Mirror mirror on the wall …


In the case of the five spot burnet moth versus spear thistles I’m not sure I could choose. The first sight of the moths was a carmine red blur of wings supporting the black body. I’d love to know how they make such large wing structures move so fast – that’s two moths in succession with this mesmerising and exceptional gift. but the sheer structural beauty of the spear thistles is pretty mind blowing as well.

The common blue butterfly was obligingly still for me. 90% of the time I take photos with my phone, and that means stalking and getting well within my quarry’s comfort zone. Most butterflies will take exception even to a shadow, let alone my clumsy great body looming over them, and so you have to do a rapid mental list of the attributes to fill in the gaps left by a poor photo.

This, of course, is why my photos are so biased towards the more cooperative subjects like plants – because they stay still. As I reviewed the pictures I was thinking, why on earth spend all that energy and money on safaris when you can find all this right where you are?

Both burnets and common blues feed (we’re told) on birds foot trefoil and its close relatives. The field we spotted both in was full of trefoils and yet both were feeding (don’t like the word ‘nectaring’ it sounds a bit red lipped and over-excited) so both were feeding on the spear thistles. Just goes to show that creatures don’t read textbooks. That’s twice recently I’ve found things where they’re not meant to be and discovered that there’s no such thing as never in the natural world. ‘Normally’ is much less authoritarian but allows amateurs like me to think in terms of probabilities rather than absolutes.

img_5644Being slightly obsessive I caught myself naming plants – with their Latin names if I knew them – as we walked down to the village today. Thank goodness no-one can hear the conversation in my head – if they could I’d have been locked up years ago!

Just to finish, here’s why a bit of botanising can be such fun. If you’re out for a walk on an earth or grass track and you spot this plant – Matricaria discoidea – like Plantain it doesn’t seem to mind being regularly trodden on – pick one of the yellow flowers and rub it between your fingers and then smell it. Now you know why the English common name is pineapple weed – one for the children! Field botany is such a multi sensory activity.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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