“AS WELCOME AS THE FLOWERS OF MAY”. It was a favourite old saying in these parts, indicative as it was of the promise and the plenty of May time.
Mrs Ruth, the owner of the nearby country house, said it more than once to friend and neighbour especially on her birthday which happened to be in May.
It is a lovely time of year for the bluebells are in bloom, their wild and inky blues filling the day with delight. The primroses too peep from the shade of mossy banks, while the wild garlic, or damsons, makes itself at home in woods and groves.
I came across it last year in the grove near the old school cross, the birch trees leafy and green above. It was lovely to see it there. Star-like flowers pristine white, the loop green leaves enhancing the whiteness of the flowers.
It often colonises large areas of woodland, especially mixed woodland, where beech and birth and ash grow side by side together.
It thrives on damp soils, forming dense growths in early spring and summer and though them were only patches of it in the school grove, it was lovely to see it Just the same. It is of course instantly recognised by its strong smell of garlic, its pointed leaves once used in folk medicine to promote digestion and lower blood pressure.
An old Victorian flower book describes it as the most graceful of flowers, its leaves elegantly dark. Its blooms conspicuously white.
It was late one summer’s evening that we drove to the Black Valley beyond the Gap of Dunloe. The evening was sunny close and still, crimson clouds rimming the peaks at the edge of the western sky. We went for a walk in the forestry the sheep with their lambs grazing in the fields, or strolling at their leisure alone the paths. The forestry walk is wonderfully green and peaceful, the sense of peace palpable in every part. There are firs and larch and pine, the dark streams bubbling over stones and crossing the path here and there.
The dogs stopped for a drink now and then, the water deliciously dark and cold, filtered as it was by mountain rock and stone as it made its way down from its source. There were foxgloves everywhere along the path; the soft grey leaves Very much on show, though the purple spikes were not yet in bloom.
It was while we were walking along that the calls of the cuckoo came towards us. I thought at first that they came from across the lake, though they may have been nearer than that. They were marvellously soft and clear in the stillness of the evening enhanced as they were by the wild green peace of the grove.
It was lovely to hear the cuckoo. It was like a stirring of childhood again, and or all the joys that went with it. My aunt Mag was a great one for the cuckoo. She was always on the lookout for him, eager to hear his symmetrical call, for there could be no summer without him.
It was lovely to hear him call through the firs and the pines and the larch, nor would it have surprised me if the trees themselves were relishing the sound, for they too have heard the cuckoo before. They too have heard the voice of summer.
The path wends and winds, meandering gently through the trees until at last beyond the tunnel of green there is seen the gradient of the mountain and the magical blue of the sky. Far below, the lake looked a darken more brooding blue, a lone swan swimming on his own.
As we headed back through the trees, the soft cuckoos came towards us still. Again it seemed that they were part of the overture to summer, a token or things to come. I began to imagine him then, soft grey and barred, perched in some secret nook! His own, as he called to his heart’s content.
It was in a way as if he were bringing summer home, the scent of the gorse heavy on the hills again, the yellow spikes running here and there in great rambling brakes among the rocks. There were cuckoo flowers too by the wayside, their pale violet flowers scattered here and there among the grasses. They too were part of the magic of summer.
I thought of the cuckoo long afterwards, his soft cuckoos still filling me with joy.