Photo by Lucy Brzoska
Nettle Tree Butterfly
On a sheltered part of the Catalan coast, Barcelona is able to ride out most of the winter unperturbed; similar to the kingfisher for whom the Greeks created halcyon days. According to legend, the bird calmed the sea for two weeks, so it could build a floating nest.
But sometimes the weather turns unexpectedly wild. Two years ago this month, after the quiet birth of a small Appalachian storm and its transforming journey across the Atlantic, winds of up to 100 km/h careered through the city streets for hours on end and tried to tear everything from its place. Shutters and flowerpots were sent flying and eight lives were lost. Over in Collserola pine trees toppled in their thousands with an effect still clearly visible today.
It must have been terrifying, the wind’s roar amplified in the canopy and trees crashed like pillars during an earthquake. But the morning after, the woods were luminous and still, sunlight twanging the gossamer, woodpeckers tapped, Peking robins scolded—business as usual—except for a very early sighting of a nettle tree butterfly, prematurely roused out of hibernation by all the commotion.
Considering it was Sunday there was a marked absence of hollering adrenaline-fuelled mountain bikers, as every track and path was blocked by the fallen trees, their roots gaping out of craters. Most noise came from underfoot, as you crunched the new carpet of pine cones and twigs, loosened by the ton.
Though initially devastating, it was a promising panorama. New clearings would mean a greater diversity of plants and insects and space for nightjars to nest. Trunks left behind to rot assured a healthy population of beetles in years to come.
Woods can give an illusion of permanence, but most of the affected trees were the fast-growing Aleppo pine, planted for exploitation after Collserola’s vineyards were stricken by plague just over a century ago.