DRESSED TO IMPRESS
'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'
Summer is coming! Mother nature's runway, the village lanes and hedgerows, draped with honeysuckle, dog roses, and foxgloves, welcome Painted Ladies centre stage as they flit in on sunshine breezes. And as new blossoms unfurl around us, it's hard to ignore that feeling within, a sense of freedom and euphoria, summers sweet breath catching our emotions like petals on warm updrafts, or soaring heavenwards like the swallows, towards the cathedral like light flooding down through canopied fresh green windows of dappled leaves. Every living thing seems to have been created to parade. But as I write and whilst all is 'lush' after the May rains, the leaves are not yet dark green and full and nature's metamorphosis is still taking shape as it carries even more promises of the wonders of our chief catwalk designer to come; the transformation of already striking caterpillars swinging and wriggling from golden threads amongst the trees, fuzzy, newly hatched goslings and moorhen chicks finding their wobbly feet, the 2 inch coach-horse beetle larva running across my path, that's going through the last of its 3 stages of growth before it will finally emerge as an adult with wings.
The runway floor is lit by Stars of Bethlehem, also appropriately known as 'Shirt Buttons' or 'Stitchwort', with 5 petals, each of them split to look like 10. When the seed cases eventually ripen the seeds can be heard 'popping' as they're released, like spontaneous applause. (It was once thought that picking them would cause a thunderstorm). And amongst last month's well-watered bluebells, and this months' buttercups and red campion, 'Early purple orchids' still stand upright and pose defiantly, once falsely regarded by the Victorians as a powerful aphrodisiac because of their testicle-shaped root tubers.
The unseasonal frosts, hail, showers and early morning mists at the beginning of May made 'Fashion-week' a little late this year, delaying the growing season for both plants and creatures. Even the black drone-like St Marks Day flies trailing their dark legs, that usually emerge with amazing punctuality on 25th April, didn't appear until Mid-May. One-minute wonders, but important pollinators, they sadly have a really short lifecycle and are in flight for only around a week. I found a cloud of them 'hanging' together, whilst feeding on the nectar of a fallen Field Maple and mating on its leaves. Soon after, once the females have laid their eggs in the soil they will pass away. There have still been new masterpieces and artforms to discover every day - a sculpture consisting of 3 snails mating, a freshly emerged Small White butterfly hanging upside down, waiting for her wings to dry as she flapped and straightened them and confetti-like blossom sprinkled on the wool of two sheep, standing like creamy 'meringue' bridesmaids next to the royal bride of the silver-white peahen, complete with 'tiara' flirting with a pheasant (her groom).
Even the broken shells, from which new life has emerged, are incredible canvases of various textures, colours and sheens. Those I've spotted this year include the wonderful turquoise Greek sea-blue remains of a Song Thrush's egg, dotted with black spots, the smooth, waxy creamy-white buff of a Mallard, and the marble-like, glossy white shell of a Yellow-hammer with purple etchings like hand-writing. I also picked up the pieces of two crushed rubbery Grass Snake eggs. Although this is early (they normally lay in June or July and don't hatch until the Autumn), I've found the remains of one before in May. Grass snakes are our only UK reptile to lay eggs and I'm hoping that as the females can lay up to 40 that some will have survived although I did see a young weasel tumbling around nearby. There was no sign of the non-venomous grass snake herself who also cuts quite a dash in a medium olive green or grey with a yellow and black collar and dark markings down her sides.
The best soundtrack, to which nature 'struts her stuff' has had to have been the dawn chorus at the beginning of May, clear and flute-like solos, and dozens of rousing melodies swooping, rising, falling and pausing like our feathered friends themselves. Later, around midday, during 'breeding and feeding' intervals between rains showers, an orchestra of joy has been drifting like summer pollen, or the clouds of fluffy white Salix willow-down, floating through the air as it disperses its seeds. Now, this month we can look forward to new sounds and rhythms, including the steady buzz of bees, crickets in tall grasses and enjoy the electrifying colours of new damselflies and dragonflies as they take to the wing.
But the Queen of the catwalk in terms of adornment, ushered in at the culmination of a show, must be the tiny, under-stated by day, wingless, female glow-worm, whose latter two segments light up through bioluminescence with an ethereal lantern-like light. This is the month when, on warm nights, the males will be flying in search of her 'glow'. As trends in our own fashions change, thank God that nature can always be relied upon to be the best dressed, by just 'being' in all its awesomeness, colour and splendour. May natures kaleidoscope of colours and shapes and tapestry of rich textures inspire and bless you all this month.