Monday, March 16, 2009
First Spring Sightings
The sun is out, the air is distinctly warm and all's well with the world. Or, at least, it always seems well when the sun's shining. Just two weeks ago we had our (hopefully) last little fall of snow and the evenings have been a mite chilly recently so the sudden arrival of Spring is a welcome release from Winter's grip. In the Summer when it's sunny every day (of course I'm speaking metaphorically here - this is Britain), we hardly notice how great the sunshine is. In particularly hot Summers, we even get fed up with it. One reason I could never live in a hot country is the unchanging weather. The turning of the seasons is a joy and the arrival of each new phase brings its own pleasures whether they be cuckoos and bluebells, beach barbecues and ice cream, creepy skeletal trees and chunky warming casseroles, or tobaganning down a hill and roasting chestnuts in the hearth. TSpring is quite definitely here and I'm loving it.
It's been a day of firsts for me. As I type this, I'm sat in the back garden with XTC's superlative Skylarking playing on the Bose and a nice cup of hot black Earl Grey tea. The birds are going mental in the trees and a particularly loud gang of goldfinches is proclaiming their territory. Huge red kites are lazilly circling overhead and pigeons are having a shouting match with the seagulls who've moved up the Thames in recent years to colonise the roofs of office blocks and hunt among the rubbish at the refuse dump and recycling centre (brilliantly called 'High Heavens' - true!). Miniature daffodills are everywhere along with purple crocuses and the first green spears of this year's chives. There are sticky buds on the ends of my trees, blue tits everywhere and, judging by the way one of my dogs is rolling in something nasty, there are nocturnal foxes on the prowl too. But these are not my firsts.
Today I heard my first lawnmower. The gardens around here are quite big and don't lend themselves to electric mowers - unless you have a very long extension lead - so most people own a petrol job. As I type, I can hear the distinctive roar and throb of a two-stroke engine hard at work. It's a sound that signals pleasure but also resignation. It means that I'll soon have to start cutting my own grass with all of the back ache and sweating and hidden dog poop that mowing involves. My second first was a big fat bumble bee. Sadly, that sighting was also tinged with some sadness as I only saw it briefly as it audibly bumped off my windscreen while I drove Dawn to work. But my third sighting was a total joy; two lemon yellow Brimstone butterflies fluttering in a frenetic fandango over the rockery. I never saw Brimstones as a kid. At least, I don't remember seeing any. I suspect it's because their caterpillars are quite picky eaters and we didn't have much buckthorn in Cornwall. It was all Cabbage Whites, Peacocks, Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals we saw, plus those tiny little blue and brown meadow butterflies. Brimstones are usually the first butterflies we see around here in the Spring and the sexes are quite easy to distinguish; the males have bright sulphur-yellow coloured wings with an orange central spot. The females are more of a pastel yellow or pale green but also with an orange spot. The two I was watching were male and female and as this time of year marks their extended courtship and mating, I guess that they were getting it on. Awww. Nice.
Incidentally, there is a train of thought that the word 'butterfly' came about because of these beautiful and ubiquitous insects. Did they just name it after the first yellow thing they saw when waking uo one morning? Good job the first thing they saw wasn't the dog heading outside for the first wee of the day then.
Piddlefly just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?
Photo: Gert Ellstrom