Monday, 19 July 2010

Special Delivery - March 30th

Today I received the most extraordinary 'Special Delivery'. Our post man arrived with quite an unassuming parcel, a box wrapped ordinarily in a grey plastic sleeve, belying its extraordinary contents, for inside the box, wrapped in layer upon layer of cotton wool rested six Blue Morpho butterfly pupae. The excitement that built as I teased the layers of cotton wool away to reveal them felt as if it may lift me air borne like a butterfly myself! Oh such perfect buds of life! ~ they rested there like the most exquisite jewels... emerald bright, gleaming with a light that can only be borne of life itself, like the twinkle in our eyes when they catch sight of something beloved.

Having come back down to earth, my mind set about recalling the careful instructions I had been given to implement upon their arrival, for it was not entirely unexpected. They had arrived in Dorset (via a butterfly house in Stratford) from the rainforest in Belize, their journey overseen by an expert lepidopterist (... my imagination had in fact been romancing their journey for days). Neil had already fashioned me a display case with in which he had carefully secured two branches from which to suspend the pupae, allowing enough room for their miraculous blue wings to unfold. With ventilation holes and a soft moisture retentive floor, the conditions of what I euphemistically named our 'butterfly theatre', would hopefully remind them of home and encourage them to flourish.

With Neil's help I carefully tied a fine silk thread to the stem of each cocoon and secured them carefully to the branches inside the case. Much to our delight and my nervous excitement (the adage 'butterflies in my tummy', so very pertinent to this experience!) one or two wiggled as we delicately handled them. I read that this 'wiggle' accompanied by a noxious scent is a warning designed to deter predictors in the wild. I then misted them with a fine water spray... a very controlled synthesis of a tropical rain storm, and closed the case.

And now we wait. Childlike, I keep returning to the case and gazing at them in sheer wonder, studying the extraordinary beauty of their form, their colour... awed be the process of metamorphosis I know to be happening within

Today the pupae are seemingly resting quite contentedly, however, I understand that the life within, though incapable of true movement, barely breathing and taking no nourishment is far from inactive, It is undergoing the most incredible transformation.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

8th July 2010

A couple of weeks ago, encouraged by a learned naturalist, Neil and I gathered a brood of Peacock butterfly caterpillars into our care. Countless tiny strands of life caught up in a silken web woven around a stem of nettles. We fashioned them a house; more of a box room really; the sort of residence that would remain on an estate agents books indefinitely with no real interest expressed in viewing! However it was more than adequate as as a starter home for these little ones. We furnished it with nettles and fixed an organza curtain securely in place across the front of the box, screening them from the harmful attention of parasitic flies, wasps and other predators. Very soon they ventured beyond their nursery web and began devouring their 'soft furnishings' .Taking our duty of care very seriously we provided them with fresh nettles the instant their home began to look bedraggled and life less appetising.

As they grew it became increasingly apparent that we would have to find them a new home. Yesterday Neil fashioned them what is best described as a Butterfly Palace, with sliding glass windows through which we can tend them, wooden sides,ceiling and a muslin 'feature' wall.

It was so thrilling 'helping them move'. We lifted their existing box room, rested it inside their new, palatial space and encouraged them to explore. We lifted some, still munching away on their nettles into the new corners of their world and they barely noticed. Others, of more edgy disposition, dropped and rolled like commandos on manoeuvres. To our delight, having emptied the box of its residents and debris (caterpillar house keeping is appalling, I had to take a dollies dust pan and brush to the pooh!) we found several fixed like jewels to the top of the box having completed their metamorphosis into chrysalis. Over the course of several hours they slowly changed from vibrant green to parchment brown in colour. Hung along side these 'jewels', like miniature sea horses were a number of creatures not yet fully metamorphosed. Still recognisable as caterpillars, grown fat and languid, they were attached securely into place by their bottoms (an indelicate yet accurate description) with a pad of silk spun out by themselves for the purpose. Slowly they wiggled as if to get comfortable , seemingly all harbouring ambition to once more touch their toes before 'the long sleep' to follow. Most extraordinarily of all, we witnessed one having attained this 'comfortable position', seem to unzip its caterpillar self to reveal its bright green chrysalis self within! Little by little, its 'caterpillar clothing' was simply sloughed off, ultimately falling to the ground. To our morbid fascination we witnessed that a number of our caterpillars had not escaped the attention of parasitic life, emerging from their caterpillar forms; life of an entirely different kind. Tiny silken balls containing the young of wasps or flies... possibly even spiders, I know not which. Bravely disregarding my butterfly sensibilities I have removed them to 'solitary confinement'... and will watch and learn. I remember a lecture given by a very worthy naturalist where by (and not with out cause) he accused lepidopterists and butterfly enthusiasts of being far too precious when it comes to considering all creepy crawly life, and not having enough room in their hearts for parasites!... I'm not at all convinced, but remain open minded. I think that there would be far less interest in the title 'Parasites ~ The Art and Embroidery of Jane Hall'... perhaps I'm wrong!

My conscience has just hear me quote the title of my unrealised book, and I really must get on now to settle it down! I have embroidered butterflies to metamorphose, it simpers!
18th June 2010

I watched the Hare walk calmly and quietly along the path approaching my studio this morning, entirely unaware of my looking on from my hide away. He seemed to me, the relaxed country cousin of the gentleman hare in the story of Alice in Wonderland. He was apparently far from late for anything, indeed seemingly absolutely with out agenda! So often when we see hares, they see us and we directly perceive their fear, naturally their agenda at such a point in time is to to get away from us as hurriedly as possible. Perhaps it was chance meetings such as these which inspired Lewis Carol to portray the Hare as an anxious fellow always hurrying away . Why if he had based his character portrayal on observations from my studio surely he would have fashioned him with sun hat chewing a stem of grass in the attitude of a dude smoking a reefer! I watched him saunter across the lawn and disappear out of sight before remembering that I in fact did have an agenda... that I was indeed late for a very important date! I was to accompany Neil on his mission to fix the Ryewater dragon, which it seems has lost (or never found) its ability to huff and puff, which really just wont do! The plan; that I should wonder around the garden taking butterfly photos whilst Neil 'examined' the Dragon and came up with a diagnosis.

Well, it's now late afternoon and I simply just can't settle to my artwork, so for reasons I shan't even bother to attempt to justify I'm writing about my day instead. I can report that Neil thinks that he can fix the Dragons condition and have it 'up and puffing' in no time! I managed to take several worthwhile photographs of delightful small blue butterflies, their 'proper' name I might add, and just as their name suggests they are indeed, small and blue. Unlike, lets say the 'dingy skipper', which to my mind isn't the slightest bit dingy!

Sadly I had to conduct a funeral for a young woodpecker on my return home (a shallow grave beneath the beech tree... a posy of buttercups and daisies). No idea why he had to leave this world so abruptly, though Mum and Dad did overhear an early morning squabble today, with the shrill notes of a woodpecker and the cackle of magpies. My sadness at this loss was only compounded by the discovery of yet another lifeless young woodpecker between the garden sheds, only identifiable by a fanfare of exquisite feathers. I held my heart still, drew in a deep breath and gathered a number to take into my studio collection... it somehow felt like theft and yet by the same token, criminal to leave them there. At least I can hold their beauty in my gaze , perhaps that way all is not wasted... conversely perhaps I should have left them to dance into the wind... oh dear!

Well! Just as I begin to feel morose, the hare appears again, this time to stroll back along the garden path and into the tall grasses. Time I took a path that leads some where cheery, perhaps indoors to make Neil and I a lovely garden salad supper, we have ruby red new potatoes (named after some duke or other according to Falkland) some tasty radishes and a buttery soft head of lettuce all bounty from Ryewater. Actually, it's a shame that I can't ask the hare to join us, I'm sure it's a supper that would suit him nicely. I could never figure out why a hare would want to go to a tea party if there was no lettuce on the menu... even in Wonderland with Alice as guest of honour. Perhaps, as a reader, I should have invested a little more in the story, believing what I was told rather than turning a different page in my mind.

...all this waffle, it was a Rabbit in the tale of Alice In wonderland wasn't it!