LIFE HAS BECOME orderly. Birds are singing well enough for us to know them not only by their sounds but also by their musical tempos and rhythms. The jay in a feisty mood sings in a different timbre from the jay that has just feasted on its catch of larvae. The grasses of the May pasture have taken few hard rains, stiff winds or blazing suns, but they are a matting of green beauty that is ready for the wear of summer. Their function has nothing to do with the aesthetic pleasure we take from them; instead, shelter is being provided for insects of a number larger than we can count and for animals of a variety larger than we can imagine.

May, which is when nature turns merry and offers apologies for the somberness of January, has an aura of softness. But it is deceptive. Amazing strength is present. This is when tufts of grass are pushing up through stone walkways, when roots are knocking boulders out of the way, when flowers are spreading their seeds miles in every direction. Most of this strength goes unmeasured. Occasionally, though, someone stops everything and gets the exact figures. In "The Great American Forest," naturalist Rutherford Platt tells of a Massachusetts farmer in 1875 who became curious about "the growing power of expanding apples, melons and squashes. [He] harnessed a squash to a weightlifting device which had a dial like a grocer's scale to indicate the pressure exerted by the expanding fruit. As the days passed he kept piling on counterbalancing weight; he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw his vegetables quietly exerting a lifting force of 5,000 pounds per square inch."

No one, it seems, believed the farmer.Only when he set up an exhibit and called in the public was the strength of nature given proper credit. And then someone was so overcome that he wrote a poem about the squash. That is perhaps the ultimate strength of May - not merely to move walkways, boulders and scales but also us, the most immovable objects of all. We are pushed, lifted or hauled by May into states of relaxation, appreciation and excitement over the vibrancy that now surrounds us. It is a strength that absorbs rather than overpowers.