The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Nature Walks in May.

by H. M. Lake.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 377-381

It was the fifth of May, and we were walking down a lane in search of fresh flowers for our May list, when a rustling noise in a holly bush close by attracted our attention. A thrush flew out, and alighted on the elm tree overhead, where it began to chirp excitedly as if to attract our attention from the holly below. We peered into the bush, however, and there on a little brown nest sat his mate, challenging us with a pair of bright, beady eyes. There were no end of nests down that lane! Some were old and deserted, but others were all alive with baby blackbirds, thrushes or hedge-sparrows. How busy all the birds seemed! Many were engaged with their second broods, and were busily flying about in search of food for their noisy youngsters. There was a spotted fly-catcher's nest in a cranny in an old ivy-covered wall. The nest was not yet quite finished, as the fly-catchers are among our late spring arrivals. We saw Mr. Flycatcher sitting on an old tree stump, on the watch for any flies that were foolish enough to come his way. He disappeared over the wall as we approached.

Never had the lane looked more lovely, nor the air seemed so full of music. The hedgerows were beginning to clothe themselves with blossom, and we found hawthorn, crab-apple, dewberry and buckthorn in full flower. At a bend in the lane we came upon a small spindle tree, which was just putting forth its little green flowers. It is wonderful to think that these same small flowers, now so inconspicuous, will afterwards produce the gorgeous berries—"the fruit that in our autumn woodlands looks a flower."

The banks at the foot of the hedgerows were simply bespangled with flowers. Fine primroses were growing in sheltered little nooks and crannies, and the "violet by the mossy stone, half hidden from the eye", also the potentilla sylvestris, ground ivy and germander speedwell, but more conspicuous were the cuckoo-flowers, (or lady's smock), stitchwort (greater and lesser), Jack-by-the-hedge, crosswort, yellow avens, bush vetch, pink or the rarer white campion, dead nettles (red, white and yellow), hedge parsley, charlock, pignut, etc. The cranesbill family was well represented, as her Robert, the shining-leaved, jagged-leaved, and dove's foot cranesbills were growing there in quantities. The handsome meadow cranesbill was not yet out.

The Norway maple was just coming into flower, and its pretty orange-green leaves made a pleasing variety of colour in the hedges. While examining its clusters of small green flowers, we noticed several large stones just below, and between two of them, slung hammock fashion, was a spider's web, covered with a mass of newly hatched spiders of the Epeira genus. They were a very lively little party—crawling over each other, tumbling down on their silken threads, climbing up again—never still for a moment! The sun shone on the web, and they sparkled like little living spots of burnished gold. We soon left the lane by a stile leading into a field, which tempted us by the number of cowslips growing there. Before long we had a large basketful, and sat down to make a "cowslip ball." This is done by breaking off the clusters of flowers close to the top of the stalk, and hanging them, nicely balanced, on a piece of string, like a garland. After pressing them closely together, the string is tied up, thus forming a ball.

We had finished our ball, and were trying to catch sight of a noisy young grasshopper close by, when there was a cry of "the cuckoo!" We listened—and there, away in the distance was the low monotonous call—"cuckoo, cuckoo!" It was now time for us to return, but on our way we found several early purple orchids, besides bugle, lesser hop trefoil, sheep sorrel, sweet vernal grass, several hawkweeds, foxtail grass, and moon daisy. Purple clover, great wild valerian, yellow bedstraw, and wild beaked parsley were also in flower, and last but not least was a large white hyacinth growing at the foot of a hedge.

May 14th.—The weather had been showery all morning, but it cleared up beautifully in the afternoon, and we set off in our thickest boots to go and visit a stream and some marshy ground we knew of at the end of a certain field. Our way led through the cowslip field, and skirting an orchard all pink and white with blossom, we at length reached the spot. A water-rat darted away under the water just as we got there.

Looking up the stream, we noticed on a clump of flag-leaves something shining all iridescent in the sunlight. Hurrying to the spot, we discovered it to be a dragon-fly, just emerged from its chrysalis case. There it clung to the green leaf, for the time dazed and helpless, until its gauzy wings dried in the sunshine.

Marsh marigolds were growing in abundance on the marshy ground, but not a single globe flower was to be found. There were some very fine cuckoo flowers growing among the marigolds, and they were of a much deeper colour than is usually the case. Several fritillaries of a perfectly lovely blue were hovering over the flowers, and we saw two mayflies for the first time this year. Some marsh valerian was just coming out, and on examining the flowers more closely, we found them to be the male kind. Not far away, however, we found some female flowers just opening. The latter are easily distinguished by the more closely packed inflorescence and the deeper colour. Forget-me-nots and brooklime of a heavenly blue were flowering at the edge of the stream, and some tway-blade orchids were growing not far away.

We went to have another look at the dragon-fly, but only its case was there—the beautiful creature had evidently gained the use of its wings and was now enjoying its new and perfected life.

We had hoped to find some bog-bean, but were disappointed. After gathering a large bunch of marigolds and forget-me-nots, we set off home again, choosing a different way from the one by which we came. One field we passed was occupied by sheep with their lambs. Most of these were lying down peaceably at the side of their mothers, but one more venturesome than the rest had strayed away to another side of the field, and was bleating pitifully. The mother soon heard its cries, however, and went in search of the lost one in a slow, leisurely fashion. A pair of swallows circled round us several times—probably mating. It was then we noticed that the sky had clouded over, and large rain drops beginning to fall, we hastened home.

May 25th.—A really hot summer day! It was beautifully cool in the wood though, the sun just glinting through the trees here and there, and lighting up the fresh young larches as if they were fairy trees. The primroses and violets looked perfectly sweet on their mossy beds, with delicate little fern fronds peeping up between them, and a delicious earthy smell was in the air. The dainty oak fern was coming up here and there, but the hart's-tongue was by far the most common. Male and lady ferns were growing in large clumps under the trees. The male is more robust in its habit of growth than the graceful lady fern, which is by far the most beautiful of all our large ferns. Although it sometimes attains the height of four or five feet, in this instance it was not more than two or three, and many of the somewhat pale green fronds were only just beginning to uncurl.

"Where the copsewood is the greenest,
Where the fountain glistens sheenest,
Where the morning dew lies longest,
There the lady fern grows strongest."

A wood pigeon's egg was lying cracked on the ground. A stoat or weasel had probably feasted upon its contents, as the shell was empty.

In the moss, the wood sorrel was growing everywhere, the fragile flowers varying from pure white to a delicate mauve, and here and there were clusters of the sweet-scented woodruff, also yellow pimpernel (or loosestrife) and wood sanicle. Away down to our right, the slope was carpeted with bluebells—it seemed as if the blue of the sky was reflected through the trees on to the earth beneath.

As we were walking along the narrow footpath leading through the wood, we came upon a baby rabbit lying dead across the path. The poor little creature most likely owed its death to its enemy the stoat, which had sucked its blood. Some sexton beetles (necrophorus) had already begun their work of burial, and before many hours were over the rabbit would be underground.

We saw a squirrel perched on the branch of an oak tree overhead, but he ran away out of sight as we approached. Under this same oak we found a curious germinating acorn—it had four cotyledons instead of two!

The pretty little adoxa or moschatel was still in flower, and growing plentifully amongst the moss and grass, producing a faint musk-like odour.

On the trunk of an oak just opposite was a little brown tree-climber, making its way up the tree with the aid of its sharp claws and tail, and stopping every now and then to catch an insect in the cracks of the bark. At the foot of the tree was what looked to be the home of some wood mice. After moving aside some of the dead leaves, we saw a hole evidently leading to the nest in the burrow, and pieces of nibbled nut-shells, etc., were scattered all around.

In this wood grew the only really wild lilies of the valley we had ever found. There they were to our left—just a little patch of them under the trees—their sweet white bells gently nodding to the music of the trees.

Before long we emerged from the wood, and found ourselves on the open hillside. The breeze blew around us, the scent of the golden gorse was in the air, and the larks soared up into the blue sky singing their joyous song of praise.

We made our way up the hill, finding heath bedstraw, potentilla sylvestris and blue milkwort in flower. Here and there, sheltered by the gorse bushes, the scentless dog violet was growing. The common speedwell (veronica officinalis), with its pale blue or lilac flowers, was peeping out from among the grass. Its leaves have a bitter taste, and it is said they are sometimes used for making tea.

Some lapwings flew overhead making their low mournful cry, pee-wit, pee-wit! We searched about in likely places hoping to find a lark's nest, but they were so cleverly hidden among the furze, that our search was unavailing. Before descending the hill, we stood awhile to admire the view. The orchards were a mass of bloom, the lilac and laburnum trees in full flower, the woods carpeted with bluebells and the hedgerows white with hawthorn. Nature, decked out in her radiant May dress, seemed just at the very height of her beauty, and made one feel the truth of Wordsworth's beautiful lines—

"Season of fancy and of hope,
Permit not for one hour
A blossom from thy crown to drop,
Nor add to it a flower!
Keep, lovely May, as if by touch
Of self-restraining art,
This modest charm of not too much,
Part seen, imagined part!"

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008