The month of May has seen an branch-drooping display of the Hawthorn blossom across Islay and apparently across a lot of the UK. The blossom sweeps up the British Isles in a wave, often beginning on the south coast in the first week of May and radiating north through the month. Known to its friends as Mayflower, this shruby tree produces a small pink-blushed white flower with a sweet earthy scent akin to elder blossom. Later come the deep red Autumn berries called haws.
While the berries hold little of value for the amateur forager (I recall a troublesome attempt at Autumn chutney) they are happily snapped up by the local wildlife. But I believe the flowers make a particularly delicate Mayflower wine – something to try.
Being one of the first shockingly obvious flowers of the spring and early summer season, us Brits have long bowed down to the Hawthorn’s assumed ability to predict weather for the coming seasons. The most lamented is: ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’
Meaning keep your warm layers on until the Mayflower is out – for the chilly spring weather may still come – and probably will.
Indeed, weather is the great preoccupation of the British and long have we looked to nature to forecast it. Our long-standing expressions are still romantically thrown out by old-timers; gazing longingly across the fields or up to the sky with a knowing glint in their eye.
‘Mackerel sky, mackerel sky – never long wet, never long dry.’
‘Ash before oak in for a soak, Oak before Ash in for a splash.’
‘Ice in November to bury a duck, the rest of the winter is as bad as…?’
While there is long-standing scientific truth in many of these sayings – be it air pressure changes, global circulation patterns or moving weather fronts; how much do we understand these olde season predictions? So do these observational proverbs withstand today’s shorter attention span in an age of hi-tech meteorological forecast modelling?
How many folk nowadays notice the daisies close if rain is coming? Will an ‘abundance of wild apples and haws foretell a bad winter’? If it ‘rains at seven, have you noticed it be dry by eleven’?
Take this as a gentle reminder to ourselves to look for the signs from nature and tune in our senses rather than watching a distant daily animated forecast. It is a wonderfully smug feeling when you are clued into nature’s weather signals. I urge you to gradually tune into your locale over the seasons noting the changes. Be it on the daily urban commute, the fields as the train whizzes by or the weekend countryside bike ride.
So, what will this season’s Hawthorn blossom bonanza tell us? Well, ‘April showers, bring forth May flowers’ and with half the average rainfall on the island this April, maybe the Hawthorn is predicting that ‘the more haws the more snaws’ and we may just be in for a white winter…