Monday, August 31, 2009

Changing light

I'm thinking, I might have a go at blogging a little every day for a week or two. Just for fun, to see how it goes, and to free myself up a bit. So I won't think about it too much, just post something from recent photos I've taken, and/or any writing I've been doing longhand, since I'm also inclined to try doing 20 minutes or so of writing, a few mornings a week, when I'm freshest and most focused.

It's a good time to be thinking about photos, as the light is changing, and becoming interesting again.

In the morning, it slants through the French doors,

and in the evening, at Molly's supper time, it comes in at the front of the house, filtered through the already thinning leaves of the trees across the road, and glows and shimmers on the floor,

then, a bit later, when she's sitting on the windowsill thinking it's time we went out for a walk, now that it's cooler, it lengthens, and moves across the room.

And when I open the downstairs bathroom window after showering off the Cuprinol, this character greets me from the wall of the next door house. It's an oddly outsized stone embedded there, but when the light is just at the right angle, it seems a little like an Easter Island head.

The house oriented best as the sun grows lower in the sky, and in the seasons of change and transition.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An apology for bloggery. (Warning, it's a long one, with no pictures...)

' Stirring suddenly from long hibernation,
I knew myself once more a poet
Guarded by timeless principalities
Against the worm of death, this hillside haunting...'

Robert Graves again, 'Midwinter waking'.

It's not midwinter, but late summer, turning; not the wolf, who really bites, but the dog - torpor, apathy, doubt and weariness of spirit. And I don't know, and certainly don't call, myself a poet. 'Poet ' to me is a descriptor like 'beautiful', a desirable thing to be, a compliment to be paid to others, but certainly not something one could or should apply to oneself. I write the odd poem. I seem to remember Paula, she of the House of Toast, who is a poet and practises medicine, saying something along the lines that writing poems for pleasure is no more being a poet than sticking Band-aids on your kids is practising medicine, and who'd argue with that?

So, no, I don't know myself a poet. What I have awoken to again with joy, what I know myself to be, is a blogger. Nothing more, nothing less.

It doesn't have quite the same ring, I know. Indeed, the gawky, geeky ugliness of the word 'blog' as any part of speech, is one of the things that does us a disservice; how are we to take ourselves quite seriously in such a ridiculously named activity?

We all know the uncomprehending, mocking way non-bloggers enunciate it when you mention it to them, and the consequent shrinking withdrawal we feel in the face of it ( but take courage, fellow bloggers 'blessed are ye when men shall revile you...'!). But there it is, the word has stuck, even attempts to restore the original and slightly more graceful 'weblog' have failed. Blogging, it's what I do.

And I think I'm going to go on doing it, at least for the foreseeable. There's been quite a lot of discussion around some of the blogs I read, from people who have been doing this very, very well, for a lot longer than I have, about what it means to them, and where they might be going with it, suggesting that perhaps it's had its day as a form, or expressing their personal reasons for needing to move on or change. Some express serious disillusion, some a lack of inspiration, some pragmatically, and with reason, blame the season, some relative newcomers, like teenagers who have just discovered sex, say they cannot imagine a time when they don't want to do it with the enthusiasm, energy and regularity that they do at the moment. I don't know how I'll feel about it when I've been at it twice as long as I have now, but rather than contemplating joining the voyage into the west just yet, I've decided I'll stick around.

It's not like it was, I admit. A little less than three years ago, when I first started, I used to creep downstairs at 6 am of a winter morning, wrap up in shawls and dressing gowns, light a fire if I was really spoiling myself, bring Mol's cushion over next to me ( a habit she still insists on whenever I sit down to the computer ), plug-in the old dial-up, and I was as happy as I've ever been. I had to resolve to stay in bed on Sundays so Tom didn't feel like too much of a blog widower. It went on like that for quite a while, almost like being in love, as the song goes. And I started visiting more and more other blogs, and those people started to come and read and look and say nice things.

You see, and perhaps you know, the part of me that reflected and observed and wrote and made pictures had been starved for a very long time, and now it had something to feed it. Perhaps that's the wrong metaphor. Rather, it had amassed material but there was nowhere for it to go, nothing to do with it, no one much to see it, so the faculty to make something of it was undeveloped. I scribbled in notebooks, drew and painted from time to time. I'd written something resembling poems on and off for years, but never thought of submitting anything anywhere, which was probably just as well. Apart from letters, the odd thing I showed Tom, or rarely a friend, a picture I might stick on the wall for a time, and I suppose home-made teaching materials or gifts might count, nothing I made ever really saw the light of day. And frankly, looking back over it, much of it was simply crap, because I, at least, need to hold the things I do up to the light in order to evaluate and get any better at them. I'd had the camera and been taking photos for about six months before, but was quite uncertain of the point of what I was doing.

Because, in the end, like most people, I need affirmation. Not worldly success, not to be outstanding or saleable, but, as a dear friend said, to have it put up on the classroom wall. And to get a star for it too, is nice. But I always had the idea that unless what one did was outstanding and/or saleable, there was little point in doing it, except 'for one's own pleasure', which for me was always an uncertain area which failed to be fertile enough ground. Like the tiresome Wordsworthian namesake I grew up with, I was 'a creature there were few to praise...'

But no, it's not quite like it was. (But what is? is of course the obvious corollary to that...) Sleep tends to be a more attractive proposition than screen and keyboard at 6 am now, and while I probably spend more time on-line than I did then - not least because broadband makes that more feasible - less of it is on my own personal blogging. Mostly because the wonderful, talented, sensitive people who come and read and look and say nice things, thoroughly deserve to have me to go and read and look and say nice things to them, and if I don't, they won't come and look and... etc Which is exactly as it should be, because another thing about this medium, or the way most of us do it, is its reciprocity, and its positivity. A non-blogging occasional blog-reader said recently, something like 'Don't you get tired of all that niceness, all that 'great post, well done' stuff?'. Well, no, actually. Naturally, a well-thought out evaluation, coupled with a sincere sharing of the reader's own experience, is even better, and I get plenty of those too, but if people just have time to leave a pleasantry or encouraging word that's fine. Rudeness wouldn't be, but then I don't really post much that's contentious enough to generate any. What I do get tired of is people I've come to care about getting hurt and driven out by trolls and nastiness, but that's another story, happily an infrequent one, but at all is too often.

So, it's the recognition that got me hooked, the feeling that what I was doing pleased people. Anyone who says they blog purely to please themselves is, I fear, being rather disingenuous. That of course comes with a downside: the tension between pleasing people and your own self-expression. The kind of blog that develops gets determined somewhat by its perceived audience. This bothers me less than it did; I've come round to the idea that writing and illustrating pleasant and informative pieces which encourage people to want to come on holiday in this area is probably more appropriate here than exploring dark and difficult areas of my psyche and experience, which are rather more limited anyway. I get satisfaction from one of my elderly students coming into class with a grin and saying 'I liked the one with the butterfly on the man's bald head!', or the knowledge that my family are keeping up with what's going on in my life better than they were ever able to before. I think I can keep a generally pretty and cheerful blog without compromising my integrity, but I credit anyone who cares enough to read here regularly with the emotional maturity to be able to cope with a certain level of discomfort without my having to feel too responsible for them.

(On this subject: a while ago, another blogger I read, who is generally chatty and funny and upbeat - dogs, kids, flowers, all the kind of stuff I'm happy to feature - expressed, quite elliptically in a list post, pain and disappointment over an aspect of her life, which was quite distressing to read, but which it seemed brave to be so honest about. However, some her commenters were obviously so discomforted that she clearly felt obliged to redress the balance by writing a positive list, to reassure everyone it was OK really, to which one commenter replied in terms of 'Ah, that's better, now I can feel the love'. That kind of obligation to be nice and keep everyone feeling happy and comfortable should not be required.)

But it isn't only that I'm drawn off elsewhere which has reduced my blogging drive. Perhaps some of the backlog of material I had to draw on, that compulsive urge to release pent up creativity, has been used up. I'm not sure though, to some extent I actually feel I've still got too much potential material, and it's selecting from it that's the problem. I carry the camera less, in the knowledge that I have folders and folders of haphazardly edited pictures using up memory already. Writing this, I am beginning to feel bogged down by my own volublity, and doubts are creeping back about the point, or pointlessness, of what I'm doing, what is worth keeping and what needs to be struck out. I know very well from my own on-line reading and from the responses I get here, that short is beautiful, and, certainly with me, short with pictures is better still. It's not about limited concentration span, it's simply about limited time. The screen is not really the place where I want to read at length, there are books for that, and I have rather returned to reading more from the page, which was rather abandoned in those heady early blogging days.

And I am slow. A post like this takes ages: a pile of longhand scribble, added to as and when I think of things, perhaps a Wordpad file, then composing in that silly little Blogger box. If I'm using photos, the time to edit, export and upload them, reorder them in HTML... I am not one of those fortunate, and clever, ones who can construct a cogent and articulate blogpost in my head the car, keep it there, and write it out in one go in between sundry other bits of multi-tasking any old moment when I get home, with no more than a bit of sprucing up. Furthermore, my typing is dreadful. And always I'm aware that I'm presuming on people's time expecting them to read it, and justifying that expenditure of time becomes harder.

I am still, frequently, discouraged as much as inspired by the excellence of others.

Some things about my life have altered too. We had lived in a state of unfinished simplicity in our house for a long time; at the beginning this was quite close to squalor and privation, by the time I started blogging it had evolved to reasonable comfort and room-to-move, but our living environment was still Spartan and provisional. The advent of this slim folder of light, and its attendant wandering digital eye, its potential for creating, for words and colour and the examination of my experience, was not far short of a life-saver. That state of affairs has changed, quite suddenly it seems over the last year or so; surfaces can be covered with colour and textile, pictures and books that I've not seen for ages are emerging to be framed and hung and shelved and enjoyed again, some new ones added. Life is expanding in other directions again. My paid work too, looks as though it may be taking some new directions. All this brings me away from the computer.

This falling away, the wandering off of the blogging daemon, the dulling of that first, intoxicating, opening up of creative potential, so that it seems to shrink and become illusory, can be hard to bear. I know some for whom it is very, very painful. They are, I think, among the very best, because they are exceptionally sensitive and talented, have found very deep things in themselves, have given enormously, but as bloggers and as human beings, they are the ones who never feel themselves good enough. I wish it wasn't so.

Some, like the one or two members of my family that I badgered into giving it a try, see that, while it is an interesting idea, they are not prepared to commit the time and energy required, and drift off early. Others blog quite intensely but then come to question the sense they have that all experience has become potential material for the blog, and fear that they are losing something of life's immediacy, that the blog monster is always looking over their shoulder, whispering 'And how would you blog this?'

I've wondered about this. But now I wonder if perhaps you can't turn that blog monster round, and make that kind of self-consciousness into a more useful self-awareness, that it can serve you rather than you serving it, as a part of the examined life. Blogging has certainly served to make me far more acutely, constructively aware of many things. I know now that I will not, and do not want to, turn everything into blogfodder. But the drive to turn the raw matter of life into art, (and that's not a word I use easily), is that so bad? I don't know, I don't know.

And a couple of those people that I know, who've quit because they feel the blog-monster is gobbling up their life like this, have cleaned their palettes, reassessed their priorities, and come back again, having simplified and narrowed their way of working, reduced their obligations, banished their trolls if necessary, and are doing it better than ever.

It has its limitations as a medium. But, without wishing to be too platitudinous, I do think that only by recognising and accepting the limitations of things, or people, or anything, can you let go of expectations, and with them disappointments, and begin to come into what can be gained from, learned and loved about them. I find now the blog has become a little less important, I'm able to relax about it and perhaps enjoy it more. While I still find myself wandering back rather too quickly after posting to see if anyone's commented yet, I don't break my heart if they haven't. I'm prepared to write this post of a length that's bound to put some people off, because I want to. I'm very pleased that I always resisted the temptation of the stat-counter, and hardly ever even check how many profile views I've had now! And my other blog is there as a discipline and an antidote to blogger's neediness; I write it most days and keep to a word count, its scope is strictly limited. If anyone wants to join me on a walk they're very welcome, but I don't expect it.

Sometimes I feel like I'm fiddling while Rome burns, in that I seldom write about the wider world, but I have to recognise my own limitations too, what I can and can't do, and I don't know that fiddling's better or worse than hand-wringing.

And, for me, there is so much to love. I don't want to twitter or do Facebook; if blogs like this one are getting old fashioned, clunky and ponderous, then so much the better, I'm very happy to be in an evolutionary backwater, thank you. The mixed-media, neither-fish-nor-fowl nature of it suits me, a bit of this, a bit of that, mixing photos and poems and anecdote and banality as and how it comes.

The colour, the interest, the community and contact, the confidence in myself and in what I love and am capable of, which I have found and will continue to find here has enhanced the way I go about the other things that are growing and coming, or coming back into my life. Many of the books and music and other things I've got piling up to enjoy and explore have been discovered through other bloggers. And though some of the friendships come and go, and that's fine, some of them have become more important than I can say, and will continue to be. Even the new work project that's on the horizon is with another blogger.

One of the marvellous things I've found through all this is qarrtsiluni. Naturally, if being recognised and pinned on the wall and given a star is important, there's no better place for it to happen. However, I submitted nothing for the last edition. This was, I realised, because I was too involved in exploring the stuff I brought back from the Chartres trip in May, and I didn't want to be distracted from that, and to rob what I was doing here in favour of something elsewhere. This time, for their Words of Power edition, I set off for the Seven Saints Chapel, where, I discovered, the Saints have been replaced! I got some good pictures, and if they accept any of them I'll be delighted of course, but part of me was slightly disappointed that it meant breaking up material for what would, I thought, make a good photo essay here.

That made me happy. Yes, going on and getting approval in a wider world is great, but what matters most, I realised, is what I do here. My garden, here, under the Box Elder tree, I'm cultivating it. And as September blows in, in the last week of August as it often does, and the first yellow leaves whirl to the ground, and into my heart an air, and I feel alive again, that's where you'll find me. For the foreseeable.
(I've supplied no links and named no names here. Most of you know who you are, I think, my dears.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lonely and blue.

How's that for a hook? In fact, I am neither, not in the least, but I have just posted a response to Joe's question, pinched from Lennon and McCartney: "All the lonely people, where do they all come from?" over at Compasses. And having taken questions from such a wide range of sources, from the Book of Job to King Lear to Eleanor Rigby, I decided to ask him something a little more demotic and down to earth, though not quite so peremptory as the 'Hey you, where's my lunch?' that he threw me earlier...

However, lest you think I might be dumbing down, and since form's the thing just now, I'll have you know it's a real, proper Italian sonnet, tight rhyme scheme, though it is mostly hexameter not pentameter but apparently that's OK, but NO FINAL COUPLET, oh no no! (Violence to the spirit, it would seem, though Wordsworth, no slouch with the Italian sonnet himself, was known to have been guilty of it.)

As for blue, it is still for me the colour of deep joy. This was further confirmed by a set of nail varnishes sent me by lovely sister, who knew of my desire for same. Not just one shade of marvellous turquoise, but also a vibrant blue-biased metallic emerald-viridian, and, the other way, a fabulous blue-violet, gentian, ultramarine...

It was not possible to choose which one to apply. I rejected painting each nail a different shade, on account of how I have ten and three into ten won't go, and anyway, that was not enough of a challenge. No, it was necessary to apply all three colours to each nail, preferably in such a way that the colours melded and even merged so as to be reminiscent of paua shell... but this was really a council of perfection, and this was the best I could do, on the second attempt, the first was so thick and blobby it looked more like Hammerite. It really took an unconscionably long time...

I decided to take the picture against the background of my blue ceiling. This necessitated pointing the camera while maintaining something resembling the yoga 'V' position, not one of my stronger ones, and the resulting camera shake required the use of flash, which makes my feet look rather jaundiced and the ceiling look more like midnight blue than its actual strong turquoise.


Further instances of the colour blue which cause me disproportionate and near-delirious joy, my marbles, which arrived the other day from Toypost. I think I feel an obsession coming on. I never played much with marbles as a child, and indeed, if I had had access to such beauties as these I almost certainly wouldn't have done, for who would have wanted to risk losing them?

They have amazing names, like soap bubble, bluejay, Monet, treefrog, tidal wave and white tiger, as well as all the epithets like 'lustred', 'opal', 'electric'... If you think paint charts are fun wait till you see these. And the ones you see in the bottom left corner of the collage above are collectibles, 'Gaia' and 'moon'. I think there are some asteroids too. OK, it's all pointless stuff, but it's great pointless stuff.

I had a 35mm emerald one, but I gave it to Tom, who I could see was hankering after it, (green glass goblin...) , and because it pleased me to do so.

Accidie, acedia. Isn't it odd to have a singular noun ending in 'ie'? I find I am putting off doing not only the things I should do, because they are the things I should do, but also the things I want to do, because I feel guilty about doing them when I'm not doing the things I should... Screwtape had something to say about this I'm sure. I seem to be stalling on so many things. Even my Proust listening has foundered somewhat in the Vanity Fair of the Guermantes Way.

So I'm writing Italian sonnets (though I procrastinated plenty about that too...) and photographing marbles and painting my toenails instead of applying Cuprinol to the front fence or perusing the website of the Chambre de Commerce in pursuit of gainful employment.


Monday, August 17, 2009

I don't much care for August...

I don't much care for August.

The sticky, stuffy heat, the hot tired road on pads and soles.
But then I find myself amused by how the tarmac blisters,
glints balefully like eyes, gives underfoot and licks your shoes,

as if the road becomes alive and starts to move,
has appetites and aspirations of its own, and briefly keeps
your footprint as a keepsake of your passing through.

But still I'd say, I don't much care for August.

The lack of lushness, the nastiness of ragweed. Though,
I love the bee-charged mound of marjoram, and how
the knapweed throws a purple beaded net along the verges,

and those bright harvest flowers - hawksbeards? - something in between
a thistle and a dandelion, whose yellow is of so intense a saturation that you want
to thank them for it. Even the meaty purple architecture of the hogweed's rather fine...

But still I'd say, I don't much care for August.

For the insects, the grubby flies and all the things that buzz and bite
and sting and tickle, how nothing seems to veil an open door
or window when you need it most. Although, of course,
I love the butterflies, which animate the weary garden,
burning up the flowers and themselves in their miraculous economy.
And the black writhings of the caterpillars on the nettle leaves, I like that too.

But still I'd say, I don't much care for August.

How the land seems altogether overloaded, overwhelmed
with cropping and with forced fertility. Mind you, the baked brown
wholesomeness of wheat, plush and fat in the fields still,

the plumes of barley cut to vivid stubble, ridges and rolls
of straw that need no Rumpelstiltskin to turn them into gold,
are good, all good. Yes, good like buttered toast.

But still I'd say, I don't care much for August.

I don't approve of maize, resent its bullying invasion, how
it overbears and tunnels us, its starchy, sucking ruin of the soil.

And yet, the spread hands of its flowers, their longest digits pointing,
eagerly, up to the sky, saying "There! Look, there,
that's where we're going!" as it dandles its new baby cobs,
their green blond top knots turning purple auburn, endear it to me, even so.

But still I'd say, I don't care much for August, nor for maize.

Nor for the way the birds in moult can scarcely sing, and dawn
without them's sad and sullen. Until, the other day, the robin, who,
threadbare and starey, has frowsted for weeks around the garden paths,
perched on the fence showing off his sleek new orange outfit, then
launched himself upward, catching his song's ripple in mid-air.
And then too, there are the young ones learning how to live...

But still I'd say, I don't care much for August.

For, in August's foxed and speckled accidie, its outstayed welcome,
its spent- and staleness, its bleached-out colour, shortened days, I see
perhaps the year in weedy, seedy middle-age, the dullness of a wasted afternoon,
reproaching me. And yet, mid-life is not so bad, and lazy afternoons are not a sin,
(- though more and more I fear that wishing any time away might well be... )
But roll on fresh September and the happy hour!

For really, I would say, I don't care much for August.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Three invertebrate haiku

Spider and thistledown

Frustration all round
in a conflict of interests.
We all make mistakes.



Red dragon couchant
on a green ground, long enough
to stay in focus.


Snail under blackberries

Pace of life too much?
Find a place to hide away,
pass fruitful hours.

(* Dragonfly identification proves difficult. I think it was a sympetum.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Things I once believed, including some I still might believe.

This is an idea I got from Alison McGhee's blog. I'm continually amazed with so much in blogging that this is all free, everyone just does it for the love of it, but never more so than when I visit there.

It's one of those places that I go where I never see anyone else I know, in fact I don't see many other visitors there anyway, which is not to say they aren't there, just that perhaps they don't comment. This would be fairly incomprehensible except that Alison is, I suppose, a writer first and a blogger second, so she doesn't really do it for the chitchat (though she frequently leaves very friendly, warm responses to comments left...). I imagine she does it because she simply can't stop herself writing wonderful things.

And when I say a writer, I mean a proper one, Pullitzer Prize nominated, stacks of awards, a pile of published books, for adults, young adults and children. But starstruck as I am by all that, that wasn't why I first went there, or why I read it now.

I'm sorry to say I didn't know of her before discovering her blog (and here I imagine some people, especially perhaps American readers or those with youngsters, rolling their eyes and saying 'What, never heard of Alison McGhee?'), and I did so quite by chance when I was doing an image search a little while ago for a photograph of wild strawberries to use in a painting to make a card for someone who liked the Bergman film of the same title, and she happened to have one, along with this post on the subject.

I go on reading there for the captivating, luminous magic of the writing. Which is filled with joy and love and humour and also piercingly sad and filled with loss in ways that most people can't or daren't get close to. She seems to be one of those people who vibrates on a different frequency from the rest of us, and who knows what to do with it, takes all the raw material of memory and imagination and experience, holds it and turns it into gold, or dreamstuff, or what you will.

And she likes dogs

I could go on, and on, but better to go over and read for yourself, and I'll get on and order some of her books. In response to a comment on her 'Things she once believed...' she suggested other people might like to write about things they used to believe, so I picked it up. It wasn't exactly a meme, but why not try it ?


Things I once believed, including some I still might believe.

That I was born at Sandy Bay.

That I would die when I was twenty, having been told by a friend that the dandelion juice I'd just licked off my hand was poison, but a very slow one. I wouldn't die today or tomorrow or soon, but probably...

That certain things I said or did were unforgiveable, and certain others weren't. Wrong on both counts.

That the bath salts we found in a jar by the bath really would taste like lemon snow, just like Kevin Palmer told me before I swallowed them.

That when my dad retired, we'd go and live in the country, and it would be like 'Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony'

That certain things could be fixed, and I was just the girl to do it.

That eating flies gave cats worms.

That only stupid people are happy. This one still hangs around, mostly in a rather inverted way: I am frequently happy, ergo...

That talking, and straight talking, must always be a good thing.

That maybe I had a musical bone in my body.

That certain losses and disappointments must inevitably be terminal and irrecoverable.

That, having lost all that weight when life was awful, I wouldn't put it all back on and then some when life got better.

Things my sister's charming boyfriend told me, such as that his little sister was eaten by a giant spider to which she was feeding pieces of bread. He told me these things because we were not a family who indulged much in fibs and fantasy, so I was extremely gullible. Even so I think I was quite dubious about this one.

That I was cut out to be some kind of people person. That I was cut out to be some kind of recluse.

That we would not still be renovating this house twelve years after moving here. That if we were it would be some kind of shameful failure, or matter much.

That, through no effort on my part, life would begin for real some time in the future, or that the world would change in such a way as to find a place for me, and then ability, hope, motivation, willpower, and, of course, recognition, would all be mine.

That there was some use for the concept of Utopia.

That White Ted really did make his way back to me in Hertfordshire when I was ill, from the car park in Dorset where I'd dropped him.

That the box elder tree was a field maple.

That loving Tom was such a piece of egregious and undeserved good fortune that I could not possibly be allowed to hang on to it, and that he must, very soon, be taken away from me.

That, being last, I was always destined to be least.

That I could never be happier.


(In the end I made this kind of amalgam of a number of wild strawberry pictures, and only used Alison's as reference. No matter.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More butterflies

' Butterflies are creatures of little importance and have never played much part in international commerce, either of goods or ideas...'

( A Handguide to the Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe by Wilkinson and Tweedie, now out of print)

While I suppose of all the wild world, birds are dearest to my heart, there's something about butterflies.

Their naming, for one thing. No other creatures seem to have been named with such whimsical abandon, with so little regard for informative exactitude, with such flights of subjective imagination. I spend quite as long browsing in the butterfly book as any other, which for me, without sacrificing anything of scientific integrity, succeeds in being a great source of poetry and wonder.

There are the gatekeepers, whose brief emergence coincides each year with the marjoram flowers,

red admirals - this one looks to have been rather in the wars -

and brimstones, which were perhaps the ones originally called butterflies, their pale yellow colour resembling butter. The ones I was able to photograph, however, were all females, who are a delicate greenish white. Today though, I notice there are many of the primrose coloured males around. (Notice the tiny green caterpillar on the flower petal to the right of the picture, I didn't when I took it.)

They are, in some way, a little like animated flowers, they blossom then fade and disappear, coming in waves, their size and intensity of colour and markings often varying with the moment of their flowering. We had a great and unprecedented wave, quite early in the spring, of these painted ladies.

They were large, but seemed quite faded and fragile, somewhat as their name suggests. Then we saw fewer of them, until there was another burgeoning of them in the last few weeks, and these seemed smaller but sturdier and more intensely marked and coloured. In these explosion years they appear in numbers in Britain too, though other years they are scarce. It is, it seems, among the most widespread of all butterfly species, there is even a sub-species in Australia. In French she is called la cosmopolite.

Some, of course, are named in a more workaday or obvious way, like this small copper (below), a tiny insect, perhaps half the size of the small white, which took some stalking to capture,

and the ever-glorious peacock, which needs neither introducing nor explaining. One butterfly website I visited said that even many well-travelled lepidopterists consider it to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

While some, like the scatty large and small 'cabbage' whites in the previous post, are quick and elusive, difficult to photograph, and when they do land they often keep their wings frustratingly closed, others, like the small tortoiseshell below, are quite easy to capture, and bask, for quite long periods, with their pretty wings openly displayed.

When I was a child, I had a friend, my second best. She was a rather sad girl who told terrible fibs that drove me mad, but she had a passion for butterflies. We would run round to a piece of rough ground near to my house and her father's motor bike garage, where she was often left to kick her heels after school, and try to catch the butterflies on the 'butterfly bush', a mauve buddleia. This shrub didn't seem so frequent then as it does now. We caught them in fishing nets, the kind on a wire loop poked into a bamboo cane, but we always let them go. It seemed to us that the more special and colourful the butterfly, the cleverer it was; the cabbage whites were easily caught, and once trapped in the net, flew upwards and were unable to escape. The cleverest were the peacocks and red admirals, and to a lesser extent the tortoiseshells, which seemed more aware of the perils of the nets, and, if you caught one, you had to quickly pinch the opening of the net closed, or they would fly downward and out. But I have never read or heard of anything to confirm our childhood observations on the relative intelligence of different species of lepidoptera...

We have plenty of buddleia in the garden, but it is not the most attractive plant to the butterflies. That distinction falls to the purple perennial wallflower, on which most of these butterflies were photographed. It is an unremarkable plant, but it goes on and on through spring summer and autumn, and they clearly love it, and eschew the buddleia in its favour.

Others, like this comma, while feeding on the flowers,

seem to like to spend time on the leaves of the laurel hedge. The name comes from the tiny, comma-shaped raised marking you can see on the underside of the wing to the left of the picture. An oddly obscure feature to give the creature its name...

I'm not quite sure why they like the laurel, perhaps because its shininess reflects heat back up to them. Early in the year, numbers of honey bees come to harvest propolis, the plant wax on the leaves, to make into their combs, but I can't think the butterflies have any use for this.

Below is a speckled wood, a shy visitor from the verges and hedgerows outside the garden, on a laurel leaf, and, below that, one of the same species that I took out walking to show it a little more clearly.

It's not a bad life, I have, when I can take the time to chase butterflies, and the camera is an improvement on a nylon kids' fishing net.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Flying crooked

The butterfly, a cabbage-white,

(His honest idiocy of flight)

Will never now, it is too late,

Master the art of flying straight,

Yet has - who knows so well as I?

- A just sense of how not to fly:

He lurches here and here by guess

And God and hope and hopelessness.

Even the acrobatic swift

Has not his flying-crooked gift.


(Robert Graves)

More butterflies later...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer visitors continued

Our visitors finally arrived having made quite good time after they'd called, and bringing with them a selection of footwear suitable for a holiday taking in Brittany, Paris and the Alps in rather unpredictable summer weather.

We were amazed at how bright eyed and bushy-tailed the chidren were after their long trip, arriving in a strange place with people they didn't remember, and they stayed that way throughout the weekend. Their parents bore up quite well too.

Below, Benjamin and Bruno, bears of great character (Bruno's the one with the black nose),

and Emily of the gorgeous smile (she can manage a baleful glare too when she has a mind, though it usually breaks up into the smile again before long...)

Benj's dad gave him a hand getting into his breakfast croissant,

and Poulain hot chocolate was a great success for relaxing people,

as was the blue ceiling. Emily said she'd like to have toenail varnish that colour.

Mol was popular too, and seemed to enjoy the influx of new pups in the house, though she wasn't too impressed with the other furry animals that came along,

but she did get represented in the pictorial record of the household we were given at the end.

All in all, lovely, appreciative, funny visitors who were a pleasure to have. As Benjamin said, hopefully they'll stay a bit longer next time.