LETTERS FROM THE COUNTRY:
9. THE MONTH OF MAY
May is heralded by the young people of the villages, dressed in their
costumes, going to every house to serenade the occupants. The first weekend
we had a wedding in the village between two local families. The bride works
in the supermarket in the local town. Her parents have a farm on the southern
edge of the village. The groom is a carpenter and comes, just, from the
next parish. His parents live in a high hamlet. After the ceremony the
newly weds were pushed by the wedding guests up the steep rise in a decorated
In the old days weddings always took place in the early months of the year when the work to be done was lighter.
"Washing the linen in the icy water of the fountain made our hands sore and we looked forward to the warmer weather, only to find we had more work to do than ever" one woman told me. "My parents ran the dairy and my father was always buying up land whenever he could. He cut the grass and from twelve years on we were raking and turning it. There was hoeing in the garden too. With a large family and the hired help we needed lots of produce. How we suffered from back-ache. But we survived, we are all still here. There was no question of the girls learning a trade, or leaving home. Our labour was needed at home."
The ash and the oak are still leafless but lilac is flowering in
the gardens and apples in the orchards. By the end of the month the various
shades of spring leaves will have blended to a uniform heavy green while
the banks are frothy with blossom and the cream of elder flowers. May is
the month when the heavy labours of summer commence. The cows are let out
of the byres into the valley pastures. But first fencing must be put up,
the stakes which were prepared during the winter driven in and the wire
coiled out. A warm, dry period followed by snow in the first half of April
right down to the village meant the grass grew slowly. The cows must be
frequently moved. They eat solidly through the grass and flowers. The valley
is a harmony of yellow, white and violet-blue flowers.
In the middle of the month helicopters start working in the mountains. The snow has just melted from the highest pastures. The chalets are made habitable; the alpine huts for walkers stocked. From the third week in May the cows are moved up to the intermediate pastures at a thousand metres. The first hay is cut where they have not grazed, initiating the perpetual summer task of making forage. The roads are busy with tractors and cattle trucks. But most cows are discretely walked up the mountain. They pass through the village, their drivers wearing ordinary working clothes. The cows are mostly young heifers looking bewildered. They leave behind cow pats from which swarms of bluebottles rise up buzzing. House flies return. By the end of the month the smell of cow dung is once again familiar as it is spread on the freshly cut meadows turning the green dirty brown. On the slopes the grass is white with wild narcissus.
At the beginning of May gardens and allotments are turned over with mechanical diggers. The bedding straw of the cows is piled up by the allotments. By the middle of the month potatoes have been sown and young cabbages and lettuce have been planted out, onions are poking through the ground. By the end of the month pea nets are in place. It is time, now the risk of frost is over, to replace the spring arrangements in the window boxes and ornamental tubs. Geraniums and petunias are favourites.
The streams and rivers are running full of water. The last week of the month was misty.
In the middle of May the children participate in their first Communion
and, this year, the month ended with the Ascension holiday. But the relationship
between the population and religious belief and practices requires an entire
8th June 2003