Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MAY DAY: “Run! Catch‘em and Give‘em A Kiss!”

MAY DAY: “Run! Catch‘em and Give‘em A Kiss!”
Copyright 2011 by Lori-Ann Willey

A tradition for many hundreds of years, May Day Baskets are popular among children and meant to demonstrate the joy of gift giving.

The history of May Day dates back to pre-Christian Europe as a tribute to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. Flower-centric festivals are customary still today. Often popular among children, the first day of May has slowly evolved into a celebration of giving, once referred to as “bringing in the May.”

The tradition of May Day begins with a basket or container brimming with flowers and small gifts. The May Day basket is quietly and secretly placed on the doorstep of a neighbor or loved one, demonstrating the gift of giving without receiving.

One May 1st morning when I was at the age of about 10 or 11, my two sisters and I were busy in the living room when our mother called for us to come quickly into the kitchen. She had us open the front door. Upon opening, we saw a large mount of candy bars staring back at us. It was then she told us that it was May 1st, and as I looked out the window, I could see our cousin Rodney and our family friend, Steve running up the hill away from the house. Confused, I stood listening to my mom explain to us what was happening ...what May Day was about…kinda, sorta.

She told us that long ago when boys wanted girls to be their girlfriends they would place a basket of flowers on the doorstep of the girl’s house, knock on the door, and then,  run away. The object was for the girls to chase after them, catch them, and give them a kiss in acceptance. I remember so vividly that I scrunched up my nose in disgust. Who wanted to kiss their older cousin and even older family friend? It did not take long before I realized that was not the case at all, but it was for fun, a mere game, a family kind of love, nothing more. Phew! By now the guys were up over the hill and still running.

Rodney, being younger of the two and in good rugged shape cut though the field-like yard and ran alongside the road for little ways before he joined the very deeply rutted dirt road. I remember thinking, ‘That would be the path I would run, too!’ The tall dead hay grass had been lain down by the weight of the winter snow, but the new growth underneath it was pushing the deadness into loosely formed heaps that quickly and easily caught the feet when ran across. Running that route, one had to pick their feet up rather high as they ran to avoid tripping, and in this case, avoid being caught. Rodney did so successfully as far as I know.

Steve, being older and quite heavy also cut across the yard, but from there, I don’t know where he joined up onto the road, but I’m sure it must’ve been shortly after the cut grassy area if not somewhere before. Mom excitedly yelled, “Run! Catch’em and give’em a kiss!” and that was all we needed to hear before we were off and running out the door. I recall following the path that Rodney took.

Up over the hill I ran, and as I jumped over the Paper White Narcissus clusters my grandmother had planted decades before, I was surprised, but not shocked to see that Steve was not too far ahead.  However, Rodney was way down in the low spot and was crossing over the culvert. He would have to wait; we would get to Steve first. As we approached him, he had deemed running a senseless act but still continued to walk away. By the time we reached him, he turned to us and grinned from ear to ear as he wiped a little blood from his nose. We felt bad that running from us caused his nosebleed, but all he did was grin even bigger and excitedly told us to, “Go catch Rodney!” At a quick glance back, Steve had already turned and was now headed back up toward the house with his hand to his face. If I remember right, our little sister, Katrina stopped and walked back with him, but I cannot be sure of this. I just know that I do not remember her running up the road after Rodney with me and my twin sister, Lora-Jean.

I do not ever remember catching Rodney, but I do remember him standing in the road on the upslope near “The Gile's”.  He turned toward us, hands on his hips as he watched us advance. Eventually, we all made our way back to the house where we relished in the thought of all those candy bars. I think there were at least a couple different kinds, with one being Almond Joy, because I remembered I had never had them before and didn’t know if I liked them or not, so I ate the other ones first. Come to find out, I did like them!

My parents thought the world of both Rodney and Steve and they kept commenting on how much those boxes of candy bars must have cost them. I remember Dad saying something like, ‘It must’ve cost them $30.00’, which back in 1978 was quite a bit of money to spend on candy. My parents beamed as much as we girls did at the thought and love that went behind such heartfelt thing those two did for us girls that day.

To this day, I reflect upon that May Day quite often and quite fondly.  Like those Paper White Narcissus, that May Day is forever embedded in my heart and mind, and one of those favorable memories that I will always cherish! Steve has since passed away, but occasionally Rodney and I will talk about that May Day and how much it meant to us both. Thanks Rodney for a GREAT memory!

For years, I tried to find paper white narcissus bulbs to plant, but I never could.  Traveling with Paul in the Army,  The closest flower I could find was the wild white daisy.  Because they are easily found country wide, they became my favorite replacement flower. 

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Monday, April 4, 2011

MAINERS CHOICE: Yellow or White Snow?

MAINERS CHOICE: Yellow or White Snow?

Copyright 2011 by Lori-Ann Willey

We’ve all heard our parents and elders say things like, “Don’t eat the yellow snow.” And off course, they say so with a giggle as if it were some big joke. We had dogs growing up so I readily knew what that yellow snow reference was all about…piss. Of course, they never said things like, “Don’t eat the brown snow” did they? Not once was there ever a reference to dog poops as “pinecones” either. Maybe it didn’t need to be said. I mean really, who goes to THAT extreme to mention such things? Oopsie. There I go again. We all know my actions aren’t quite meant for society, but my thoughts aren’t either?

Therefore, we all know to stay away from the yellow stuff, even though during times of severe dehydration means to somewhat replenish our thirsty cells with such things as traces of nitrogen, potassium, and calcium. So, how bad could that be? No, I’ve never done it, and I wouldn’t suggest you try it either. I’m just saying in dire life/death need, it is an option.

What this means is that the white snow is OK? Sure! Why not. What’s better than a flavorless slushless slush puppy? Unlike yellow snow, I’ve probably eaten more white snow than I’ve eaten ice cream in my life. I’m not much of a fan of the flavored stuff people buy in stores, and would rather “go natural” and eat natures frozen stuff in original form, AKA: snow. It’s cheaper, so if you are on a budget, or want to go “all-nat-ur-al” that might be a solution for you.

Eating snow has its downside, as it is not only flavorless, it doesn’t’ provide some of the much needed minerals our body needs. Many of you probably aren’t aware of just what those are. I’ll be brief, and then go onto the purpose of my post here today. Eating snow has no nutritional value whatsoever. It not only lacks much needed elements and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy, it also collects air pollution as it falls through the skies, and we’ve all heard of acid rain, right?

Mother Nature’s “Dandruff” as we sometimes referred to as snow as kids, contains germs. Yes. I said it. GERMS! It also carries bacteria, and as mentioned above acid rain which contains such things as sulfates, nitrates and lead (previously from gasoline), but know what? I also regularly drink our lake water that comes from melted snow. The same water that fish spawn in, as well as crap in, not unlike any other creature that happens to be in the water when that need arises, or all those animals and birds, etc, that simply plop their duty as they walk around the woodlands nearby. It all minutely goes into the water with the rains, spring runoffs, etc. It’s diluted enough for me. I hadn’t thought of it much before, but it must give natural spring water that unique taste that I like so much? (said with a chuckle).

So, other than all that above, let’s imagine that white snow is just that. It’s white, so what could be lurking in there so small that it generally goes unnoticed unless in the masses?

When I was young, one sunny spring day, our family went for walk in the woods. Trampling through a foot or more of snow was nothing for us and as we got heated from the exercise, it was nothing to reach down and grab a handful of snow and nibble on it as we walked. Always cold and always refreshing, it took several nibbles of the granulated stuff to quench one’s thirst, but our goal was more to moisturize the mouth more than to replenish lost fluids from sweating.

Upon our return trip, we simply followed our footsteps back towards the house with us girls leading the way this time. Nearer to the field, we came upon our footsteps that were no longer white, but blackened almost totally. I had never before seen this happen. Plopping down on my knees and bending over to get a closer look, I ran my fingers through the tracks and like shards of metal as a magnet draws near, almost instantly less than half of the black things disappeared. I was in total awe as I continued to poke my fingers into the footprints. The more I played, the whiter the snow became.

My parents caught up with us and found us with our faces close to the snow looking rather intently into all the indented tracks. It was then that I learned there was such a thing as a snow flea! That was just so very cool for me, but I remember thinking that I knew what fleas were and I didn’t like them jumping all over me, getting in my hair, clothing, etc. and I knew for sure that I didn’t want to bring them home to our dogs. My parents reassured us that they weren’t those kind of fleas at all.


Snow fleas are very tiny and somewhat hard to see with the naked eye and unless you know, what you are looking for you won’t readily see them, but instead pass them off as woodland debris particles scattered by the winds, tree bark if you will. I’m guessing that most of you probably won’t even take the time to look for those fleas. I’m sure some of you will have that handful of snow, and then feel that overpowering need to sift through the snow grains for that one snow flea that may or may not be in there…somewhere.

If this is you, let me play out a generalized conversation between us for a second.

ME: (a chuckle on the outside, but giggles uncontrollably on the inside) “You are outside. You are contemplating on eating some snow. Now is not the time to debate vegetarianism.”

YOU: (Scowling defensively) “Who said I am a vegetarian? Maybe I am instead….c-iv-il-iz-ed!”

ME: (Almost sympathetic for my accusation) “OK, so you aren’t a vegetarian. I get it. Take your time. (Pauses for a few seconds, then chuckles) If it makes you feel any better, when you are crunching down upon the snow, you don’t taste bugs, and if you let the snow dissolve in your mouth, (busting a gut laughing) you will not feel the fleas bouncing around your mouth either.”

YOU: (Rolls eyes, throws the snow at me and stomps away.)

OK, so I had to have a bit of fun there, but in all honesty, to this day, I look forward to this time of year and intentionally look for areas of blackened snow just so I can watch the fleas collect by the hundreds of thousands. Do I reach over and eat that snow? Nah, I’ll simply reach over to where the snow looks its whitest and snack on that snow instead. Mmm. There’s something to be said about that flavorless flavor.

Though insects are nutritional in their own right, as they provide calories, protein, iron, carbohydrates, etc. and they are more nutritious and better tasting than that yellow snow, but I think that is left up to the individual’s personal preference myself.

So, yellow snow, or white snow?

Below is a bit of information about snow fleas (AKA springtails). Go ahead and take a minute to read about them. I find them rather fascinating myself.  If not, please skip to the bottom and visit our links or leave a Comment if it'll let you.


Springtails are small insects that live in/on damp soils and are most numerous where there is dead or decaying natural debris such as rotting vegetation, as they feed upon decaying plant matter and rotting wood. They are most often found in areas of high moisture, but not so much in saturated conditions, as they too need to breathe a bit without a struggle or simply drowning.  They often eat the fungi such as around the base of a tree in the woods. Their population numbers can reach into the tens of thousands per square yard! That’s hard to imagine, I know, but it is true and I am hoping to be able to get some photos for examples to show.

Like all insects, springtails have three pairs of legs, but what makes them different, among other distinctions, is one that helps them with their name. They thrust their bodies into the air. Like all other creatures in survival mode, this helps them make a fast escape from any of their predators. This action results in the springtail catapulting into the air up to about three feet away.

Sometimes springtails can be found outside in the springtime here in Maine and probably other states nearby as well. The snow flea is a particular species of springtail; it is one of the few insects that can be found active on snow during spring months. As soon as the ground begins to thaw in late winter or very early spring, the snow fleas become active. Their dark-colored bodies are noticeable against the white background of the snow and they often collect in large numbers. There is no need to be alarmed, despite their abundance, they are harmless.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

“Mud Season”

"Mud Season"
Copyright March 12, 2011 by Lori-Ann Willey

All the rain we’ve had in the past few days has spawned lots of talk about spring.  I’m not only hearing things like, “Oh, so much snow has melted”, but also things like, “Ugh!  Mud Season!”  Then, there is always that one person who says things like, “I just saw my first mosquito!”   With all Maine’s “Seasons”, this blog is more focused on the dreaded mud seasons I experienced as a child.
Back when I was between the ages of nine and twelve, we lived on an old discontinued dirt road in Palmyra.   There were only three houses on the road and with ours being at the end of the “drivable” part and furthest from the rest, so we had further to travel than the others did.  As a kid, it was part of our job to help maintain the road because the town deemed it not their job because it was considered discontinued despite the three homes that resided on it.  This meant that our road essentially became a very long driveway, and needless to say that despite having a four wheel drive truck, the road was impassible a few months of the year.  In addition, it didn’t matter how many times my parents went to the town for help with the road; they were simply ignored, so it became our job to help keep the road usable …or as usable as we could make it.
In the wintertime, we three girls had to walk in the deep snow to catch the bus at the other end of the road.  However, we were tough and in good shape, it was by far way too cold to make that trek during some of those wintry days, but we managed.  The bus driver was wonderful.  Knowing how far it was for us to walk, if she saw us in the distance, she always waited for us, where as other bus drivers would probably keep on a truckin’ on past.  If we saw Arlene waiting, we always ran as fast as we could, but each time she told us that if she saw us, she’d wait for us as long as she needed to.  Even as kids, I always appreciated that.
As the snows melted and the ice from the small pond in the low area melted, the small culvert would often clog of natural debris.  I remember reaching over with sticks to clear it on my way to and from school each day.  It was something I had seen my father do on many occasions, so if something was clogging it, one of us girls would simply unclog it.  Of course, this gave us an excuse to get wet and play around a bit, too.  More times than not, water poured over the top of the road and there was no way to walk around it though we tried a few times and failed miserably.
I remember once that I took a stick and dragged it across the road to help the water flow more free like.  Well, you can imagine what THAT did!  Yes, you guessed it; I helped the culvert wash out a bit more than it would have otherwise.  That was a lesson well learned!  I don’t think I ever told my parents that I was a contributor of that one wash out in particular.
With the darkness of the dirt came more melting which turned into more mud that got deeper and deeper each day.  Usually, most mornings the mudded ruts would be frozen so we could walk along the top of them and remain clean and dry, but on the way home was a totally different story.  At times there would be water running down the road in the muddy ruts causing more havoc as more melting happened.  It is on those warmer days that walking in the road or even on the edges of it in many areas was impossible unless we literally wanted to wade in the mud.  In addition, do you know how many times my boots and pants got sucked off my body?  Too many to count!  That’s how deep the mud was at times.
During mud season, we’d simply walk in the ditch along the road trudging through water pouring over our sneakers and sometimes up to our knees though we tried to stay on top of the rocks, sometimes it just didn’t happen that way.  The woods were thick on the edges, and encased in deep snow, so in most areas it was simply easier and less spooky to stay out where it was less cumbersome.  Walking in the ditches was how I once found a really huge rock filled with seashells.  It was a beautiful example of fossils and I made sure that I went to look at it each afternoon.  At one point my sisters and I tried to dig it out of the dirt and water, but it was useless; it was beautifully pitted and I sooo wanted to take it home with me.
With the help of our friends and family, we would fill the truck bed full of rocks from the fields and rock walls around the area as we tried to somewhat build up the base of the road.  It all seemed useless because it didn’t matter how many truckloads of rocks or how huge some of those rocks were, they’d simply disappear from site and sometimes even unreachable by stick pokes!  It was a big joke in the family about our family friend, Steve who was a large, very rugged man.  He picked up a rock once that my father swore weighed 300 pounds just to watch it sink out of sight never to be seen again.  I clearly remember my father and Cousin Rodney laughing about it as they shook their heads in disbelief. That’s how deep the mud was and that’s how rugged Steve was!  Each year we were there, we would dump truck load after truckload of rocks into the road...none would ever be seen again.
More times than not, our vehicle had to be left quite a ways from the house and in the middle of the road.  It was no biggie because we were the only house beyond the mud spots, but it became quite a hassle to bring in groceries and getting to and from the bus stop each day.  We were often mud from head to toe.  If we weren’t muddy from walking or falling into the stuff, we were muddy from trying to retrieve our boots or sneakers from the deep mud.  With each tug came a loud, squeaky suction noise that often let know we were winning the tug-of-war challenge set before us.  At times, we had to pull so hard that once the mud released our footwear, we were sent backwards into the mud behind us.  It was a bitter win for sure. 
So, there you have it, an example of Maine’s Mud Season.