started blooming.  Historically that just doesn’t happen until mid May and even that is early.

So snow is unexpected this year and seems out of place.  Our weather reporters carry on about “below average” temperatures.  Technically that is true, but if you graph 100 years of spring temperatures and do the statistics you get at least a 15 degree standard deviation.  That means that “normal” is plus or minus 15 degrees.  To really be “below average”, remarkably warm or cold, we’d need to be outside of that 30 degree swing and we are not.  At least not today.

Happy May Day!

I have actually put some things into the garden already.   Cold hearty crops like radishes and peas.  I did sprinkle some spinach and lettuce seeds and I’m trying my hand at carrots again.  Tomatoes and basil are still a month out.  The weather is supposed to get warmer from here out so I’m hoping to get back into the dirt later in the week.  That will be a celebration in itself!   In the meantime, I’ll just take things as they come and enjoy the cool while it lasts.

 

 

Previous Posts on May Day or Beltane:

Fertility     Spring     May     Beltaine (even I don’t spell it consistently)

 

Rainy Days

Doctors offices are boring!  (but it was nice to grab lunch in the skyway cafe)

Doctors offices are boring! (but it was nice to grab lunch in the skyway cafe)

Both Orion and I had doctor appointments last week.  I was going to take photos and write all about our busy week.  But doctors offices are boring.  The appointments were too.  How many times in one week can you hear “make another appointment and we’ll deal with it next time.”  without feeling a little like you’re wasting your days?

Those big fat raindrops (that became snow) were beautiful!

Those big fat raindrops (that became snow) were beautiful!

The weather was all over the place last week.  We desperately need the moisture.  We didn’t have enough snow cover and the lakes and rivers are exceptionally low for this time of year.  I swear one day we had rain at 40 degrees, snow at 32, and then sunshine in the 50’s!  (And in that order!)

They made pretty patterns in the trees

They made pretty patterns in the trees

It’s too early to get to planting anything up here.  Our “last frost” date is May 15th, so we’ve got a wait.  It feels like we should be out digging though, and the ground is warm (warmish).  The nursery’s pansies (which are very hearty) are out, but not much else.

I did get out and start cleaning up around my peonies.  There’s plenty of yard work to do before planting can happen.  I’m just not in shape for it.  I try to get out a little bit every day (when it’s not raining, or snowing).  It doesn’t take much to make me worn out, but I’ve hopes of building up my stamina.  It’s nice to be able to get out at all.

And brightened up the buds!

And brightened up the buds!

It’s nice to be able to get down on the ground and get up again.  It’s nice to not be afraid to be outside without my phone in easy reach.  (Just in case I can’t get up!)  It’s nice to be digging in the dirt and feeling the sunshine warming my joints.  It’s nice to be able to come back in and soak in the tub. Last year I couldn’t do much outside and soaking in the tub isn’t allowed for 6 weeks post surgery.

I’m enjoying the rainy days. I catch myself singing. I’ll keep trying to take advantage of the sun when it shines.    Seems like a good plan.

Stir Crazy

blowing snow can make driving difficult

blowing snow can make driving difficult

This is the time of year when cabin fever really starts to set in. Imbolc, Groundhogs day, Candlemas the mid-marker  festivals of the season.  For much of the country 6 more weeks of winter sounds like a lot, but it’s countable.  For us it’s 6 more weeks before we can even start counting! Mid-March is a great time to start seedlings indoors where I live.  There is no hope of planting even peas and kale until May. (Well, sometimes we get lucky and risk takers will put a little something in at the end of April, but it’s rare.)

These winter holidays are very important for us.  They provide a break in the routine, a chance to get out of the house and socialize.  Another Monday when schools and roads are closed because it’s too cold and too windy.  Blizzard conditions make getting out of the house seem a little like a pipe-dream.  But we do it.  It is -20F this morning (with a windchill below -40.  Do you know that -40 is the temperature when Celsius and Fahrenheit meet?  When you live someplace where that temperature is a reality you learn that kind of trivia.)

They’re talking highs at 20F on Wednesday.  We’ve been up and down that 40-50 degrees a lot this year.  It’s hard on a body.  To us that 20F will feel like a heat wave.  Minnesotans will go out to the mailbox without their coats.  They’ll leave hats and gloves in the car.  A friend on Facebook said “you know it’s been cold when you’re out shoveling at 15F and need to take your coat off because it’s too warm!” We’re a little crazy that way – stir crazy.

I didn't put on a coat when I snuck out to snap this photo.

I didn’t put on a coat when I snuck out to snap this photo.

Another really perverse factoid about the winter weather here is that when it’s cold it’s usually really sunny.  The snow reflects that sunlight and so it’s bright enough to need sunglasses.  Those festivals all celebrate  the return of longer days, the return of the light.  The sun rises noticeably earlier and sets noticeably later.  The further north you go the more dramatic those differences are.   Minneapolis is on the 45th parallel.  That’s half way between the equator and the top of the world (or the bottom if you’re not Northern Hemisphere biased).  About this time of year a typical office worker begins to notice that they are driving to and from work in daylight rather than darkness.   A nice change of pace.  But being able to see the light sometimes makes you want it even more.

Wikapedia says:  When experiencing cabin fever, a person may tend to sleep, have distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, dark or hail.  Maybe that’s why we have a winter carnival with ice castles,  kite flying on frozen lakes, winter witch camp (which is actually in Wisconsin, but if you fly in Minneapolis is the closer airport), and parks that rent cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Today the University is closed because the weather is so bad, but the Metro Mobility buses are running.  Orion got bundled up and sent of to his day program and we’ll make it to adaptive Yoga tonight.  We’re getting ready to celebrate Imbolc this coming weekend and in the meantime working on staying warm and not getting too stir crazy.

Grey

Why shovel?  It will melt, won't it?

Why shovel? It will melt, won’t it?

When we think about spring the images that come to mind are bright and fresh.  Tulips and crocuses and daffodils come in a range of happy colors.  New shoots of grass, fresh buds on the trees, robins with their red breasts all evoke a feelings of hope and joy.  Even in the worst of our spring images April showers bring may flowers.

Nowhere in the lexicon of spring imagery is the reality of grey ugly snow that refuses to melt.  Those April showers in our imagination look more like a warm summer rain than like sleet beating against the roof.  Gentle spring breezes of the mind are rarely underlined with cold northern gusts that carry the cold damp through all the layers.  Winter hangs on tightly with icy fingers.

Winter's icy fingers hiding from the sun.

Winter’s icy fingers hiding from the sun.

I do understand that all of this is the nature of where I live.  There are areas of the country where planting is underway.  Real planting, not starting seedlings indoors.  I know there are places where snow is a rare thing that never overstays its welcome.  I recognize that this weather we’ve all been complaining about is actually pretty normal for us this time of year.

Fading tulips, rosemary and ginger - indoors!

Fading tulips, rosemary and ginger – indoors!

I look back fondly on Groundhogs Day.  Where I come from it really doesn’t matter what Punxsutawney Phil does.  We are getting at least six more weeks of winter.  When six weeks starts stretching into eleven it’s easy to become a little frustrated and impatient.  Cabin fever and spring fever get all bundled up together in a grey haze and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

To combat the malaise I’m making small efforts.  Spring cleaning happens in fits and starts, even though it’s too cold to open up the windows.  Hot house tulips bought at the grocery store are stuffed in vases.  I’ll even splurge on asparagus, trucked in from who knows where.

Scraping through the snow for breakfast.

Scraping through the snow for breakfast.

I’ll light a fire in the fireplace and dream of campfires.  I’ll make soup out of the asparagus ends and throw snow peas in the salad.  I’ll tend those indoor seedlings and sharpen my gardening tools.

Or maybe, like the groundhog I’ll go back to bed.  I’ll stick my head under the covers and stay warm until the sun decides to come out.  Maybe in May?  I have my fingers crossed.

last year's perennials

last year’s perennials

Packing

You all thought I was going to write about gun legislation didn’t you.   I’m not.  I’m trying to look at packing as a metaphor.  It seems like a better approach than looking upon it as a chore.

vintage luggage

vintage luggage

We use the term baggage a lot to talk about all the “stuff” we carry with us through life.  I suspect the reference is effective in part because so many people tend to over pack.  In the era of weighed checked luggage where we pay $25 + per bag,  that overpacking issue gets tackled head on.

I think about the ways people have packed in the past.  Traveling by ship with steamer trunks is a little different than flying with a carry on tote.  On the other side of it we’re going the distance for a weekend when back then it could be a month or more before even arriving at your destination.  I look at old movies and watch actors skip down the road swinging those old suitcases.  I’ve seen those suitcases in thrift stores.  They’re tiny.  They’re heavy!

Of course the actor has an empty suitcase, if it’s not a piece of plastic painted to look like one.  But even back in those days most people had the clothes on their backs, one set to wash and one for church on Sunday.  There were no shoes in those suitcases.  If there were books it was probably just one small Bible.  Jewelry for common people wasn’t particularly abundant either.  I wonder how often they changed their underwear?

Orion: 2 pants, 5 warm shirts, 2 t-shirts, socks and underwear and room for twice that.

Orion: 2 pants, 5 warm shirts, 2 t-shirts, socks and underwear and room for twice that.

Those small suitcases (and this goes for carry on bags) are an issue as well.  I’m not a small girl.  I’m 5’10” and grossly overweight.  For any one piece of clothing I get into my bag my daughter (5’8″ and fit) or my son (weighing under 100 lbs) can pack 2 or 3 of the same.  Either of them can wear vintage clothing (although with my daughter it’s tougher for the height and shoulders).  It speaks to that old fashioned luggage, people were smaller.   I’m lucky if I can wear a vintage hat.  ($25 to check that hatbox Ma’am.)

Then there is the issue of seasonal travel.  The Twin Cities in Minnesota has the largest temperature range for its population density in the world.  Any time of year the “average” temperatures give or take 20 degrees.  It’s hard to pack one outfit that’s reasonable for both 75 degrees and 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temps in that entire range are common any day in 6 months out of the year, and possible in all of them.  (Well maybe our highest temperature ever in January was 69 degrees but our lowest in July was 24!)  When traveling to multiple climate zones (or a crazy place like Minnesota) layers are essential and that means less room in the luggage.  A sweater takes up a lot more space than a swimsuit!

Sweater and swimsuit

Sweater and swimsuit

I’ve done enough traveling that I do pack well and can travel lightly.  I have trouble lifting or carrying a bag that weighs as much as that 50 lbs excess baggage limit.  Still I’m often amazed at what I choose to include on any given trip.  How much of my “good intentions” packing (sure I’ll work on that project while I’m away) do I ever really get to do?  Other than reading on the plane, do I find myself reading in hotel rooms?  How much of what I run to Target to grab before I go would be just as easy to pick up once I arrive?

I’m still reaching for the metaphor.  I’m not sure what packing says about me, about us.  I do feel better about doing it.  Packing as a meditation……….

Thanks for listening.

3 summer weight dresses, 2 summer  weight jackets, underwear- no socks, jewelry - no makeup and I'm already bursting at the seams!

3 summer weight dresses, 2 summer weight jackets, underwear- no socks, jewelry – no makeup and I’m already bursting at the seams!

Weather

crab apple

I really can’t get over the weather this spring.  We had some snow yesterday, flurries in the cities and more up north.  The general reaction was surprise.  “This isn’t normal.”  Actually it is.  Not only is it normal for April, but it’s not unheard of even in May when the trees typically are in blossom and the bulbs are blooming.

I’ve lived in the area all my life and I was raised to be aware of the weather.  We did a lot of camping, even locally, and that of course helped.  I grew up fascinated by thunderstorms and tornadoes.  I watched from my basement window as the tornadoes that destroyed one of our neighboring suburbs went past.  I was out on the lake with my father and grandfather when a storm came in and we sat out the accompanying tornado under the boat pulled up on someone’s lakeshore back yard.  I’ve ridden through tornado weather in a tent, occasionally the only one left standing in the campground the next morning.

lilacs begining to bloom

In the fall of 1985 I announced that I was getting married on May 10, 1986 and that there would be apple blossoms and fresh lilacs for my bouquet. I was told I was crazy.  First off that the lilacs followed the apple blossoms, they did not bloom at the same time.  Secondly that here in Minnesota neither the apple nor the lilac bloomed that early in the year.  I was adamant.

Although it was early I knew down to my bones that it was possible.  I’d been watching for years with an awareness that I wanted those flowers when and if I ever got married.  Yes the lilacs usually follow the apples, but sometimes for a couple of days they can be in bloom together.  Yes the spring is often later than that second week of May, but early springs had happened almost that time of year.

wedding photo by Ron Simms

I got married on May 10, 1986 under a blossoming apple tree with lilacs in my bouquet.   I had to bring the lilacs in the night before and put them in warm water to force the blossom from the bud, but I was a happy bride.   This is why I keep insisting that we are a full month ahead on the season.  We really are.  The fruit trees are blossoming and the lilacs are starting to bloom.  In mid April.  Even before the taxes were due.

In my lifetime, my fathers lifetime and my grandfathers lifetime this weather pattern was unheard of until this year.  Everyone loves it.  I love it, it’s beautiful.  It’s also SO wrong.  There is no predicting if it will hold or if we will loose all the fruits from these early blossoms.  There is no predicting if we will have and earlier or longer or hotter summer.  There is no predicting what may happen in August.

The weather forecasters and climatologists are using models based on data that is no longer applicable.  They are assuming that the weather patterns will hold true as they move to more northern latitudes.  Unfortunately there is no data that indicates that is an accurate theory.  The tornado systems that have plagued the midwest already this year (much too early in the season) are not typical of Texas springs.

Lilacs along the Lilac Drive

Most of us have become very urbanized.  We are dependent on the shipping of our produce from “wherever it might be growing.”  We have lost our sense of how the climate affects the crops, affects the prices, affects anything beyond our daily comfort.  That’s why we are loving this weather, this early spring.

I can’t say I’ve had much conversation with the local farmers.  Our farmers markets typically don’t even open until after Memorial Day and there’s rarely much produce until mid June.  I suspect they are as torn as I am.  Enjoying the early and dry spring as it allows for early planting.  Worried about the lack of rain rather than the over abundance springs often bring.  Not at all sure what they are risking by planting early, or what the potential for gain may be if we have an extended season.

In all my life I can not remember ever taking the weather truly one day at a time.  I’ve always seen the patterns.  I’ve always had a climate norm that I could relate to.   I’ve always laughed at the weather forecasters who compare “today’s temperatures” with the mean average, knowing that our “typical” temperatures in the spring are plus or minus 15 degrees.

Apple

I guess I’m just going to have to get used to the weather as it comes.  We all will.  Let’s hope the surprises Mother Nature has in store for us are things we can survive.

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