The sunset sky of May Day Eve was a riot of unflinching, billowing gold and crimson. It promised heat and flames but when the night came it was cool and solid like grey marble.
May 1st 04.30: sunrise is an hour away and I look out of the window. Through a pale and spectral mist comes a voice so loud and strong it shreds the pre-dawn air. Silver tatters float away carrying musical notes across the garden in the direction of the river. A song thrush is playing his medley of tunes. Though still befuddled from sleep I am sure I can detect at least a dozen ditties making up the whole. He clearly prefers some tunelets to others and uses them more frequently. I can see that he is cleverly perched atop a telegraph wire from where he can project his beautiful music across the whole valley.
His voice is rising and falling in time with the pulsing river below us and with the now gently rising breeze. Curving hills are beginning to bloom into view as the pale-grey fogs thin into pearly translucence. Hints of other colours appear and familiar shapes, Baosbheinn, Beinn Alligin and Tom na Gruigach, sail along the eastern sky. A landscape that was formless when the singing began now has hints of solidity.
This is a mostly treeless place; there are patches of woodland and scrub but the forests are a few miles away. Listening to the melodies I wonder if the song thrush is trilling about spring, lust and life or whether his deepest instincts, tucked into his gene coding, are to sing of trees and rich, worm-filled soils.
For half an hour or more he sings alone, though now and again I hear the faint and distant echo from another thrush. Beyond the mountains a pale lemony light is seeping into our quicksilver world. And then others rouse themselves; within a minute or two many voices have joined the song thrush and a great swelling chorus of ringing sound fills up the garden and spreads out quickly across the fields.
The choirs herald the first beams of rich butter-yellow sunlight; it is sunrise, 05.30, May 1st, “latha buidhe Bealltainn” (the yellow day of Beltane).
Stepping outside I see it is a yellow day. Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) are in flower at the ditch margins, mustardy and luminous; gorse flowers are shrugging with almond essence; creamy willow catkins are fully open and bee stippled; and dandelions are unfurling on the high, dry banks above the river.
And I wonder if there will be faeries dancing around the well-springs (we have three on the croft) or whether any Beltane bonfires will be lit this evening.