A Buzz in the Meadow

Dave Goulson is a gifted storyteller. He is also a scientist. In my experience there are only a handful of people who can effectively sync both sides of their brains well enough to write something that a non-scientist could read and (possibly) enjoy. Stephen Hawking is oIMG_4191ne, and Dave Goulson is, thankfully, another. Although the subtitle to A Buzz in the Meadow invites you to learn about the natural history of a French farm, it is more a series of vignettes about the secret (and surprisingly seductive) world of some of our planet’s tiniest, most plenteous, and seriously at risk denizens—insects.  Who wouldn’t find the life cycle and mating rituals of the death-watch beetle en-GROSS-ing? Seriously, you will like this book and you will learn things your mother couldn’t possibly have told you.

Imagine a timber-framed cottage, grandad lying in bed . . . slowly dying from . . . some indeterminate (at the time) disease, the family gathered around his bed in respectful silence. A faint drumming can be heard coming from the walls, from the ceiling. Five or six beats in quick succession, like someone drumming their fingers, or the tip of a pencil being tapped on a wooden table. Legend had it that this faint sound was the Devil, impatiently drumming his fingers as he waited for his chance to snatch the soul when it departed from the body. . . Of course it was not the Devil—at least not most of the time. As you might have guessed, it is actually the mating call of the death-watch beetle.

A Buzz in the Meadow, p. 110

Each of the chapters in this book stands on its own, and each is introduced by a diary entry from the author that takes you along on his morning run through the meadow he has recreated in rural France. “9 May 2008. Run 39 minutes 6 seconds.” People spotted: 2, dogs 4, butterfly species 11. I compared this to my Saturday morning walk in the Edmonds, Washington farmers’ market. People spotted: too numerous to count; dogs: also too many to enumerate—mostly friendly; butterfly species: conspicuous now by their absence entirely. I did see 1 tiny fly and 1 fuzzy bumble bee nuzzling in a flower. This leads me to the author’s point, which you will find in the last section of Buzz. The insect world is at risk, and it is critical that human beings learn about these fascinating creatures and appreciate their invaluable contribution to our common ecosystem. All of them, dung beetles to dragonflies.

I have only one caveat to the potential reader. If, like me, you are in the habit of multitasking by catching up on your reading while you munch on your lunch, you might want think twice about picking up Goulson’s Buzz lest you risk sharing your turkey sandwich with the Filthy Flies of Chapter Five. I found it to be just a bit too much to digest.