Annie’s Blog #3 – A Pale Tail on Seymour Hill

Another cloudy morning.  How can I face it with all these flu-like symptoms??  I take care of all the things I need to do all morning and then the sun starts to appear and the temperature starts to rise.  But nothing can change that I know I am sick.  I see a Cabbage White flitting about across the street.  Something snaps inside!

Then I make a decision. I recover.  Well, I don’t recover really, I decide to climb Seymour Hill and nearly pass out getting up there.  Migraine pounding, nausea all but forgotten in the effort,  watching, watching……for moths, butterflies, anything, but please….please let their be a Pale.  I say a quiet prayer over and over.  I whisper the name.  I call.

The sun is on and off and it is a relief, for at the top of the trail, I break into a fever, but I tell myself it’s only a very long hot flash!  Too much sun at that point would have fried me for sure.  I tear off my coat and vest and toss them at John, my donkey (a.k.a. husband), who is looking decidely unconcerned.  He’s seen this all before.  Annie pushing herself past the limit again in search of what may or may not be there.

I spot some Bearberry or Kinnikinnick and I wonder if there are any Westen Elfins there.  Yes, right away one takes flight and lands briefly enough for me to turn on my camera and……too late.  And unlike the Western Elfins I have encountered, this one disappears and does not return.  How odd.

I carry on, and spot a number of Spring Azures.  Many land to sun as it is cool, and despite my fever I feel the nip in the air.  We continue up the trail after I take a few shots of a few female Azures, hoping half-heartedly that they turn out.  I know that the females will be faded and damaged by now although I may get lucky and get one in fairly good shape.  The males here are gone.

We reach the destination finally, below the summit in a glade of mixed trees, flowers and vegetation (mostly broom!) but it is cold, cloudy and the sun has gone into hiding again.  I feel grim and defeated.  If only the sun would come out…..if only.  Why do I care?  Why am I here doing this?  I have no idea what to say.  It is a compulsion for me to find this butterfly and photograph it.  I must photograph it because I don’t want to fail.  I don’t want to forget.  And this one is dear to me for some reason.  They all are to varying degrees during the season, and I suppose it is because the Pale Swallowtail is so illusive to me and far less abundant than the Western Tiger Swallowtail and also because I feel an affinity to it for some reason.  Will I find it?

My doubts mount as I wonder if there are any of the Swallowtails on the hill.  Historically it has been the first place I knew of to find all three species of Swallowtails early in the season, but this is my second trip up here and …..nothing.  We should turn back, but I can’t, so I wait and we talk about it a bit.  Then the sun comes out again and after a while I start to accept that it was enough that I spotted one on Knockan Hill early in May although no photos were possible.

Then, suddenly, there is a something gliding towards us.  I stare in disbelief.

It is a Pale Swallowtail, as if delivered by some merciful hand to my injured spirit.  It is circling around and around and briefly lands…..then gone.  “No, no!!  Come back!,” I cry inside and we follow where we think it may have been.  Then there are two of them and one flies at us.  It is a Western Tiger Swallowtail, more yellow with narrower black margins and stripes than the Pale.  Where are the rest?  I usually see at least two or three Western Tigers by now up here.

A helicopter roars overhead flying so low…too low.  The butterflies vanish.

But I want to carry on, not certain I have found the Pale’s “territory”.  I had thought I had, but it isn’t there.  I walk further and find nothing.  We decide that sighting the two species together like that will have to do, but I feel depressed.  I wanted that picture so very badly!

We reach the glade and there it is!  No sign of the Western Tiger, but the Pale circles again and again and alights on some broom to sun.  The camera sees it well, but I am far away and zoomed in to maximum.  I get a shot, and I feel a shot of adrenalin, endorphines and probably a pile of other stuff shooting through my veins.  I MUST get closer.  I take a step slowly, carefully… lens trained on the sunning Pale.  It remains put and I take pictures.  Closer; I whisper silence and peace, and move in.  I finally get close enough for some good clear shots, the best this camera can do.  My butterfly stays and tells me things in a language I can’t understand, and I can understand all at once.

“I am here on borrowed time.  We all are.”

Then, it is off and disappears.  There is no sign of it or the Western Tiger.  It is as if none of this ever happened… a dream only I’m not quite awake yet.

We leave and walk down the trail.  It is much easier going down, and since I am walking on air (it’s called euphoria I suppose), I can’t feel anything but a dreamy relief that something has been done.  A call was answered….and by both parties involved.

But then reality sets in. I have doubts and keep asking John, “Are you SURE it was a Pale?”.  Over and over he reasures me that it was and there was no doubt, especially with a Tiger there to compare it to.  He tells me the shots are good too.

How did I ever get to doubt myself like this?

We drive home and I become one big ache.  Everything that can hurt hurts.  But I don’t really care and, once home, I shower and dry my hair and feel human again.  Then, I look at the pictures.  The Pale Swallowtail has become a part of my life for this year again, through my camera lens….and the message it had for me, and for all of us.

“I am here on borrowed time.  We all are.”

Song of the Pale Swallowtail

Sometimes it seems the pieces

of my life just fall together,

and floating on these wings of hope

I’m lighter than a feather.

What can a fragile thing like me

hope ever to achieve,

by being so invisible,

with nothing to believe.

But see now! With your camera lens,

immortal I become

because it’s through your eyes that

now they’ll see where I am from.

Don’t take my world from me, I beg you.

Let my children grow

to decorate the sky again

and go where they must go.

The time we’re here is borrowed;

Life is not something we own.

This butterfly has whispered things

we really should have known.

Today I find a creature that is

perfect and sublime

who tells me to stop running, for

we’re running out of time.

And so I write this poem to you

to tell you that so far,

this creature’s here on borrowed time–

just as all of us are…

© Annie Pang May 24, 2012.


About annieandterry

This is a blog shared by two friends who have never met in person, Annie Pang and Terry Thormin. We both live on Vancouver Island, Annie in Victoria and Terry in Comox. All communication to date has been either by email or telephone. We are both passionate about nature and conservation and we are both nature photographers. Annie is also a very fine poet and was a concert violinist, while Terry worked as an entomologist for the Royal Alberta Museum until he retired in 2005. We hope you enjoy this joint effort to share our nature musings with anyone who is interested.

Posted on May 27, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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