Let us go forth in the first week of May. The gold dust has passed from the palm flower and the daffodil is dead, but the golden celandine glitters on the bank, and in marshy places the Mary-bud shines, though the golden stretches of dandelion, such as we may see in the meadows to the South or in the Swiss orchards, have not yet come to us. It is true the daffodil is dead, but the skies at eventide are filled with colour that keeps the daffodil in mind, and the joy of Maytime at the lakes is the long, lingering twilight of the West. (pp. 55-56)
Tulips are still gay in the garden, auriculas paint the beds. Rhododendron bushes of wonderful scarlet and rose and pink shine out far and near. I was once standing in mid-May upon the fell by Blind Tarn, and a shaft of sun struck on a rhododendron bush in the garden of Lancrigg, the light of it seemed as though coloured fire was springing in a fountain from the ground. Anyone who has passed by Barrow House in May knows how the sudden sight of these rhododendrons almost startles with its rich surprise. But the flowers that seem most to fill with colour the gardens of rich and poor alike in May are the forget-me-nots and the yellow wallflowers, while a golden ‘composite’ gives an abundance of light, and the white pheasant-eye narcissus fills the air with fragrance. (p. 56)
I have just returned from one of the sweetest woodland walks in the neighbourhood of Keswick. Crossing the valley that shone like an emerald, one heard the voice of the corn-crake calling to his mate, one noted how lilac pale the hills to the westward shone. There is not yet any large amount of grass upon the mountains, but the heather patches that in March and April were sooty black, as if almost they had been fired, have taken on a wonderful change of colour. Indeed, so ruddy are the heather tips that at eventide beneath a level sun, one may almost believe that August and honey-time is here. (pp. 56-57)….
The gift of May is a gift of Autumn colouring with summer gladness beyond. It is ‘summer,’ not winter, ‘now is coming in’ that ‘cheerly shouts cuckoo,’ and that these oaks are painted by the hand of life and not by the hand of death makes all the difference. As May goes forward and the beech leaf sheds its down and the birch leaf loses something of its first fine glossiness, and the larch its first sweet tenderness, there is still in the woodland fresh surprise of new life in the delicate leafage, almost as of the wings of a living creature, upon the wands of the hazel. Still, still, the ash delays, and still the alder is surly brown, but thanks to the warmth of the as yet unovershadowed woods, the wild hyacinth shakes its blue bells free, and in such patches as may be found near Fiddler’s farm, between Rydal and Ambleside, or down by Duddon’s side the flowering mist of purple blue lies heavy on the ground. (pp. 60-61)
The blackthorn foam fades from the hedgerows, but in sunny sheltered places the fragrance of the hawthorn already scents the air, and every pearl has become a starry cup for the bees, while as if the garden entered into rivalry with the wild woodland, though sweet as honey is the breath of the bird cherry, the breath of the Portugal laurel is sweeter. (p. 61)
The daisies are filling the meadows to see the May-tide pass. The stitchwort calls to the school children in the lane. Young thrushes and blackbirds, while their elders croak at them, tumble about in fine fluster of impotence and impatience combined, in the laurel bushes, and away on the Cumberland coast the Black-headed gulls and Sandwich terns are scurrying from nest to tussock and from tussock to shore. But the hen wife is busy with her brood, and the shepherd is bethinking him of his young family also that are soon to go to the fells. The lambs are gathered to have their ears bitted or tritted or spoon-marked, as the shepherd’s book demands. “A pop ont’ nar hook or a bugle on far side” is put upon them with the raddle stick or the black stick, according to the ‘smit’ of the flock they belong to, and soon we shall hear the valley filled with bleatings innumerable, and with a pillar of cloud, and that cloud a cloud of dust to go before him, the shepherd will take his charges to the mountain of his hope, and leave them on their native heaf till shearing-time. (pp. 61-62)
But he will not do this till the snow wreaths have faded from Scafell and Skiddaw and Helvellyn, and though the pear flowers are white on the garden wall, and the apple buds are rosy to their blooming, and the sycamore tassels are loud with bee-music, though the lime trees are in leaf and the poplar towers have changed from gold to green, the shepherd will not start for the fells till he knows that summer is sure. (p. 62)
(Months at the Lakes, pp. 55-62)