May Day—the celebration, first of fertility and then of labour in Europe—has morphed into a glorious recognition of the Willamette Valley, here in Oregon. Everything is green and growing, blooming, budding, swelling with life. Wildflower festivals and walks, plant sales, Celebrations of Natural Features—everyone is outside. We take off the storm windows and move the heavy dining table outside, settling it back into the alcove between house and garage.
May Day rituals are all around flowers, creativity, and fertility. When I was little, I made little baskets out of construction paper, filled them with flowers, and dropped them on doorsteps. Now, we begin the cycle of wildflower walks, starting on the valley floor and slowly following the blossoms higher—Cascade Head, Mary’s Peak, Iron Mountain, The Three Sisters. We will see many of the same plants, with slight variations, as we climb the mountains this summer. I keep the lists in a notebook; maybe, someday, it will help biologists understand how our environment evolved because of climate change. We take long walks in town as well, enjoying the long evenings. At school, state tests and prom stress out the junior class, while my ninth graders kick back, read Romeo and Juliet, and beg to go outside. Sometimes I give in. I have missed the sun as well.
The gardens are planted. Cabbages are heading up. Mustards and kales are ready for dinner. Asparagus shoots for the sky. The artichoke in the back garden bed is striving for new records in size. The chickens are laying eggs, at least three a day, and I have eggs to spare. Potato beds have hoses and mulch. The bean bed is ready to be seeded and covered with the cold frame. The vining crops are planted in four inch pots and I am restless to move them into the garden soil. The beds need a little weeding and constant trimming to keep them neat.
Our menu is shifting as the winter squashes, potatoes, and onions are all finished. Greens are coming on strong. I dig through the cookbooks to discover different seasonings to disguise the kale and mustard greens. We cook huge pots of beans to mix with the greens and spread over whole wheat toast. A little parmesan cheese or a few kippers and we have a tasty dinner. There are some new potatoes from the volunteers in the garden beds; I dig them out as I clean out each bed. We eat eggs, creating golden frittatas and quiches. Salad every night. Mint tea for desert. It is all lighter, leafier, greener than dinners in January and February. When we need something more substantive, we buy some fish.
Out at the wildlife refuge, everything is shining. The ponds, flooded in winter to encourage the geese, are still full and catch the sunlight. Most of the geese have moved onto summer quarters, but ducks, newts, and bullfrogs still live in the ponds. One of the old houses on the property has not one, but two beehives, one behind a loose shingle and the other in the chimney. The parking lot buzzes with air born activity. When I followed the sounds, I startled three deer on the edge of the field. Flower bloom is at its peak; we identified 52 blooming plants on Saturday afternoon. Camas turns the swaths of fields blue. Checkermallows flash pink. In the woods, iris and fairy bells lurk under the trees. We walk carefully along some paths, which are lined with the new, shiny leaves of poison oak.
In the evening, we return home. Mark works on his compost heap while I make dinner. Tonight, we will have a rhubarb cake, salad, and a frittata with new eggs, volunteer potatoes, and a few spears of asparagus. I light the beeswax candles. It feels too warm for a fire inside, but the sea breeze makes an outside fire feel too chilly. Never mind. We will eat, bask in the last rays of the sun, and go to bed.
Rhubarb Cake: AKA as MayDay cake. Taken directly from Moosewood’s Book of Desserts
½ c butter
1 c white sugar
1 t vanilla
½ cup of milk
1.5 c flour (half fresh ground wheat, half white)
1 T BP
¼ t salt
2.5 c chopped rhubarb—or any other fruit you have around
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add half the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the rest of the dry. Stir in the fruit. Bake in a square pan, 350 oven, until done. It could take a cream cheese frosting—or not.