The queen makes a solar landing. During the briefest moment of shine in the wash cycle of our local low-pressure area, a queen garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum, settles on a dandelion. The flower’s brilliance draws insects to its gravitational field and the promise of mining the flaring florets for nectar and pollen.
But this burning sun of a flower is cold comfort. May has been hard: blossom battered by hail, frosts, rain, rain and more rain. The gardens the bumblebee gets her name from have saturated, “can’t get on it” soil, struggling seedlings and soggy blooms. Birdsong is muted, wildflowers thin. The fields are sodden, the rivers close to flood. I suppose we’re lucky we haven’t had a drought and the hills aren’t on fire, but we have made insect life hard enough without a washout spring.
Apart from a defiant common blue butterfly, and gnats that catch the fleeting beams to dance between the downpours, the air is quiet. After anxious days of waiting, the swifts scream their arrival around the church tower – but where do they go in the rain and what aerial plankton is there to trawl up there when all is drowned down here? Perhaps, at night, they fly into the moon’s halo, where they are changed and one day may not return.
There are other signs of misfortune down here, too: new fences to block old ways around fields, verges of cow parsley mowed down, magpies caught in Larsen traps, gunfire. There are harsher changes afoot in this landscape, and a resentful cynicism gaining confidence. Still, to walk from our claggy enclosures into the woods, to sigh that mean-spirited humour out and begin a forest breath full of green light under leafy ceilings fresh with rain, is to thank our lucky stars.
The queen is making up for lost time. As if piloted by some ancient entity inside a protective space suit of bumblebee anatomy, with sensory devices attuned to a world behind the rain, on wings which set the frequency for spring, she finds the fire to which we are all drawn.