Saturday 16 January 2016

Lakeside: Tender Ghosts

Back in Wellington after a (socially) busy few days in a lakeside resort on South Island, a small town lavishly furnished with motels of the kind through which Humbert Humbert and Lolita might have passed on their American wanderings.  We, however, were staying in a rented house with a garden planted with very English-looking lavender, Scabious (cultivars) and big white Asters. On the first sunny morning a Yellow Admiral was nectaring, among a multitude of bees, on the lavender. I had seen a couple of Yellow Admirals before, in Wellington, and they are rather lovely - not least because their beautiful 'cryptic' underwings closely resemble those of the English Red Admiral ('Nabokov's butterfly').
 Beyond the lavender was a down-sloping lawn carpeted with flowering white clover. At first it seemed there was no butterfly activity there, but, as I looked harder and got my eye in, I realised the whole lawn was alive with tiny blue butterflies - some smaller even than our native Small Blues (and,  like them, not very blue in colour). They were busily dashing from flower to flower, never flying more than a few inches from the ground, often sparring briefly in passing, occasionally pausing to bask,  before returning to those nectar-rich flowers. As far as I could make out, these little beauties were New Zealand Common Blues, though they might have had a few Southern Blues among them - and perhaps, I like to think, the odd Long-Tailed Blue (quite abundant in New Zealand).
 This lively lawn was a sight that might have cheered Nabokov - a domesticated version of his vision of the ultimate felicity, the 'ecstasy' of standing among nectaring butterflies on their native heath. And behind the ecstasy, '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.'

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