The Sexton and the New Wild Rose.
And then there was one; or at least, just the two of us: my youngest daughter and I cycling to primary school. She had not wanted to learn to ride a bike before now, but perhaps uneclipsed from the shadow of her (now secondary school) big brother and sister, Rosie has found that actually, she can do this. I must still walk the dog, so she comes too, trotting easily alongside. We make our way safely enough, but the speed is the thing, and I worry that we’ll miss the shared magic of the many things the children and I have spotted and discovered over the years, on the way to and from school. Then my daughter brakes so sharply, the back wheel of her bike bucks in the air like the hind legs of a pony – with one hand on the running dog’s lead, the other on my fraying brake, I just avoid a crash. We have stopped for a conker.
By the time we get to school, the wicker basket she got for her birthday is loaded with big shiny conkers and little ones, a beech nut open like an earthstar, 2 pigeon feathers and an oak twig sporting three splendid, sticky knopper galls that look as if they’ve been squeezed into odd shapes by small fingers. And then, as we push the bikes up an incline knobbled with flints, a slowworm winds across our path. Gently, deftly, she picks it up and it winds firmly round her wrist like a cool, copper amulet. She has a sharp eye for detail.
Earlier, she had come from the garden excited about finding a fantastical-sounding beetle, ‘massive with danger colours and orange fans and it hissed and burbled and little spiders ran all round it’. I exchanged glances with my son, but I should have known better – she hadn’t made it up. On the gatepost, a sexton beetle, Nicrophorus investigator has come to bury the dead treecreeper we found in the road, which it may have scented more than a mile away. Investigator is 2cm long with dramatic zigzag bands of orange across its black body. We could not replicate the ‘hissing’ but when it lifted the glassy car bonnet elytra of its wings, tiny mites hitching a ride to some sustaining carrion emerged and ran around its body like the ladybirds on a children’s fairground ride.
After school, Rosie spots the ruby glow of a robin’s pincushion, a bedeugar gall, growing on the tip of a wild rose briar arching out from a hedge richly laden with hips, haws, berries and ivy flowers. The gall formed in reaction to eggs laid by a gall wasp in a terminal leaf bud. It is a fizzy pom pom, a scarlet, gold and green firework of mossy filaments, bursting from the briar like the wish-making bobble on the end of a wand: the birth of a new star, a luminous new rose of a different kind.