Ladybirds

*L in the A-Z Writing Challenge. “Write about something smaller than an acorn” in the 21 Day Writing Journey

I love ladybirds. They’ve got their own rhyme. 

I remember seeing them as a child on my dad’s allotment, which was his pride and joy, one or maybe two little red and black creatures at a time. We were allowed to go up there but not to touch anything or help at all, other than to clear up leafy debris and put it in a wheelbarrow for tipping on the pile of compost. While not touching anything, as a way to entertain myself I’d study the creatures that made the allotments their home. Caterpillars wearing their furry finery, butterflies basking in the sun, showing off their latest outfits. Even the wriggling worms in the earth dad dug over were interesting to me, did they really survive when chopped in half?

I was a bit of an insect fan as a child. These tiny creatures fascinated me. The ants who lived in tiny tunnels under the retaining wall of our back garden. I’d gently lift those bricks and happily watch them just doing their ant thing. Amazed by their bustling busyness. They all knew where they were going and what they were doing, that was clear. How did they organise themselves so well with no words? Upturning a pot that had sat for some time produced a treasure trove of life. Centipedes, millepedes – what was the difference? I wasn’t about to do a leg count! Tiny beetles, big beetles. Bugs of all shapes and sizes darted for cover upon being exposed.

I wonder if my love for these tiny organisms stemmed from my dad and his passion for fruit flies. He did his PhD on the habits of the fruit fly at Cambridge. When we were growing up there were often big plastic specimen boxes with thousands of fruit flies inhabiting our porch, much to mother’s delight. My brother and I would come home from school and hover in the porch to see the latest batch of these tiny winged beasties. We fed them lettuce and dad monitored their tiny lifecycle.

Ladybirds appealed to me not just because of the nursery rhyme, although I always checked when I met one that its family were ok. It was their minuscule beauty. The fact their coats were always unique. Or at least I never mistook one for another. The variety in the shade of red, the differing number of dots, the reverse ones with black background and red spots. And then how they flew, with the coloured wings opening out and revealing delicate extra wings beneath.

Since the heady days of fruit flies in the porch and cycling around the track of the allotments with my brother and best friends, I met a farmer and relocated to Worcestershire. We ultimately moved to the farm where he’d grown up. Living here I have fallen in love with the fields behind the farmyard. When I’m able to, I walk down the track, around the pool and off up the footpath through the neighbour’s field at the back. Since we rescued our dog two years ago I have company on that exploration. I say exploration because even though I do the same route every time, along the path up to the gap in the hedge, then cut left to the edge of the field, down the side past the meadow and back up to the pools; that field promises a profuse diversity of wildlife. 

Last year the crop was swathes of winter barley, this year the stunningly sunny oil seed rape. As I walk I widen my eyes to see the life sharing this wonderful space. The larks singing me along the way, startling up from their nests within the crop. Swallows swooping, like BMXers wheeling and turning, dive bombing the dog as we pass. 

Both last year and this I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. A loveliness of ladybirds taking their own walks, making their bright way through the barley. They are vast in number and mostly cross the footpath in front of me. I am walking up, they walk across. As I watch their progress I very carefully make my own. Avoiding their tiny armoured bodies where I can. They are many. Often alone but singularly determined to pass from one side of the field to the other. Now I think about it, are they always travelling from right to left? It is possible but I shall have to wait until next year to check. For a number of weeks in the summer, the dog and I share our rural playground with an abundance of these favourites of mine. It is a delight, a bright delight. Where or why they go, I do not know. I can only assume they are heading for fresh food pastures.

Ladybirds, like butterflies, are another creature I wondered about adopting as a “sign” from the universe. If they were, my goodness the universe was wanting a jolly good chat! Again, I dismissed the idea. My sceptical self loving the wonder of their being but not willing to connect their epic appearance to a higher power.

I wasn’t looking for a sign today but I’ve been out to a local garden centre this morning and wandering through the climbers I looked down and saw a ladybird had hitched a ride on my handbag. As I looked it spread its beaded wings and flew slowly away. Later, whilst trimming the brambles growing where we were having a patio laid, to protect the workers from getting caught in them, I felt a soft presence on my foot, looked down and saw a second red spotted visitor. She stayed a while to explore my Birkenstock and then left me to clear up.

Upon re-entering the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of red in the bowl of water in which I’d placed a giant hydrangea head. I dipped my finger in and scooped her up, presuming she’d not survived. I placed her gently on my other hand. As she sat on my palm I noticed a tiny tentacle tentatively wave up at me. Then she shook her legs out and proceeded to set off along my lifeline. Thrilled I took her outside and encouraged her gently to leave my hand for the flesh of the leaf of the same hydrangea. She saluted me with her antenna as she stepped from my hand and I think she was grateful. 

Had these red coated bugs appeared to tell me something? Three showing up in one day, maybe. What the message was, I have no clue. What do you think?

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