Wednesday, 16 July 2008

meeting : a transect

I met up with Mike Ridge from the Somerset Butterfly and Moth Group. i'd made contact with him on Gavin's recommendation as i wanted to track some of the migrants coming into and passing through Neroche. Mike very generously offered that i join him on a 'transect' - a set route walked over a specific length of time, during the main part of the day to record the butterflies seen.

Thurlbear Wood is a disused quarry, and the low grass and scrub and plentiful thickets have encouraged butterfly populations. the summer has been so wet, i don't hold out much hope of seeing that much, but the sun breaks through for us, and a flurry of butterflies respond immediately to the heat.

I follow Mike around with a camera, recording our conversation - any attempt to 'capture' a butterfly so reminds me i'm not working for the bbc wildlife unit - i remind myself i'm here to map the journey with Mike, watching him observing, recording.

i slow him up i can tell - the whole point of a transect is that you keep moving, so you repeat the pattern of recording each transect as closely as possible, and partially so that you don't see the same butterfly twice (although you can't tell). i have a tendency to dawdle, wanting to stay still to see what comes towards me, to watch at close range a feeding Gatekeeper, and to feel the passage of the sun in a heliotropic kind of way. i fast realise i have to keep up, and the purpose of this moment is to follow the butterfly recorder and his notebook.

Mike reminds me of my dad who was a steam railway enthusiast; there is a dedication, a persistence, a way of acquiring and giving out knowledge, a factual recording and collecting of data that is very particular to this generation somehow. (
I hope i'm not 'over-grouping' these kinds of men together here - yes i am - for it seems to be quite a men kind of thing to do). They are very pragmatic, and don't seem to spend their time endlessly questioning the nature of the universe, but devote themselves to practical tasks as a way of living in, and perhaps coping with the world. This kind of tenacity has a 'get things done' thing happening, as compared to my zen like heliotropic state which is all based around awe and wonder.

"entering a situation with a 'mind of don't know' privileges process over outcome" (Lucy Lippard)

I pause on a faded and worn out Ringlet, and photograph it. Mike suggests there are better examples in the next field, this one is not a good specimen. I'm thrown back to my young ornithologist days with Rachel where we would carry our bird book and binoculars to call out species seen - a sense of the world as a list of things sighted rather than of things observed in process; object over experience. Our ornithology didn't last long i don't think, but now i'm glad of it when i watch the birds feeding out the window. I like to know the patterns and shapes and to distinguish them, so i attempt to both name and experience. We see what we want to see, we stack up our desired order of things and lean on it.

"There's a learnt behaviour, an accumulated conditioning about our world - name and form. The activity of deluded consciousness is naming and forming. 'I' become the subject and give the object substantiality. I've made it solid when it doesn't need to be. Name and form are peppered everywhere - they indicate how all things are delineated and differentiated.

Take something on the move - a flowing river. You place a grid over it to view it, and you try to make it solid, to see it and delusion is seeing that conceptual framework as all of reality rather than purely for what it is. It is not that we cease to use name and form but that we are no longer enthralled to the pictures and the realities that gives us. There is a freedom there, from the image. So the grid over the river gives us a way of seeing it, but it's not the whole way of seeing it, just a temporary perspective - it gives you a certain amount of information but not the actuality or reality of what the whole might be, or what is really going on, or all the possibilities."

Notes made during talk by Dr John Peacock on 'The Structure and Limits of Experience - Self Identity and Continuity' at Sharpham Centre for Buddhist Studies, March 2007

I like staying at a distance and following Mike's thorough notation through the frame of the camera; he has a strong and inspiring knowledge of species and habitat and i quizz him thoroughly about migrants, climate change, conservation and human intervention
(yes yes here I am naming and forming).

178 butterflies seen this morning. 7 species: Ringlet, Marbled White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper, Small Heath, Large White, Comma

A lunch stop with a beautiful tortoiseshell landing on the gravel in the car park.

Then to Staple Common for another quick transect, a passing below some of the oldest oaks in the Blackdowns (the images here do not do justice), and a forest clearance by the Neroche Scheme as part of their programme for bringing back native species. yes brutal it looks, and only time will tell.

It's hard to see why i've included this photo below, but if you enlarge it, it's a striking example of a new sapling growing on a dead fallen trunk.

"...And dead are their children and their grandchildren and all those rolling rows of generations between them and us who got born, grew old, and died; they turned up and around like teeth on a hay rake, and then down, and we are the front row now."
from Annie Dillard -
'The Living'

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