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Local wonder

Publication date: 2 December 2018

Citation: Gray J (2018) Local wonder. Available at: https://deepgreen.earth/content.php?t=local-wonder.

The short piece below is an unsuccessful entry (titled 'Destination undergowth: For adventure and surprises look no further') to a competition inviting submissions that might enhance the public appreciation of entomology. I used the entry to reflect, in a deliberately simple style, on the troubling obsession with long-distance travel among those who have failed to explore their home patch. As I have written elsewhere (Gray, 2017), I was relatively late in returning to a childhood love of local nature, but having done so I find that my desire for far-away places has markedly declined.


This is a short tale about 33-year-old twins, Jay and Kay. As children they did everything together and argued rarely, although there was an occasional heated debate over whether millipedes were cooler than worms, as Jay maintained, or whether worms were superior, which Kay argued. As they grew up the twins remained close, and they even ended up living on the same street, but the nature of their arguments evolved. While Kay wanted to talk about things like taxonomy, Jay would always steer the discussion towards taxes or the economy.

Kay, a budding amateur entomologist, awoke one late spring morning feeling in need of adventure. She packed a small bag with lunch, a flask of coffee, a hand lens, a field guide, and a notepad and pencil – no money would be needed – and she began the two-mile stroll to her local wood. Walking down her street she passed Jay, who was lifting a large suitcase into the boot of a taxi.

"I didn't know you were off on holiday," Kay remarked.

"Yep. I just woke up this morning craving excitement," replied Jay. "So I grabbed my passport, threw some clothes together, and here I am now. I'm heading to the airport and will jump on a flight to the furthest-away destination. It'll be great, although I have to get back for that tax conference I was telling you about, so I can only stay a few days."

"Okay, have a fun trip," said Kay, "and we'll speak when you're back."

"Yeah – bye," returned Jay. "You should do this sometime. You have no chance for surprise in your life."

Forty minutes after the farewell, Kay found herself walking between a pair of majestic oaks; these marked her entrance to the wood. At that moment, Jay was frustrated; he was watching a meter tick over while the taxi sat jammed in motorway traffic.

As Kay ambled down the main ride, admiring wild flowers, shrubs and trees, her eye caught the lustrous red sheen of a cardinal beetle. Viewing the insect through her hand lens, she marvelled at the detail of its long, toothed antennae. A few yards further down the ride she was using the hand lens again. This time, she was examining some jewels that studded a clump of jack-by-the-hedge. These visual delights were brassica shieldbugs, boasting dark metallic bodies marked with colours varying from cream to scarlet through amber.

Growing hungry, Kay chose a tree-stump to sit on while she had a drink and ate lunch. Shortly after settling down, a humming sound announced the arrival of a broad-bodied chaser. It landed on a tall plant-stem only a couple of paces from Kay. She was thus able to stare in awe at not only the rich yellow colour of its body but the intricate stained-glass pattern of its wings too. Jay was also eating at this time. He had arrived at the airport and was wedged between bickering parties of holiday-makers in a fast-food restaurant; he glanced at his watch every thirty seconds.

Back in the woodland, Kay's discoveries continued into the afternoon, but the exhilaration left her in need of a short break, so she found a log to sit on and poured the rest of her coffee. With steam rising from the cup, she flicked through her field guide, settling on a page of ornately patterned orange butterflies. Kay had never seen a pearl-bordered fritillary but felt a great desire to be able to add it to her species list for the wood. She noted its foodplant – violets – which she had remembered seeing a patch of near the entrance.

Before returning to the upright, Kay couldn't resist rolling a log that lay next to her. It was in a state of early decay and underneath she spotted a large insect with fearsome jaws and iridescent purple flanks. It was a violet ground beetle, a nocturnal predator of the undergrowth. She returned the log.

Kay made a first check of her watch that day and decided it was time to head back. As she neared the great oaks, she glanced down at the violets she had remembered, with little hope of seeing anything. But there, to her great surprise, sat an orange butterfly. She was able to get close enough to examine the wing detail and confirm it was the fritillary she had hoped to see.

Once home, Kay spent an enjoyable late afternoon transcribing her notes from the walk. With that task complete she moved into the kitchen to help her partner finish making dinner. Meanwhile, over at the airport, Jay's plane was waiting for a take-off slot, following a delay. The only surprise he had left in store that day was whether the main meal would be chicken or beef. 

References

Gray J (2017) A journey to Earth-centredness. The Ecological Citizen 1(Suppl A): 38–41.

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