Happy Beltane to all you reading!
May 1st has been considered since ancient times the doorway to summer, a day celebrated with flowers and bonfires and dances, a welcome to the sun.
I got in touch with this special meaning one year ago, when I found myself busking on the streets of Oxford this same day.
I had just got a lovey spot in a pedestrian-only street, in front of a shopping centre, after a vocalist had finished its shift. It was my first time busking in a foreign country. As I played watching the stroll of people passing by, a very peculiar group caught my attention. They were dressed in fancy clothes, with ribbons of all colors, faces painted in black stripes, bringing a sort of fascinating glamour all around them. They seemed to be partying in the middle of the road, just in the way they were walking by. They had musical instruments.
After almost 3 months in the English countryside and years of English-book reading, I had a vague idea of what the Morris dance was. But still, it is all another story to see it in real life!! I packed up, left the lovely spot at the shopping center, and followed them.
I found them on the corner of the next street, playing and dancing. It was fantastic. Rhythm stumped down deep into the earth, laughs, colors flying all over, pure enjoyment, some beer, a lot of fun..all pouring out from the company to the encircled people watching. They were collecting money for a charity, and when one of them approached me and I gave my token, I asked if I could join in. A few minutes after I was playing my cello between them, laughing with them, enjoying the music fever.
It was such a magic! And their welcome so warm. We strolled on the main road together after the first gigue, and then played again in another spot. It remembered me the excitement of joining the pizzica gigues in Salento, in the south of Italy, in the summer. The same inner powerful attraction, the same deep connection with the ground, the earth, with life.
The group of Morris dancers and players I met are the amazing Armaleggan Border Morris dancers, and here you can find more about their art and work, which I believe is a gift of joy to all those who meet them.
Here in the rainforest the sun comes and goes, as if it wasn’t yet sure it is the time to spread out its glory. It is the first break of summer in this new ecosystem for me, and I am learning how much rain is needed for the health of the huge, old trees that are our neighbors. Either in sun or cloud, nature is following its course, just like our mighty Salmon River: flowers are everywhere, as well as the new leaves coloring the red Alders with sweet light-green shades, and decorating the Spruces as if celebrating another kind of Christmas, its counterpart, its shining partner on the other side of winter.
Swallows have come. They are barn swallows, their belly painted red, and have occupied the space around the river house down by the estuary. They need water to create their nests, and the river and the pool are surely a great resource for them now!
Although in Europe barn swallows have white bellies, the species is the same, and they talk the same language. As a kid, one of my most favorite indoor activities was to watch them coming in and out of my grandma’s tool house, in the countryside. She allowed them to nest inside, leaving the window open, and I could hide in a corner and observe them go back and forth to the nest, bringing food, catching the occasional glimpse of a nestling asking for more. I remember their voices echoing inside the walls.
They have that special chatting tone, that feels really like talking, with all the inclination of the sentences -as if they were hastily asking a lot of questions in a row. And the way they fly, well, that is just gorgeous! They can change direction suddenly, soar very close to the ground and rise, making crazy carousels when they are feeding together in the air.
I have spent time watching them in the last days, as well as the harbor seals and the river otters, learning their moves, the traces they leave on the surface of the river when they dive.
Herons are now moving around in couples, and I can hear their funny voices more often on the water. Yesterday I watched the sun set, down at the river, just observing the birds and enjoying the smells of the new season blending with the salty air.
I have also spent much time drawing and painting, and it has been quite satisfying to put into images some of the ideas, and details I notice along my walks. I hope you’ll enjoy the artwork I am posting here today, as a Beltane offering.
I wish you all a wonderful day and night, and even without bonfires, and the Morris dancers dancing from home…may summer come and warm us up, shake this unsettling winter away, and take us lightly on this bright new turn in the wheel of the year.