Four of us made reasonably light work of 1500 plants in a couple of hours, which was gratifying- the rest are being put in today, while I am at home revising and watching the outcome of the General Election, which can be summed up thusly: Conservatives get shock-horror unexpected majority and Dave pops off to visit Queenie to get her rubber-stamp of approval on his solo-party Government (must have been all that pumped up sleeve rolling action last week that did it eh?); SNP dominate Scotland under the fearsome Nicola Sturgeon; Labour drops down and the Lib Dems drop away; Three Party Leaders resign; Several Big Scalps are claimed, including the instigator of 'National Ed Balls Day', Ed Balls himself.... It's all been Quite Exhausting ;o)
Here are some snaps of our Hard Work yesterday....
I had made some Rhubarb Shortbread the night before (thanks CJ for the delicious recipe), as our rhubarb is threatening to take over the entire world (see how giant the leaves are? They are bigger than Poppy, not that that's particularly hard- everything is bigger than Poppy. They certainly made the basket I had taken outside to collect them in look ridiculous), and I took a box full of the resulting goodies along for the volunteers....
It went down well (as did the box M took to work for his colleagues, so I shall be making it again).
After we'd devoured the cakes, I took myself off for a rewarding wander down The Hill to look for flutters (and at the same time burn off the fat and sugar just consumed) while the others went to help with the sheep shearing (more on that later). I'd had it on Good Authority from Colin (the keeper of The Hills' secrets) that the Brown Argus was out and about in numbers.
Now, you know I am keen for Everyone to be able to enjoy the delights fluttery folk have to offer and to understand why their continued existence is of paramount importance to us all, but I have to confess to a spot of Blatant Hypocrisy here, for when I reached the bottom of the hill where the Brown Argus were, I discovered to my dismay that an enormous (by the standards of The Hill) crowd of men with long lenses were all staring avidly at the grass pointing and clicking away.
My heart sank: I much prefer my wild places to be wild and unoccupied by people, you see?
I got a pic of this Orange Tip female ovipositing (egg laying) on Jack In The Hedge (can you see her? She's hiding behind the plant).
And then I was assailed by a flash of silvery blue as a Holly Blue shot in front of me and plonked down on the Jack In The Hedge... I was pleased, because it's only the second Holly Blue I've seen this Spring and time is a-ticking. Lovely, aren't they?
It was at this point, just as I was focusing the camera and willing the flutter to stay still long enough for the shot, that a man bounded up to me in a way reminiscent of an over-excited Tigger.
What kind of Blue was that? he asked breathlessly, without so much as a 'Hello'.
I'm not sure how a shared purpose conveys tacit permission for the breaching of the social etiquette that governs 'respecting other peoples' personal space', but apparently it is OK if two people are watching butterflies for one to breath down the neck of the other, even if they haven't been properly introduced. Put it this way: had I been a Victorian Lady I would have been Jolly Certain that a marriage proposal was imminent.
The offence was compounded in a not inconsiderable way by the fact he had clearly consumed enough garlic the night before to fell the butchest of vampires at twenty paces (can vampires be butch, actually?).
Trying not to choke to death, and at the same time move out of fume-range, I replied that I thought it was a female Holly Blue.
He actually leant over my shoulder to look down my camera lens.
I think it's a male, he stated.
OK, I said, in the kind of tiny voice that comes out when you're trying to talk through a small hole in your mouth and not breath at the same time (which is a hard thing to do as it turns out).
Desperate to repopulate my fast-withering lungs with good old-fashioned fresh air, I risked instant asphyxiation by breathing in order to utter what I hoped was an obviously final goodbye. Walking quickly away, his cries of 'all we need now's a Grizzled, eh?!' echoed after me.
In my haste to find clean air I very nearly tripped over his wife, a small silent creature who was sitting so still among the grasses I almost didn't see her.
I also nearly bumped into this Green Hairstreak who was perched on his flower in that quietly assertive way they have.
I thought I'd made good my escape, and was just settling down to take a pic of my first Brown Argus of the year (I'd forgotten quite what tiny wee flutters they are) when he bloomin' well reappeared. Shoving his camera under my nose he declared he'd been right and I wrong, as the Holly Blue was a male and not a female as I had thought, and this was owing to the small amount of black on the wing margins, See?
Unfortunately, because he'd run up The Hill to catch me (I having purposefully gone up The Hill to escape him) he was breathing hard, with the result that the garlic would now have felled an entire flock of Vampires at a distance of a mile or more (probably).
OK, I said, in a voice that probably lost in good manners what it gained in for pity's sake man, LEAVE ME ALONE! ness, a male, yes, well done.
Alas it wasn't to be.
What have you got there, a Grizzled? he asked, apparently not registering a Cold Shoulder that could not have been more obvious had it spent the previous two hours in a freezer.
Would you believe he moved in for another too-close-for-comfort peer over my shoulder? But, Ah Ha! I was ready for him this time and stepped gracefully backwards out of death-by-garlic range (or as gracefully as it's possible to when one is holding a camera and wearing clumpy walking boots while standing heel up on the steep sloping sides of a Chalk Downland made slippery by the night before's rain).
He peered at the grass.
Oh yes, another Brown Argus, he said dismissively. A female, that one. There are lots of those about. But not, it seems, any Grizzleds. He let out an enormous sigh, nearly killing me on the spot, and mercifully turned round and wandered off to look elsewhere.
I clicked the shutter before he could come back, got a few hasty pics, including one with what looks like a hover fly poised to zoom in and irritate the butterfly, and quickly moved on towards another group who were all also staring avidly at the ground.
Don't forget to tell me if you find a Grizzled! He called out as I headed off.
Dodging the second group, I headed further along the track and was relieved to see there were No More People up ahead and even better that garlic-breath wasn't following me.
I realised I hadn't taken the time I usually would to commune with the land and the flutters. Instead, ruffled by the unexpected crowds and the hard-to-shake personal-space-invader, I'd just taken pictures without pause. It left behind an unsettled sad feeling, because I much prefer to take my time and have a chat with them (the butterflies, not the people)- it seems rude just to take their picture and move on. I like to look at them properly and admire their colours and their little expressive faces, the beauty of their wings and the amazing way they survive here in what is not always the most clement or indeed flutter-friendly of climates (and let's not even begin to get into the damage done to their homes by people).
I forced myself to breath out and look around me properly, because The Hill is a very beautiful and ancient place and I feel at home there, it being on The Chalk an' all. It's rude to stride across ancient landscapes without asking permission, and this Hill has a row of Bronze Age Barrows that line the top like sentries guarding it, hints of a time when people lived with the land instead of simply on it.
I am quite certain when we're tense we project tense energy outwards and wildlife, more used to listening to instinct and using every sense it possesses, reacts to that. So if you want to see wild things close up you have to be quiet and still and above all relaxed, to let them come to you. You have to feel the heart beat of the land, to become part of it, then you aren't a threat, you're simply part of the place.
So that is what I did. I stopped actively looking; I let my irritation with all the other people fade away and I listened to the heart beat of the Hill; I asked it's forgiveness for my earlier intrusive haste and irritation, and after a little while, they appeared.....
First a Small Heath. Another tiny butterfly and the first Small Heath of the year for me. The Butterfly Wizard tells me he finds them a hard species to photograph, but this little one sat quite still on his nettle leaf and allowed the camera so close it was almost touching.
A moment later a brilliant and therefore newly emerged Common Blue flew over and rested on a bramble leaf, his wide open wings soaking up the sunlight....
And then, when I thought the generosity of The Hill could provide no more, a tiny Grizzled Skipper suddenly flitted out of no-where and landed at my feet.....(shhh, don't tell!)....:o)
I kept The Hill's secret and went on my way with a small private smile, hiking directly up the slope thereby avoiding all the cameras, back to the Sheep Pen where my fellow plug planters were by this time watching the winter fleeces coming off the Shetland/ Hebridean Flock (Amanda, these are for you :o)...).
All in all a Top Day, and one that was Much Needed after all the indoor-ness of the day before.
Hope all are well?