Hurt One or Two Living Things

Hurt No Living Thing

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

 

Christina Rosetti’s famous poem exhorts us all to refrain from harming tiny creatures; a lofty ideal, but one that is tricky to follow. I notice she keeps to insects that are both beautiful and/or harmless such as ladybirds or beetles and does not venture to suggest that we should preserve locusts, tsetse flies, head lice or maggots. And was Christina a vegan, I wonder?

It is easy to admire and wish to preserve ladybirds and butterflies. It is even possible to tolerate annoying wasps, who gyrate in an irritating, menacing fashion around your alfresco lunch if you adopt a laisser-faire attitude. And hornets should be given a wide berth at all times. For those of us, however who seem to be a favourite snack for mosquitoes, midges and any other blood sucking insects there is a strong desire to smash them into a pulp. Anyone who has lain awake tortured by the hot itching of myriad bites will understand this.

I’ve been attacked by most of the common, European biters. Years ago there was a local, Dorset, river dwelling blood sucker called The Blandford Fly whose bite induced ankle swelling akin to elephantiasis together with a flu-like fever. I’d had at least two of these before the little monsters were sprayed prior to hatching.

Of course in tropical climates there are some truly nasty insects-grubs that burrow into skin and eyes, wormy things that colonise the bodily systems. But here in France, in the pine woods of the south west my own, personal běte noir has to be the horsefly. If horseflies are beyond your experience consider yourself blessed.

My first real run in with them was a few years ago whilst enjoying an innocent cycle up a quiet lane in the forest of Les Landes. It was a hot afternoon, provoking sweat to erupt between my rucksack and the fabric of my T-shirt. As we passed a particular spot a swarm of horseflies erupted from the trees and up beneath the rucksack, biting as they went. The result was a constellation of itchy, angry, red, raised lumps that lasted for a couple of weeks.

Then last week, after a hot afternoon I emerged from the shower and sat to drag a brush through my wet hair, rising to glance in the mirror at the result. It looked as if two brown stickers had attached themselves to my face-one at the hairline, the other on my jaw. In my innocence I was slow to recognise the sinister, brownish, frog-with-a-touch-of spider [but without the charm of either] forms of horseflies, which had attached themselves greedily to my face and had begun feasting before I’d so much as dried off. While the itching has now subsided the scabby lumps persist. Now I am applying liberal dousing of repellent prior to each cycling jaunt, although this afternoon the little scamps were invading my helmet and ignoring the deterrent lotion by hitching a ride on my skin.

No, Christina I’m afraid exceptions must be made. Ladybirds and grasshoppers, yes-horseflies-NO.

Advertisements

Where the Wild Things Are.

                I can imagine, within a couple of generations, how society will be. In my mind’s eye society is a kind of dystopian techno nightmare like Paul Theroux’s ‘Ozone’, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, where everyone stays inside except for helicopter visits outside to see anything green, natural or wild. Or perhaps going ‘outside’ will involve some sort of virtual travel using screens, 3D and surround sound.

                An enduring memory from my children’s early childhood is of settling my daughter, aged about three, outside the back door of the house with some paint, water, brushes and paper, only to return to check on her and find she had ignored the paper and employed the paint and brushes in a project to enhance the appearance of the diminutive woodlice as they went about their business around her feet. This embellishment seemed to have no effect at all on the insects, although it may have transformed them into easily tracked, tasty titbits for predators.

                As a tot she loved the garden creatures, making baths for earthworms from flowerpot drip-trays, cradling long suffering frogs and making pets of snails. One such snail was a favourite, nurtured, fed tasty leaves and given regular baths. One day, in a fit of sibling rivalry her brother threw the beloved snail over the fence into the unkempt jungle of next door’s garden, prompting his sister to howl in inconsolable misery at the loss.

                “Don’t worry!” I reassured her. “I can get it back for you.” I ventured into the tangled maze next door, waist high in grass and weeds. The property of an elderly brother and sister, it had languished untended for many years, visited only by the many stray cats they’d acquired. I did not have to wade too far to find a snail, since the entire plot was a gastropod’s paradise. I returned, triumphant with the replacement. Her face was still contorted with rage and wails continued to issue from it.

                I proffered the captured snail, which had wisely shrunk back into its shell as if it had some premonition of the specialised treatment in store. There was a small moment of silence as she scrutinised the creature on the palm of my hand, before she yelled an ear-splitting shriek.

                “Waaah! That’s not the one!”

                Apparently, children today play outside half as much as their parents did, which strikes me as a depressing fact. Even now I far prefer the outside to the inside. As children we were outside all the time unless it was pouring with rain or we had to do homework [or Dr Who was on, in which case we’d have had our ‘tea’ anyway]. We were never supervised, but were always occupied. Quite a lot of the time, I seem to remember was spent on ‘digging for treasure’.

                The more our outside green space shrinks, the more we should be in it-protecting and appreciating it; and no one more so than our children, otherwise those works of fiction could become scarily real.