In the woods of Mallorca in springtime caterpillars form lines which can be as long as three yards. In mid-February they move in procession down the pine tree where they were born and then, still in procession, move forwards till they find a place underground to hide. Their winter nests in the branches of the pine look like a mass of cobwebs and are about the size of a football. These nests are removed because any insects falling on walkers beneath cause a very painful rash on the skin. Mallorcans used to take a shotgun to destroy the nests, but today quieter methods are used.
They call them “processionària” here
For just around this time of year,
When spring is getting under way,
These caterpillars form long lines
Along the paths among the pines.
They move in search of some safe home
Where they can nest and quietly rest
Through the summer days not far away.
Just yesterday I crossed the wood,
Saw them again and stopped and stood
To give them right of way,
As was only fair.
I too am sorry man’s dominion
But the queue did not move.
The line was quietly waiting there,
For two at the back
Had fallen away and quite lost track
Of their companions up ahead.
The others waited,
Despite all they had in mind to do,
To reach a haven underground,
A certain place where they had to be.
All of them waited silent there,
On the open path exposed and bare,
For the two who’d gone astray.
They were a prey to any walker’s boot
Or thoughtless child who proud
Of his little power and strength
Could quickly crush the line’s whole length.
After much ado and many false starts,
First one, then the other
Joined the formation and fell in line.
The message passed to the front,
And a yard or so ahead in the heather
The leader put his best foot forward,
And on they went in procession together.
I left them slowly moving past,
All in a line, to safety at last.