Springtime and an Older Woman’s Fancy

From my second story apartment each window looks out on a tree in a different stage of re-leaving.  The sycamores across the parking lot are almost fully bushed out and the redwoods, of course, have been green all year.  I don’t know the names of the trees that are planted closer to the building, but two trees of the same variety, one of which I can see from my office, have shiny, small, red-tipped leaves that first appeared a couple of weeks ago.  The tree outside my living room window, on the corner of the building, has feathery leaves that are just beginning to appear.  I can almost feel the life energy bursting through the woody layer on the end of the branches.

I have just passed what to me was a rather significant birthday.  You might think that passing a birthday would make me feel old, but the opposite happened.  Since my birthday is in the spring, I have always associated my special day with the perennial themes of rebirth and regeneration.  The joyful, childlike energy of the birthday celebration arranged by my friends, with balloons, cake, and presents; helped me feel younger.  I still enjoy the feeling of being the center of attention, if only once in a while.  I had my hair and nails done, and dressed up for the occasion in a brightly colored, bejeweled top.  I felt excited and exciting.  All you need is the feeling.

Many of my neighbors plant gardens way beyond the official allotment of five plants. Getting our hands in the earth and fostering growth is as much a part of spring as getting out our flip-flops and sleeveless tops.  Some of the young women I see on my walks are wearing short dresses.  They remind me of poppies with long stems and colorful, billowy skirts.  I pick bright colors to wear, even if I’m not going anywhere.  We are, after all, a part of the planet, made of the same materials as the plants and butterflies.  That push to come out and blossom is in all of us, young and old.

May Day is upon us.  This holiday has been all but forgotten, and I wonder why.  Is it the association with socialism?  Perhaps we’re no longer repressed enough to celebrate a fertility festival without stripping down and going at it?  Most likely, it’s a simple matter of revenue.  You can sell more stuff by emphasizing Mother’s day and even Cinquo de Mayo, than May Day.  Hallmark has become the arbiter of our cultural manners, mores, and celebrations.  Would Bali let that happen?  Could a profit based spiritual calendar be established in Tibet? I doubt it.  But I digress.

Mayday is an ancient feast day dating back to the earth-based religions of Northern Europe.  It is indeed a fertility festival, based on the obvious connection between our own increased randiness at this time of year and the blossoming plants producing fruit and eventually seed.  The decorated Maypole represented – ahem – an erect phallus, and the dancing was intended to celebrate, join with, and bring about the fecundity of the planet so that everyone would have fat, happy, beautiful babies and plenty of food to eat.  The old Soviet May Day parade, by the way, was only incidentally related to what I have just described.  It dates back to a general strike that happened in the United States in the late nineteenth century.  It happened on May Day.  The children of that time no doubt danced around the Maypole without any idea what it represented.

May Day was a pretty big deal when I was a child in Berkeley in the 1950s.  Almost everyone had  calla lilies in their gardens in those days, and we all brought them to school.  We practiced our dances for months.  The lilies were dyed various pastel colors and used to decorate the school, the poles (usually used for tether ball) and a huge float.  There were thousand of them.  Crepe-paper streamers were hung from the poles and we danced in and out around them, each holding a streamer, in a complex pattern that resulted in a weave of colors on the pole.  It was beautiful.

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