🐾 🕷️ 🐞Caterpillars, pupae & butterflies 🦋 🐜 🦗
I grew up in a rural spot, an isolated hamlet of thatched cottages without running water, gas or electricity, scattered around a large cow-pasture. At one side was a Farm. It used to be a Green. That’s to say, a grassy area over which local residents, mostly farm labourers, enjoyed the right to graze their livestock: donkey, cow, goat or sheep.
A horse was out of the reach of the people. A donkey was housed in the room adjacent to our kitchen, when my parents, Londoners, had bought their ‘country” cottage in 1934.
These spaces of green and fertile tranquility that I remember and recall as the 1940s melted into the hot summers of the 1950s, were mine to roam, explore and to wonder at.
Tall only as the tallest grasses, my sphere of awareness, my operational horizon extended from my feet to my head and two paces forward. Here movement and attention was always dominated by insect life!
If I had any aesthetic response to the endless multiplicity of insect markings and colouring, it was present as an admiration of symmetry and absorption in detail.
What my toddler self, free to wander at will in complete security, was mainly given over to was attention to the discovery of the new. My personal paradise was still untouched by the application of agricultural pesticides on industrial scales.
Insect life teemed. There was no question, no uncertainty about whether they would be seen outside, they were everywhere. On fresh cowpats, on, under and inside leaves. Insects thronged the mixed grasses. Tree bark hid more, leaf litter almost heaved with insects. Their tiny winged squadrons dithered in shafts of sunlight.
I didn’t catch them. I looked at them. I wondered at their legs, their eyes, their hairs. I was fascinated to watch the way they articulated their many-legged segmented bodies. I was specially drawn to the obvious questing curiosity displayed in the waving of their antennae. Of course I knew these were receptors. After all, cats and dogs have them. And our own human H-shaped ones on rooftops captured TV signals. So I asked myself what was it they were tuning into?
From these beginnings, when I simply accepted the endless novelty of life forms that presented to my eyes, I began to ask questions of grown-ups. I saw picture books with the stages in the life of a butterfly. Later on I went out with a magnifying glass. Then I looked at some of these animals under a microscope. I pieced together enough of the story of the animate life I was immersing myself in to satisfy my basic curiosity and I carried on exploring, discovering.
I had no vision of myself in another frame of reference. I had no idea I was a little child in a paradise.
There was a depth of meaning and an intensity I brought to my examination of my bubble of vision which was not self-referential. I did not authorise my toddling enjoyment. I engaged in no internal conversation from alternative perspectives. I remember nothing insistent about the mind-chatter at that age.
Today, some six-and-a-half decades later, I can blend with ease this old body into that fresh leggy boy’s body as he walks so slowly among the grass-hoppers.
I can be with his mild boy brain, I can share in his thoughtless thoughts. I can thrill to his surprise as he focuses at millimetre level, closer than my old eyes will function unaided today.
And though those insects are no more, and most of their species descendents are no more, I can burn with an incandescent overflowing gratitude for their little lives, and for mine, as it begins its decline