Dear Readers, this week I have been in Milborne St Andrew in Dorset with my parents, trying to help them to deal with the heat. For my Australian and many of my North American readers, I’m sure that my complaining about 90 degree temperatures will be met with a hearty chortle, but for folk with breathing difficulties, even these levels of warmth can cause problems. Plus there was no relief even at night. The fan was on full blast, windows were opened and closed according to where the sun was, lots of drinks were imbibed, and Mum and Dad spent most of the time resting. And so, we got through it, and even got the invitations for the 60th Wedding Anniversary party out, and the menu chosen. Progress was made, in spite of everything.
And one late afternoon, when everyone was dozing, I found a seat in the shade in the back garden next to the blue shed, and decided to stay put and see what I could see.
I love the weathered paintwork on this shed. There is something beautiful about the way that the wood is beginning to show through, and the dance of shadows across the slats.
The shed props up a cotoneaster, and a ceanothus has draped itself over the roof.
I am determined to sit on this seat, like Buddha, until I am….well, if not enlightened, at least lightened. A buzzard wheels across the sky, and just as I get it focused in my camera it folds its wings and dives, disappearing behind the bungalow roofs. And so, I start off feeling disappointed. How often I regret what I didn’t manage to capture on camera, instead of being grateful for what’s right under my nose. So, I settle down again, and decide to look properly.
Take the cotoneaster, for example. The flowers are gone, and instead the berries look like tiny apples, patrolled by ants.
A hoverfly rests in the shadows, flexing her abdomen, though there are no eggs that I can see. Maybe this female is resting from being chased by males every time she tries to feed. A visit here makes my heart very vulnerable. Maybe it’s because I do things at the pace of two not-very-well 80 year-olds, and all the feelings I can cover up with busyness at home catch up with me. I find myself overwhelmed with tenderness for something as simple as a fly, resting in the shade.
The sparrows are hunting for insects in the ceanothus. They are insectivorous at this time of year, instinctively knowing that their youngsters need protein to grow. They are argumentative and tetchy, and I wonder if the heat bothers them as well. I have promised to get the parents a birdbath, I think it would supply hours of entertainment for everyone, feathered and unfeathered.
Something lands on the shed door. I have only a second, but this one I do catch on camera, albeit badly. A ruby-tailed wasp(Chrysis rubii)! And look at the size of her shadow. She was probably looking for a nest-hole to lay an egg. These are solitary wasps, quite rare in the UK and so I was very lucky to spot one, even for a second.
And here is a much better photo so you can see what I was getting excited about. There are twenty-odd species of ruby-tailed wasp in the UK with differing patterns of red, blue and green.
And looking more closely at the shed, it seemed it was a habitat for lots of other creatures, too. There were red velvet mites gliding over the surface – these are relatives of spiders and scorpions, and while some species are detritivores, this species is predatory, galloping across the blue wooden plains in search of other even smaller animals to eat.
I wonder who has made their home in the keyhole?
There is a ribbon of gossamer under the eaves.
The soundscape is a combination of someone power-washing their patio, the cockatiel across the way getting very excited at being out of doors, jackdaws chuckling and the puffed-up cooing of collared doves as they chase one another backwards and forwards across the garden.
And then, as I hear the familiar theme tune of Pointless, the TV quiz show, coming from the house, I gather up my camera and head back up the path. I always watch Pointless with Dad – I am a little in love with Richard Osman, plus we always like to see how many answers we can get (much easier now Dad has had his cataracts done and can actually see the screen). We are formidable General Knowledge foes, and I am not at all put out when Dad gets more questions right than I do. Not at all put out. Seriously.
But as I get to the kitchen door, a flash of red shoots past me. Glory be. A Scarlet Tiger. How I love those delta wings, and the way that the moth only reveals his scarlet under wings and abdomen in flight.
The next day, Mum is trying on a few jackets that she’s bought online to wear for the party. She had a fall in May, and pain in her hip is added to the pain from the osteoarthritis in her back. She shuffles to the bedroom, tries on the jacket, and looks out of the window.
‘I can’t even get outside to cut some roses for my bowl’, she says, and, turning her head away, sobs silently and fiercely.
‘Oh Mum’, I say, uselessly.
And then she gathers herself together.
‘I’ll be alright,’ she says, ‘don’t worry’.
‘You could feel better tomorrow’, I say.
‘Yes, I might’, she says, wiping her eyes, straightening herself up, looking in the mirror. She can’t decide between the two jackets.
‘Get both of ’em’!’ shouts dad from the living room.
‘You know,’ says Mum, ‘I think I will’.
And I cut roses from the garden and put them in the glass bowl that Mum found in the charity shop, and give thanks for having legs that work, and for the fortitude of my mother, a diminutive woman warrior shaking her spear against despair.
Photo One (Ruby-tailed wasp) – by the Kentish Plumber (https://www.flickr.com/photos/plumberjohn/28089262520/)