This month I begin with a poem written in ancient Greece around the 6th Century BC, which explains the seasons through the story of Demeter, goddess of the earth, and her daughter, Persephone, goddess of spring and fertility.
Persephone was kidnapped and raped by Hades, God of the Underworld, as she gathered flowers with her nymphs. Demeter heard her daughter’s cry for help but couldn’t find her. In her grief and fury Demeter created a blight on earth and Hades is forced to let Persephone go, but before she leaves he tricked the girl into eating a pomegranate seed, which means that she can never fully escape from the underworld.
When Persephone comes back to her mother the earth becomes fertile again. Every year Persephone must spend a few months in the underworld with Hades but each year she returns in the Spring. When Demeter and her daughter are together the flowers bloom and the trees are green, but when Persephone is in the underworld the earth is gloomy and barren.
In my garden the trees are bare, but in the compost heap, on the border between the underworld and the sunlit world above, woodlice are eating the ragged remains of dead leaves that absorbed the energy of summer’s sunlight. Woodlice recycle the energy of the sun all the year round, converting the sodden leaves into fertile soil.
Woodlice are Isopods, an order of crustaceans, and so are related to lobsters and shrimps. It’s thought that they evolved from animals that lived underwater but which gradually crawled out of the sea many millions of years ago. Each woodlouse has 14 legs, attached in pairs to 7 segments of its body. Woodlice live in damp places, and the females carry their babies in a fluid filled pouch on its abdomen, thus replicating their ancient watery environment to nurture their young. There are around 3500 species of woodlice, and they can be found in every continent except Antarctica. There are about 35 species in the UK. More at
It’s cold and gloomy outside today and I look forward to the Spring, when Demeter’s daughter will reappear to gather flowers with her nymphs. In the compost heap woodlice prepare the ground for the Springtime surge of growth and imagine they’re acolytes of Persephone, goddess of Spring and fertility, as once their ancestors were the servants of Neptune, god of the sea.
ISOPOD EPIC Beneath a blanket of ragged leaves we dream of ancestors under the sea who smoothed the covers on Neptune’s bed. But the tide went out forever and now we serve the lovely daughter of Demeter in her underground captivity. Our fourteen legs flicker silently as we steal dead leaves from Hades It’s our job to reclaim their sun-soaked brilliance to light Persephone’s path as she scrambles out of the underworld into the flowering meadows of Spring. Anne Bryan