Sunday 17 October 2010

Tender Ghosts

Patrick Barkham, who recently wrote about the Purple Emperor on the blog everyone's talking about - The Dabbler - also has a fine piece, My Butterfly Marathon, in the current issue of Butterfly, the magazine of Butterfly Conservation. This is a look back over his summer devoted to spotting all 59 British butterfly species (something some manage to do year after year, which must rather take the magic out of it). Looking back over my own butterfly year, I see that I've totted up my usual 30-something species, despite some disappointments (no purple hairstreak, no wall butterfly, no clouded yellow) and despite circumstances having often kept me from my usual haunts on perfect butterfly days. Never mind - there were memorable sightings: the Dingy Skipper in Derbyshire; that Green Hairstreak laying eggs; the heart-stopping moment when a Silverwashed Fritillary landed in my garden;a cheering profusion of Gatekeepers and others on my own doorstep; those Tortoiseshells on Buddleia in Derbyshire; and a glorious sunny afternoon among the Adonis Blues (and that beautiful pale Chalkhill)... Barkham ends his piece with a quotation from Nabokov that perfectly describes how the intensest butterfly encounter feels. I can do no better than to requote him: 'And the highest enjoyment of timelessness - in a landscape selected at random - is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants.This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern - to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humouring a lucky mortal.'


  1. glad you liked Mr Barkham on The D Nige - I thought of you when I approached him!!

    My butterfly year was truly, abjectly, dismal. I live in hope of the day if/when I ever earn enough money to have a house in the countryside with a large garden and room enough to let a big buddleia run riot

  2. Patrick Barkham's book promises much pleasure in the dark days of winter, and I love the Nabokov quote. Those numbers you mention are pretty awesome. I'm barely at 25 though this year I have established that about 17 different species can be seen within a mile at most of my front door. Naturally I'm thinking forget the numbers it's the quality wot counts. The ringlet was my #1, because it was just so miraculously delicate.

  3. This will not actually have effect, I think so.