A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Butterflies, Locusts, Fireflies & Pharaoh's Egypt
Saturday, May 05, 2007

There were so many locusts in our Buenos Aires garden one year in my youth that we could barely see the blue sky. My mother and Mercedes, our housekeeper, banged pans with their lids in a futile effort to scare the large green monsters away. A few weeks later the sky was blotted out by waves and waves of white butterflies. The ten plagues of Egypt that finally convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites were no simple bible tales that had been read to me at Sunday School. Our own plagues were my early dose of cinéma vérité.

Then there was the year that my mother almost burned down one of our huge palm trees. She was out at night hunting for slugs (with scissors) and held a candle in one hand to see. She got too close to the palm (Buenos Aires is a city of palms and jacarandás) that the dry peeling bark caught fire and it spread like a pirate gunpowder keg to the top in a flash. By the time the bomberos arrived the fire had gone out as quickly as it had begun. It was a miracle to me that the palm tree survived as our plum trees somehow survived the locusts.

Our garden had all matter of interesting insects and bugs. We had large black ants and large read ones that I avoided as they had a painful sting. We had four-inch-long rhinoceros beatles and at night in the summer, fireflies were in such abundance that we would sit in the garden to watch them while my father drank his mate and my mother her tea. I was given milk with a chocolate powder called Tody. I really liked it because Tody sponsored my weekly radio program, Tarzán (El Rey de la Jungla). My all-time favourite episode featured a totem pole (?) made of a mysterious substance called radium. I had cut out Tarzan's picture from the Tody container and glued it on my turtle's plastron (the under part of the carapace). It was this turtle that had a fondness for hybernating under a pile of fall leaves. One year my mother gave me permission to burn the leaf piles and......I remember crying to my mother, "I murdered my turtle!"

I spent a lot of time in the garden as there were several fruit trees to climb and sample including plum trees that had green plums (yellow on the inside), yellow plums (yellow on the inside) red plums (yellow on the inside), red plums (almost black on the inside) and a tree of special plums that were a cross with a cherry tree. When I wasn't sampling the plums I was waiting patiently for the níspero to ripen. I avoided the brevas (the early figs) and the figs that followed. When they splatted on the brick path they looked so unsightly that I developed a distaste for them. I hated the tree because its smooth bark discouraged my climbing. And one bite of an unripe persimon, from the tree my father insisted on calling the khaki, cured me from ever trying this fruit again.

Two summers ago I bought a used Nikon FM-2 from Leo's Camera and tested it with one roll. I snapped a few pictures of Rebecca and her butterfly/koy net by the rose bed in the waning days of that August summer. The exposure metre did not work so I returned the camera. Perhaps I should have kept it. This photograph is one of Rosemary's favourite photographs of our granddaughter.

While Rebecca did see Buenos Aires fireflies three summers ago I have yet to tell her about the ten plagues of Pharaoh's Egypt and the year of the butterflies and the locusts.


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