The Mere and the Cockchafer.
Hungerford Bookshop put on an inspirational evening of nature writers last week, with Rob Cowen (Common Ground) and Katharine Norbury (The Fish Ladder). Here, personal and poetically drawn lives are interwoven, inescapably, with nature. The evening was life-affirming.
For my family, nature is inextricable too; our everyday. But to make sure, I’ve joined the Wildlife Trust’s #30DaysWild campaign; a mission to commit ‘random acts of wildlife’ throughout June. We’ve started early.
I took my daughters to an old haunt, along Chieveley’s North Heath and Gidley Lane bridleways. Hazelhangar Ford was dry, and I told the girls how Winterbourne spring bubbled up from the chalk once every seven years to form a great lake. Perhaps I’d misremembered, but at Chapel Wood, there it was, the mere; bottle-glass-green, mysterious, un-named and not on the map. The track disappeared into it, re-emerging 100m away. We tried going round, via last summer’s blue, poly prop rope-rails over drowned logs, scrambling up swamp-sunk trees that ended in uncrossable black water. In the end, we rolled up our jeans (quite uselessly) and went in. I commandeered my daughter’s hazel stick (that she’d dressed in her jumper and called ‘Cheesley’) as a depth pole (the spring bubbles over to fill gravel pits). Thigh deep, our silt-sinking feet searching out the old, solid bottom of the cart track, we waded through, the dog swimming circles around us.
On another irresponsibly late evening of wildness, my friend and I took our children onto the down above a fox earth. My walking boots still being wet, I slipped down the slope in pumps and we never quite recovered from sporadic fits of giggles. Still, we saw hares, a badger, roe and muntjac and got home after sunset. On a school night. During SATS.
At dusk alone the following evening, there was a sudden zooming drone of cockchafer beetles emerging from the earth, startling the horses into a snorting gallop. One flies up, hits my chin and falls straight down my top. It crawls towards the light, trembling bright chestnut fans on each antennae. 2cm long, these are big, weighty bugs. I pull my top closed, determined to show the children.
When the tickling becomes too much, I reach in, disentangle feet from the loops in my bra and try to hold it in one hand. It pushes against my closed fingers and thumb with the slow, insistent, urgent strength needed to push through soil, towards its final, treetop swan song, after 4 years in the dark. For the last few hundred metres, I must use both hands.
My eldest daughter offers it the night. Sensing freedom and purpose, the maybug lifts and separates its hard wing cases, like two halves of a nut, and unfurls new wings. With the mechanism of a giant ladybird, it lifts, a blundering doodle-bug that roars a fly past back into the lit house, to land with a thwack on the telly screen, in the middle of its VE Day Commemorations.