Spring and Abundance.

A week or so ago I was asked “how spring was going in Victoria” and I declared that I did not think that is had really sprung yet. I have taken to calling this time of year “sprinter” – neither spring nor winter, and generally short lived. As last Saturday was the hottest September day on record for Melbourne (Global Warming anybody?) I think it’s now time to call it - spring has arrived.

According to popular myth the minds of young men are supposed to linger on one subject only when spring is in the air – and it’s an unavoidable observation that reproduction is now abounding. While Australian woodlands do not have the dramatic vernal flush of flowers – the hosts of daffodils only occur in manicured gardens and the memory of migrants – the signs of spring are there to be found. In the last few days butterflies have started to appear with regularity – Cabbage White and Yellow Admiral – and dragonflies are hawking over the flower beds. Dragonflies always cause me to wonder if the insects they hunt are subject to stress, as the combination of aquatic nymphs and adult must be some of the most fearsome predators (size for size) that haunt the dreams of prey. In the flowerbeds the product of last spring’s rush to breed are pushing their first leaves through the soil, producing a carpet of green and the bees are living up to their reputation as pollinators of the first order. It would be tempting to think, as many have done, that this show of abundance has no down side, has no implication other then the promise of rich harvests to come.

But as the dragons hawk and hunt and the bees trundle from flower to flower, legs heavy with pollen, the darker side of spring is also on show. The frantic rush to reproduce is everywhere. The vast numbers of flowers, tadpoles, chicks and eggs produced are testament to the unavoidable fact of nature: most of spring’s progeny will die without reproducing. Nature may seem softer at this time of year, but the blood red reality of tooth and claw is the driving force of abundance. The seeds, with their tiny embryo cargoes, will be eaten, the tadpoles will die as the pond dries and the birds and eggs will furnish the needs of cats, possums and birds of sharper beak and claw. If you are young and naïve, it really is dangerous out there.

Evolution has produced abundance to even the odds – the one in one hundred chance to make it though the storm of predation, disease and plain bad luck and to finally breed. Shows of wild flowers do not occur for our appreciation (although they are a genuinely delightful addition), but for the single purpose of survival. If you throw enough of your babies into the front line of conflict, some will survive. Even if it is only one in one hundred, some will get through. If you add variation into the mix as well, the best will get through (more often than not) and low and behold you have evolution.

Spring is in the air, but it’s just as well we are not tuned to the screams of the dying that will inevitably follow. Have a nice day!


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