Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Who Needs Purple Emperors?

So, off I trundle to Bentley Wood again this morning in much cooler conditions confident (as much as I ever am) of getting that elusive photograph of himself, or Iris or His Imperial Majesty or the Purple Emperor, all of which he is known by in the flutter world. I arrive and there is only one other car in the car park. Odd, I think to myself. Normally you can't move for people when the Purple Emperor butterfly is out in these woods. It's a little before nine and I have the place entirely to myself.

I wander down the paths and tracks, loving the solitary tranquility and the peace of this ancient woodland, imagining elves and faeries peering out at me behind the trunks of trees, feeling like I've been allowed in and trusted with a secret world.

It's cool and overcast and the only butterflies that are awake in any number are ringlets. I watch them flitting across the path and sitting on leaves.

Then the sun comes out and the wood comes alive. Golden Skippers wake as if the touch of the sun on their wings is a magic wand, bringing them to life after their night time slumber. I watch them chasing one another over the banks of bramble, furious in their pursuit.

I see the first Gate Keeper of the year, striking orange and brown, sitting quietly on a leaf by the path.

And a Meadow Brown, on a bramble flower.

I see Silver Washed Fritillaries, twirling round one another through the air, alighting every now and then on the earth or a flower to nectar or take mineral salts.

And then, something magical happens. I notice a small disturbance in the air at chest height, silver-grey-blue, and I think what could that be? Small Blue? But somehow I know it isn't. Somehow, although they are rarer than hen's teeth flying down here among us mere mortals, I know what this is and I know that, because of what it is, I will not find an Emperor today. 

The diminutive cousin of the Emperor, one who shares his elusive tree-top habits, but who, unlike the Emperor, rarely ventures to the ground and so is almost never seen without the aid of binoculars.

The Purple Hair Streak.

Three of them come to me and settle on leaves and ferns. Two of them watch me. I don't know how much time passes while I stand in a daze, watching these beautiful butterflies. Eventually, they fly away into the treetops and I wander on. 

It comes as something of a shock when, after an hour and half alone, suddenly there are other people in the woods. Any Emperors? they ask, hopefully. I shake my head. We've baited a log with fish paste, they say, hopefully he'll come down. 

He won't, I think, not for me, not today, not after the Hair Streaks.

As if reading my mind they say have you seen any Purple Hair Streaks?

For a moment I consider saying no. I want to keep that commune with those special butterflies private, to tuck it away in silence, so it remains sacred, a gift given to me, but then I remember all the times people have been kind and pointed things out to me and how my life has been enriched by their generosity, so I say yes, there are a lot of them flying low just up the way.

The Emperors do not come and I head back up the track. On the way I find my thoughts consumed with something unpleasant that I have been trying to find a way through. Dark thoughts, such as I am rarely given to. I know that they are not healthy, but I can not get rid of them. I stop noticing the wood, I turn inwards, I feel bleak and angry and frustrated. And then I feel the lightest breeze stirred by butterfly wings on my cheek and across my forehead and I look up and there is a brown butterfly with white chalk stripes on her wings floating in front of me. She flies down onto some brambles, the most elegant, gliding flight of all the butterfly species. She is a White Admiral. And I stop thinking the black thoughts, I stop feeling angry and upset. I remember that you can not control the behaviour of other people, only your own, and I forget about worrying, I watch the butterfly and I know that this is the wood's message for me. To let go, to stop worrying, to trust the universe, and this magical wood, to take care of the proper balance of things. And so when I go home, I leave lighthearted and restored.



  1. Fantastic photos, lovely post. Life would be wonderful if we could avoid the nasty people on this earth.

  2. A perfect, enriching post. Thank you. Lucky you for those gorgeous opportunities. Lots of butterflies that we don’t often see. I gather some white admirals have been spotted recently in the north of the island. I will have to go look see. Latest spot was a meadow brown on Saturday . Good luck with the emperors. B x

  3. No words for such a beautiful post today.
    Thank you.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. I watching some butterflies today and wondering what they were. Now I know. Silver Washed Fritillaries. I missed seeing them in your earlier post! And now they are back :-). Delightful, aren't they?

  5. They are just simply stunning. Your photographs are beautiful.
    I'm sorry your morning was tainted by some unpleasant thoughts and hope you are able to move on from whatever has upset you. X

  6. Nature is really rather life-affirming, isn't it? And you captured that sentiment beautifully, thank you.

  7. I'm glad that the butterfly managed to chase away your unpleasant thoughts. I am constantly amazed by your knowledge of all things fluttery. If there is a sort of 'dyslexia' for butterflies, then I have it - try as I might, I can't for the life of me recognise them! I can't hold shapes in my head either, so maybe it's all part of the same thing. You'd think the colours would help though! Enjoy the rest of the week, CT. xx

  8. Oh how beautiful, and what amazing photos. So glad you got to see the purple hairstreaks, what a privilege. Also the white admiral. Nature is a miracle indeed. I am sorry there has been darkness, I hope it passes soon. The rhythm of the woods and the other wild places is always so soothing I think. Sending you a cyber hug my friend. CJ xx

  9. A stunning post. Thank you. I always feel balanced when I read your word CT. I have been trying to comment on your other posts but for some reason they haven't been getting through. Glad the running is going well for you. Don't know how you have been keeping at it in this heat though! Xx

  10. I love butterflies! !😍😍

    Cheers, Sandra

  11. What a wonderful morning and so many glorious, unusual butterflies spotted. x

  12. Oh my, I've died and gone to heaven.
    So many beautiful images of the ethereal butterflies.
    What a magical post.
    Some of my favourites there.

    A few years back I had a purple hairstreak on the garden lawn. I managed to get one photo which I posted. I have never seen them since but it is a moment I will never forget.

    A really beautiful post.

  13. Hey CT,
    I think that your wood looks over you as much as you look over it. I'm sorry to hear about those thoughts, but as you write so eloquently, nature has a way of restoring balance to our inner selves. Your photos of these beautiful creatures are stunning. Thank you.
    Leanne xx

  14. The woods are the very best for healing. Your photos of the butterflies are spectacular. The best salve.

  15. Hi CT, what a lovely post. Your woods sound magical and they're obviously a place of peace and solace for you. Being in nature definitely helps with unwelcome thoughts (I'm sorry you were momentarily overloaded - hope you are ok). Wonderful butterfly photos. Sam x

  16. I'm sorry you have tough stuff to deal with, but what a blessing to have the fleeting moments with such beautiful creatures to brush some of the dark away.

    I've said it before, but your pictures are stunning, an absolute joy to look at :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x