Why are some dreams so vivid but also so difficult to recall when one wakes? All I can remember of last night’s dream is sitting in the sun on a hillside while flocks of little blue butterflies gyrated around me.
But I know where those Chalk Hill Blues used to dance, skimming the dry thin grass on a hill over-looking Caterham valley. It was a favourite destination of mine and my friend Jenny, when out for a bicycle ride. We cast our bikes down by the stile, climbing over onto the white path which crossed the steep meadowland. We searched for arrow heads for there were bands of flint running through this chalk hill. I don’t think we ever found any. But I do remember the springy feel of walking there as though the hill itself bounced under our feet. Male Chalk Hill Blues are pale, spring-sky blue, their wings edged with a narrow band of brown with a white fringe, their bodies covered in a darker blue hair. They flutter about over the waving grass and meadow flowers in search of mates whose wings, a rich brown, are enlivened by orange dots and chequered fringes. These butterflies have a long history, for they survived the last ice age in the warmer areas of their habitat and later spread again over the chalk and limestone down-lands of continental Europe and southern England where they still prosper today.
On the sunny slope of Butterfly Walk meadow plants flourished. The yellow horseshoe vetch, the only food of Chalk Blues larvae, grew in abundance along with lacy scabious and delicate harebells, which provided camouflage for the male butterflies as their respective blues melted into each other. I can remember the sudden delight we felt at the sight of these ethereal, silvery creatures. Perhaps it’s not surprising that blue butterflies in some cultures are associated with change and transformation, in others with happiness.
I associate this carefree place too with the harebells that grew so prolifically there. Often known as the bluebells of Scotland, they have several other folk names which are less well-known, including witch bells and cuckoo’s shoe, lending the plants a darker reputation than their appearance would suggest. But in spite of their fragile, papery flowers they are tough plants, like the butterflies, almost magical survivors in a challenging world. In parts of Ireland, according to an article on the website, plantlife.org.uk, they are “a fairy plant, mearacan puca, the goblin’s (or Puck’s) thimble.” Perhaps it is the harebell’s connection with a magical world which has led to its becoming a symbol for childhood.
We don’t see Chalk Hill Blues in Canada but we do have some native blue butterflies including, in this area, the Eastern Tailed Blue and the Canada Silvery Blue. I think it was some Silvery blues which surprised me last summer in my garden, as I hadn’t been visited by blue butterflies here before. They are fairly similar to Chalk Hill Blues in appearance, delicate and graceful. I hope they will surprise me again this summer, reminding me of how my ten-year-old self gloried in the sunny freedom of childhood.