NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

The miracles of nature

Who says that insects have no brains?

Well, I did, except that I always thought that spiders had a bit more than most, working out how to make those intricate cobwebs and all that.
One day at the end of March I saw something in my kitchen that confirmed this.
I was about to go to the fridge to get one or two things out for breakfast when I noticed that the corpse of a woodlice was swinging gently from the bottom of the freezer door, which is beneath the fridge.
As it was swinging in rather an odd way, I looked at it harder and saw that a minute spider, whose body was about the size of an elongated pin and legs so tiny that I only knew they were there because I could just see that they were moving around the woodlouse.
Then it climbed up its little silken ladder and vanished for a moment somewhere in the cavity beneath the door’s overhang, at which point the woodlouse began to swing gently again.
I was so intrigued that I abandoned breakfast and watched this little drama instead.
The spider was very methodical. He came down an almost invisible thread of silk, spun a little more of it around the body, and then he disappeared out of sight – again and again and again.
By this time it was obvious what was happening and I wished, not for the first time, that I could draw cartoons because I could just imagine it sitting in its lair out of sight and heaving on its web like someone playing a salmon. Eventually, I had breakfast and by the time I had finished the woodlouse was out of sight.
The whole operation, from the time I had first spotted it, had taken the little spider about an hour to haul its meal from floor to its lair, a distance of about two and a half inches. I wish I could put this into some sort of scale.
About a week later, a dried corpse appeared – I suppose it was the spider’s compost – on the floor beneath the freezer door.
Woodlice seem so very unfleshy and unappetising that I am really curious to know which part of it that spiders enjoy.

The ash is very late coming into leaf this year.

Curious to know why it is that some years the oak is first and at others it is the ash, I googled it and this is what I found. Usually the oak comes into leaf from late March to early May and is temperature sensitive. This, by the way, now comes into leaf about 7-10 days earlier than it did 30-40 years ago. However, I seem to remember a sudden bit of a heat wave in March as well as very welcome sunshine. It didn’t last long and when April arrived, we had record sunshine but accompanied by frosts. So now this May, the ash, which is dependent on the sun, is hanging about a bit until it can be sure that both sun and warmth are here to stay, whilst the oaks are in leaf. I can’t help feeling the trees are as confused as we are.
The oak seems to be adapting to climate change but the wild life which depends on it, such as the oak caterpillar moth that the Great Tits feed on, hasn’t quite caught up. Hopefully it will sort itself out soon and food will again be around for those that rely on it to feed themselves and their young.

What a year for blossoms this has been.

The flowers of the apples seem to have been so tightly packed together that it’s a wonder that the bees have been able to squeeze in. The heavy frosts that we have had don’t seem to have affected it, so stand back and prepare for a bumper crop. In fact, there should be a bumper crop of everything from holly to sloes.
Like many in the village, I had a lot of visits from the little bee flies this year. Looking like tiny humming birds pausing to sip at the spring flowers with their long proboscis, they are rather delightful little creatures looking, as their name suggests, a bit like a bee with a round, fluffy back end whilst the front end is more like a fly. There are several different sorts – I rather think ours are the spotted bee fly, so named because of the spots on their wings. They are, to me, as special as the humming bird hawk moths which come out much later in the year, except that their pupaes’ favourite meals are the baby solitary bees who share the same underground homes in my front lawn. Those too are amongst my favourites of the insect world that I have around me, emerging like a blue haze on warm days at this time of the year. Still, I suppose you can’t have everything in this world.

It’s amazing what a difference two or three weeks make at this time of the year.

Having not gone out on Genevieve for that length of time, I dodged the showers and went down Rowden Mill Lane and Holt Lane the other day, to find that most of the cowslips had all but disappeared beneath the lengthening grasses. It’s pleasing to see that these flowers are gradually increasing in both of these lanes. The Red Campion too, which had been in bud on the previous occasion that I had been there, were now fully out, sturdy and rich, and misty Bluebells were growing at the foot of the hedges. The verges everywhere were frothy with Cow Parsley. This is a member of the Carrot family but if you crush the leaves between your fingers, the scent is faintly aniseedy. I do so love the red, white and blue and that special green of young grasses at this special time of the year.

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.