Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I have this theory that merry, as in "the merry month of May" secretly means lustful and lascivious. I'm sure I was influenced in part by that song from Camelot, "The Lusty Month of May" ("when tons of wicked little thoughts/Merrily appear"), and also by The Merry Wives of Windsor—I assumed the wives were making merry (nudge nudge, wink wink) with John Falstaff.

Well, maybe. Turns out the wives are having more fun just stringing him along and getting him to dress in women's clothes or having him get dumped out of a laundry basket into the river. Hijinks, not lowjinks. And I can't find one lewd definition for merry in my Webster's Unabridged. It's all about delight, pleasure (no hint which sort) or happiness. Laughingly gay; overflowing with good humor and good spirits; jovial and mirthful. The closest it gets to illicitly merry is a definition for Merry night (British): "a dance held at a public house or inn." (And did you know that a merrythought is another word for a wishbone?)

So, okay, maybe merry is just understood to be naughty sometimes, whatever Webster says. Irony isn't always official and words are vessels there for the filling. Unless it's not even ironic: happy is as happy does!

All I know is right now there's a lot of fowl out there doing what any cocky dude'll do. The other day I saw a couple of catbirds. One was all puffed up, kind of a light gray, like he was lit up, and doing this sidestep along a branch, kind of gliding toward another catbird. His intentions were clear. The object of his desires didn't want an audience, maybe. She flew.

Last year I saw a cedar waxwing doing this little branch dance, hopping from one leg to the other. Assuming he didn't have to go. And the previous May I was in the right place at the right time to see a couple of big Cooper's hawks getting it on, high in a treetop. Call it merry, call it lusty, call it peter-peter-peter from a tufted tit. Reminds me of a silly poem I wrote once about the scarlet tanager:

What did the Puritans think, to see
a scarlet tanager in a tree?
Did one glimpse put thoughts of sin
into the head of Hester Prynne?
Did the bird cause Cotton Mather
to work himself into a lather?
Was that flasher from the tropics
one of his favorite sermon topics?
Oh, tell me how the Puritans managed
when their days were scarlet tanaged?

Credit to Hilary Wallis for the merry photograph.

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