It moves like a spark at first. A flash, disappearing, as if cast up from the stones underfoot. The fourth spark catches on the dead bracken by the trackside, pausing, growing wings, burning orange, shivering with movement, its thick body flexing. Off – past the bluebell to the bugle. Descending to the blue and purple spike. Off – restless, fidgeting from flower to flight.
If spring is a series of shocks – Light! Warmth! Swallows! – then nothing quite hits the way that colour does. Above, the bright leaves of new beech, trembling with chlorophyll, filter the light. Welsh poppy stands like a lightbulb by the path, growing opposite the white-spangled stitchwort and ramsons that bracket the dull shimmer of bluebells. Water avens hangs its head as if in shame. Green tiger beetles scuttle over stone. Colt’s-foot breaks through the track, the sun seen through a periscope, next to the shaggy heads of dandelions. It’s on a dandelion I see it better. The pearl-bordered fritillary perches, its wings of amber and black fretwork absorbing the meagre sunshine. Meagre but enough. Both butterfly and flower glow.
This wasn’t the given it might have appeared to be on paper. Flight periods are a vague suggestion, prone to individual variation; variation in region; variation in weather. This disordered spring: chiffchaff and willow warbler early. Sand martins only a day before house martin; over a fortnight before swallow. Bud and bloom side by side. March warm and April cold and May wet. Prediction is increasingly futile. Half the wood’s birds are back, the rest missing, status unknown.
Winter lingers in the rust of dead bracken. The oak leaves still unfurling like a hand held half-beckoning.
A passing walker asks what I’m looking at.
‘Pearl-bordered fritillary’, I say, ‘one of Scotland’s rarest butterflies.’
She nods wisely. ‘We are lucky to have such things’.
And I can’t disagree.