“...at last came the golden month of the wild folk—honey-sweet May, when the birds come back, and the flowers come out, and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs of the dawning year.” —Samuel Scoville, Jr., American author
Unlike the preceding months, May is flashy and eye-catching—its colors more vivid, its weather more robust. It’s the time of year when observers don’t need much patience to notice all that’s happening in nature. May is thought to be named after Maia, the Roman goddess of springtime. As with her Greek counterpart Gaia, Maia symbolizes youth, life, rebirth, and love.
As the season moves forward, the second full moon of spring arrives on May 7. This full moon is known as the “Flower Mооn.” Some North American indigenous tribes refer to it as the “Corn Planting Mооn.” And in the historic pasturelands of England, it was referred to as the “Milk Mооn.” Each name is a link to a natural occurrence during the month—blooming buds, sowing seeds, or grazing animals. Social and economic development have distanced us from this environmental connection. It’s an easy tie to recreate, however. Observing and recording the lunar cycle in your nature journal is one way to begin paying attention to nature this month. Weather apps, print and digital news, and the Farmer’s Almanac can provide basic lunar information to begin your observations.
The rapid changes May brings offer great inspiration for observing, questioning, and nature journaling. Migratory towhees, warblers, and sparrows hurriedly assemble new nests in anticipation of their burgeoning families. Blue skies fill with song as birds stake their claim and woo their mates. Terrapins line the muddy banks of marshes, camouflaged by newly sprouted cordgrass. Brown pelicans take turns warming their chalky, white eggs in hopes their efforts will produce healthy, albeit awkward, young fledglings this month. Peonies, irises, and brilliant lilies of the valley are popping up everywhere. Bees and butterflies bounce from bloom to bloom, unknowingly pollinating the next floral generation. Nature is in a constant state of courting, mating, birthing,and transforming.
As a naturalist, artist, and author, Clare Leslie Walker has this to say about the coming of May: “...April tempts with warmth and growing life...May bursts out and stalls, bursts open suddenly green...”. She instructs nature journaling workshops all across the United States. A student of hers once stated: “There is so much more out there than I ever realized going on daily, despite my not noticing.”
Challenge yourself to pause from life’s “busyness” this month. Revel in the beauty of the Flower Moon and the radiant colors of May.
Reference: Leslie, Claire Walker and Roth, Charles E. Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. 2nd Edition. 2003.
Prompt #22: Mother Nature’s Color Wheel
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials
Assignment: Colors are often divided into groups based on how they are created. Primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) cannot be created by mixing other colors. Secondary colors (orange, green, and purple) are created by mixing two primary colors. A color wheel organizes primary and secondary colors in a continuous circle. In this investigation, you will create a color wheel using colors you find in nature. Begin by drawing a circle and dividing it into six equal pie pieces. Hint: trace a cup to create a perfect circle. Assign each “slice” a color in this order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Now go explore outside. Find something that best represents each color. Paste the item directly into the appropriate slice of your color wheel (ex. glue dandelion flower petals within the yellow pie piece). OR, use your coloring supplies to draw what you found for each color in the coordinating pie piece. Continue until you’ve filled in your entire color wheel.
- Factory Inks: "Color Theory"
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Earth as Art
- Werner’s Nomenclature of Color, as arranged by Nicholas Rougeux
Journal Prompt: Were you able to find each color? Did you find only natural colors or were some manmade? Do you think this investigation would be more challenging in another season? Research “Werner’s Nomenclature of Color” in the additional resources. If you were an explorer in a new, unknown territory, how would creating a color chart benefit your exploration?
Prompt #23: Moon Phases
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil
Assignment: A lunar cycle lasts about 29 to 30 days. The start of a new month is the perfect time to begin a moon phase study. Begin by laying out your lunar phase journal. Draw a grid. Seven boxes across for the days of the week and six boxes down for each week in the month. Each box represents one day in the month of May. Draw a circle in each box, leaving space for notes around the edges. You can also print a lunar calendar from one of the resources listed below. For the month of May, keep a moon phase journal every night. Draw the moon phase. Include details about the weather, time, color, clouds, rising/setting times, and any other notes you think are important.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Moon Observation Journal
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Earth’s Moon
- National Science Teaching Association: Moon Journal
Journal Prompt: Explain how observing nature at night differs from observing during the day. Are there any similarities? Which do you prefer and why?
Prompt #24: Backyard Bugs
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials, magnifying glass*, container with holes in the lid* (*optional)
Assignment: An entomologist is a scientist who studies insects. Insects play important roles in the ecosystem. They pollinate plants, clean up decaying material, control pests, and are a valuable food source for other species. Many insects are metamorphosing and emerging in the month of May. It’s the perfect time to study these invertebrates! To begin your study, find a safe spot to observe nature (backyard, porch, or park). Find at least five different types of insects. Some will fly. Some will hide under logs or large rocks. Some will just be crawling around. Draw each insect in detail. Document its colors, wings, antennae, and the number of legs and body segments it has. Take notes about the insect’s behavior. Make detailed notes and drawings. Once you’re back inside, use guidebooks and the internet to identify the insects you found.
- Chesapeake Bay Program: Insects
- Maryland Manual Online, Maryland at a Glance: "Wildlife"
- YouTube, Royal Entomological Society: What is an entomologist?
Journal Prompt: Design your own fictional bug. Draw a picture and label your insect. What adaptations would it have? In what kind of environment would it thrive best? What would it eat and what would eat it? What ecosystem services would this insect perform in its environment?
We would love you to share your nature journal entries on CBF's Learn Outside Facebook Group!
Kathlean Davis, Educator, and Cindy Duncan, Education Operations Coordinator