It’s May! May! For a whole month! It’s May! You can uncross your fingers now. We made it.
Excuse the giddiness, but May has that effect on Minnesotans — and not just those who mark the month by dancing around tall stakes festooned with ribbons. After frigid winters and sloppy springs, a maypole seems wonderfully wanton, a kick-off-your-shoes celebration to welcome summer, waiting in the wings.
Such friskiness is legend. It figured into a “Mad Men” episode, when Don Draper’s wandering eye settled on his daughter’s teacher frolicking barefoot around a maypole. Even “Camelot,” a musical that came to mean more than it probably should, heralded “the lusty month of May,” when “everyone goes blissfully astray.”
It’s here, It’s here!/That shocking time of year/When tons of wicked little thoughts/Merrily appear!
Such ribaldry is mostly for show — sort of like how talking about skinny-dipping can feel more risqué than following through. At its heart, May is about prom dresses and corsages, garden centers and bird baths, Mother’s Day brunches and sunburned shoulders.
Except when it’s not.
May also is a marathon of sorts, especially if you have kids in school. A calendar that for 11 months has remained manageable now bursts open with climaxes and culminations, roundups and wrap-ups. Attendance will be taken.
There’s the third-grader’s music program, your daughter’s piano recital, a sixth-grade band concert, a birthday party, graduation planning meetings, soccer practices and tennis tournaments. There’s the Brownie sleepover, the end-of-the-school-year jamboree/festival/fair/party, recognition ceremonies, the sophomore’s school play, talent show tryouts, a field trip, another field trip and a dentist checkup before summer camp. There’s the plant sale fundraiser to work, the awards banquet to applaud, the summer activity registration to complete and the school project deadline to meet.
May is not for wimps. Yet before we know it, we’re exhaling into the Memorial Day weekend — which comes with its own hallowed tradition.
We heard once of a couple — newcomers to Minnesota — returning home from a late spring canoe trip into the Boundary Waters, where they’d wisely wet their paddles before every mosquito and black fly could hatch. Heading south on Interstate 35, they were struck by all the traffic heading north. Cars with mattresses roped over their roofs. Pickups heaped with lawn chairs and barbecue grills.
It looked for all the world as if an evacuation was underway. What news had they missed while canoeing off the grid? A spin through the car radio revealed nothing. Had communications already been cut off?
Slowly, logic seeped in: This was Memorial Day weekend, and with it, the sacred ritual of which they had heard tell: the opening of the cabin.
This custom, passed down through generations of lakeside loungers, epitomizes the essential nature of May. This is the month when winter’s dreams start to come true. Lakes thaw. Cabins are aired. Playing golf no longer requires an airline ticket. Sure, you don’t dare to plant tomatoes just yet, but lettuce and radishes are fair game.
Tarps are peeled off boats and docks are anchored. You can fish without hauling an auger along with your bait.
On May 10, anglers observe the 67th governor’s fishing opener, no small matter in a state that annually sells more than a million fishing licenses. Men, women and children will tote those licenses across almost 4 million acres of fishing waters that slosh in close to 5,500 lakes and in more than 15,000 miles of fishable streams.
Granted, some of that water still needs to thaw, but that’s one of the fantasies that got us through February. Just because many of the lakes around Brainerd, where the official opener will take place, didn’t lose all of their ice last year until May 14 — the (cough) latest ever — doesn’t mean that anglers won’t be bundled up on Saturday and ready to start lying.
For now, this much is true: It’s May! May! For a whole month! It’s May!