5 August 2015
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
As if materialised from thin air, the beetles crowd upon the purple petals. The thistles are full of them. Along the path where dogs are walked, away from the reach of mowers, the weeds grow rank. Lush with rain and bold from neglect, the hogweeds, thistles, nettles and docks become a commonwealth of marvels.
High summer is house martins skimming over fine grasses on the hill meadow, where drifts of lady’s bedstraw smell of joss sticks in the evening and field scabious, restharrow, harebell and centaury shine. But high summer is also the coarse, rude weeds of the wayside: the commonwealth of the commonplace.
A couple of weeks ago, the hogweed flowers were erotic stages for common red soldier beetles. Now uncoupled, they fly to the ultraviolet beacons of the thistles. Soldier beetles, the orange, scarlet and khaki of polished seeds, are sleek and graceful. They often hunt aphids but have come to the opening thistle flowers to feed on nectar and pollen. They find the flowers jostling with pollen beetles. These animated black pips have emerged from underground. Their larvae grew inside flower buds then climbed down to earth to pupate. They’ve flown here in their hundreds for the pollen feast.
The soldiers and pollen beetles, as different as horses and rabbits, do no damage to the flowers. Lower down, however, the brilliantly jewel-like, green dock beetles munch dock leaves into lace. To this calm stillness, bumblebees arrive like rhinos, charging, banging and poking into the thistleheads.
In this insect life of the flowers, it is easy to see how the medieval imagination might have created a world where delicate and perfect creatures beyond humanity were both inhabitants of a supernatural fairy realm and also symbols of social ideals. Insects described by the Greek poet Anacreon (translated in the Renaissance) as “without passion, flesh or blood” appear innocently otherwordly.
That endearing, miniaturised innocence and embodiment of natural values may still play into the sense of wonder we feel for the hidden state of wild nature around us: the commonwealth of commonplace marvels.