A mild night drew plenty of moths out of hiding and stumbling into our light. Perched on the outside of the trap in the morning was a vapourer, a curious looking species with broadly triangular mottled orange wings, a tiny head, and prominent, feathery antenna. This is one of those unusual species in which the females have no wings and must sit on a suitable leaf awaiting the male’s attentions, he using his fetching head plumes to seek out her pheromones.
Sixteen other moths of another eight or nine species lurked inside the trap, tucked up in the egg boxes provided for their rest and convenience. Most were more than usually jumpy for the time of year, perhaps sensing that the warm air was an anomaly, to be taken advantage of lest all be lost. I could feel their compound eyes watching me, impatient to be on the move again. In the bright blue of the early afternoon I found time to let the first few go, and a handsome Merveille du Jour – literally, ‘marvel of the day’ – scampered across a rock before springing into the air.
It was unreally warm, almost eerily so for the last day of October, especially so when the sun began to sink not long after 4 o’clock with the thermometer still reading close to 20 degrees. It was as though a summer’s day had been gifted us and then snatched away before we were quite finished with it.
Just before dark I was at last ready to release the rest of the moths. The moment the first molecules of fresh air hit the vapourer’s antenna, he snapped into whirring, clockwork life and flew straight towards the fading light. He spiraled and tumbled into the dusk with the trajectory of a smoke column on a still day, gaining height rapidly, a single ember let loose from the fire and dissolving into twilight.
The following morning all calm had passed and the atmosphere was architecture, a looming grey cityscape of towers, pale spaces between, and the clear transition between distinct neighbourhoods of air. After the warmest All Hallow’s Eve in recorded history, a thread of amber between the blocks of cloud – a ‘Shepherd’s warning’ – told of the change to wetter, windier, cooler weather to come. The air temperature remained mild but something had given way. Birds sense this kind of shift before we do, and for the first hour after sunrise flocks of woodpigeons and redwings were overhead in constant migratory motion. Legions of brilliant sparks dispersed on the breeze.