The moths of Machynlleth

I turned 50 in April and my house mates in the housing coop I live in bought me a moth trap for my birthday. This was an incredibly special moment for me as fifteen years ago I wrote a book about moths called Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time. Yes, I was under the influence of Mark Haddon at the time. I got completely obsessed with the glorious detail of moths and the mystery of night-time gardens. The book was about climate change and extinction. It was also about coming to terms with loss. At the time we were only beginning to realise the full impact of climate change and I wanted to write about what that meant for our humanity. How the knowledge of such loss could cause us to experience trauma. I was going through an extended period of depression myself, which I sometimes compare to being in Lincolnshire. Everything was flat and I found it very hard to get out of. The moths allowed me to retreat into my imagination and give myself to words and worlds I didn’t really understand too well. A macroscopic destiny. Since then the world has moved ever closer to the brink of a mass extinction event, the consequences of which will be devastating. Most of the world’s human inhabitants barely notice. But those people who do look know what is coming. How do they bear this knowledge I ask myself? They can see that individual species on a mass scale are running out of life. The lockdown has given the natural world some relief from frenetic human activity but we are starting to climb back into our cars and resume our industrious behaviour. I do hope we don’t lose our opportunity to reassess and reflect on where we’re heading. Counting moths in a moth trap is one thing most of us with a a garden can do. Recording the data and letting scientists know helps them understand how the natural world is doing. Moths are an important species to many other species of fauna and flora. We need them, just as we need the bee. But they are often forgotten or despised. Most humans think that moths are just there for eating their clothes or damaging crops, but there are many hundreds of species of moth and only a few are troublesome. Most are pollinating our plants. The technology of a moth trap is simple. Moths are attracted to a light on the trap and make their way inside where they nestle on upturned cardboard egg boxes until they are released in the morning, safe and sound. It’s completely harmless to the moths. I’m not a scientist but this is a great bit of citizen science I can easily contribute to. It has also been a perfect lockdown present. Moths are usually calm in the morning and happy to sit in your hand. Looking at them makes me feel calmer, and helps me to slow down and put the busy garden chores to one side. It is a daily habit that we’re all starting to appreciate. Opening up the moth trap is an event, and each day we seem to find a new species. Here are a few of our favourites so far. I’ll post more pics with extracts from my book as the summer goes on.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Joan says:

    Elegant prose, as ever.

    1. allanshepherd says:

      Thanks Joan. Glad you enjoyed it. We got a spectacular moth this morning. Will post a pic later.

  2. alex says:

    Another of your great books, very inspiring and especially unusual. There isn’t much out there about gardens at night, how to sense them and enhance them. Maybe only Arabic gardens are layed out that way to enjoy them under the moonlight and after the boiling heat of the day. As always, a joy to read you. Hopefully you will keep publishing, you are one of the best gardening authors I’ve come across.

    1. allanshepherd says:

      Thanks Alex, that’s really kind of you to say. I know, and we don’t spend enough time in them at night to really appreciate the feel. Myself included. When I wrote this book I loved doing ‘research’, staying up all night and being part of the garden through 24 hours. My job makes it harder for me to write at the moment, but I would love to write more on gardens and other subjects. Difficult to know where best to spend my time as there is such a lot needed at the moment form all of us in different ways. But you have inspired me to think again about how I could create something new. Thank you.

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