Hello everyone! During one of several moments in the course of a day when my mind wanders off into the ether and I find myself pondering the imponderables, I often turn to wordplay and consider the foibles of our beloved language. Today I was thinking of all those pairings that only sound correct when voiced in a certain order. It seems almost inconceivable to talk about white and black, drink and food, mash and bangers and, heaven forbid Wise and Morecambe! On reflection, it would not be earth shattering if the sequence of any of the above was, to paraphrase a certain Lancastrian gentleman, not necessarily in the right order!
It may come as a surprise that our often referred to Flora and Fauna could, despite the tradition of putting the plants first, be swapped around without loss of scientific integrity or contesting the chronological accuracy of evolution biology. There is much speculation as to what came first but, until the fossil records show anything different, it is believed that around 1.5 billion years ago the ancestors of modern fungi, plants and animals came into being and started to evolve independently.
Where I hear you ask, did these early organisms come from? Did they just blink into existence in an Arthur C Clarke-like monolith moment?
Well, I suppose we cannot rule that out, as unlikely as it seems. What we do know is that the earliest lifeforms belong to another of the taxonomic Kingdoms, the Monera, the unicellular organisms such as bacteria. These appeared over 3 billion years ago and they ruled the planet for over a billion years before the complex cells that are the basis of all the other Kingdoms evolved.
For a race of short-lived Primates, who can barely remember what they had for breakfast, deliberating on the events on a geological timeline is way beyond our ken. The passing of the aeons is so vastly different from our own perception of time that I suspect those clever bods working in the fields of geology and palaeontology must sometimes feel a tad insignificant in the scheme of things.
With that in mind, who better to straddle the millennia of the Anthropocene, and give us back a sense of worth, than our old friends, the Romans. Not for the first time the language of the Sandal’d and Toga’d Ones will be central to this month’s ramblings.
Let us go back a mere flicker of an Amoeba’s cilium to last month, which flew past in a blur of colour as Spring flowers lit up the countryside. However, it began with a very green theme. Mayday celebrations highlighted the start of Summer and Jack in the Green was released only to be ritualistically slain on top of a hill. At least he had the Green Goddesses of Rattlebag, along with many other leafy characters, to keep him company during the parade!
As wonderful and lively as these proceedings were, they were probably a mere shade of the excesses carried out during the Roman festival of the Floralia, in honour of Flora, Goddess of Spring, fertility and flowers. The festival was held at the end of April, beginning of May and included six days of games, copious imbibing, and a great deal of nudity and licentious behaviour. Over the centuries, Roman festivity and Celtic symbolism merged to give us our glorious Bank Holiday weekend of Morris Dancing, green faces and motorbikes.
The goddess is remembered in our language as we describe the plant life indigenous to a specific region. Thus far, the Crowhurst Flora has been quite stunning this year!
Here blushing Flora paints th’ enamell’d ground.
Windsor Park, Alexander Pope, 1704
Fauna was another Roman deity of Spring and fertility, and it is no surprise that she was the twin sister of Flora. She was the Goddess of prophesy and animals, and consort of Faunus, Roman equivalent of Pan and almost certainly a distant cousin of Mr Tumnus. Strangely there seems to be no records of temples or festivals dedicated to Fauna but she may have had to make do with sharing in the glory during her sister’s Floralia.
We could be justified in thinking that our local Fauna are doing their best to speak out against this imbalance at present. The birds are waking me up at 4.00 and I find myself trying to identify the various songs of the early morning Avian chorus. Foxes and Badgers are teaching their younglings those essential life skills throughout the short nights and Rabbits can be spotted on roadside verges whatever time it is.
As the year marches on, we continue with the theme of sprites and faeries. Many characters are associated with the Green Man including one Robin Goodfellow, known as Puck. Let us make the best of Midsummer, the nights only get longer after that!
Fairy king, attend, and mark:
I do hear the morning lark.
Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 4)
So, there we have it, the derivation of our most popular pairing in ecological etymology. In our modern world the odds are heavily stacked against them, let us take responsibility and look after our Flora and Fauna. They were long in the making!
Lord, what fools these mortals be!