By Joe Winter
Catholic Herald correspondent

How do you celebrate May Day and all it stands for, in an (increasingly) concrete jungle, like the asphalt-covered downtown area where I now live? Just take a walk and look around.

Takeaways: Use and view new small spaces of beauty. Take nature where you find it. And make it all “fertile,” in many forms, like a May queen.

All things can meld on a “nature walk.”

With May Day on a Wednesday, not a weekend, a crowning of a May queen in church was not going to happen until days later, so I would have to find a metaphorical coronation. Such as a “crown” on a beautiful red cardinal. But looking for it would require a walkabout, and also appreciating the beauty, if minimalistic, of small natural enclaves in the heart of the city. Find gardening-type beauty where it exists — and it can be seen at particular spades this time of the annual cycle.

One year ago as of April 1, I moved to an apartment building in downtown Hudson. I would no longer be able to view my big yard with a wild island and the beauty supplied by dozens of oak trees, forming a ring around the house and leading back into the woods, a large spiritual loss. My new experience would be much different. Would it be fertile?

Yes, in very many small ways that added up to a bigger sum, and revived me physically with the newfound vigor from this stroll I have now made many times — and also emotionally and spiritually.

All you need to do, I found, is take the time to look.

I did, and noticed things I had not before. Thus new and showing opportunity, and that is the theme of this post.
As is recognized by religious traditions, May Day is the epitome of a coming-of-spring fertility rite, and as such is fertile also with the prospect of opportunity and redemption, as well as regrowth, both spiritual and natural. So all of the holiday is set around the importance of the environment.

Mother Mary, seen as the original May queen, is a perfect choice for a representation of fertility, although virgin, as you’d have to have such attributes to be the bearer of the Son of God. Most downtown businesses amidst the concrete cater to spring, from art galleries to salons, spas to fitness clubs, as the month’s past bearers of the season give way from ropes and boughs of greenery to big potted plants that already show some flowers, all demonstrating opportunities newly arising.

That doesn’t even mention the flower shop of 50-plus years.

In my new climes, I first noticed that in an uncommon twist, there is beautiful architecture at 360 degrees, upper outdoor library beams, more than one big mural, well-designed office buildings, classic brick facades, and a sculpture that looks like a great big bush. But also everywhere you walk are large expanses of concrete. Streets, alleys, curbs, sidewalks, parking lots, walkways and traffic bump-outs. But there is natural beauty here and there. Outside my two windows, partly of metal, are trees framing every bit of the glass space you see through, forming golden arches that are not of McDonalds. The big bows are three in number and as I only noticed on May Day — heightened awareness? — there are three more smaller ones filling the framework and also the view through the picture window. They are three-tiered up and down, small but nearer my window. I am more aware of the way they take up that whole five-by-five space, almost like it’s intentional, as in a painting of a planting that makes most efficient use of dirt. And I now saw that as there’s new growth greening out, the edges of the window view are being filled in with the beauty of leaves.

You could even invoke the little sprigs sticking out of a few edges where sidewalk meets wall. There always seem to be three of them, like a Trinity-ish clover. Again, the beauty of nature meets concrete.

There was an even bigger arch, of about 20 feet, that stretched between two oak trees back at the house, and gave a spiritual lift just to look at in its near perfection. I, toward the end of my stay, placed a bench below, hoping someone other than myself eventually could make just as uplifting use of it.

So these arches are a good place to start, as the buds are just now beginning to grow.

I am reminded of an old autumn ritual of mine, and you can practice it in any season, where I’d find a beautiful tree, any one really, although the multiplicity effect of a big park is a draw, and pick out a leaf or two and rumple them in my fingers, while gazing at the color of others and listening to a faint rumble, all while praying or meditating. Thus comes to bear a longtime question of mine, which is more profoundly spiritual, in what it represents as a ritual of choice, the mighty strength of an oak or the frail beauty of a maple.

Spaced among my current concrete — viewed off the bottom edge of those windows — are a number of tiny mini-gardens. Thinking of this, those who have their gardens in their small urban yards must experience a burst of joy. Like those in my building who also take full advantage of a four-by-two-foot shelf of a patio that’s also a garden. If there are April showers, you can always go inside and view, or maybe even finger the leaves, of a bunch of big potted plants, as flowers ahead of most of May. This again invokes the current time as a season of opportunity, and this hit home with me when viewing, out my window, and being moved by, an empty planter with a bit of brown plant residue and more dirt. There is much more beauty to be found if I just wait a month or so.

There are two other big patios aside the building at the south and west, where people can have a tree or two providing shade and, alas, their time and branches were cut short by a wind storm last year around this time, but if you look, there still is more to be seen. Off in the distance is the high rise of bluff-line trees that help form Birkmose Park, held sacred by indigenous peoples. To get a closer look, you have to walk several blocks.

All in all, at their core, Mary as queen and nature are as one, and can be experienced that way.

St. Patrick’s marked the May Crowning on May 3 with a morning all-school Mass. On May Day, there were many first communicants in attendance, but they were not crowned. However, coming up shortly was a devotion to Joseph the Worker.
May Crowning, at its closing, has a statue of the Blessed Virgin adorned with a garland or crown of flowers, and here I go again on the nature tie-in, honoring her as “the queen of May.” There is a special honor attached to being the one to crown the statue. This year, it was St. Patrick eighth-grader Megan and her two attendants.

The faithful saw Mary’s attributes in the herbs and flowers growing around them. Many flowers and herbs are symbolically associated with Mary’s life and many people create varied Mary gardens. So fitting.

The Vatican announced Pope Francis’ decision that the church celebrate the role as “Mother of the Church” every year on the Monday after Pentecost, the church bulletin said. So again, we have to wait. He added the memorial to the Roman Calendar after carefully considering how the promotion of devotion to Mary under this title might encourage growth in “the maternal sense of the church.” This year, it will fall on May 21. Still days away.