Sunday, 7 July 2013
The Carshalton Wonder
There I was, yesterday afternoon, taking a stroll through the village in the hot afternoon sun. As I walked along the cycle path beside the purling Wandle, I spotted something ahead that looked very like a butterfly - but on a huge, tropical scale. What the...? As I drew near, the giant swooped down, settled on a Ragwort and began nectaring, quite undaunted by my near presence. I gasped, blinked, looked about me to see if it was some kind of hoax. I would have pinched myself but I knew perfectly well I wasn't dreaming as I gaped at the outlandish sight. Yes, as you'll have guessed from the picture, it was, of all the unlikeliest things, a Monarch (or Milkweed) butterfly, and it had no business at all being there.
The Monarch is of course famous for its epic American migrations (it is, I discover, the State Insect of Texas). It thrives in the Canaries and Azores, and in southern Spain - but is no more than a rare vagrant in England, never making it beyond the southern coastal counties on the years when it turns up at all. Where on earth had my Monarch come from? I can only assume it had escaped from one of the 'Butterfly World'-type attractions that are becoming increasingly popular - or perhaps someone had hatched out some pupae (it's quite a spectacle).
It was a bizarre, jaw-dropping sight - more astonishing than beautiful, to an eye tuned to the subtler beauties of our native butterflies ('this gaudy melon-flower!').
The last time I had a close encounter with a Monarch - or rather with dozens of them - was on a visit to Lisbon with my daughter a few years ago, when we spotted a sign to the Butterfly House in the (very beautiful) botanical gardens. In the Butterfly House, the air was alive with Monarchs, gliding, swooping - and landing at intervals on us.
Today I was with my son on Ashtead Common, where in the woods the beautiful White Admirals were flying - at times coming up very close, almost to the point of landing on us.
There are times when butterflies appear like visitations, like something sent to us.
The Greek word Psyche means both butterfly and soul.