Flowery Place of the Happy State
1 July 2015
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
Flowery Places of the Happy State
The bee orchid opens its beautiful strangeness a few inches above ground. Surrounded by lady’s bedstraw, common whitlowgrass and wild thyme, the orchid appears as a lone curiosity, a magnet drawing attention from the wide world above into the small, intimate world of the meadow.
Late, because of a cold start, the wild flowers seem more prolific than previous years, but there are worryingly few butterflies and moths around yet. There are a few small heath butterflies, each the size of a quartered old bus ticket. They are swift and flighty, and their erratic movement through the air and camouflage when they fold up in the grass may be all that protects them from being eaten by birds.
Swallows, with an inspired recklessness, flick an inch over the steep banks of the meadow to trawl for insects in flight. Worker bumbles with ginger backsides, their saddlebags stuffed with golden pollen, stagger paralytic in the flowers. A common blue butterfly feeds on wild thyme, the markings on his underwings like maps of archipelagoes. A meadow grasshopper, as if made of Meccano, considers the flesh of a wrist she has landed on and leaps back to her own world.
“Grasshopper thrice happy,” wrote the poet Richard Lovelace in 1649, “Oh how near thy happy state / Comes the gods to imitate.”
There are fewer flowery places of that happy state to join us from the long ago when meadows like this were common. Examining creatures of the commonplace, the 17th-century experimenter Henry Power said: “… because we see them daily with our eyes, and handle them with our hands as thinges common, doe not amaze us, why should we then so much wonder in seeing some things which passe this common agreement and order of nature?” (Experimental Philosophy, 1663).
This attitude may swing between a religious sacredness of all creatures and a scientific reverence for familiar objects but, unamazed, we looked away from the commonplace for other wonders. Meanwhile, most flowery meadows were taken. This lone bee orchid is as wonderful as the whole meadow. What will we miss when it’s gone?