In depths of cold and dark, my southern roots start to wither and I begin to daydream of warmer times. May Day is one of those memories that helps carry me through the winter.
May Day is my very favorite morning of the school year, especially when we are lucky enough to have the kind of sunny, warm day that I crave in mid-January. From the moment I pull up to school, I can feel festive vibrations in the air. After a long winter and even longer spring, just breathing in the smell of dirt, grass and blossoms on the trees feels like a celebration.
Parent volunteers arrive wearing springtime colors, and bearing pancake-making supplies. Everyone seems a little more cheerful than usual, because it is May; it’s spring—the warm part. We have finally arrived! Today is a special day, a day to commemorate the winter past, and summer to come. For most of us there is a lot of work in the months ahead, but for a few hours this morning we’ll take a brief pause to gather together as a community and celebrate our children and this school.
Parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors converge in the east-facing room for brunch, which is made by the parents and served by the elementary students. There are pancakes, eggs, sausage, baked goods and fruit galore—much of this food has been raised by the families who prepared it. The elementary children are in their springtime Sunday best and glowing with the responsibility of being the wait staff, though they are certainly training on the job. The students dart about with precariously full plates and heavy jugs of water. The guests are seated at long tables covered in colorful cloth and adorned with vases sparsely filled with the season’s first wildflowers. Conversation grows loud as friends meet and introductions are made. Pancakes are drizzled in smoky maple syrup boiled right outside, over our schoolyard campfire.
After eating, everyone pours into the sunshine of the newly green yard. The school grounds are looking nice because there was a work-day last weekend, where teachers and parents gathered to clean the school and play yard. Plus, the kindergarteners have been raking up leaves and those pesky black walnut stems for weeks (taking time to jump in the piles, of course). The garden is underway, and, on a lucky year, crocuses and tulips are peaking out of the ground on this special day. A few of the trees have just begun to sprout new leaves, but plenty are left bare and this usually shady space is bright and full of light.
When else, I ask you, do adults have a good excuse to wear flower willow crowns? Today, someone has cut down some of the lowest willow branches from the tree behind the barn, and has dumped them in a great pile near the picnic table. Soon, the pile is swarmed by children, parents, and a few fumbling teachers, clamoring about to gather and braid the willows. Heads are measured and leaves are scattered. Someone remembers to bring scissors to cut the ribbon, but there is only one pair to go around. It’s quite chaotic, and silly. Volunteers have brought beautiful flowers to weave into the crowns, and there is enough for everyone. Once the children are crowned and the parents see there are plenty of supplies left, they begin to make their own crowns. Soon the whole crowd is a festive mess of crooked crowns resting above squinting eyes.
Before I began working at Lakeside, I saw pictures of May Day on Facebook and felt curious. Was
this real? Children dancing around a May Pole, Dads wearing flower crowns, and everyone smiling in the sunshine? It seemed too good to be true—some sort of fabricated utopia. Now that I spend my days here, I see that, of course, it’s real.
Eleven years ago, a group of parents had a vision of what a school could be. It could be spent outside, close to the earth, where young children could play and celebrate the seasons. Where we would teach the whole child, body, mind, and spirit. Where children could adventure in the woods, care for animals, and plant gardens—learning by doing, by making connections. This vision has come to fruition, and while the faces in the community have changed a bit, the dedication to Lakeside has not. Without the hard work of the parents, teachers, generous donors and kind neighbors, this school would not be able to thrive in the way that it has. I feel like May Day is also a celebration of the devotion and single-minded commitment of so many people who believed that against all odds a small, farm-based, grass roots school taught in a little-known philosophy that charges tuition to stay open in a very rural area could be a success, because it was the very best place for children to be. So, May Day may come off to some as a little cheesy, but to me it is happiness and pride, genuinely expressed through the gathering of community to share food and celebrate spring with our children.
The children have been practicing their May Pole dances for weeks, mostly in the icy cold mud of Adirondack April. Now the sun is out and the hopeful light of spring seems to be beaming in all directions, along with the children who are buzzing with nerves, excitement, and the novelty of all these people in their play yard. Finally the mud boots have been left at home in favor of lighter shoes, which quicken the steps of the already speedy children. Spectators begin to assemble, sitting on the sandbox that parents built when the school began, and in the tree house created by the school community after the tree was damaged by Hurricane Irene. Many of these families have been coming to May Day for years, but for some it is their first time.
The children perform their dances, and soon the May Pole ribbons are braided and tied at the bottom. With the pressures of performing behind them, the children soon run to get the last of the muffins, crowns askew, ribbons streaming. Parents and teachers linger in the play yard, chatting and relishing in the cherished sunshine. Some will meet for lunch, others will go home to put their little ones down for a much needed nap. Many have work to do on their farms and in their gardens to prepare for the busy summer ahead. But, for just another moment, they stay here, enjoying each other’s company and the warm feeling of community in the last breath of another May Day come to an end.