MY SON can’t sit still in church. It’s not ants in his pants: it’s ladybirds. At least, it is when the all-age service is held in Hitcham. That’s a big rural barn of a church, full of nooks and crannies through which the wildlife comes in, and at this time of year it’s full of ladybirds, which have been hibernating around the edges of the windows and are just starting to wake up.
My son couldn’t stand the idea that all these creepy-crawlies were now stuck inside, and he spent the whole service making trips from the Lady-chapel windowsill to the door, a self-appointed Ladybird Rescue and Rehabilitation Officer. My attempts to persuade him to sit down and engage were successful only until the next sleepy insect crawled across the pew in front of him.
He comes by it honestly, though: after the service, I joined him and rescued two butterflies, watching them fly freely across the sunny meadow that is the churchyard.
MY DAUGHTER has two best friends who happen to be butterflies. Their names are Snow Breeze (small and plain white) and Snow Glow (white with orange-tipped wings). For several years, they have met her in the garden every spring, and accompanied her on walks, flitting in and out of the hedgerows.
The other day, however, she reflected that Snow Breeze and Snow Glow wre “probably not the same butterfly every time”, and it was as sad as the day that her brother stopped saying “kitchroom” instead of kitchen. Another little bit of childhood gone; but it will be preserved in our family vernacular. I think I will leave it a while longer before I tell her that, in fact, they are the same breed, and only the males have those orange tips on their wings.
MY POOR son has been growing again. It is very difficult to be a trombonist when your arms get longer without warning; he keeps overshooting the correct position and playing all the notes flat, until he has readjusted his muscle memory.
It’s a problem I never would have imagined: I grew up playing the cello, but cellos come in child sizes, and I had four different instruments as I grew. Wind and brass instruments, however, change key when they change size; so you just have to grow into your trombone. This also means that the boy will be well into his teens before he can reach the notes in the furthest position.
It gives me new respect for professional trombone players, to think that the string players in the same orchestra may have had a good decade’s head start on being able to play the full selection of notes on their instrument.
AS SPRING has sprung, I’ve been getting back to my pursuit of learning bird-calls. I can now sit in my garden and identify six or seven different species without seeing any of them. The other day, I heard a cry that I thought could have been a buzzard or a red kite; so I followed it in the hope of catching a glimpse. I hunted for a while, before discovering a starling sitting on the roof making buzzard noises.
I’m sure it’s not the only time that I’ve been tricked by a starling: there are plenty of them about, as they like to congregate on the church’s weather vane. They are remarkable mimics, and tend to recreate the sounds of the place where they hatched. There was one in the garden yesterday doing a very convincing car alarm; and once I watched one singing the entire soundscape of a river, flowing water interspersed with the calls of coots, ducks, and curlews.
IF YOU follow the right organisations, social media can be a wonderful place for accidental learning, particularly of the kind that makes its way into the poetry notebook.
I discovered from the RSPB that skylarks nest on the ground: surely there’s a poem in that. Also, did you know that butterflies keep some memories from their time as caterpillars? Scientists have shown that caterpillars can be taught to react to a certain smell, and the same reaction is evident, post-chrysalis.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider that most of the caterpillar is completely liquefied inside the chrysalis, growing a new creature from a few floating cells — a powerful metaphor for a resurrection body, which, St Paul wrote, would be as different as a seed is from the tree.
METAMORPHOSIS is as difficult and painful as any growth. The first Easter Day began while it was still dark; I often wonder whether it was Jesus who took the time to fold his graveclothes neatly, a gentle and slow experience in silence, before it was time for the joy and confusion of the morning. Soon, there would be people to greet, commissions to give, breakfast to cook on a beach.
The busy growth of spring makes us forget the long sleep of winter, but may we all remember those distant things: the song of our birthplace, the perspective of childhood, the way back to the garden.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.