Of Boys and Butterflies

I was walking through the grass yesterday and looked down to see a lone butterfly clinging to a single blade. It was an Orange Sulphur, a very common species that along with the Cabbage White probably accounts for most of what you see flying around all summer. This particular butterfly was trying to capture a little bit of sun in an attempt to stave off the coming of winter. It wasn’t the butterfly sighting that struck me, but rather the very predictable connections my brain made upon seeing it. First, identifying what it was, then putting it into context with the Cabbage Whites, and then the inevitable flood of memories of collecting butterflies as a boy.

For a wonderful summer when I was a little boy, my Aunt Laurie and I embarked on a very ambitious mission. My aunt was the youngest of my mother’s siblings, and at only a decade older than me, really was much closer to an older sister than a traditional auntie. Laurie possesses a deep passion for living, a curiosity of all things, a strong commitment to the world around us, and a drive to make things better. Maybe she felt that collecting butterflies would eventually lead me on a quest to save the rain forests, or create clean energy, neither of which I have accomplished … but there is still time.

What we did do was run through the undeveloped fields west of Kenosha with butterfly nets and amass dozens of different examples. From the common Sulphurs, Whites, Coppers and Monarchs to the more interesting Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purple Admirals … we carefully captured, euthanized, mounted and labeled them. The rest of my family contributed by collecting dozens of clear plastic hinged cases, which had previously held paper clips or push pins or decks of cards. I imagine our mission caused a lot of chaos in junk draws around the neighborhood. Each butterfly was carefully laid on a bed of cotton balls so that it was securely held in place under the clear cover. The collection grew and expanded to include a wide variety of winged insects like the Luna, Cecropia and Promethia moths and a few Dragonflies. When I am reminded of it, I always marvel at how large of a collection it was. I also wonder how many of those species can no longer be found around this area.

The collection itself was lost somewhere along the line. It was undoubtedly a victim of a one of our home moves or a cleaning binge. It doesn’t matter, as I am sure the thin strip of Scotch tape used to seal each case was no match for the forces of time. Each of those specimens would have become dust long ago. The memory of that collection, however, will always be there, ready to be triggered by the sighting of a solitary American Lady or a Viceroy flitting past. It is such a great memory … running through the fields, having so many missed chances to catch a new specimen, but persisting and patiently collecting so many beautiful examples, laughing and talking as we mounted and identified each in the reference books we used. For this indelible and cherished memory, which unexpectedly surfaces so many times during each season, I am so very thankful to my sister-auntie Laurie. As we invest our lives into our family and friends, we can’t know how each of these memories will endure the passage of time, but we can rest assured that some will last forever.

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