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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

May Day, the worldwide May 1st celebration of spring that dates back to pre-Roman times, has been canceled. The radio distress call for help — Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! — is more likely heard during these crazy virus times.

Mayday replaced the telegraph code for help, S.O.S., as radios came into use on airplanes flying between England and France about 100 years ago. Mayday is the English spelling of the French, M’aidez, which translates to Help me! The pronunciations are the same. Help me is what too many are crying as we head into May.

While most humans quarantine in place, doing our part to slow the spread of the virus, Earth’s other inhabitants are exploding with the fecundity of spring. April’s abundant showers, after a dry March, have turned our world lush and green. Earth’s tilted revolution adds another 47 minutes of daylight in May. Plentiful rain and direct sun ensures that May flowers will abound. I hope you are able to get out and enjoy, from a safe, social distance, the longer, warmer days as spring rushes toward summer.

Venus, the still dazzling Evening Star, begins May setting three-and-a-half hours after the sun in the stars of Taurus. Both planet and constellation will be gone from the evening sky by month’s end. Mid-month, Venus is joined in the western sky by Mercury, the speediest planet. Mercury, just coming out from behind the sun, grows higher in the northwest sky as Venus, about to pass between the Earth and Sun, drops lower. The two innermost worlds will appear closest together on the 21st.

The moon starts May just past first quarter near the bright star, Regulus, that marks the heart of Leo, and grows to full (the Flower Moon) by the end of the first week. The thin, waxing crescent moon has its last evening rendezvous with Venus for 2020, joined by a rising Mercury on the nights of the 23rd and 24th. Hope for clear skies. The sun is still in Aries as May begins, but as we continue to revolve, appears to move into Taurus on the 15th. 

Mars, Saturn and Jupiter still sparkle, lined up in the pre-dawn sky. As Earth continues to gain on the trio, they rise earlier and appear higher in the south throughout May. The waning gibbous moon is below Saturn and Jupiter on the morning of the 12th. Up for an early dog walk, enjoy the view.

As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 swells and eclipses the total killed during the Vietnam War, Memorial Day 2020’s remembrance of lives lost in America’s wars takes on a new meaning. I by no means wish to diminish the ultimate sacrifice made by Americans on the battlefield, but this viral war, on our home soil, has hit harder and closer than anything I remember from Vietnam or the Gulf conflicts. 

On May 25th, let us remember that all lives have value, every life lost is tragic and all deserve our deepest respect and gratitude for their sacrifices.

Together, and only together, will we get through this current viral war. Remember and thank those still working to keep us safe and fed. Stay safe, be smart, stay apart!!


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