Sandy Courtnage Commentary: “April Showers Bring May Flowers”

It’s May Day – a time for spring to shed its winter coat. A time when children have trouble sitting still in school; the first Blue Bells and Shooting Stars make an appearance in the countryside, and the domesticated crocus and daffodils spring to life in people’s backyards. The warmer weather feels so welcoming.

It is believed that May Day is an ancient celebration of fertility, and in Roman times was celebrated as a festival of flowers.

Another more recent role of May Day began in America and is rooted in support of American workers who were struggling for fair treatment in the work place.

My maternal grandmother emigrated to America as a young girl from Cornwall, England, where one of the oldest May Day traditions is still going strong. My Mom, being raised in Butte, learned the dual May Day traditions, and kept them alive in our family. In my small town, when I was a young, all the neighborhood kids celebrated this day by making small, paper baskets that we filled with treats and gave to friends and neighbors. Usually we would leave the basket on the doorstep of a friend’s house, knock on the door, and run away. If the friend could catch us before we could run away, we would have to kiss!

Still today in Cornwall, the annual ‘Obby-Orss’ festival, as it is called, sees people dancing throughout the streets of the town, accompanied by music, and with the town decorated with springtime greenery. Some day I hope to visit my grandmother’s birth place and join the thousands who attend this spring-time celebration.

A little closer to home across our state, spring also demands another kind of attention.

Community market farmers, with the help of green houses or hoop houses, have been planting and tending seedlings for some time now in preparation for their trips to farmers markets or in filling their CSA shares.

The recent spring rains that settled in last week brought welcome moisture to much of the state.

Prior to last week’s rain, irrigated or dry-land farmers who plant small grains or pulse crops were busy in the field planting spring crops and checking out the winter ones. The winter wheat crop in central Montana, at least, looks very promising.

In ranching country, many livestock owners still are overseeing the birth of a variety of livestock.

In many towns across our state, community and backyard gardeners are preparing for the season as well.

In Great Falls along the Missouri, baby goslings soon will be stopping traffic along River Drive. In a typical spring ritual here, it’s amazing to see a Canadian goose family form a line, with a parent on each end and the babies in the middle. Together they can bring an 18-wheeler to a halt while the family waddles across the road from the river to the park.

Here in my office we can observe some of these change while we are in full prep mode for our summer youth camp season. Lessons, speakers, activities and counselors are being readied. The camp facility caretakers are a little anxious about getting all the grounds work done before kids arrive. But, just as sure as April showers bring May flowers, all will come together for another year.

This year’s camp theme – where nature, teamwork and leadership collide – really describes the experience these young campers can expect, and in some ways the general springtime experience of many Montanans.

All these Montana moments – from bursting buds, to baby animals, to hoping for timely rains, and preparing for summertime camps, definitely shout that spring has sprung!

Today we can celebrate May Day and tip our hat to those who work to feed us and those who have organized and work for a better future for all of society. Like the Canadian goose family, we can put our faith in another year, take a step off the pavement and get to work.

Sandy Courtnage writes on behalf of the Montana Famers Union

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