Time is such a fluid thing. Two weeks keeping busy on the road in America passed slowly. I don’t mean that the weeks dragged, but that we packed a lot in. Each day felt full and rewardingly long. Our trip to Europe last June was similarly eventful; by the time we got home it felt like we’d been away for an age. By contrast, two weeks since returning have vanished in a flash. I’ve got a lot of work to do this summer, and holding on to the portion of it that remains feels rather like straining at a boat’s rope to stop it slipping off the quay and disappearing over the horizon before I’m ready to board.
This sensation is only heightened by my awareness of fine details marking the passing of seasons. Each new insect species that suddenly emerges into maturity in what I have taken to calling ‘our meadow’ – the now gone to seed rank grass which former occupants of our house probably called the lawn – is another sign of the summer galloping onwards toward conclusion. At the moment the grasses are hosting numerous grass bugs. Each sweep of my net picks up tens of these leggy creatures that are shaped like grass seeds but striped with surprisingly bold colours: pale green, yellow, black and flaming orange.
I’ve kept a few to identify and add to our growing garden species list, but the urge to collect and name which gripped me earlier in the year has somewhat subsided. To relax I’m now spending more time simply watching insects. The most obviously spectacular of them was a trio of fresh silver-washed fritillaries fighting over a clearing at the heart of our campus Wilderness. The most breathtakingly, mysteriously beautiful, though, were the Dolichopodid flies. Sometimes called ‘Dolis’ for short, as flies go they’re the epitome of grace and style, all slender legs, eyelashes (really!) and bright metallic colours. They also exhibit charming display behaviour, the males using a variety of odd visual signals to woo passing females.
Waiting for a bus in the shade one warm evening last week, I happened to see one hovering a millimetre or two above a twig, back legs dangling either side, middle and front legs raised. The wings of the fly were an invisible blur even as its body held perfectly still. Another – a challenger or an interested female? – sat facing it at the twig tip. Perhaps in these flies I have at last found the secret of how to slow down time, since watching something so wonderful is the ideal way to lose track of it. Fortunate for me that the flies departed before my bus did!