I remember once cycling along a bog road as a teenager when they still cut turf to one side of the road. Thinking about it I may even have been travelling home after visiting a friend when we both had spent the afternoon footing turf as summer work for her father. It was heading for twilight, which is my favourite part of the day even still, and my cycling path was cutting a v of evening air though the languid, scented pools either elderflower or honeysuckles were breathing in long, peaceful breaths. It was a long straight road without much traffic, I didn’t have to worry much about anything but the continued flattened whirr of my wheels on tarmac, driven on by the clickity effort of chain and my legs’ effort to power the dynamo fuzzing alongside my tyre powering my lights, a quiet sort of noise I’d occasionally break up with a pedal spin for the fast thrrrrr it would generate. It came as an enormous shock when enormous (well to me then) fast dark shapes started flying past, one whacking off my forehead to a surprised and anxious scream. The small invasion of my evening zuzzed past quickly, I can’t say how many there were, I still don’t know what they were, and the thudding of my heart drowned out any ability to tell if others were nearby. I’d never come across anything like it before nor since, I can’t tell you want it was.
Still another time I remember walking at Lough Dan in Wicklow with my brothers and parents. The midges were ferocious, I’ve never experienced anything like that number before, they whined and hassled and persisted in the milimeter sweaty, breathy space around my head, generated by the very, very long walk. Dragonflies sparked past, multitudes of them, thrrrrrring past our ears, and we wondered if we could apply tiny leashes and keep some by our shoulders to ward away the midges. Only the promise of fraochans by the lake kept me sane that trip. My skin bursts and itches with the tiniest of insect provocation, horsefly bites make me swell and ache. I am not a fan of all that bites and stings and persists in advertising their sadism by buzzing right in my ear.
Visits to my grandfather in Wicklow meant hours in his gardens and with his bees. His walls were covered in clover mites seeking out the sun, earwigs needed to be whooshed off of beds that didn’t often have visitors, greenfly massed in sticky heaps on his tomato plants on the sizzling porch, metallic shiny beetles scuttled around on the log fence behind his roses and we gently persuaded frog hoppers to leap about, amazed by their speed and the distances such tiny things could achieve. Devil’s coach-horses waved their aggression at our towering shadows, and of course there were ladybirds, always ladybirds that we coaxed into running over our hands until they got fed up, extended their improbable wings and whirred off.
I am not especially fond of most insects, I’ve a weird soft spot for spiders, ants actually make my skin crawl. I stil detest that insistence on being right in my ear, and I can remember feeling dive bombed and attacked out in the evenings. Flying ants chased me off the board walk, my skin welting at just the idea of their presence.
Why am I describing all of this? A now guilty tiny part of me has been registering a certain relief over the last six of seven years that there have been less insects. I seem to be able to walk, even without the mandatory stiff breeze of years ago, and not find my head in a haze of whiny, buzzing bodies. The changes were slow, and I assumed it was just, for me, a good year, without chaining all the “good years” together. I remember being grateful one year that maybe a harsh winter had reduced the numbers so I had a bit more peace, not properly registering that that meant butterflies and everything else too. I have no solid data. I spent more days outdoors as a kid probably, and as a kid that loathed insects. I’ve been outdoors a great deal this past couple of years and I honestly believe that there are less insects, but I don’t have concrete proof.
This year comes the dire warnings of insect apocalypse and wow, I wasn’t imagining things. And while I can be glad my evening stroll is accompanied by fewer annoyances, I think overall I’d rather have the nuisance back. One tends to forget just how essential the stupid whining things are for the health of..well, everything. This is a good article to start you off if this is news https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/views/analysis/insect-apocalypse-now-what-does-it-meanfor-life-on-earth-890738.html
This year it does appear that butterflies are on the increase in Ireland, and I am really, really pleased to see how many places have started to embrace the No Mow philosophy, letting at least part of grassy areas and verges go wild. It’s been great to see how many people seem to be genuinely thrilled to rediscover wild flowers all over, in urban and rural areas. I sincerely hope, with all the new Green Party local Councillors there will be even more enthusiastic take up of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan and moves away from pesticides all over the country.