Spring here is at first so wary,
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight . . .
—from “The Late Wisconsin Spring” by John Koethe
* * *
Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord . . .
—1 Chronicles 16:33
One must have impeccable timing if one wants to see the spring ephemerals—the delicate flowers that appear on the forest floor in early spring and vanish seemingly overnight. We were out on the trails last week and only the speckled leaves of the trout-lily were showing. But, I knew the blooms wouldn’t be far behind, and I remembered from previous years that they show up right when I can see (from my kitchen window) the trees’ new leaves foaming green on the other side of the pond. And, that’s what I saw today, so I knew it was time for a walk in the woods.
In reality it could be dumb luck, but all the old favorites were on display: Jack-in-the-pulpit, mayapple, wake-robin, violet, and trout-lily. There were a few wild oats, too, and everywhere we looked the golden spiral of a fern leaf was unfurling. One plant new to me this year is the two-leafed toothwort or crinkleroot—apparently it’s a member of the mustard family and tastes a bit like horseradish. I tend to leave plants where they’re rooted, but it’s always fun to take pictures and then learn about them later.
Plant specimen I.D.’s (from top): fern, jack-in-the-pulpit, crinkleroot, fern (close-up), mayapple, wake-robin, common blue violet, trout-lily, trout-lily (close-up).
Featuring Mother Earth and her little root children, as well as our Lent garden. Old King Winter is still hanging around above ground, but he’ll be leaving soon I think. During Holy Week we’ll add wheatgrass seeds to the Lent garden, and on Easter morning there will be a miraculous crop of new green shoots sprouting!
In the Roman Catholic Church, the month of May is devoted to a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason she is sometimes called the Queen of May—she is given the title “queen” in Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faith traditions, as well. Traditionally associated with the birth of new life, May is a natural month to celebrate the Mother of God.
Crown Mary Queen of May
There are many Roman Catholic traditions associated with Mary in the month of May, but perhaps none so beautiful as the “May Crowning,” also popular in the Orthodox Church, in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church receives ornamentation on May 1st. Garlands of flowers are a popular choice. May Crowning can also be done by families at home. A crown is constructed of wire and children add flowers and leaves to it. Once finished, the crown is placed on the head of a Marian statue, or secured around an icon of Mary. Children will also enjoy making flower crowns for themselves, a long-standing spring tradition and perfect for wearing to a May Day celebration or gathering.
Create a May Altar
Another activity that can be done with children is the construction of a May Altar. If you already have a designated home altar area, the addition of flowers and imagery showing the Queenship of Mary would be a nice addition. This can also be done with a nature table. If you don’t have a home altar or nature table, May is the perfect time to set aside some sacred space in your home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, home altars can be a place for prayer, reading Scripture, journaling, or enjoying daily devotionals. Even a tiny space can become sacred by its use.
Plant a Mary Garden
For those that enjoy spending time outdoors, planting a Mary garden is the perfect activity for the month of May. Dating to medieval times, the practice of dedicating a garden space to Mary was revived in the early twentieth century. A statue of Mary, alone or holding the baby Jesus, is central to the Marian garden. Mary has long been associated with flowers, and has been linked to the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” from the Song of Songs. More than 30 flowers and herbs are associated with Mary, including: Lily of the valley, peony, violet, iris, columbine, lavender, and marigold. Nurturing plants is a wonderful spiritual practice, and a Mary garden is a calm, serene place to engage in prayer and contemplation.
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
—from “The True Dragon” by Brian Patten
The Feast of Saint George is celebrated in Western countries on April 23rd each year. As the patron saint of their country, George is particularly popular with the English (and those anglophiles among us who love their culture, history, and “valleys full of light”). Though nothing certain is known about George’s life, there are some “facts” that are generally accepted. St. George was born in the third century A.D. in Cappodocia (modern-day Turkey). Raised in a Christian home, George joined the Roman army and served in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. When confronted by the emperor and asked to renounce his faith, he refused. He was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed in Lydda, Palestine on 23 April 303 A.D.
The most popular legend connected to the life of St. George is his defeat of an evil dragon that was terrorizing the countryside. This story became wildly popular in England, mostly due to the publication in the fifteenth century of a book called The Golden Legend. George’s signature look—a suit of armor and white shield emblazoned with a red cross—grew out of this legend. The romantic image of St. George rescuing a fair maiden from a terrifying monster is in line with the medieval masculine ideal, the miles Christi or “knight of Christ.” Though obviously not an entirely factual account of a true historic event, the legend of St. George and the dragon has deep roots in Christian theology: Christ (the knight victorious) triumphs over the horrors of evil.
At our house, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an English-style tea party and a reading of St. George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges and beautifully illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman. We like to make Cream Tea scones and sip Twinings’ Prince of Wales tea. We serve everything on beautiful English china I got at a second-hand store. As always, I’d like to stress that celebrating the Christian year should be fun, meaningful, and strengthen our connection to God—no need to get stressed or break the budget. The beauty is in the mess.
3 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
additional heavy cream, for brushing on scones
additional sugar, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Sprinkle the vanilla over the dry ingredients, then drizzle in the cream, tossing and stirring gently all the while and adding just enough to make a cohesive dough. There shouldn’t be any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, but the dough shouldn’t be particularly sticky, either.
3. Divide the dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.
4. Brush each circle with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
5. Place the two circles of dough on the baking sheet, and cut each into 6 wedges. Pull the wedges apart a bit, leaving them in a circular pattern with about 1″ space between each wedge.
6. Bake scones for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown and baked all the way through.
Serve warm, split and spread with a bit of sweet butter and jam or preserves.