It's May Day, the first day in May and the flowers are blooming. This event doesn't have the impact on people as it once had. When I was a boy, we would make May baskets from flowered wallpaper. These small baskets were filled with candy and pretty spring flowers and delivered to your sweethearts. The idea was to place the basket at the door, ring the doorbell and run, half-heartedly, away. The surprised receiver of the May basket was supposed to run after you and if they catch you, give you a thank you kiss on the cheek. It was always a great way to help satisfy your spring fever.
My favorite May basket flowers were dandelions, violets and lilacs, if they were in bloom. I remember going to a nearby stream and picking a few lovely marsh marigolds, for a very special May Day basket.
These are just some of the beautiful flowers that nature is showing us now that May has arrived. The forest floor is suddenly alive with a glow of new green. The trees and shrubs that were bare only a couple of weeks ago, are now bursting with green life.
Along the lush green river bottom, large patches of bluebells make a blanket of soft blue flowers along the banks. They are my favorite reason to drive the river road this time of the year. As I drive slowly along the winding gravel road that follows the river, a Rose-breasted grosbeak darts across in front of me. He flashes his white flanks and rosy breast, and then dashes for the cover of the thick, green brush.
I pull over and stop, roll down the window and listen to the trill of the American toads. Their courtship songs come together in a chorus of lovely harmony. Each spring, they gather at this peaceful backwater to honor spring and their future generations. In a couple of months, the backwater pond will be alive with tadpoles and the promise that there will again be toad music next spring.
As I drive on, I keep my eye open for more signs of spring. Maybe a snake is sunning himself in the sun on the warm gravel or a turtle basking on a log along the river. The juncos have gone to their breeding grounds in the gar north. They are replaced by pretty White-throated sparrows. They search among the dead leaves for insects while happily singing about "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody!"
Little bright blue bird's foot violets bloom on the sunny side of the road and nearby the mayapples are just peeking up through the soft earthy soil in the woods.
The river road at last reaches higher ground and is now bordered by pastures and cornfields. A pair of thirteen-lined ground squirrels nibbles on the fresh green leaves of dandelions and the tender new shoots of grass and clover. It I hadn't spotted them I probably wouldn't have noticed the fresh stalk of wild asparagus right behind them.
The little ground squirrels are about the size of their cousins, the chipmunks. They have also spent the long winter months in hibernation and they are now ready to take on life with a renewed sense of energy and wonder. We often forget that some animals spend over half of their life asleep. I have to admit that at times, when the winter is rough, I think hibernation isn't such a bad idea.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrels are found throughout the Midwest and may be seen anywhere there is active farmland. They eat a variety of plants and insects and have even been known to eat mice. I once saw a ground squirrel dash from its hole in the ground and grab a young starling, then drag the bird down its burrow.
They often can be seen standing upright, motionless as a statue, watching for any signs of danger. Kinda like a tiny prairie dog. They may live in small colonies in a park or cemetery and their shrill one note whistles can be heard as they call to each other. When chased down their burrows, their chirping whistle can be heard from deep under ground.
In late April or early May, four to fourteen young are born in a grass nest underground. The more young the better, for they are an important link in the natural food chain, often being a meal for foxes, badgers, hawks and owls, snakes and weasels.
Slowly, in bits and pieces, spring is turning to summer and there is new life all around. Get outside and enjoy the newness of it all. Allow spring to dictate how you feel about each new day.
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