My name is written in blossoms


Who would have guessed, years ago, when I made this sketch of artistic, musical, multi-talented, other-worldly pre-Raphaelite Hallie (then in Middle School), that she would now be embarking upon a double Master’s Degree in Physics and Education with the intention of teaching science in inner-city schools? Happy Birthday, Hallie! and many good wishes.

Here is a May poem for this day.

Hark! The sea-faring wild-fowl loud proclaim
My coming, and the swarming of the bees.
These are my heralds, and behold! my name
Is written in blossoms on the hawthorn-trees.
I tell the mariner when to sail the seas;
I waft o’er all the land from far away
The breath and bloom of the Hesperides,
My birthplace. I am Maia. I am May.

—Arthur Symons, from The Poet’s Calendar


May Revelries


Unlike the Winter Revels, the May Revels is always held outdoors, and I recall the days when, on the first Sunday in May, Brandywine Street here in Washington DC was closed to traffic, decked with garlands of flowers, and temporarily transformed into a festive Olde Village. Nowadays the May Revels is frequently a component of Washington Cathedral’s annual Flower Mart, and, although of smaller scale, is still a lovely opportunity to watch a mummers’ play, sing, and dance around the Maypole. (And you can also visit the Flower Mart, whose featured country this year is Jamaica.)

This sketch is from a May Revels that took place at the National Audubon Society.


CakeDaisiesAunt Francie


Here We Come A-Piping

For May Day, a poem for you to chant, and a sketch of the LAST lily-of-the valley in my garden. (They popped out strangely early this year.)

In some countries, the first of May is a holiday in commemoration of the international labor movement, marked by rallies, marches, and parades in recognition of the worker, sometimes followed by picnics and dancing. This latter activity harkens back to the far more ancient festival of the first of May, which, like Groundhog Day and Dia de los Muertos, falls roughly halfway between an equinox and a solstice.

For May the first is (what else?!) a happy acknowledgement of the arrival of spring and its attendant burgeoning fertility. At last the winter is truly behind us, and the world is so fresh and green and blooming that sitting indoors at a computer seems an act of madness. Shut it down, doff the heels/necktie, deck yourself with a crown of flowers and skip about in the gentle spring sunshine, celebrating the world’s inexhaustible and optimistic fruitfulness.


Here we come a-piping,
In Springtime and in May;
Green fruit a-ripening,
And Winter fled away.
The Queen she sits upon the strand,
Fair as lily, white as wand;
Seven billows on the sea,
Horses riding fast and free,
And bells beyond the sand.




Spring, the Sweet Spring

Whether you awakened this morning to blazing heat or a fresh fall of snow, today is officially the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Here to celebrate the day are a cherry blossom sketch from my sketchbook and a poem by Thomas Nashe.

At this turning of the year I like to remember Louis J. Halle (1911-1988), author of the magical and engaging Spring in Washington, a journal of early-spring biking and quiet observation that opens our eyes to the timeless natural world surrounding, and oblivious to, the evanescent heap of brick and concrete within which we burrow. (I hope you can manage to think of our bureaucratic city as magical and engaging. ‘Tis a transformative season.)

For a mini-bio of Halle, please see A Capital Spring. And a merry cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo to you!


Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!

—Thomas Nashe

Gone were but the Winter

Each day of this increasingly warm weather brings something else into bloom and new subjects to paint. Hard to believe that it’s officially still winter for nearly another week.

To accompany this painting, a poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894).

And today is the birthday of literary patron and Shakespeare and Company founder Sylvia Beach. For a sketch and a mini-bio, please see Paris Memory.


Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs
Arching high over
A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
“We spread no snare;

“Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

“Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be.”

—Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)


Flow’ry May

Clematis, pansies, primroses, lily-of-the-valley: our tiny city garden is bursting into bloom.

For today, a sketch and a poem.


Now the bright morning star, day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
The flow’ry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, thou dost inspire
Mirth and youth and warm desire!
Woods and groves are of thy dressing,
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

—John Milton (1608-1674)


CakeVioletsAunt Francie

Easter in Japan


In Japan the school year begins in April—with emerging blossoms rather than falling leaves—and so, despite continuing difficulties, this past week children began their new classes, some of them amid vast stretches of earthquake and tsunami rubble.

A few years ago we spent this season with friends in Japan. With kindness, good nature, and interest, they found, and accompanied us to, an exceedingly long Easter church service. Afterward we transplanted to their home our family’s Easter basket treasure hunt, a tradition begun by my mother that I have continued with my own children. This time, though, the clues were bilingual, the English ones first written by me and then rewritten in Japanese by my son. (Later we copied the clues here into my travel sketchbook.)

Today is also the anniversary of the founding of the Library of Congress. For sketches and a saga, please see Library of Congress.



The dates of Passover (Pesach) and Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), are both related to the arrival of spring and the phases of the moon, connecting their celebrants with humanity’s remote ancestors, to whom knowledge of the seasons and the heavenly bodies was not merely interesting but vital for survival. Passover begins on the 14th day of the Hebrew calendar month Nisan, which is also the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox; Holy Thursday falls on the Thursday before Easter, which is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. (Whew!) It sometimes works out that they fall, very satisfactorily (to me, anyway), on the same day; Holy Thursday is, after all, the celebration of a Passover meal.

For a painting and a poem about Holy Thursday, please see Holy Thursday.

Neighborhood in Bloom


To give the dog his four daily walks is no fun for anybody, including the dog, when it’s under the blazing August sun or an icy November rain. But what a pleasure it is in spring, when each walk brings a surprise, and the buds of a morning walk have unfolded into pale pink blossom by afternoon.

This is a sketch of a neighborhood tree from our homeschooling Botany block.

If you want to plant a tree in your DC garden this spring, Casey Trees, which was founded in 2002 to protect the city’s tree canopy, is offering a rebate of up to $50 per tree (three trees maximum). Now is the time to ensure the cool, leafy green shade of summer.

Today is the birthday of Washington, DC carpenter and builder Harry Wardman (1872-1938), who is responsible for many of our neighborhood’s houses (although once he achieved success he no longer wielded the hammer personally). For a picture and bio, please see Wild About Harry.