Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Swallowtails and damselflies, among other things.

'Not the yellow Provencal August of the English imagination...'  

I picked up my copy of 'The sea, The sea' to check that quotation, which I'm ever fond of citing at this time of year, and was struck so much with the beauty of the language and whole passages I had no recollection of reading before that I thought I really should read this again.  Only the characters, and what they get up to, are so weirdly repulsive I'm not sure I want to spend the time with them.  On reflection most of Iris Murdoch's characters are weirdly repulsive really, I suppose. Then again there's the sea monster and cousin James who would certainly bear a second look. Somebody once told me they found her books fascinating because they reminded them of people and their interactions they knew in their own life, but I'm very happy to say they don't do that for me.  'The land of Iris Murdoch' a newspaper critic also said 'which is like no other but Prospero's'; which is rather more like it, I think, and heavy on the Caliban.

However, looking out on this chilly wet and blowy day through the the back lean-to, where the canvas and wood deckchairs are somewhat wistfully parked, opened and empty, in the dwindling hope of being pulled out onto the terrace at a moment's notice if the sun should shine, glad of a shawl over my bare feet and a hot cup of coffee, watching the swallows, in their urgent late season feeding, blown about the skies like rooks, it seem to me that the amalanchier tree, its soft round open foliage turning early towards shades of apricot and flame and olive, does have a quite Provencal look to it.  Even the birches have the odd fleck of gold in them.

My yoga buddies have cried off, pleading visits and visitors.  I like cancelled commitments sometimes, a small sum of time for oneself refunded.  I caught a window of dry weather to paint the door yesterday, and though  I'm minding less and less the idea of going through teaching stuff and ordering a new coursebook or two for next year, I'm not feeling like doing it yet.  We entertained the idea of a trip to Dinan to see the Doisneau exhibition, but we went to bed and got up too late, and didn't fancy driving there in the rain.  It's on till the end of September anyway.

What I do fancy doing is taking a walk to the mirabelle trees, since the windy weather should have dropped plenty of the little traffic-light-coloured plums on the floor for the gathering.  I'd make them into chutney, a new version using some chopped dried figs I found cheap somewhere.  They're good in jam, of course, but in fact we eat little jam, and the last batch from a couple of years back we're only just finishing.  Preserving is good, a happy balance between self-indulgence and a sense of industry, pulling out stones and sniffing up the smells of vinegar and sugar and spices while the radio or a talking book chatter away peaceably.  I'd take some photos and write a post and offer it up to the Festival of the Trees, that's the idea, anyway, but it's raining, so we can't get out. 

So, here I am, thumb-twiddling again, an activity to which I'm seldom averse, truth to tell.  So perhaps it's time to show you some bugs.  

Some years we get swallowtail butterflies.  One year we grew carrots and parsley, and we had swallowtail caterpillars on them.  We noticed they were disappearing overnight, something was eating them, so we rescued the last handful and kept them in a bottle garden, where we planted carrot tops for them to feed on.  Some of them pupated, winter froze them solid but a couple emerged the following year.  We watched and watched but still missed the actual moment they broke from the skin of the chrysalis.  We photographed them but it was in pre-digital days, and I've yet to find the prints and scan them.  I tell many people this story.

This year, though butterflies in general seem down in numbers, we've had quite a few flying visits.  I can tell a swallowtail from any other butterfly from some way off by its size and manner of flight, I saw this one from the kitchen window, grabbed the camera, ran outside, it posed for one shot and then was gone.  They're like that.

My brother and sister-i-l and my niece went down south in May, and reported extra-special swallowtails.  My niece took these and they e-mailed them to me, so the resolution's a bit low - because they are sensible people who shrink their photos before sending them (WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE DO THIS?! It's very simple, makes them easier to view and saves everyone's time...this is one of my personal bugbears).  

These two above, my niece's photos not mine, are in fact another species, another genus in fact, called scarce swallowtails.  Where they saw them, in south-west France, they are not unduly scarce, but they are called scarce in English because in England they are. 

Finally, a few of damselflies.  I don't know if I just happen to have been to rather a lot of places where damselflies hang out, but it seems to have been quite a year for these delightful creatures, which I think perhaps are my favourite insects. 

Something that is often noticeable when one photographs them, even at some distance with the zoom and haphazardly, is that when the photo appears they are quite evidently looking straight at the camera, clocking you clocking them, lens to lens. 

That is unless they're busy doing something else ( I know you've seen these two before, but that was from the other side).

Other particularly frequent and less welcome insects hereabouts this year have been hornets.  Not the malevolent, aggressive, invading Asian ones which murder bees, fortunately, but the standard ones, the big buggers, which we see occasionally most years.  The odd thing is we didn't see them at all earlier in the summer, and we don't see them during the day, but late at night, usually when we turn the outside light on to take Molly out for her last perambulation, suddenly there's a couple of them beating at the light and then at the glass door.  From my limited researches, they may be the young ones emerging from a nest somewhere on their mating flights.  The males do the business and die off, the females then hibernate and come out in the spring to found new dynasties.  I'm afraid to say they tend to get swatted, since we have no wish to share our living space with them, thank you.  Deep greens, pace.  I've no photos of them since I don't hang about to take their portraits, but there are plenty on Google Images of people with them crawling over their hands, just to show what cowardly anti-environmentalists we are not wanting to be their friends.


Well now, still raining, so I'll just have to find something useful to do indoors.


Roderick Robinson said...

...who shrink their photos before sending them (WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE DO THIS?!)
A pleasing juxtaposition: this bit of written crankiness only a few centimetres scrolling distance from the Breton disciplinarian, now starring in a montage near you. I fear I have returned more than once to the latter, wishing it could be enlarged. There is much that expression could tell me.

However, Revenons à nos oranges and here's a shared experience. Centred on the thrill of tracking down the Seville oranges (so briefly available), the emergence of the big stewpan, the delicious smell and the sense of smug finality about the completed, and labelled, jars of marmalade. Followed by the anti-climax of non-consumption. Mrs BB's coarse-cut, golden stickiness is famed and I love it. But it is almost impossible to fit it into my rigid eating schedule. Much of it goes to my brother who is wedded to a conventional breakfast and gets through a jar in about four days. This gives the whole procedure an altruistic tinge but the BBs are not heavily into altruism and remain dissatisfied.

Both are very pro-butterfly and bitterly envy you your swallowtails. We'd tempt them with marmalade but I suppose that would end up a more humane form of flypaper. And, yes, it's raining here. Listen to the sound of my rotating thumbs.

zephyr said...

Yes, sadly, fewer butterflies for us this year, too.
i thoroughly enjoy canning up the harvest as well...though it almost always the hottest, muggiest days of the year when everything finally comes together. We love our jams...and were once famous for our bottled peaches, which we never opened before the winter, long after the flavor of fresh ones has escaped our memories. We used MUCH less sugar than anyone ever recommends and so the luscious fruit flavor really shone thru. However, age has dulled our enthusiasm for the sweaty job.

This being a good tomato year, we will definitely freeze homemade sauce for the winter.

Bee said...

The other night, my husband called me outside to see a SWARM of huge hornets aroud the back-porch light. Your explanation throws some light on the matter, for the next day they were gone.

My daughter is here at my feet, studying her science textbook. She looked at your butterflies and damselflies with a great deal of interest. (Unlike her mother, she spotted the damselflies mating.)
We saw many butterflies when we were hiking in Wales, but they were mostly small, rather nondescript ones. (I did like the pale lavender ones, though.)

The Sea, The Sea is the only Murdoch I've read. Like you, I remember it chiefly for the rather unpleasant characters. There's been nothing "yellow" or "Provencal" about this August so far. Gray and Nordic, more like it. I can hear the constant drip, drip from the willow tree outside of my open study window. No evening walks for us, I'm afraid.

Dale said...


Rouchswalwe said...

You could do yoga along with those damselflies ... wow, the flexibility! Astounding. The swallowtail butterflies are new to me. The tigerish stripes lend them a sort of jungle air.

Nimble said...

I am charmed by your shawl around your feet and your cosy cup of coffee. No rain here lately but we've had some northern air to bring our temperatures down noticeably. Summer is a goin out. It's been a bountiful year for dragonflies and butterflies here, which makes me feel lucky. I saw two Monarchs grappling and tumbling to the ground yesterday. I assume they are migrating south now. Don't know why those two were wrassling unless it's the same old story.

D. Jean Quarles said...

What incredible photos. Loved them.

HKatz said...

I most love the photo of the butterfly obscured by the flower, with its antennae peeping out on top and the wings to either side. They're all beautiful photos.

Unknown said...

It is years since I read and. I think, enjoyed The Sea, The Sea. The best character was the brave little dog that valiantly survived being sept out to sea.