The new Featured Writer is Abegail Morley whose haunting first poetry collection was short-listed for the Forward Prize and who runs a poetry website called The Poetry Shed. I recommend her wonderful work to you.
Dartmoor skies have slowly emptied of swallows. Later this year than last. What do the swallows know? Since the last week of September I kept muttering that it was high time they left but they hung on as if reluctant to leave despite the wind and the rain. They must know much more about the weather than our forecasters whose dire predictions didn’t quite materialise in Devon anyway. Maybe those weather fronts were discharging their contents elsewhere because the swallows hung on and hung on. Just when I thought they’d gone, one would come skimming low over the fading heather and vanish like a black star. I saw them near Princetown, one of the higher points on the moors, criss-crossing over the West Dart River valley only a few days ago. The forecasted storm did break over our heads that night and I prayed the last flock had headed away over the Channel that evening, far from these shores. I always feel sad to my bones when they have left. Knowing that they have to go, think of their tiny bodies on their incredible migration and think of them having to do the same again next spring. What might they see on their journeying?
A comma butterfly – bright orange speckled with brownish dots, the edges of its wings elegantly frilled – sat with its wings wide open on an ivy flower. It was surrounded by a few bees and hoverflies. The flowering ivy was a hum of busyness. When its wings are closed the comma butterfly looks like a dead leaf. It is one of the only butterflies not to hibernate in chrysalis form and remains itself. Its camouflage lies in the closed wings that looks, with its tattered wing edge, exactly like a dead leaf. Its punctuation mark name is in the bright white comma on the underside. Its way of life is to resemble a leaf for even the caterpillar resembles a piece of black twig.
In Devon this is not a mast year. Maest is the Old English word for the fruits and nuts of woodland trees, such as beech and oak. Their nuts were once useful for feeding pigs so, when the trees seemed to magically synchronise to grow a lot of nuts, it became known as a mast year. This autumn the acorns are conspicuous by their absence which is bad for jays that squirrel thousands away each autumn in larders under the ground. And bad for oak trees, of course. It is also bad for rodents who will have less to eat and therefore bad for the birds of prey who eat them. Little things have a such a wide-reaching effect. I think of John Ashberry’s poem Some Trees where he writes ‘you and I/Are suddenly what the trees try/To tell us we are’.