“Yes you can.”
Do you remember being younger, asking, hoping and being told that? Perhaps in ostensibly correct English, as a playful corrective to your hopeful question, “Can I…?” What joy, what permission, what freedom!
Fayetteville author, cook, and teacher Crescent Dragonwagon notes that in our application, even adults confuse these verbs, which have a different meaning.
“‘Can’ is ability and ‘can’ is permission,” she says. In his Fearless Writing workshops (dragonwagon.com), it encourages this permission. “The only person who can give you permission to do something that you want to do – well, that’s you, if you want to do it enough. And I’m happy to see people start to take the reins a little bit loosely.”
So here we are in May, the only month with three letters and one of only two whose name is also a verb. Today is his fulcrum, right in the middle, 15 days all gone, 15 whole days still to unpack, and this one to live. What do you want to do with it?
Gentlemen gardeners, rev your engines. May is when Arkansas’ most careful gardeners feel ready to plant, according to Nickie Galloway, owner of The Nursery Farm and Garden Market on Stagecoach Road in Little Rock (where Horticare was located, and before Birnam Wood).
“Everyone starts picking up their plantings” in May, she said. “A lot of people won’t plant until May because of the fear of frost at the end of April.”
What’s good in May? “Let me go back to my list of dandies here,” she said. Leading the way are strawberries, whether planted or served on dessert plates.
“Strawberries are one of our premier vegetable crops that are available in late April or early May. We’re in the middle of peak strawberry season,” she said. “That’s what everyone wants right now.”
The nursery grows about a quarter of the offerings in its produce market – “we always have leafy greens” – and buys the rest from local or regional growers. Recently they offered strawberries from Cabot and Crossett; the first apartments were imported from Louisiana.
Dragonwagon, who grew up in New York and previously ran a restaurant and bed and breakfast inn in Eureka Springs, also noted that May is shortcake season, and she has ideas for how to serve it.
“Your Southern shortcake is usually between two halves of a cookie,” she said. Northern shortbread is usually a yellow cake or sponge cake. His Cast Style: “You make cornbread in a skillet. It has this nice crispy bottom edge. And you use that cornbread as a base.” It goes heavy on sweet berries, medium on whipped cream. “It’s seriously good.”
Author of “The Cornbread Gospel,” she is wisely insightful on the issue of sugar in cornbread, saying there are many cornbreads out there. She also makes potato and sorrel soup this time of year, picking the tangy, lemony perennial herb straight from her garden and serving it hot or cold, with cream or yogurt.
THE GREAT MOM
Mai, of course, isn’t actually named for the verb. The fifth month is named after the Greek goddess Maia.
“The name Maia translates to ‘nurturing mother,’ and Maia is often associated with ‘Mother Earth,’ Gaia,” says Ashley Heath, who teaches world mythology in the English department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. .
“Maia is considered the goddess of spring, warmth and growth,” Heath said. “You only have to look around the pastures and fields of Arkansas to make this correlation between Maia and the month of May. lush with grass and wildflowers.Mother Maia is definitely a necessity during this time.
“Maia lends her heat to May, and her rise is exponential.”
Poet and publisher John Blase (rhymes with graze) grew up in Arkansas and recently returned to be closer to his family (see arkansasonline.com/516blase). In Hot Springs, after “an enormous amount of rain” in the proverbial April showers, he sees an exponential increase in local plant life. “Things are almost claustrophobic here in terms of growth, from trees to honeysuckle.”
He also noticed it in traffic towards Lake Catherine, not far from his home.
It reminds Blase of the poem “Sunday Discordancies” by the late Jim Harrison (see arkansasonline.com/516poem), “where he was talking about the number of heartbeats each of us receives in a lifetime.” Each creature has “about a billion and a half”, the poem says, spent quickly by hummingbirds and slowly by elephants. The poem considers how many are left and ends:
I warn the hummingbirds ahead, “just slow down”,
As they chase me falling hollyhocks.
As a young man from Arkansas and Texas, often approaching the end of the school year in May, Blase felt “a goal to get out of here…there was this rushing, rushing pace.” Now that he’s back and should be around for a while, May’s pace is different.
“You get to a certain age, and that’s where I am now, and you think, ‘Maybe I don’t have too many heartbeats. So I want to shift into lower gear – maybe second gear, maybe low – and try to enjoy that, the lushness, all that poetic stuff about slowing down.”
“Here comes the joyful May,” wrote the poet EE Cummings in celebration of his cheerfulness. Like every month, the month of May is full of reasons to celebrate or raise awareness.
It’s Awareness Month for ALS, Celiac Disease, Dental Care, Stroke, Mental Health, Lyme Disease and Skin Cancer. This is the month to think about bicycles and motorcycles, correcting your posture, chamber music, foster families, older Americans, and water safety.
Foods that grab attention in May include American cheese, asparagus, barbecue, eggs, burgers, Mediterranean diets, salad, salsa and, yes, strawberries.
We spent May Day and packing the maypoles with intricate ribbon dances (in places where it still happens). In Greece, Heath said, May Day is International Labor Day, “when people usually visit the countryside to picnic and pick flowers.”
We’ve passed Star Wars Day on May 4, Cinco De Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, Mother’s Day, and many made-up days featuring lemonade, shrimp, hoagies, and apple pie; honor nurses and receptionists; and grant permission to go pantsless or dance like a chicken.
It remains to be anticipated: days for cherry cobblers, beef brisket, macaroons, barbers, waiters, who talk like Yoda and who fly paper planes. Today promises a full moon and prompts “Do something nice for your neighbor’s party.”
The 19th is “World Vegetable Garden Planting Day”. Galloway lists “squash, watermelon, cantaloupe…beans, corn, peppers, sweet potatoes, are all good things to start this time of year”.
For those whose springtime creative impulse leans toward writing rather than gardening, or for those who will still be dealing with restless youth classes through June, Blase offers an incentive.
“I’m a huge fan of the five senses. For me, May would be smell. Think of a late spring smell from your childhood,” he said, within nose-shot of the ‘legion’ of honeysuckle. behind his house. “Sit five minutes and write or doodle on the smell of childhood. Honeysuckle, tomato… Anything you can do to get someone out of their head and into their nose, or the surface of their fingers , or his skin, it’s always beneficial.”
Dragonwagon also has encouragement for people whose plans for May have fallen flat or who feel some version of the resolution is failing.
“The most sacred and energizing words in the English language are ‘start over,'” she said. “I really try my best to wake up every day and see it as another chance to start over. Had a bad day yesterday? OK, do it again.”
“It’s silly to let regret drive us on a hike when the sun is high in the sky,” she added. Or to plant seeds for crops that grow best in cool weather. “But you can go hiking tomorrow. You can also think about your fall garden and order some seeds and stuff for that.”
May also means possibility without clear commitment. We can or not.
Noting May’s designation as Mental Health Awareness Month, she said: “This beautiful time when everything comes back to life” can cause a disconnect for people “who are going through a difficult or grieving time. … When they lost the people they used to celebrate, there’s a dip in emotional balance.
“There’s a legitimate case to be made for mental health, self-care, talking to other people.”
Perhaps it is then, like every month, a perfect time for kindness, for grassroots or sorrel efforts to speak of hope and encouragement.
“May” is the first word of many blessings and blessings. Let the road rise to meet you. Let your tribe grow. May the force be with you. May you be forever young. May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live.
With half a month’s leave and room for growth remaining, as another authoritative space traveler put it, “Make it so.”
Laura Lynn Brown is the author of “Everything That Makes You a Mom.”