Country diary: a grasshopper in the sun shows me the way
Wardlow, Derbyshire: The clues amid a rich bank of flowers are beguiling as I search out the treasure I’ve come to find
If you’re given a treasure map, you feel some obligation to follow it – especially when the treasure is a rare flower and the map’s clues are so beguiling. That’s how I found myself in the fresh early morning, following a dry valley uphill, ignoring a cart track as advised, stepping across a broken fence and passing through a thick stand of hawthorn, where I paused and looked for an unlikely detail: a wooden step in a dry-stone wall.
Beyond that was a cliff, and in between me and the void, a rich bank of flowers: St John’s wort and sweetbriar roses, knapweed and spear thistle, a gaudy meadow pea and wild privet, pink-tinged yarrow and the deeper pink of oregano. A treasure chest, but not the jewel I was looking for. There were larks singing at my back and song thrushes far below, their bubble of music rising up from woods still hidden in shadow at the base of the crag. I eased closer to the edge, since that’s where so much of the world seems to be these days, and scanned the ground: nothing.
Except, not nothing. True, I’d trapped myself into seeking a goal and chided myself a little for that. But while I was hunting, my concentration had sharpened and I’d become unusually attentive. That’s how I spotted the grasshopper crouching in a clump of heath bedstraw at my feet.
The low sunlight had picked out its head and the pronotum, the plate-like structure just behind the head. It was the colour of limes, fringed with a paler border along its keel where it curved around the body, but with chocolate stripes running vertically either side towards the rear. The whole arrangement was faceted, like a gem. I saw one beaded wing sticking out at right angles, which seemed odd. Grasshoppers are cold-blooded, so perhaps this one was warming up for the day.
But then it was gone and I stood up to stretch. At which point from the corner of my eye, I saw what I’d come for: a low plant with unmistakable flowers caught in the sun on the edge of the abyss.